Industry Insights: Liza DeBlock
By Avneet Bains, Leyla Mehmet, Chloe Francis and Alessia De Silva
Liza is the Foreign Rights Executive at Mushens Entertainment. In this issue she speaks to us about working for a literary agency in the rights department.
How did you get into publishing? Did you always want to work in rights, and more specifically, international rights?
I’ve always loved books and both my degrees centred around the history of publishing, but I soon decided I wanted to actually work in publishing rather than study it! I completed internships with scouts and literary agencies on both sides of the Atlantic and my first job was working at the scouting agency Eccles Fisher Associates. I’ve always been fascinated by international rights and even wrote a dissertation on transatlantic publishing before international copyright existed (yes, it was dreadfully dull).
Did you always want to work for a literary agency rather than a publisher, and if so, why?
I applied for a lot of editorial and rights positions in publishing houses, but always felt drawn towards literary agencies because of the special connection agents forge with their clients. I love working with people and the idea of developing an author and fostering their career really intrigued me.
How do literary agencies interact with publishers, and/or differ from them? How do literary scout agencies differ from literary agencies?
Agents, publishers and scouts are always interacting with each other! Agents represent authors and sell their books to editors at publishing houses. As agents, we build relationships with UK editors so that when we take on an author as a client, we know who would want to publish their books. We maintain contact with the Editor throughout the whole book-making process.
Literary scouts work for foreign publishers who want to buy British books to be translated into their language, and some work for TV and film studios looking for the next big movie or series. As a Foreign Rights Executive, I love working with scouts because they flag our books to foreign publishers so that when I send out a book to be sold abroad, publishers are already excited to read it!
What do the rights department deal with?
The rights department in both publishing houses and agencies sell what’s called subsidiary/sub rights. Typically, these are all the rights except the ability to publish the book in the UK in English. For example, film/TV, merchandise, serialisation, foreign language and audio, although publishers increasingly want audio rights included in their contracts these days. The biggest sub rights I typically sell are foreign language and film/TV.
Selling foreign language rights means giving a foreign publisher the right to publish a book in their language. For example, I recently sold Icelandic rights to Abigail Dean’s book GIRL A – her thirty-third territory! This means that readers in thirty-three different countries will get to read this book in their native language.
Many of our readers may not know about international rights from an agency’s perspective. Could you briefly describe your role and a little more about this side of rights?
Being the Foreign Rights Executive at Mushens Entertainment means that I help promote our authors internationally, coordinate deals with co-agents and keep track of all our author’s rights in the UK and abroad. When a book is ready, I submit it to our co-agents across the world. Co-agents are agents just like us, but live abroad and specialise in selling books in their countries. When someone wants to buy sub rights for one of our books, I approve deals alongside our co-agent, complete contracts, fill out international tax forms and supply information about cover rights, author biographies, photos, final manuscripts and whatever else the foreign publisher needs to create their edition. Conversely, publishing houses usually have their own rights teams that work directly with international publishers rather than using co-agents.
In pre-COVID-19 times did travel feature as a big part of your role? How have you had to adapt and do you feel that virtual meetings will become a permanent fixture?
The Book Fairs in Frankfurt and London are week-long events that I would normally travel to, and they allow me to meet co-agents in person, as well as international publishers. Since COVID-19, these meetings have moved online which has actually made it easier to meet more people. There’s less of a hectic rush between meetings; however, I do miss seeing people in person!
Do you have any tips for hopefuls on applying for roles specifically in international rights and/or literary agencies?
Do your homework! If you’re applying for an agency position then you should definitely know who their biggest clients are, the books they’ve published recently and something about the specific Agent the position is with. Research what books are selling well in translation to know what’s hot on the international market. The Bookseller is a good place to check, and even Goodreads allows you to see what different international editions exist. Lastly, always be polite and open to learning! Good luck!
You can find Liza on Twitter: @lizadeblock