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Top UK Agent Launches His Own Publishing Company

Posted: May 11th, 2011, 11:08 am
by dgaughran
There was some interesting news in The Bookseller yesterday. Ed Victor, one of the top UK agents, has announced he is setting up his own publishing division – Bedford Square Books - story here:

He’s not the first to do it.

Andrew Wylie made waves last year when he announced Odyssey Editions – his own imprint to publish his authors’ backlists (including Roth, Bellow, and Updike) – rights which had reverted from trade deals. Scott Waxman has set up his own publishing company called Diversion Books. And, Sonia Land walked away from a publishing deal to go it alone with e-versions of Catherine Cookson’s estate.

However, Ed Victor’s move is newsworthy because he is the first top UK agent to announce that – on top of publishing backlists as e-books – he will be seeking the stars of tomorrow.

Ed Victor is offering a 50/50 split with his authors on e-royalties. This sounds okay, but when you hold it up to the light, it’s not quite as attractive.

First, that split is after the retailer gets their 30% of the list price. Second, that split is after the producer of the book – a digital production company called Acorn – get’s a percentage too.

The Bookseller article also says that net receipts won’t be divvied up until “production costs” are covered, but doesn’t say if these are referring to the percentage going to Acorn, or further costs such as marketing and promotion.

Ed Victor may have the best of intentions, but there are a few reasons why I think this is not such a great deal for writers. First off, I can’t understand his logic in paying a digital production company a percentage of your royalties forever instead of a flat fee. There are plenty of companies out there who do top quality work for a fee – no need to pay a percentage.

Also, the author ends up with a lot less than 50%. Once Amazon get their cut (30%), and Acorn get their cut (for the sake of argument, let’s say 10%), that leaves the writer and Ed Victor to split 60% – leaving 30% each.

Finally, if these “production costs” are not coming out of Ed Victor’s percentage (the article seems to indicate this is not the case) and are not counted for in Acorn’s percentage (the article is unclear), then the writer gets even less than 30%.

This is not significantly better than a trade house, it’s far worse than what you get in some smaller presses, and it’s less than half what you get from self-publishing.

And, the best agent in the world might know a lot about how to sell books to trade houses, foreign rights, movie rights, contracts, and royalty statements, but they might know nothing about how to produce a top quality book and get it into the hands of lots and lots of readers.

How much does the average literary agent understand about Amazon rankings, Google PageRank, Twitter, Facebook Pages, Goodreads, SEO, cover design, formatting, editing, CPC, CPM, regional targeting, AdWords, blogging, spam laws, Shelfari, or blurb copy writing?

How much do they know about tagging, proofing, pricing strategies, DRM, giveaways, digital piracy, EPUB, Kobo, hyperlinks, mailing lists, MOBI, effective back-matter, Smashwords, KDP, or PubIt?

These are just some of the many, many things a digital publisher will have to get their head around. And, looking at the production levels, the covers, the formatting, the front matter, and the Amazon rankings of some of the Catherine Cookson e-books, I would respectfully suggest that these skills have yet to be mastered.

I gave my opinion on all this on my blog, but I would love to know what you guys think.

Would you sign with an agent/publisher hybrid? Do you think they have the necessary skills to make an e-book from scratch into a hit? Do you see any conflict of interest issue in agents becoming publishers? Do you see these guys taking clients away from major publishers?

Re: Top UK Agent Launches His Own Publishing Company

Posted: May 15th, 2011, 6:00 am
by Julianna
I think the concept of an agent or editor becoming an ebook publishing house is a good one. That said, I fully agree that they'll have to do a lot better than the roughly 30% the author is looking at in the example you give above before they are successful. I would say the percentage they could take and still get a lot of authors (or at least new authors :) interested would need to be the reverse - they get no more than 30% of the author's take, and they (not the author) pay any fees, etc they incur while they come up w/good cover art, edit the work, prep it for epublishing, do at least a little bit of marketing, etc.

It'll definitely be interesting to see how all this turns out.

Thanks for your posts! I enjoy reading your blog and appreciate your giving a lot of very valuable information and useful links.


Re: Top UK Agent Launches His Own Publishing Company

Posted: May 15th, 2011, 6:27 am
by dgaughran
Hi Juliana,

In the article where Ed Victor announced his move he said that the company that will actually produce the books - Acorn Independent Publishing - will actually get a percentage of the royalties for each book produced, rather than a flat fee, which is just crazy. And on the basis of the article where the news was reported, this WILL come out of the author's take.

But agents make bad publishers for one simple reason. They are supposed to be your impartial advisor. They can't be impartial if they are also a publisher. An author's interests and a publisher's interests aren't always 100% aligned. Not least when it comes to the details of negotiating a publishing contract.

Curtis Brown (UK - separate from the US company) have signalled they will follow. They also have a $2000 "creative writing" course where they claim that offers of representation will be offered to outstanding students. Another huge conflict of interest.


Re: Top UK Agent Launches His Own Publishing Company

Posted: May 15th, 2011, 8:09 am
by Julianna
Hi Dave,

Thanks for the response. :)

I was writing on the assumption (which I didn't state - sorry about that) that if an agent turned epublisher, they would no longer be acting as an agent to anyone, so at least that particular conflict of interest would disappear. I did assume they'd get a percentage of royalties - that's why I think their percentage could be no more than 30% of the author's take rather than the other way around (though I wouldn't use them for even that high a percentage unless left with no alternatives).

I think flat fee is much better overall, but then the author has a lot of money out of pocket up front, and a lot of authors don't have that kind of cash. :-\ I'd personally rather just do it indie if I am going to take the epublishing approach. (Now if I can just figure out where to get a good editor who'll work with me withoout my having to spend several thousand up front.... :-)


Re: Top UK Agent Launches His Own Publishing Company

Posted: May 15th, 2011, 8:27 am
by dgaughran
Hey Julianna,

I hear what your saying, but all these agents are still acting as agents too. Ed Victor said he isn't even going to hire any additional staff, that this imprint will be staffed by his existing agency staff.

There is also one other important thing.

When you sign with an agent you agree to give them 15% of your publishing contract (advance and royalties). Once that contract runs out, so does the agents' 15%. If they don't like your next book, or you don't like their performance, you can move on, and they don't get a percentage if you sell the reprint rights for that book because they don't negotiate the contract. This is the way it normally works.

However, when an agent becomes a publisher, they are getting a percentage of your copyright. They own a chunk of that book forever. Big difference.

I'm all for indie publishing, and trade publishing, and smaller presses. They all have their pros and cons, depending on your circumstances.

However, I cannot see one single advantage of going with an agent/publisher hybrid. None at all.

If you want to see what kind of books they produce, check this out: ... 394&sr=1-2

The inside is as bad as the cover. Really shoddy work with one of the UK's best-loved novelists (who is deceased).


Re: Top UK Agent Launches His Own Publishing Company

Posted: May 22nd, 2011, 3:47 pm
by Mira
This is really fascinating.

dgaughran, I find your arguments to be compelling.

I'm not sure I feel comfortable with the ethics here.

Re: Top UK Agent Launches His Own Publishing Company

Posted: June 9th, 2011, 7:52 am
by poptart

Re: Top UK Agent Launches His Own Publishing Company

Posted: June 9th, 2011, 7:59 am
by dgaughran
I was just reading that!

Peter Cox is bang on the money here.