Little, Brown launches literary e-imprint

Little, Brown has become the first publisher to launch a digital imprint devoted to frontlist literary fiction and non-fiction, arguing that the more developed social media and e-book environment has created opportunities for new works to be discovered without a physical edition.

The new imprint, Blackfriars, will be the first e-book-only list to focus on traditionally acquired frontlist literary titles and new voices, rather than genres such as romance or backlist works.

Blackfriars has been set up by Clare Smith, publishing director of LB/Abacus, and Ursula Doyle, associate publisher at Virago. The launch titles, coming in June 2013, will be The Family Thief by Annabel Markova, a “beautifully written story of a unique family”; The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan, a novel set in Belle Epoque Paris, and Too Good to be True: A Memoir by Benjamin Anastas, described as “honest, raw and darkly funny”. Nine to 12 titles will be published each year, with Smith stressing that the imprint will “move quickly” and release print editions if the demand was there.

Smith said the development of the e-book market and the social media world meant there was a “way through the labyrinth” to connect readers with digital-only titles. Blackfriars will have its own dedicated publicist from the LB team, and its own website with extra content and ways for readers to interact with the publisher. LB is also currently in discussions with a media partner to promote the imprint and its titles.

The agents who have already done business with Blackfriars have said there was value in experimenting with e-book-led publishing through an established house. Bill Hamilton of A M Heath, who did the deal for The Family Thief, backed LB’s ability to “find another route to the reader”.

WME agent Cathryn Summerhayes, who sold British Commonwealth (BCN) rights in The Painted Girls to Doyle on behalf of Dorian Karchmar, and whose colleague Becky Thomas sold BCN rights in Anastas’ title on behalf of Bill Clegg, said she had confidence in LB’s marketing abilities, and Smith and Doyle’s “trusted” publishing skills.

Summerhayes said another “convincing” element was that the imprint’s titles would be viable for submission to the literary prizes, including the Man Booker. Digital titles are accepted by prizes including the Man Booker Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction, with the condition that they are published by “established” houses and made available for sale in print if the title is selected by the judges at the shortlisting or longlisting stage, respectively.

It is understood, however, that royalty rates on the titles are largely the same as those on standard combined print and e- deals. Literary agencies Curtis Brown and Andrew Lownie recently chose to launch their own e-book publishing programmes using Amazon to make titles available and earn higher royalty rates.  

The launch of Blackfriars follows on from experiments with frontlist digital imprints by publishers for romancetitles, with Piatkus Entice, and dedicated online platforms for crime and SFF e-books such as LB’s own Crime Vault and Gollancz’s SF Gateway.