News

Two pre-LBF deals top £1m in rights frenzy

Agents have claimed two big-money deals worth £500,000 each, which could mark a return to confidence in the rights market in the crucial weeks ahead of next month's London Book Fair.

Simon & Schuster publishing director Suzanne Baboneau won UK & Commonwealth rights to début, The Age of Miracles written, coincidentally, by S&S US editor Karen Thompson Walker. The title was secured for "pretty close" to £500,000, according to agent Cathryn Summerhayes, who handled the deal.

Summerhayes, at William Morris Entertainment, working on behalf of primary agent Eric Simonoff in New York, hailed the high-figure deal as "a sign that things are picking up". Picador and Fourth Estate were the underbidders in the final round of the auction.

Summerhayes added: "This is one of the most assured and emotive débuts I've ever read and it was incredibly thrilling that so many UK publishers felt the same. It was the most competitive auction I've ever had the opportunity to run and I'm thrilled with the outcome."

The book opens with a family in a Californian town waking up to the news that the world is turning more slowly. Life is thrown into turmoil and panicked governments dictate that the traditional 24-hour cycle must be followed, regardless of the sun.

Baboneau said: "It is a novel of big ideas, but absolutely grounded, written with crystal clarity and beautiful rhythm. For S&S UK to have acquired The Age of Miracles against the most formidable competition is a miracle in itself."

Deals worth $2.5m (£1.5m) on the book have been done internationally already, with Kate Medina at Random House US having pre-empted rights there for a low seven-figure dollar sum. Elsewhere, rights have been sold through Laura Bonner in Italy, Spain and Germany, each for a six-figure sum, and for an "unprecedented sum for Sweden" to Norstedts. Rights have also been sold in Holland, Brazil, Norway and Croatia. Simultaneous global releases are planned for June 2012.

Meanwhile, Fourth Estate publishing director Nicholas Pearson flew to New York to seal UK and Commonwealth rights (excluding Canada) to Jeffrey Eugenides' new novel The Marriage Plot and his first collection of short stories, in a deal believed to be worth over £500,000. Pearson beat off five others in an auction handled by Dorothy Vincent at Janklow & Nesbit in New York, on behalf of primary agent Lynn Nesbit.

The Marriage Plot tells of Madeleine and the two young men in her life, Leonard and Mitchell, as they are about to graduate from university. Pearson said: "Jeffrey has delved even deeper into character to produce something that illuminates the workings of the human heart in a way that is extremely rare." It will be published on 11th October in the US by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and simultaneously in the UK and Commonwealth. The collection of stories is as-yet untitled, with no publication date confirmed.

Commenting on the deals, Olly Munson of Blake Friedmann claimed: "It would be great if the Eugenides deal does herald a bright new dawn of punchy advances." Piers Blofeld, of Sheil Land Associates, said he would be more optimistic of a market recovery if there were "six or seven £150,000 deals", adding: "It would be nice to see evidence of movement in other areas, then I would be more convinced that spring is on its way."

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It would be fascinating to understand on what market factors such confidence is based .

£500K for a first novel? She should have waited a few months and picked it up for £1.99 at The Works.

What was the band playing when the Titanic was sinking?

The I paid 500K for a first novel blues......

What would be nice would be to see the Bookseller revisit these rights deals a year after publication so we can all see whether the hype was justified and advance earned! Wouldn't that be fun. Initial headline-grabbing figures are great but wouldn't it be interesting C'mon bookseller, I'm sure you could do this already on books from LBF 2009 already!

The glow of the commentators smug scepticism keeps me warm inside while I also sit at home alone, wishing it was me.

Wow, half a million for British rights to a science fiction novel. Things ARE picking up. Take that, BBC World Book Day snobs!

@mouse It's definitely something we have done in the past. There was a feature The Bookseller ran a few years ago looking at how highly sought books at London and Frankfurt had fared upon publication. And there is probably a strong chance that every subsequent media piece on Karen Thompson Walker will refer to the size of her advance and the competition surrounding her book.

