Licensing Ideas for Authors
by Dan Parsons
When you own your rights as an author, you face near-endless opportunities. Knowing this, many authors don’t limit themselves to selling only books. They branch out, creating merchandise which they sell on their websites or on sites like Amazon, Ebay or Etsy. A few weeks ago, we published a blog post on Book Merch Ideas for Authors, which covers some of the easiest ways to capitalise on your intellectual property, including producing your own:
– Posters and prints
– and collectable buttons
While those products are simple to produce on your own, however, exploiting your IP in advanced ways can be more challenging. After all, it’s impossible for one person to gather the knowledge and connections required to succeed in every industry. You could try, but doing so would undoubtedly mean neglecting areas of your business that already make a profit. There just aren’t enough hours to do everything yourself.
Often, a faster and more profitable approach is to license the rights for particular ideas to specialised companies, letting the experts pursue potential income streams on your behalf in exchange for a share of the revenue. That way, you can focus on your core business – writing books – while they do the groundwork, develop prototypes, avoid red herrings, make connections and navigated red tape.
Today’s blog post will outline some of the rights you might want to consider licensing to save yourself a lot of hours and headaches. Whether it is because of high financial risks, government legislation or practical obstacles, handing these over to those who know what they’re doing could be your best and most profitable option.
Despite translations being one of the first options authors explore, most don’t know a second language well enough to handle the process themselves. As such, they have to hire multiple translators to write, edit and quality check the work. And that’s without considering the added complications that come with marketing books in a second language. The costs can quickly swell to unmanageable proportions for most writers. And while some thrive working with freelancers to do this, others regret it.
To mitigate some stress and financial risk, you could license those rights to a publishing company that would produce and market your work on your behalf in exchange for a cut of the profits. It’s an option that many writers recommend. Each translation deal might result in only a few thousand dollars of revenue, but that equates to selling thousands of books without you having to risk any cash on translators. Nab yourself multiple deals in one year and it can even generate five figures of profit for relatively little work.
TV AND MOVIES
For most of us, having our books turned into movies is the benchmark for stratospheric success. And while creating our own independent feature films to maintain creative control would be nice, nearly everyone baulks at the price of production. Indeed, even low-budget films cost upwards of seven figures. To compete with high-stakes fantasies like The Hobbit or Pirates of the Caribbean, you may even need closer to 200 million!
Besides the money, you also have to consider the infamous nepotism of Hollywood. It’s no secret that those with connections get the most visionary directors, the savviest producers and the most in-demand actors. Want to see your movie played in 2,000 cinemas worldwide or dominate the home page on Netflix? You’ll need connections for those too, plus a knowledge of movie law to make sure you don’t cost yourself millions along the way.
All things considered, when it comes to movies, licensing your IP is almost always the best option. Movies take years to produce and plans can fall through for myriad reasons but you can make a reasonable income by optioning your work to producers who will pay for the opportunity to try and get your book adapted within a specific timescale. If it doesn’t happen, you still keep the cash and get your rights back to license to someone else.
Much like translators, talented illustrators are expensive. Their time is valuable because their work is time-consuming, unscalable and difficult to replicate. Due to these factors, good ones can charge thousands to storyboard and produce a graphic novel. Combine this expense with the extra effort needed to produce, warehouse and distribute physical graphic novels and you can see that the costs can skyrocket.
Where graphic novels are concerned, the odds are stacked against you. Those that sell profitably are often backed by super-focused specialist companies or ride on the success of mega-brands like Disney (Frozen), Marvel (Spider-Man), DC (Batman), IDW (Star Trek) or Dark Horse (Hellboy). Again, however, it is possible to license your work to such companies for a tidy sum without you having to foot any risk.
TOYS AND BOARD GAMES
As mentioned in the previous post on merch ideas for authors, the toy industry is massive, so much so that merchandising Star Wars toys and games made George Lucas a multi-billionaire. Seeing such numbers, you might be tempted to develop your own products and hire a sales rep to approach supermarkets and toy store chains. However, you might want to think again.
Not only are toys and board games expensive to design and manufacture, they are also much larger than books, making them expensive to store if you’re planning to sell online, and difficult to stock with retailers who are cutthroat when it comes to shelf space. They are also hampered by having to pass a gauntlet of child safety tests. Considering these factors, once you have built a track record of simpler merchandise sales yourself, you might rather approach companies like Lego, Mattel or Hasbro at a trade fair and pitch for them to wade into this more competitive arena on your behalf.
Food companies share similar characteristics to toy producers but the perishable nature of their products means that stock flows faster. You can see this process in action on supermarket shelves every day when children ask their parents to buy cereals or yoghurts simply because they contain a free toy licensed to the company then devour the contents just to get to the prize. Food manufacturers can make more frequent sales because their product lifespans are shorter. While a child might play with a full-size toy for weeks, they can drain a cereal box or pack of yoghurts in days, then ask for another to get a second free toy.
In contrast, if a product doesn’t sell well, the business is left with a warehouse of rotting stock that might as well be a pile of burning money. It’s a high-risk, high-reward game, and that’s without considering the legal costs or meeting food standards and potential lawsuits. It’s obvious to see why even some of the world’s largest publishing companies license IP to food companies rather than exploit these rights inhouse.
This is a curveball idea but some of the planet’s most famous authors bolster their income by licensing their IP to businesses that provide escape room experiences. Those whose books are easy to recreate as a puzzle that can be completed in one or two small rooms work particularly well. There are multiple examples in the UK alone. Stephen King’s book Misery has been adapted so that fans can work to escape the eerie room in which Wilkes holds Sheldon hostage. Similarly, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code has birthed an immersive experience in which visitors must solve the type of puzzles that might challenge Robert Langdon.
Exploiting this IP right yourself would require you to rent or buy a building, plus hire staff to man the front desk and reset your rooms after customers have played a session. And that work doesn’t include the knot of issues that come with running a customer-facing business. If you have experience running a profitable business in this area already then this might a DIY task you want to handle yourself, but for most people it is a prime licensing opportunity.
As you can probably tell by now, you have a lot to consider when teasing apart your intellectual property because doing so effectively can multiply your author income. While you might not have a fanbase big enough to consider making such deals right now, this might become a plausible option as your characters and worlds snowball in popularity. Keep this in mind when selling off intellectual property rights because you never know what extra opportunities you could glean by licensing them in the future.
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