An image of the panel at Penguin Random House UK

5 things you didn’t know about publishing rights with Penguin Random House UK  

Posted on January 31, 2024

Creative Access took a deep dive into publishing rights this January. We wanted to unveil the mystery behind the department; what is rights? How is different from editorial or sales? Is it all spreadsheets and contracts?  

Who better to demystify rights than the experts at Penguin Random House. The rights team shared incredible insight with the publishing enthusiasts in our community during both in-person and virtual events and we’ve collated the best advice, top tips, and biggest lessons we took away. Our brilliant panellists included: 

  • Ella Darlington, Head of comms and marketing, Creative Access (cChair) 
  • Chloe Traynor, CA alumni & Rights assistant, PRH 
  • Maeve Banham, Senior rights manager Children’s, PRH 
  • Monique Corless, Head of translation Adult, PRH 
  • Jonathan Herbert, Rights executive Adult, PRH 
  • Claudia Mair, Senior recruitment business partner, PRH 

What ‘rights’ in publishing means (Clue: It’s selling books but abroad) 

“Rights is getting the brilliant books that Penguin Random House UK makes into as many languages and markets around the world as possible.” 

We learnt that the word ‘rights’ might be misleading: it’s not as contracts-based as it sounds. The rights team sell the rights of a book to foreign publishers around the world so they can sell their own editions in those languages. It’s their job to maximise the success of a book outside of the UK, which means a lot of collaboration with other departments, a lot of sales and a lot of travel too! 

Those working in rights will have set ‘markets’ or ‘territories’ that they are responsible for researching and knowing. For example, one of our panellists sells in France, the Netherlands, Portugal and Brazil. And it’s not only selling the rights for books to be translated, as some team members sell books to feature in newspapers and magazines.  

As for responsibilities, the deal-making is largely made by territory managers and executives. As for those at an entry to junior level, we heard from rights assistant Chloe that it’s a cool job where you can see a deal right through to the physical product. You could be sorting out the production elements, the delivery, the shipping, the approvals, and all the general and vital administration. 

There’s a lot of perks and adventures

There are so many exciting areas that publishing rights involves day to day; working on translations, publicity, pitching books to publishers, negotiating offers, and helping plan events like book festivals.  

But they don’t just sell the rights after a book has been published. The rights team are there right from the start of a book’s journey, particularly with the editorial team.  

“Editors bring proposals to us for acquiring the book and publishing it. We will read alongside and assess the books potential for international, then we think where would that book sell? In which country? Who would read it?” 

How to excel in an interview (Clue: You don’t need an MA in publishing) 

All the panellists spoke passionately about collaboration, communication and teamwork as key components when working in rights. Our main takeaways were to evidence in these qualities in your CV, cover letter and interview, and to express genuine curiosity and knowledge of rights.  

The team acknowledged that doing an MA is publishing is expensive and emphasised that it’s not important for them when looking at a CV; they want to see that you’re hands-on, take initiative and are interested in rights.  

Chloe had a lot of great advice for applicants, having been in their shoes only a year and a half ago. She said that since working in the industry she’s realised that no one feels like they’re too important to have a conversation with you, so reach out to professionals in the industry and make connections. Other tips included demonstrating passion through whatever experience you have, whether that be through TikToks or retail experience for a bookseller. 

“If you see opportunities to reach out to someone already in the industry like the Creative Access x Penguin Random House mentoring scheme, do it. The things I learned are what geared my application to become successful.” 

Myths about publishing rights… 

‘You need to have studied a language or literature degree.’ You don’t! In fact, PRH is very open to hearing from candidates who haven’t been to university. 

‘You need to have an MA in publishing.’ Nope, read above. 

‘A successful book in the UK will definitely be success internationally.’ The rights team must consider whether they can launch the author internationally and what hurdles they might face. At times they are battling the strength of the English language when trying to sell the rights to translate.  

Everyone’s journey is their own  

We at Creative Access know publishing is a sought-after industry and it can take a while before you land a role. Our panellists had experienced setbacks, career breaks and industry switches before getting their foot in the door. They agreed that you can’t compare your journey to anyone else’s, and perseverance is key.  

Thank you so much to everyone that attended these events and to our amazing panel from Penguin Random House!