We do it in our London book fair and Frankfurt book fair daillies too, based on the big deals reported at the fair (though usually signed well before). It is interesting how many of the title never fully emerge - or at least not as planned.

Am I the only person who thinks this is almost certainly bobbins? It's said to be 'close to' £500K (as in what? Closer than £1 is?), and the author works for the publisher in her day job. Hmm, how do we get ourselves lots of publicity for this first novel...

This is quite staggering. But not surprising. Why on earth does anyone - apart from the agents and a few lucky authors - want to see publishers paying £500k for books? (Is £500k 'punchy'? What is the 'spring' that Piers Blofeld refers to? Springtime for whom?) Can an agent come on here and tell us why it's good for publishing for publishers to be paying very high advances? Can anyone come on here and tell us why the health of UK publishing is related to the size of advances?

Literary agents are a reasonably necessary evil like estate agents. Like estate agents, they want to see people paying as much as possible for the product they represent because that's how they make money. (You have to point out here that at least estate agents advertise properties for their clients, arrange viewings; of course literary agents do 'stuff', but mostly they make their money by b.s.ing about how good their author's books are.) But here's a difference. I'm greedy, so I don't mind if estate agents inflate property prices, because the value of my property goes up as well (until the crash). But literary agents don't do any such thing. Just because £500k is the going ('punchy') rate for a well-brought-off debut novel, it doesn't make it all that much more likely to sell than a book that cost £400k or £300k or £200k or £100k or £50k or ... How much did Christopher Maclehose pay for Larsson? All things being equal, if I pay an estate agent £500k I get twice as much house than if I pay £250k. I don't get any such guarantee when I pay my advance. I just get a nosebleed-inducing risk. As if paying a lot of money ever made a book sell. (Though there is one guarantee: Fourth Estate will take a bath on the Eugenides. Absolute madness. Having reported their worst results ever, HC take a half-a-million-quid punt on an author whose most commercial days are long behind him.)

The crash that wasn't: ten years ago midlist non-fiction authors with decent track records, among others, were getting paid far too much money. Books that were bought, say, eight years ago for, say, £75k were worth, when they were delivered three or four years later, no more than £25k, if that. This preceded the financial crisis. And it was simply a correction to the market: too many publishers had being paying too much money for too long for books that just weren't worth it. Too bad that agents and authors weren't getting big advances any longer - and it didn't stop good books being written, did it? Or selling.

Good luck to S&S - they've got caught up in an auction and been forced to pay far more than they originally thought the book was worth, but it happens. What is most striking is that next week another publisher will be saying the same things about a book they've bought - 'big ideas', 'grounded', 'clarity', 'rhythm' - but they will have paid £10k for it and they'll have about as much chance as selling the tens and tens of thousands of copies that S&S need to sell to earn out.

The best thing that could happen for the future of UK publishing is exactly the opposite of what, when it comes to advances, agents want to happen.

WOW Pat, how refreshing to read your post. You are so correct . Actually big bullshit advances work contra to the good of the trade not least because they take money out of the publisher's purse and give it to the agent . That £500k advance for a first novel would be better spent by giving £25k to the author and CONTRACTING to £450k marketing spend thus delivering the income through royaties generated by promotion generated sales . The benefit is that the marketing rubs off on all book product . Imagine if this deal applied to all advances over say £100k , the amount of promo spend on authors would be substantially higher than we see today , and books would be promoted with a proper spend , rather than the same cash languishing in non productive bank accounts. The author would get the same income [if the book worked] but funded by sales generated by a negotiated marketing agreement .Just think how powerful this would be for the trade for the mega advance authors to work in this manner ?

Julian - yes but if you did spend £450k on a marketing campaign, then it would be reasonable to expect some guaranteed results from the marketing campaign - and that's never going to happen. At least this way if the book fails the publisher can blame the author who is adequately recompensed for the blame. Naturally nothing sticks to the agent!

