Behind the Book: Q&A with Nicola DeRobertis-Theye, Associate Director of Subsidiary Rights 

In celebration of W. W. Norton & Company’s 100th year of publishing, we’re offering readers a behind the scenes glimpse into the bookmaking process—the people behind the books and the products we create! Through our “Behind the Book” blog series, discover who plays a role in creating a book, what daily life looks like at Norton, and what being part of an independent and employee-owned company means. 

Photo of Nicola DeRobertis-Theye
Nicola DeRobertis-Theye

Nicola DeRobertis-Theye joined Norton in 2018 as subsidiary rights manager and became associate director of Subsidiary Rights in 2022. Based in New York City, she licenses translation, audio, book club, and other rights to Norton’s titles to publishers across the country and the world. 

What is your current role, and what part do you play in the book-publishing process?

I license subsidiary rights—mostly translation and audio to Norton’s titles, depending on which rights Norton holds. Subsidiary rights are, very broadly speaking, the rights that don’t include publication of the Norton hardcover printed book as a whole—so, for example, the right to make an audio book, to publish a Japanese translation, etc. I also work on book-club, and the occasional paperback, first serial, and film deals.

How did you end up at Norton, or what enticed you to apply?

I had been working as a foreign-rights agent at a literary agency and was attracted to the high quality of Norton’s books, and of course the fact that the house is independent and employee-owned. I’m from the Bay Area, and there was a strong culture of employee-owned cooperatives around me when I was growing up.

For your current role, what does an average day look like?

Lots of email. Since I work with people from all over the world, there’s a bit of time-zone prioritizing, first thing—who do I need to catch at their desks before the end of the day their time (so, the UK and Europe), whereas for China and Japan it’s the middle of the night and I can respond to emails by the end of the day without it usually making a difference. So I’m answering emails, submitting books for translation and audio sales, chasing manuscripts and publicity updates, sending covers and audio narrators for author approval. Also, lots of meetings, whether editorial boards and marketing meetings, or department meetings with the Subrights team, as well as meetings and lunches with foreign and audiobook editors visiting New York, which is starting to happen again after the pandemic.

What skills do you need to succeed in your job? Did any previous work or life experience help you in your role?

You need to be extremely organized, efficient, and thorough. Since we’re dealing with contractual commitments, we have to ensure we have the rights we are hoping to offer before, for example, we send a pdf to a foreign publisher. There’s a lot of detail-oriented paperwork and reviewing contracts. But at the same time, a major skill needed in Subrights is being able to comfortably pitch books in person while attending international books fairs several times a year, so you need to be a bit of an extrovert. Lots of thinking on your feet and pivoting what you planned to talk about based on feedback you’re getting from the editor. And you need to love to read, and be able to read a lot. I think jobs like waitressing and being a receptionist have given me a lot of comfort in reading people, juggling priorities, and thinking on my feet. What is not really expected is being fluent in other languages, as the business is conducted in English. But having an interest in countries around the world is a must!

Are there any projects or initiatives you introduced to your department or Norton?

I’ve helped update how we track and chase contracts and payments, which sounds boring but makes our day-to-day lives in Subrights much smoother and less stressful!

How has your current job/role changed while you’ve worked at Norton?

Subrights is always an exciting place to be because rights change over time. Decades ago, first serial (when an excerpt of a book runs in a newspaper or magazine ahead of publication) was a big moneymaker. Recently, there’s been the audio boom. In the foreign markets, trends come and go, and different language markets wax and wane as well. And as technologies evolve, we get to think about how they intersect with the book rights we handle.

What advice would you give someone just starting out in publishing?

Be open to roles that are not the obvious ones, and don’t be picky when it comes to getting your foot in the door.

Lastly, what do you like to do outside of work? Any fun hobbies or recent reads you would recommend?

I am also a writer and published a novel, The Vietri Project, with Harper in 2021.

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