A few months before coming to Edinburgh, I had my first experience with the publishing industry in Mexico. I happen to know a young writer whose first novel was about to be published, and luckily for me he let me help in the process. One of the main things I noticed after reading the manuscript, was its intertextual quality. To create the rhythm of his writing, he constantly quotes other authors, poets and philosophers. As a consequence, the book is full of ‘hidden’ references, only noticeable because they were set in italics. As stated by the author, his intention was precisely that the identity of his own words and the ones borrowed became blurry by not mentioning any sources within the text nor in any reference list. At that time, we weren’t aware of any copyright norms, other than the academic way of referencing. Of course, we understood the importance to give the appropriate credit to IP, nevertheless the editor didn’t mention any copyright issues. Actually, he told the author that referencing to the original texts was optional and that no further action was required.
Fast-forward to the present and I’m halfway through the MSc Publishing course. During the last few months I’ve been able to learn about the different areas of the publishing industry, one of them being rights management and acquisition. Learning about rights in publishing was overwhelming, since I never imagined it to be such a complex and exploitable area. Once I overcame my initial fear to rights, the first thing that came to my mind was the book I helped publish a few months before. I couldn’t believe that the industry in my country and the one in the UK were so different regarding that matter! Happily, I was not the only one finding such differences surprising.
In February of this year, 4thEstate published Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, her first novel written in English (currently longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019). While reading this book, I couldn’t help but think about rights, since not far into the first few pages it becomes evident its intertextuality. A few weeks after the launch of her novel, Valeria came to Edinburgh where I had the chance to talk with her. During our chat, the problem of rights came up. As a Mexican, she was also surprised when her editor started questioning about all the literary references in her book. She mentioned that during the process of getting the permits in order, she was stunned to discover how much some authors charge when someone wants to quote even three words. Finally, Valeria found out a way of publishing her book without further problems. However, she faced some difficulties when reaching out to some of the authors, who didn’t allow her to write about them or quote them in any way. This situation forced her to change the names and create new fictional references. Why are the two industries so different? Would it be necessary to find a standardised way of dealing with rights? To what extent these issues are affecting the exchange between the industries?
Having gone through these experiences, I now question how IP is managed in my own country, and how different publishing houses are handled. After considering each of the approaches I had to the novels I mentioned before, I realise how far I’ve come from when I first started the course. From having no clue about the importance of rights, to being one of the first things that comes to my mind when I read a book. Just now I realise how enlightening it was coming to the UK in order to plan my next step: how can I adapt this knowledge to help develop the industry in my country?