Industry Insights with Karen ‘K’ Kristjánsdóttir
By Elizabeth Guess, Leyla Mehmet and Aimee Whittle
This week we spoke to Karen ‘K’ Kristjánsdóttir, Rights Co-ordinator at Simon and Schuster, about their journey into publishing.
What does a normal day look like for a Rights Coordinator?
“My role is liaising between our customers and our production department about our co-editions. So, a typical day consists of making sure that anything that needs to go somewhere goes to that person. That’s anything from plotters that came in overnight, file corrections, tracking refs for advances, shipping instructions from customers, shipping docs to customers and so much more. I answer queries from customers (translation queries, file queries, etc.) and production (are these specs correct, did x customer want matt lam after all, how many advances to send). I also chase people a lot: customers who are late with their files, who haven’t sent me their shipping instructions yet, who haven’t approved their advances, etc. My spreadsheet coordination in order to track everything is immense – this is a job that requires you to be very, very organised.
As a Rights Coordinator, I’m very closely involved with production as I’ll be talking with them about specs for our picture books, or our schedules, or other production related items. Every week advances come in for foreign editions and I file a copy in our co-editions archive for future reference. I consult the archive a lot – for example, a customer sent us a purchase order citing spot UV on a jacket, but our previous deal memos don’t have spot UV on the jacket. Best way to sort that out is to check the physical copies: what did we actually print?
Finally, I am also responsible for a bulk of the reprint quotations and I have my own markets to look after. During an average week my work is about 80% coordinating co-editions and 20% selling.”
Could you tell us about your journey into publishing? Did you always want to work in rights?
“I actually always wanted to be an Editor! I decided early on I wasn’t going to pursue that career path and went into languages instead. About ten years into a career that I couldn’t really find my feet in and that I wasn’t enjoying, I quit and took an entry level job as a bookseller and quickly progressed to buyer. While there, I realised that I still wanted to be an Editor but struggled to get into the industry in my home country, because it’s so small. So, I quit my job and moved to Scotland to do a Masters in Publishing with the intention to use it to get a job back home. It was while I was doing that course that I realised I wouldn’t enjoy editorial much (all the reading and editing one is expected to do in one’s free time? No thanks) and that the departments I most wanted to work in were export sales, foreign rights and agenting. I’m now in rights and I love it, but what this role has shown me is that I would enjoy production too.”
Diversity and representation are big conversations in publishing. Do you think enough is being done for this – both in terms of the authors and books published, but also employment?
“I don’t think we can ever say that “now we are doing enough.” I think it’s utopian to believe that we can ever reach such a point where we are “done” and this work is not necessary.
I can’t speak for the industry as a whole, but at S&S I get the impression we are actually working towards both achieving our goals for diversity and representation – not just in the books we publish, but the people we hire. My impression is that of moving our goal posts further ahead when we get close to them. More can always be done, absolutely, and I don’t think we are perfect. My whiteness obviously gives me privileges that others don’t have so I don’t presume to speak for those of my colleagues who aren’t white, however as a queer, disabled working-class immigrant I feel safe working here.”
What is your top piece of advice for publishing hopefuls?
“Have a backup plan or two. Unfortunately, not everybody is going to get a job in publishing and you need to be prepared for what you’ll do if, after a certain point, you realise it’s not going to happen for you, or that it’s no longer worth it to keep trying. I think it’s important to set yourself a realistic deadline: if you haven’t got a job in publishing by x date, do something else and make your peace with it. That is what I did – in fact I was down to my last £50 and an emergency plane ticket home, ready to ditch the whole thing for my backup plan when I was offered my publishing job. The offer came in a week before my ‘deadline.’ I got lucky.”