#SYPConf20: A department insight on… Rights

Posted on November 10, 2020 in London

Nathaniel Alcaraz-Stapleton started out in publishing as a Rights Assistant for Cornerstone and Vintage and spent nearly five years at Penguin Random House.  He joined Hachette as a Rights Manager in 2015, was made Head of Rights for Headline in 2018 and Head of Rights for Hachette Ireland in 2019. He handles translation rights (in all direct territories) and serial rights across Headline and Hachette Ireland titles, as well as US rights for all Hachette Ireland titles. You can find him on Twitter @hernandez108.

What was your journey into the publishing industry?

It was quite frustrating getting into the industry.  I left university with no contacts in the industry and spent the first couple of months just emailing generic inboxes of publishers (I found a list of attendees at the latest LBF online and used that as my directory) and getting no responses.  I eventually found a two week placement with HarperCollins, helping out with the recording of the audio element of a book about how to learn Italian and then the work placements rolled in. 

I was looking to get into editorial work but people kept on suggesting I try rights  as I could speak Spanish, so I applied for a rights work experience placement at Random House Children’s (before it was PRH) and spent two very enjoyable weeks there.  A few weeks later a Rights Assistant job on a fixed term contract came up at Cornerstone (also part of Random House) – before I applied for it I sent a message to one of the Rights Managers I had worked with closely in the Children’s team, asking for any pointers for my cover letter and they ended up recommending me to the team at Cornerstone. I got the interview and then the job.  A few months into my time there they made the contract permanent and I have been in rights ever since.

What is your current role?

I am currently Head of Rights for Headline and Hachette Ireland.  In this role I have responsibility for selling translation rights to all of the territories where we work directly (someone else in my team looks after our co-agented territories) for the whole of the Headline and Hachette Ireland lists.  I also sell serial for Headline and US rights for Hachette Ireland.

How has your job changed during COVID19?

We’ve really had to change the way we work in the past few months.  As a rights person I usually travel a lot, both to book fairs and to meet with editors in their own offices in different countries. Since the pandemic hit I have been grounded and we’ve had to do everything remotely and it has really helped to highlight how important that face-to-face contact is to our department.  I have taken the usual amount of meetings I would do in a week of the fair, but spread out over 7 or 8 weeks, and it has been really refreshing seeing familiar faces (who aren’t my colleagues) on my screen.  However, there is a certain buzz that has been missing from this period and you really miss out on some of the most valuable moments that book fairs provide: hearing about the titles that everyone is bidding on (and those that are being hyped up but aren’t going anywhere); being introduced at a party to a new editor you didn’t know; having a few drinks with an editor and finding out they are really interested in a subject you just happen to have a book about – these things cannot be replicated in a virtual environment and I cannot wait to get back out and seeing people face-to-face again.

Please discuss which departments you work closely with, and what you work together on?

It’s important to be very sociable if you’re a rights person at a publisher as you will have to work closely with pretty much every department in the company.  For translation rights I will work closely with the editors, first at acquisition stage and then when planning our strategy for selling rights; I work with marketing who help me put together beautiful brochures or Tweet cards to help with my submissions; my team works with the art department who help design our rights catalogues, and also in the sale of our cover designs to other publishers;  I work with the sales team who give me a good idea of where this will be sitting in the retailers; when selling co-editions I work extremely closely with production who help with the co-ordination of the printings and who order all the paper etc; when selling serial I work very closely with publicity to come up with a strategy for submission and also ideal dates for serial to run. 

Briefly discuss a project you feel proud to have worked on:

This is really tricky, I love my work and, because I work so closely with the editors when acquiring rights, I have a genuine interest in all of the titles I work on.  I do have a real affection for the first title I worked on from start to finish (i.e. from pre-acquisition stage all the way through to UK publication date and beyond) when I started working at Hachette, which was MY MOTHER’S SHADOW by Nikola Scott.  I got a very early look at this title and fell in love with it – it has a wonderful combination of being both emotionally punchy and reading a little bit like a thriller all at once.  I worked very closely with the editor on pitching for it, and then, once acquired, we worked together on coming up with the perfect title (I can’t remember what it was called on submission) and timing for submission.  Everything came together perfectly and we sold it in around 15 territories, including several auctions, and now Nikola is on book 3 and a huge bestseller in Norway, Israel and beyond!

Please discuss any difficulties you face in your role:

The most difficult thing I have to do is explaining to an author that their publisher in particular a particular territory won’t be coming back for the next book.  This is never a nice conversation to have, but the brilliant thing about working in translation rights is that there are infinite possibilities, and every territories has a number of publishers who may pick up that book instead. I always remain hopeful of making sure that a book that’s worth translating gets translated!