News

Sheil Land shut out by Sharpe Random e-deal

Random House UK is to publish veteran author Tom Sharpe's backlist digitally after making a direct approach to the author without the involvement of his agent Sonia Land, chief executive of Sheil Land Associates.

The publisher informed his agent Sheil Land this week that the 83-year-old author of books such as Porterhouse Blue and Wilt had signed an addendum to his author contract allowing the publisher to issue 11 backlist books as e-books. The manner of the approach has been criticised by other agents and has infuriated Land. Anthony Goff, president of the Association of Authors Agents said violating the principle that publishers should not discuss contractual arrangements with agented authors direct was "unacceptable".

Cornerstone m.d. Susan Sandon travelled to Sharpe's home in Spain in order to discuss the publication of the author's forthcoming paperback The Wilt Inheritance, and concluded "months of conversations" with Sharpe over his e-book rights at that meeting. Sandon sent an email to Land informing her of Sharpe's decision. In the email she said Sharpe had been very keen to to see his backlist reproduced in digital format, and as a result had agreed to sign an amended contract.

Random House confirmed that a deal had been struck direct with the author. A Cornerstone spokesman added: "Susan has had a long and collaborative relationship with Tom Sharpe, and sees him on a regular basis."

Publication of the digital titles will coincide with the publication of The Wilt Inheritance in Arrow paperback on 26th May, with titles such as Blott on the Landscape, Grantchester Grind, and Wilt, becoming available for the first time. The Cornerstone spokesman added: "As Tom’s longstanding publisher we want to make his books as widely available as possible to maximise his income and to reach as wide an audience as possible in whatever format they prefer. Thanks to Tom’s full and considered support for our plans to make his backlist available digitally for the first time we can now fully market and promote both the physical and e-books whilst offering him the best possible protection from piracy."

It is not clear whether the development is a retaliation for Land's decision to publish Catherine Cookson's extensive backlist under her own imprint Peach Publishing, having offered the Cookson estate a greater share of the royalty rates. Transworld, Cookson's print publisher, is also owned by Random House. At the time Land named Sharpe as one of a number of authors who she might also consider taking direct.

Land was not available for comment, but a statement put out by the agency read: "Sheil Land is not alone in differing with Random House and other publishers over e-book royalty rates. Publishers are there to sell books and make money for the companies that own them. Agents are there to find the best publishers for their authors and look after their interests. Does Random House now regard it as open season, so that in the middle of any difficult negotiation they feel they have the right to go behind authors' appointed representatives' backs? Publishers' reluctance to share more equitably in the profits from e-books has been a stumbling block for years. It is time that they acknowledged here, as they have begun to do elsewhere, that a flat royalty rate can never be fair for an author of Tom Sharpe's stature." Sharpe has been represented by the agency for 30 years.

One agent, who preferred not to be named, described the direct approach as a "clear breach of ethics". Goff, an agent at David Higham and president of the AAA, said he could not comment on the particulars of this arrangement, but stressed the principle was very clear.

"Once an author has a deal with an agent, then for a publisher to go behind that agent's back for financial or contractual discussions is totally unacceptable. It is not just that agents don't want it, neither do authors. There is a reason agents are employed as advisers."

Publishers spoken to by The Bookseller confirmed that it was "unusual, but not unprecedented" and occurred when authors were unsatisfied with their agents. Goff said he could only recall one or two cases where this has happened in his life-time as an agent.

A rival publisher said the development was an inevitable consequence of the decision of some agents to begin publishing. "What did she expect? Sheil Land went into competition with Random House, not the other way round." A second publisher added: "Can they not see the irony in wanting to respect convention in some areas, but not in all?"

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Sonia Land to the press re Catherine Cookson, 27th March: "'I haven't told either firm about the deal and I am sure they are going to kick up a fuss about it. But at the end of the day, what can they say?"

The biter bit.

This just shows the unbelievable arrogance of corporate publishers who care nothing of their authors and far too much of their careers. With all due respect, I don't imagine Tom Sharpe knows the ins and outs of eBook royalty negotiation. Disgraceful.

Quite. And I'll wager that the editor had far, far more contact with Sharpe full stop than did Sonia.

