Agents are reporting strong sales for in-house e-book ventures, with their success helping to generate better publishing deals for their clients.
Andrew Lownie said his agency’s initiative—Thistle Publishing, which uses Amazon’s White Glove programme—is expanding quickly. It has published more than 50 e-books in the past two months, and it plans to bring out a further 20 to 30 titles a month.
David Stafford’s history book, Churchill and Secret Service, was its top seller in May, shifting 5,000 copies. The agency sold more than 10,000 copies in total across all its e-book titles in May, having begun the month with just 15 titles on its lists.
Lownie said: “We are still selling 50 titles a year in the conventional way, but we’re now a hybrid agency.” He added: “It’s quite lucrative. Some books are getting into promotions, some are free. The most successful are those priced at 99p, but we’re pricing a lot at £3.50.”
Agent David Haviland, who oversees Thistle, said promotion was key to e-book successes, with the agency using freelance publicists to get national press coverage for titles such as A Polar Bear Ate My Head by former Zoo editor Paul Merrill. “Many things that publishers do very well we can bring in freelances to do instead,” he said.
However Haviland insisted: “The best case is when a big publisher is behind a book, they are so good at publicity and distribution. That is still our core business, this is an attractive adjunct, though we are open-minded about the future.”
Jonny Geller, joint c.e.o. of Curtis Brown, whose in-house wing CB Creative Books has facilitated the self-publication of 200 titles by its authors via White Glove, said the agency was looking into doing a further range of titles.
Currently the bestselling title in the agency’s e-book programme on both sides of the Atlantic is début espionage novel The Best of Our Spies by Alex Gerlis. Following that, the most popular titles have been Adele Parks’ About Last Night, Carol Smith’s thriller Kensington Court (first published in the UK in 1996), Sarra Manning’s You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and Brian Hoey’s non-fiction book on royalty, At Home with the Queen.
However Geller said it would take a year before the full impact of CB Creative Books could be properly evaluated. “This is an experiment put in place as collaborative experience for the author,” he said. “We’re not making big promises, we’re learning, and it’s been fascinating. But I do think it’s too early to say it’s a radical new form of publishing—it’s just a very good service.”
However, he did say that publishers were beginning to think of giving authors “slightly better packages” on backlist and in other territories.
“We’re open to publishers who are interested in being less rigid and more collaborative,” he said. “It [Curtis Brown Creative Books] is almost a development house. The dream is that it [authors self-publishing titles] will create a big enough market that a larger publisher with all its resources then picks it up.”
Agent Ed Victor said he was “very happy” with the performance of in-house e-book and print-on-demand unit Bedford Square Books. “The financial goal was not to lose money,” he said. “I had no desire to make a profit, but we are ending up making a small profit.”
E-book bestsellers in the list include Mark Frost’s The List of Seven, which has sold approximately 6,000 copies, and the agency has also done some strong international rights deals.
Author Louise Fennell was launched through the programme when her book, Dead Rich, was sold to Simon & Schuster after Tesco ordered 25,000 copies.
Victor said: “In every case we’ve said to the publisher, ‘Do you want to reissue? Or we will.’” He said the question, put to Penguin over Andrew Marr’s The Battle for Scotland, first published in the early 1990s, prompted the publisher’s forthcoming August reissue of the book.