SPOTLIGHT: Jessica Maslen, International Publishing Director
Our international rights team work tirelessly to market the translation rights of our clients in overseas territories, and to support the international publication and sale of their work. We spoke to Jessica Maslen, our International Publishing Director, to find out more about what Jessica and her team get up to.
What made you want to become an international rights agent?
Personally I had an international upbringing, spending half my life in Paris and half of my life in London and in Prague. That part of me, combined with the fact that I’ve always known I wanted to work in publishing, led me to foreign rights. I feel it’s so important for an agent working in international rights to have a love of and understanding of international culture, something that my team at The Blair Partnership have in spades. I love the diversity of the role, allowing me to understand current and developing foreign markets and to sell projects that I feel passionate about, all the whilst working within the industry that I love.
Describe an average day for you in your role.
Every day is different – there is no standard day. I could be pitching a new project to international publishers or liaising with our authors on the international publication of their work from book jackets to marketing campaigns. I have calls and meetings with international publishers to catch up on market trends and ascertain the type of projects that they are looking for, conduct market research, attend book fairs and events and, of course, negotiate and close the best possible deals for our clients. We also liaise in house with the agency team for updates on what is coming through the pipeline and provide feedback on its international potential. The aspect that I enjoy the most about my work is the variety; I can combine building the human and relationships side with strategic planning, sales and business. Days are intense and there is a lot to do, but we thrive on the lively atmosphere with chocolate and biscuits always available to get us through!
With such varying markets, how do you and your team know what an international publisher is looking for to ensure the work ends up in the right hands?
We maintain close and strong relationships with international publishers in all territories, as we do with overseas scouts, and conduct our own research to follow industry news and trends worldwide. We divide the territories within our team to play on our individual strengths, allowing each agent to develop strong market knowledge and key relationships abroad. We also are aware of what publishers have too much of: when a certain market within a territory becomes too saturated and publishers are crying out for a project that feels fresh and new, we are ready to strategically place the right work at the right time. Also, it’s important to never underestimate the diversity of a territory or to generalise on the projects they will pick up on, so we always approach each publisher in a way that is considered and individualised.
How would you describe your approach as an agent and a team/what is different about your approach as an agent and a team?
Uniquely, we work with all publishers directly and do not use sub agents, allowing us to really nurture our overseas relationships. We focus on account management, meaning we will be there every step of the international journey for a book from pitch to publication, feeding in on all aspects to support and strengthen the international launch and maximise its sales. We feedback to international publishers on English language plans and exciting news and work collaboratively. We keep tabs on the competition and follow how a book is doing internationally, always prepared to jump in with creative suggestions to boost its success.
Can you tell right away if you think a book is going to be an international bestseller? What does it take to have that broad appeal?
Yes, we normally know when a project will sell broadly to a number of international territories. Yet projects still have the fantastic ability to surprise you – markets change and can be unpredictable, and an international territory can show huge enthusiasm for a project that we didn’t initially expect would grab its imagination. We use our negotiation, enthusiasm and understanding of a project to pitch it in the best possible way to all international publishers, stressing the originality and appeal of the work. When selling, we work to build momentum by sharing a projects good news stories, such as the number of international deals closed or film and TV rights sold, to create a buzz around the project that everyone will want to get in on. We can be creative, producing gifs or other assets to make a project stand out and demand attention in the busy market.