OLIVIA WILLIS, RIGHTS MANAGER
1. What is your job title and company? And roughly how many people work for your company?
I’m rights manager at Yale Representation and sell foreign rights for Yale University Press. We have about 45 people working in our London office, and about 80 in the US. As I sell rights for books from both offices I work with colleagues in both.
2. What are your qualifications and working background, and when and how did you take on your current job?
Yale was actually the first place I worked (apart from a few internships) after graduating in 2013 with a Theology degree. From my lowly start as the postal clerk, I moved into rights and progressed there until I became the rights manager in 2018.
3. What does your average working day entail?
It depends a lot on the time of year, and whether we are preparing a new season or planning for book fairs. Generally, it is a variety of emailing clients, negotiating deals, drawing up contracts, financial reporting and making sure that the rest of my team feel supported so they can do their jobs well.
4. What do you enjoy most about your job?
Being able to discuss books and build relationships with publishers from around the world is very stimulating. Working across a variety of markets also gives me insights into the publishing industry on a global scale. I also really enjoy working as part of a team, both within our department and as a wider company, collaborating on shared goals and the company mission.
5. What achievements are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of how cohesively my team works together. We have made a great effort to improve our processes, and it’s had a very positive impact on our working environment and output. These changes have helped us to increase our client base and double the rights business in five years.
6. What are your biggest challenges?
There is always a lot going on, so time management is the biggest challenge.
7. What have you experienced in your job and publishing that you didn’t expect?
Although I personally didn’t have this expectation, people tend to think that book fairs are mainly made up of glamorous parties. Although there’s the opportunity to go out for a few drinks, they actually involve a lot of hard work!
8. What is the best thing about working for an independent publisher?
Working for a university press, I sell a very wide range of non-fiction titles, aimed at both academic and more general audiences. This provides a lot of variety, and I enjoy being exposed to different concepts and ideas. Working for a smaller company also allows for a great deal of independent decision making, but also a lot of collaboration between colleagues. There’s the feeling that we are all working together.
9. How much training or professional development have you had, and how has it helped you?
Most of my training has been on the job, but I’ve benefitted from additional Excel training courses and, early in my career, permissions / rights courses.
10. How do you switch off from your work?
In international rights there will always be someone working somewhere and it can be easy to slide into working more flexibly, so I find that it’s important to schedule plans to help stick to steady hours. And, of course, taking time to go outside.
11. How have Covid and lockdowns impacted your rights work, your work-life balance and your general wellbeing?
The main substantive change in rights work has been the lack of in-person book fairs. These are the major events in our calendar, and much of a rights professional’s calendar is filled by working towards them. Having moved online, meetings have become more spread out, which creates a different challenge as we have to continue other work around them.
Lockdown has made it more difficult to stick to steady hours, and to maintain focus. I’ve found that maintaining steady communication with my team and colleagues keeps us all engaged and on track.
12. What advice would you give anyone wanting to start or progress a career in rights?
Head to the PLS Rights and Licensing Hub to start with. Try and talk to different rights professionals about what their particular job entails, and about what strengths they feel they bring to their role: it can help you decide if similar jobs might suit you. Depending on the individual and the requirements of their situation, the answers may vary and might surprise you!