Chris, the point is that the money is put to productive use and although one can never guarantee results from any marketing , it is better to promote with the extra cash than not . It's never going to happen of course but the funds would have to be guaranteed not the results, which would be dependant on the quality of the book the author and the marketing, delivering sales and thus royaties.

Pat Hobby despite having been one of those maligned agents many years ago, I too loved hearing what you had to say. But you are wrong about agents as a species. On the whole most agents, in my day at least, would rather publishers paid realistic advances,(which could finance writing time for the next book), and decent royalties and stuck with an author, building up a career. We wanted publishers to keep an author's book in print over years rather than months and, after production costs were covered, increase the royalty. In those days it was quite normal if a book was successful for an author to get 15% or 20% of the selling price and if you think about it, from an agents p.o.v. it is much better to have 30 authors getting 50k and earning royalties over many years than one getting 500k. In addition if a publisher has a long term relationship with an author it is worth spending money on promotion and marketing. These days there is no certainty they will be publishing the author's next book - probably not if the 500k is unearned - so why would they build up an author for another publisher's benefit.

I wonder how much macho posturing jacked that price up?
"You can't have it, it's mine. So There!!! I'll bid anything to stop you getting it"
And publishers whinge they are having problems. Sighhhhhhhh.....

A book about the world slowing down...how gripping...er perhaps not. If the story was about the world getting faster then you might have half a hit book. I see the 4 readers buying this book slowing down as they turn every long page!

Anonymous - Many thanks, and definitely something I shall bear in mind in the future. Pat

It would be fascinating to understand on what market factors such confidence is based .

£500K for a first novel? She should have waited a few months and picked it up for £1.99 at The Works.

What was the band playing when the Titanic was sinking?

The I paid 500K for a first novel blues......

What would be nice would be to see the Bookseller revisit these rights deals a year after publication so we can all see whether the hype was justified and advance earned! Wouldn't that be fun. Initial headline-grabbing figures are great but wouldn't it be interesting C'mon bookseller, I'm sure you could do this already on books from LBF 2009 already!

The glow of the commentators smug scepticism keeps me warm inside while I also sit at home alone, wishing it was me.

Wow, half a million for British rights to a science fiction novel. Things ARE picking up. Take that, BBC World Book Day snobs!

@mouse It's definitely something we have done in the past. There was a feature The Bookseller ran a few years ago looking at how highly sought books at London and Frankfurt had fared upon publication. And there is probably a strong chance that every subsequent media piece on Karen Thompson Walker will refer to the size of her advance and the competition surrounding her book.

We do it in our London book fair and Frankfurt book fair daillies too, based on the big deals reported at the fair (though usually signed well before). It is interesting how many of the title never fully emerge - or at least not as planned.

Am I the only person who thinks this is almost certainly bobbins? It's said to be 'close to' £500K (as in what? Closer than £1 is?), and the author works for the publisher in her day job. Hmm, how do we get ourselves lots of publicity for this first novel...

This is quite staggering. But not surprising. Why on earth does anyone - apart from the agents and a few lucky authors - want to see publishers paying £500k for books? (Is £500k 'punchy'? What is the 'spring' that Piers Blofeld refers to? Springtime for whom?) Can an agent come on here and tell us why it's good for publishing for publishers to be paying very high advances? Can anyone come on here and tell us why the health of UK publishing is related to the size of advances?

Literary agents are a reasonably necessary evil like estate agents. Like estate agents, they want to see people paying as much as possible for the product they represent because that's how they make money. (You have to point out here that at least estate agents advertise properties for their clients, arrange viewings; of course literary agents do 'stuff', but mostly they make their money by b.s.ing about how good their author's books are.) But here's a difference. I'm greedy, so I don't mind if estate agents inflate property prices, because the value of my property goes up as well (until the crash). But literary agents don't do any such thing. Just because £500k is the going ('punchy') rate for a well-brought-off debut novel, it doesn't make it all that much more likely to sell than a book that cost £400k or £300k or £200k or £100k or £50k or ... How much did Christopher Maclehose pay for Larsson? All things being equal, if I pay an estate agent £500k I get twice as much house than if I pay £250k. I don't get any such guarantee when I pay my advance. I just get a nosebleed-inducing risk. As if paying a lot of money ever made a book sell. (Though there is one guarantee: Fourth Estate will take a bath on the Eugenides. Absolute madness. Having reported their worst results ever, HC take a half-a-million-quid punt on an author whose most commercial days are long behind him.)