The agents (Land, Victor) have been taking the lead on dismantling the existing relationships between publishers, agents and authors. They can't really complain when what goes around comes around.

I've no idea how much Mr Sharpe knows about ebook royalty negotiation, but since his agent, who is supposed to represent his interests, had already said she wanted his backlist published by her own epub business, I'd guess he felt he wasn't going to get disinterested advice from that quarter.

The author will have done fine out of this - it's a high profile slap in the face that RH can afford to be generous on to make their point.

If the author didn't think he was getting a great deal, he'd have rung his agent and asked what deal she could give him from her own epub company. It's unlikely she'll not have suggested something to the author already; it's not as if she'll have only bothered to discuss it with just the Cookson estate.

This is pretty sinister, especially given the age of Sharpe. I'd hope the deal was equitable, but it's undisclosed and I guess we'll never know. (Of course, the better the deal, the more secret it needs to be to stave of other RH authors throwing their arms up. So I suppose there's hope they didn't mercilessly stiff him.)

Sheil Land was daft not to talk to RH in the first place, merely as a courtesy, but this move is worse. It's hostile, and not just to SL. Has RH declared open warfare on all agents - and their contracts with authors - now? Can every agent with RH authors and unbought rights expect RH to be imminently, or already, going behind their backs to acquire them directly?

This feels like a slap in the face from the biggest publisher to every literary agent going IMO.

While I see why RH would want revenge, this is disgusting. It will have agents worried and surely cannot be good for the industry.

Don't write him off because of his age. I don't think it's sinister, if you read in detail. Sharpe had spent months having email discussions with Random House about eBook rights, and he clearly chose not to tell his agent about this, perhaps, as someone else suggested, because he didn't think she was a disinterested party.

Maybe you're right - but I'd have thought he'd have plumped for a new agent if that was the case, since it's a pretty big break down in a relationship.

And I would be surprised if RH had given him 50%. I know 50 year old authors who are unclear on exactly what an eBook is, so I wasn't trying to be ageist. Pretty sure there's no Kindle or Kindle store in Spain, too, so I can imagine it seeming pie in the sky to him.

Ah, but you see, if he left, his backlist and entire career would remain with Sheil Land, who (mostly under another agent) did the contracts. Unless he's about to produce ten new novels, it doesn't make that much sense.

Sorry, random offered standard 25%, and the words ripped off spring to mind. sonia is sptting feathers, unsurprisingly. disreputable on many levels.

my understand is that the word months is a very generous interpretation on the length of time these discussions took.

Given what Land did with Cookson's backlist for e-book rights, and ignoring/shutting out Transworld, methinks this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black...

RH gave Sharpe 25%? (And no escalator?)

And spent months negotiating that with him?

That can't be true. If it is, they've disgracefully abused one of their authors in order to make a cheap point against a literary agent.

Pot calling the kettle black indeed after the Cookson affair.

I'm not sure whether all these concerns for the author are founded on genuine concern for the author or concern for the future of Agent & Publisher relationships.

Mr. Sharpe is presumably a very intelligent and experienced author who with the briefest amount of research could understand the current state of ebook sales and the arguments around royalty rates. It would seem in this case the author choose to trust his publisher rather than his agent, not sure that RH are really the big bad wolf here.

Exactly. Sharpe's been around long enough to know what an agent is for, he must have made the decision that they weren't going to get him the best outcome, for whatever reason.

However...if RH spent months negotiating directly with Sharpe, they must have been planning to shaft Sheil Land long before she dropped the Cookson bomb on them?

Hmm.

What goes around, comes around. That'll teach her. Or not. :-)

I think they probably just showed Tom Sharpe the new Catherine Cookson covers.

A clear breach ethics eh? And what do you agents call setting up epublishing houses? The author pays you to represent their best interests. How can you do that when you've got a clear conflict of interest? I think the time is coming when authors will have to do away with agents altogether. Relying primarily on IP lawyers for contract negotiation.

Sonia Land to the press re Catherine Cookson, 27th March: "'I haven't told either firm about the deal and I am sure they are going to kick up a fuss about it. But at the end of the day, what can they say?"

The biter bit.

Quite. And I'll wager that the editor had far, far more contact with Sharpe full stop than did Sonia.

