Studio 28 is the new digital publishing arm of Curtis Brown Literary and Talent Agency. We asked Rufus Purdy, one of its creators, some questions.
Can you tell us more about the origin of Studio 28? It’s been written that the catalyst was your author, Jay Rayner, who wanted to publish through Amazon’s White Glove program.
We at Curtis Brown had been discussing the idea of upgrading our White Glove program for a while – bringing our own expertise to traditional publishing, and taking editorial, design and marketing in-house. Jay came to us at exactly the point we were ready to start moving on this. His satirical novel The Apologist was originally published 10 years ago, but its themes were even more relevant to the modern political climate than they were back then, and we all felt that the novel could do well in today’s market. We worked closely with Jay, designing a new cover for the book and launching a social media-friendly marketing campaign (an area in which Jay is particularly strong), and saw nearly 10,000 downloads in the first month of release.
What has been the biggest challenge so far with launching Studio 28?
Time is an issue. There are just two people working on Studio 28 and there are so many wonderful books we’d love to publish. We have great contacts in the press, and we’ve had support from some major newspapers (Studio 28 books have featured in The Guardian, The Independent on Sunday and The Sun, among others) but it’s difficult to get literary editors to give coverage to what they see as backlist titles – though, obviously, when I’m approaching people with quality work such as Howard Jacobson’s The Very Model of a Man (our next release), my job becomes easier. Hopefully this will change as we start to publish more new fiction this year. We’ve got Alex Gerlis’s fabulous new World War II espionage novel The Swiss Spy coming out on 25th May and Greg Williams’s Berlin: Day Zero, a moody, post-war thriller set in the immediate aftermath of the German surrender in 1945, which we’ll be launching on 17th June.
What are you looking for when you’re deciding which titles to go into Studio 28? In terms of genre, are there titles that are more suitable for digital publishing rather than print publishing?
I think genre fiction an interesting growth area in the market – titles that have a ready-made readership. At the end of the day, though, we’re looking for great stories by great writers. If those boxes are ticked, then I’ll obviously sit up and take notice.
As an agent publisher, do you think Studio 28 offers advantages to being published by traditional publishers or by indie publishers?
Well, we offer our authors a very favourable royalty rate, which they don’t have to pay an agent’s commission on, so, yes, financially the deal is advantageous for them. Curtis Brown is an agency first and foremost, and its role is to represent its clients and to use its vast experience to develop their career and maximise their earnings. Every decision I make at Studio 28 has to take that into account – whereas traditional and indie publishers are understandably more concerned with their profit lines.
You formerly ran your own publishing imprint, and you also work with the creative-writing school, Curtis Brown Creative. How do you think entrepreneurialism fits in with the publishing industry? Do you think it’s an industry that is welcoming of innovation?
I’m still very new to the publishing industry (I fell almost by accident into my current role after working for years as a journalist), so I can’t really comment on what goes on outside Curtis Brown. I’ve certainly found Curtis Brown to be incredibly supportive of those with an entrepreneurial spirit. Anna Davis started the writing school, Curtis Brown Creative, around five years ago, and the company has supported her – and later me – to develop that into the successful business it is today, with 15 former students going on to sign book deals with major publishers. Cuba Pictures has grown from the agency’s theatre, film and television department, and Coalition – its drama about the formation of the Cameron-Clegg political contract – is on Channel 4 this Saturday night. This will be followed by Cuba’s seven-part adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which will be shown on BBC1 in April. And from the moment the idea for Studio 28 began to take shape, I’ve never felt anything less than hugely supported.
What would success look like for Studio 28?
I’d like to think that the titles we publish will go on to achieve good sales. In our first year, that’s something I’d be very happy with and could build upon. If one of those titles was to do really well or one of our authors were to win a prize for a book they published with us, I’d be absolutely delighted. There’s still a way to go before digital publishers are taken as seriously by the press and public as traditional publishing houses, but readers’ habits are changing and success like that would help change a lot of people’s perceptions.
How do you think the role of literary agencies will evolve in a future publishing industry?
The industry is changing fast and self-publishing doesn’t have the stigma that it used to, but I still see a major role for literary agencies and publishers. Representation from an agency will always be a guarantee of quality, I think, and though readers have never had so much choice, they still look to someone to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The Very Model of a Man by Howard Jacobson will be published as an ebook by Studio 28 on 30 March, price £2.99.
About Rufus Purdy
Rufus is Editor, New Writing at Curtis Brown Creative. A former travel, food and lifestyle journalist, Rufus’s work has been published in The Times, The Guardian, The Observer, The Financial Times, Condé Nast Traveller and The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, among others. Before joining Curtis Brown Creative in 2012, he was editor of Family Traveller magazine and – from 2007 and 2009 – edited the Mr & Mrs Smith guidebooks and website. Away from the agency, he also runs boutique-publishing company Bristlebird Books and is working – very slowly – on a novel. He is interested in working with new, exciting writers via the Curtis Brown Creative courses and other events.