So I freaked some of you out with the Decision Tree for licensing projects, which was the subject of the last post. I know this because many of you defaulted to the tried-and-true “I’m not famous enough yet,” which I dealt with in the previous post.
The thing is, folks, you license your writing/work/characters/setting the moment you send it into the public sphere, whether you do so by publishing on your website or on some etailer site like Amazon or through a big traditional publisher.
You’re already licensing your work and none of you are as famous as J.K. Rowling. Not a single one of you.
So what’s the hang-up?
I figure some of the problem is the amount of work involved. I admit, as I have from the beginning of this series, the amount of work here to realize the potential of the work is overwhelming, whether you have finished two novels or two hundred.
As I looked at that decision tree long before I published the blog post about it, I understood deep in my bones why some of the speakers at the Licensing University at the Las Vegas Licensing Expo introduced themselves along these lines: I handled licensing for the DC Comics Division of Warner Brothers or I handled NFL merchandising in conjunction with ESPN.
These speakers, experts all, worked on certain brands or a handful of properties, because to do more would be madness. Some of these brands/properties had hundreds of licenses, which needed to be negotiated, created, and tracked.
Right now, I’m assuming most of you readers are a single proprietor shop. You can’t do everything, nor should you. Which is why, last time, I gave you a formula to figure out what to license from that decision tree per property.
You’ll need to do a variation on:
What Interests Me + What’s Best For The Project + How Much Time Will It Take + Can I Do It Or Do I Need Help=Do It! (or Don’t Do It.)
Then, if you have a lot of properties, you’ll need a different formula:
The Property I Care About The Most + What Will I Gain + Can I Do It Or Do I Need Help + How Much Time Will It Take = Where This Property Falls On The Priority List
Let me explain a couple things in the second formula.
The Property I Care About The Most: You might have a property that is your baby, the one you have the highest hopes for and the one that can get the full Rowling treatment (from food to theme parks to movies to clothing). But you don’t feel ready to exploit all the licensing rights to this property.
This is the point that some of you are driving at when you say you’re not famous enough to do what you want. But you’re framing the response completely wrong. You’re not educated enough to do this. You’re not experienced enough at negotiation to do this. And you don’t have as much clout as you want to partner with the right kinds of licensees (say, Netflix or General Mills) so that they’ll give you the kind of deal that you feel the property deserves.
Fair enough, and quite important actually. It’s best to know what you aren’t ready for.
So you can practice and learn on properties you care less about, properties that will allow you to make the inevitable mistakes.
That’s a legitimate and sound business decision—provided you spend the time after you’ve made that decision educating yourself, learning negotiation, and experimenting with some of your other properties.
If “I’m not famous enough” is just an excuse that you’ve found to stop yourself from even trying this, then you’re going to be caught flat-footed when some licensee tries to partner with you. And licensees will, at all levels of success for your property. What they offer differs from the profile of the property.
For example, if you’re a new writer or this is a new project, someone might want a free license. Run, don’t walk, from these people. They don’t respect you. They would never approach George R.R. Martin with a proposal for something free. (Although they did, back in his early days. I remember him telling stories about it. George was too savvy even then to accept those terms.)
Your licensing partner needs skin in the game, and some of that skin comes from a payment to you. That payment might be a small token payment or it might be quite large. Again, it depends on what your goal is on the licensing itself.
Which brings us to:
What Will I Gain: All most writers think about is money. Much of the response I’ve received to these licensing posts is some variation on this “How much money can I expect from doing this?” and the people who ask get very frustrated with me when I answer “That depends.”
Because it does depend—on the contract, on the licensed product, on the contract term, on the markets being exploited, on the originality/newness of the idea (theirs or yours. After all, there weren’t escape rooms twenty years ago. Someone took the leap first).
What you might gain are things so intangible that no one else knows what they are. You might gain experience negotiating. You might enter into a negotiation, and push the envelope, seeing how far you can go before your partner says no. You might gain entry into a larger world, as you build the steps toward licensing the more important project. You might learn this (with little or no risk) to test a new IP attorney or to see what licensing entails before you hire someone to help you with it.
Or you might gain some small products that are perfect for your product, from foreign editions to challenge coins. Small licenses with small amounts of money can add up to a lot of money over time. Any financial planner will tell you it’s better to have a lot of smaller investments that earn consistently than it is to have one big risky investment that earns a lot now but might disappear tomorrow.
