By Roger Tagholm
LONDON: Agent Ed Victor’s e-book and print-on-demand publishing venture Bedford Square Books is to publish its first original work of fiction, a move that will be of concern to publishers and will surely raise the temperature on the question of the changing role of agents in the digital age.
Victor won’t say who the author is, but adds: “She is a very well-known woman and this is her first novel. I think it’s terrific, but publishers have turned it down in droves and I think they’re all wrong. They say that there’s no one likeable in it. Well, who’s likeable in Gone with the Wind? Who’s likeable in Vanity Fair?”
The news that he is to go ahead with an original title –- even one that has been turned down -– will surely worry publishers who fear being sidestepped. But Victor says he has bent over backwards “until my vertebrae cracked to assure the publishing industry that I am not competing with them. My preference is always to sell projects to publishers, but one of the pleasures of this new venture is being able to say to people: ‘Would you like to re-issue this wonderful book, because if you don’t, I will.’”
However, he observes, too -– and this is where publishers and booksellers worry –- that “the whole landscape has changed. The relationship between the consumer and the writer has changed, and the filters through which that has to pass.”
Agents such as Peter Cox of Redhammer in London have compared Victor’s small move into publishing as being akin to “a fox in the henhouse.” Concerns have been raised over conflicts of interest. (See last week’s editorial by Jason Allen Ashlock arguing against agent-publishers). “But is it a conflict of interest?,” says Victor. “I don’t think so. I think anything that an agent can do to extend their services, backing their author, is valid. And how can it be a conflict of interest if you come along, as I did for example, to the widow of Paul Eddy [author of Flint, one of BSB’s launch titles] and say to her ‘I’m going to put your husband’s book back into print.’ She had tears in her eyes.”
The initial plan was for BSB to launch with six titles just before Frankfurt, but Victor has decided to bring forward Good Times Bad Times, the memoir by the former editor of the UK Sunday Times and one-time publisher and president of Random House US, Harold Evans, because of the ongoing interest in the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal. The title will now be published on September 20.
BSB has an exclusive agreement with Open Road Media, the digital house run by former HarperCollins Worldwide President and CEO Jane Friedman, under which Open Road can decide which titles its want to publish and which to distribute.
On e-book royalties, though it may surprise some, Victor has been quite amenable to signing contracts for 25% of net receipts with a two-year review, but he believes this will shift upwards. “In the beginning I objected because publishers were demanding these rights even though they didn’t specifically have them in pre-1995 contracts. But they weren’t marketing them. Now, they’re actually doing something about marketing them – if you have rights, you need to do something, you need to exploit them.”
He remains concerned over whether digital sales will make up for the decline in print, and says: “I certainly hope so, because I’m already seeing -– as every agent is –- a sizeable decrease across the board in advances. I’ve just sold a book where I asked for £100,000 and took much less, and each of the publishers said that three years ago your £100,000 would have been a fair enough price and I would have agreed to it. So it’s tough.”
But he is relishing the challenge of digital and thinks he is becoming a better agent as a result –- this from someone who has been agenting since 1974! However, he admits he didn’t’ take to the new world immediately.
“Around three years ago I was very depressed about it all. I thought that by the time the industry reached this stage, I’d be dead. I would have lived my life when books were made of paper and I would have gone to meet my maker a happy man. And then – it was a New Year’s Eve in fact – I just suddenly thought, damn it, you know what, I’m going to enjoy this. I’m going to feel young and vital again, not that I felt old, and I’m going to be part of this revolution.”
The first six titles Victor is publishing through Bedford Square Books are, says Victor, “all classics in their field.” They will be published later this month and include:
- Good Times Bad Times by Sir Harold Evans
- Tales for the Telling by Edna O’Brien
- Flint by Paul Eddy
- The Secret History of Ancient Egypt by Herbie Brennan
- The Good Opera Guide by Sir Denis Forman
- Two Sides Of The Moon by David Scott & Alexel Leonov