This just shows the unbelievable arrogance of corporate publishers who care nothing of their authors and far too much of their careers. With all due respect, I don't imagine Tom Sharpe knows the ins and outs of eBook royalty negotiation. Disgraceful.

The agents (Land, Victor) have been taking the lead on dismantling the existing relationships between publishers, agents and authors. They can't really complain when what goes around comes around.

I've no idea how much Mr Sharpe knows about ebook royalty negotiation, but since his agent, who is supposed to represent his interests, had already said she wanted his backlist published by her own epub business, I'd guess he felt he wasn't going to get disinterested advice from that quarter.

The author will have done fine out of this - it's a high profile slap in the face that RH can afford to be generous on to make their point.

If the author didn't think he was getting a great deal, he'd have rung his agent and asked what deal she could give him from her own epub company. It's unlikely she'll not have suggested something to the author already; it's not as if she'll have only bothered to discuss it with just the Cookson estate.

This is pretty sinister, especially given the age of Sharpe. I'd hope the deal was equitable, but it's undisclosed and I guess we'll never know. (Of course, the better the deal, the more secret it needs to be to stave of other RH authors throwing their arms up. So I suppose there's hope they didn't mercilessly stiff him.)

Sheil Land was daft not to talk to RH in the first place, merely as a courtesy, but this move is worse. It's hostile, and not just to SL. Has RH declared open warfare on all agents - and their contracts with authors - now? Can every agent with RH authors and unbought rights expect RH to be imminently, or already, going behind their backs to acquire them directly?

This feels like a slap in the face from the biggest publisher to every literary agent going IMO.

Don't write him off because of his age. I don't think it's sinister, if you read in detail. Sharpe had spent months having email discussions with Random House about eBook rights, and he clearly chose not to tell his agent about this, perhaps, as someone else suggested, because he didn't think she was a disinterested party.

Maybe you're right - but I'd have thought he'd have plumped for a new agent if that was the case, since it's a pretty big break down in a relationship.

And I would be surprised if RH had given him 50%. I know 50 year old authors who are unclear on exactly what an eBook is, so I wasn't trying to be ageist. Pretty sure there's no Kindle or Kindle store in Spain, too, so I can imagine it seeming pie in the sky to him.

Ah, but you see, if he left, his backlist and entire career would remain with Sheil Land, who (mostly under another agent) did the contracts. Unless he's about to produce ten new novels, it doesn't make that much sense.

While I see why RH would want revenge, this is disgusting. It will have agents worried and surely cannot be good for the industry.

Sorry, random offered standard 25%, and the words ripped off spring to mind. sonia is sptting feathers, unsurprisingly. disreputable on many levels.

my understand is that the word months is a very generous interpretation on the length of time these discussions took.

Given what Land did with Cookson's backlist for e-book rights, and ignoring/shutting out Transworld, methinks this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black...

RH gave Sharpe 25%? (And no escalator?)

And spent months negotiating that with him?

That can't be true. If it is, they've disgracefully abused one of their authors in order to make a cheap point against a literary agent.

Pot calling the kettle black indeed after the Cookson affair.

I'm not sure whether all these concerns for the author are founded on genuine concern for the author or concern for the future of Agent & Publisher relationships.

Mr. Sharpe is presumably a very intelligent and experienced author who with the briefest amount of research could understand the current state of ebook sales and the arguments around royalty rates. It would seem in this case the author choose to trust his publisher rather than his agent, not sure that RH are really the big bad wolf here.

Exactly. Sharpe's been around long enough to know what an agent is for, he must have made the decision that they weren't going to get him the best outcome, for whatever reason.

However...if RH spent months negotiating directly with Sharpe, they must have been planning to shaft Sheil Land long before she dropped the Cookson bomb on them?

Hmm.

What goes around, comes around. That'll teach her. Or not. :-)

I think they probably just showed Tom Sharpe the new Catherine Cookson covers.

A clear breach ethics eh? And what do you agents call setting up epublishing houses? The author pays you to represent their best interests. How can you do that when you've got a clear conflict of interest? I think the time is coming when authors will have to do away with agents altogether. Relying primarily on IP lawyers for contract negotiation.