Again, what you will gain from these things is personal. You go into these deals, these licenses, with an eye toward what you want, not what I’m telling you to want. But you need to know before you enter into any deal what you want from that deal.
Knowing what you want will affect how you negotiate.
Can I Do It Or Do I Need Help: We discussed this last time. But let me add one caveat: you might be able to do the physical work, but is it better for you to do the work or is it better to license out that work to someone who can do it for you? That’s always the question, along with:
How Much Time Will It Take: You need to apply Scott Carter’s WIBBOW test to this license, whatever it might be.
The WIBBOW test is: Would I Be Better Off Writing?
The answer is almost always yes. If that’s who you are and what you want to do.
You might discover you like making YouTube shorts better than you like putting words on the page. In that case, you’ve gained something from licensing your work: you’ve learned that you have a slightly different career than the one you initially imagined.
I get caught in my own WIBBOW test a lot when it comes to audio. I’m trained to do audio—radio background, wrote radio plays and scripts, love engineering audio (I truly love it)—and so I constantly think about doing my own audio books.
But if I do, I lose several novels a year to the time factor, and I would rather write novels than mess with audio, no matter how good I am (or how much I love) the audio work.
You’ll have those things too.
But one thing you cannot farm out, for any amount of time savings, is the decision-making. You need to be the one to decide what properties get licensed and to whom. You’ll also need to be the person who negotiates the initial deal, so that you take full responsibility for that deal.
One of the earlier posts dealt with Paul McCartney and the Beatles, looking a licensing a new product that McCartney, Ringo Starr, and the estates of the other two Beatles did not entirely understand. They made certain they understood what they were licensing before committing to the deal…and they also made certain they know what the potential upside was—what they wanted to gain in this.
What did they gain? Oh, they gained money. How much is buried in the terms of the deal. But what they really gained was a new generation of fans they wouldn’t have tapped otherwise.
You could argue that a new generation of fans is money, and I would support that argument. But more than that: a new generation of fans is sustainability. You’ll get other benefits from each new fan—they’ll buy the backlist, the t-shirts, come to the concerts (readings for you writers) and (most importantly) tell their friends about your work.
Art survives when multiple generations enjoy it. And that’s sometimes a goal of licensing as well.
The real key for time management with licensing is this:
Your primary job is writing. Your secondary job is to make sure the public sees your storytelling in one form or another. For most of us, that’s in book form.
After those two jobs, then you’ll need to learn licensing/negotiation because you will need those skills down the road, no matter what. I was a baby writer with a handful of stories out when a theater in LA approached me to license the rights to use one of my stories as a monologue. I had no idea what I was doing. But if I had known then what I know now…
And that’s the key. Make learning your third job, followed by some kind of schedule. You might have time to figure out how to license one teeny part of a property. So schedule that first. Then move to the next, and the next, and the next.
The key here is this:
You can’t do this all at once. None of us can. Nor can you do everything. Again, none of us can. But you can get started.
And you can stop being afraid of licensing. It’s part of your business. In fact, licensing is how your business reaches the public and earns money. So you need to learn how to leverage licensing in the way that is best for your business.
Manage your time using the formulas above along with the WIBBOW test. Keep track of what you do in some kind of spreadsheet/calendar/diary.
You’ll be surprised what you will have accomplished by this time next year.
Dean and I were surprised in June when the Licensing Expo changed the way we approach our business. I had a hunch that would happen, but not to this extent. We’re doing a lot of learning, and getting overwhelmed, just like you are. But we’re excited too.
We have Deidre J. Manna-Bratten of the Global Licensing Group speaking at our Business Master Class in October. She’ll be doing quite a few sessions and answering questions—probably some of them from us! There are still five slots open in the class, but I don’t know how long they’ll last.
Dean’s also doing a learn-along as WMG Publishing makes its transition to a more licensing based focus. Licensing Transition: A Year-Long Journey From IP To License is something you can sign onto, and interact with him and others taking the course.
I’m also doing some extra blogs on Patreon, and will continue to do so as the year progresses. Many are focused on licensing.
But I’ll be finishing this series here, so no worries if you don’t want to go to Patreon. The series will be free on this site, and will remain here. I suspect I’ll make a book out of it as well.
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“Business Musings: Time Management Again (Rethinking The Writing Business Part Nine),” copyright © 2019 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / andrewgenn.