The crash that wasn't: ten years ago midlist non-fiction authors with decent track records, among others, were getting paid far too much money. Books that were bought, say, eight years ago for, say, £75k were worth, when they were delivered three or four years later, no more than £25k, if that. This preceded the financial crisis. And it was simply a correction to the market: too many publishers had being paying too much money for too long for books that just weren't worth it. Too bad that agents and authors weren't getting big advances any longer - and it didn't stop good books being written, did it? Or selling.

Good luck to S&S - they've got caught up in an auction and been forced to pay far more than they originally thought the book was worth, but it happens. What is most striking is that next week another publisher will be saying the same things about a book they've bought - 'big ideas', 'grounded', 'clarity', 'rhythm' - but they will have paid £10k for it and they'll have about as much chance as selling the tens and tens of thousands of copies that S&S need to sell to earn out.

The best thing that could happen for the future of UK publishing is exactly the opposite of what, when it comes to advances, agents want to happen.

WOW Pat, how refreshing to read your post. You are so correct . Actually big bullshit advances work contra to the good of the trade not least because they take money out of the publisher's purse and give it to the agent . That £500k advance for a first novel would be better spent by giving £25k to the author and CONTRACTING to £450k marketing spend thus delivering the income through royaties generated by promotion generated sales . The benefit is that the marketing rubs off on all book product . Imagine if this deal applied to all advances over say £100k , the amount of promo spend on authors would be substantially higher than we see today , and books would be promoted with a proper spend , rather than the same cash languishing in non productive bank accounts. The author would get the same income [if the book worked] but funded by sales generated by a negotiated marketing agreement .Just think how powerful this would be for the trade for the mega advance authors to work in this manner ?

Julian - yes but if you did spend £450k on a marketing campaign, then it would be reasonable to expect some guaranteed results from the marketing campaign - and that's never going to happen. At least this way if the book fails the publisher can blame the author who is adequately recompensed for the blame. Naturally nothing sticks to the agent!

Chris, the point is that the money is put to productive use and although one can never guarantee results from any marketing , it is better to promote with the extra cash than not . It's never going to happen of course but the funds would have to be guaranteed not the results, which would be dependant on the quality of the book the author and the marketing, delivering sales and thus royaties.

Pat Hobby despite having been one of those maligned agents many years ago, I too loved hearing what you had to say. But you are wrong about agents as a species. On the whole most agents, in my day at least, would rather publishers paid realistic advances,(which could finance writing time for the next book), and decent royalties and stuck with an author, building up a career. We wanted publishers to keep an author's book in print over years rather than months and, after production costs were covered, increase the royalty. In those days it was quite normal if a book was successful for an author to get 15% or 20% of the selling price and if you think about it, from an agents p.o.v. it is much better to have 30 authors getting 50k and earning royalties over many years than one getting 500k. In addition if a publisher has a long term relationship with an author it is worth spending money on promotion and marketing. These days there is no certainty they will be publishing the author's next book - probably not if the 500k is unearned - so why would they build up an author for another publisher's benefit.

I wonder how much macho posturing jacked that price up?
"You can't have it, it's mine. So There!!! I'll bid anything to stop you getting it"
And publishers whinge they are having problems. Sighhhhhhhh.....

A book about the world slowing down...how gripping...er perhaps not. If the story was about the world getting faster then you might have half a hit book. I see the 4 readers buying this book slowing down as they turn every long page!

Anonymous - Many thanks, and definitely something I shall bear in mind in the future. Pat