A Story by David Belbin
Bravo Books: a brief publishing history
For Barry Cole
Bravo gave me my big break. For a year, I house sat for an ex-pat producer in LA, writing my masterpiece, eking out the small advance they had paid me. As soon as I got back to London, I rang my editor to arrange a meeting. The line was disconnected. I didn’t panic. Numbers change. I tried Directory Enquiries. They had no listing for Bravo Books. Then I started to worry.
Bravo Books was 150 years old, and some of its staff weren’t a lot younger. The firm’s literary reputation compensated for the paucity of their advances. I was thrilled to be with them, and certain that my sensitive novel about the north/south divide would find my true audience, unlike the unproduced screenplays I’d been so well paid for writing in the past.
I made a few phone calls. An agent’s assistant filled me in. Bravo’s parent company had been bought by Conglomerate A, who were chiefly known for selling cheap cutlery. They were bought out by conglomerate B, who were after the cutlery business. B sold off the books division to Publisher C, who wanted to add some credibility to its chick lit and soft porn list. At this point, all of Bravo’s key personnel took either a redundancy package or early retirement and he had lost track.
A web search told me that Publisher C was the subject of a hostile takeover. The book division ended up with Conglomerate D who wanted the profitable soft porn rights to make movies of the week for cable TV. Nobody noticed the demise of Bravo Books, a status symbol that had ceased to signify. Conglomerate D was bought by multinational E, who had no idea that a historic literary publisher was concealed in the deal.
Where did that leave me? The assistant’s assistant rang round. Bravo’s other authors had found ways of getting out of their contracts. She suggested I tear mine up and look for a new publisher. My heart sank. It took five years to get Bravo to take me on. There were few publishers who’d look at a guy like me, who wouldn’t see forty again. I needed to hold Bravo to its contract.
‘You’re a writer?’ said the power dressed exec from multinational E, who I’d managed to meet through a friend of a friend. ‘Ever written a TV movie?’
‘Yes, but I’m trying to get out of that kind of thing,’ I told her.
‘The best ones always are. Look, somebody just dropped out. It’s easy. A missing child, mistaken identity thing. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’
Long story short. The exec liked my screenplay. Conglomerate E had no interest in Bravo Books, she said. They would sell me the name and the backlist with some working capital (most of it money owed by bookshops) in exchange for six screenplays over three years. Not only was my novel to be published, but I would be writing films that actually got made, albeit as low budget, cable TV fodder.
My old editor was persuaded to come out of retirement to edit my novel. Bravo’s Soho building had been sold off, but all of the company’s files were in storage and soon they had taken over all of the floor space in my London flat. The stock was in a warehouse. I never found out where, but it didn’t matter, because nobody ever ordered any of Bravo’s backlist.
Although Bravo Books had been closed down for eighteen months, few people had noticed. The post office began to redirect the company’s mail to me. Manuscripts flooded in. I read the ones from people I’d heard of. Many of their novels were better than mine. Each had already been rejected by big publishers. Writing is not a career, I realised. Writers can’t easily build on success. Many get dumped as soon as a book doesn’t sell. What was I getting myself into?
I wrote my screenplays, bought a couple of new novels, and polished my own. I kept my ownership of Bravo Books under wraps, so that my novel could not be perceived as a vanity project. I paid a publicist who pushed out proofs to influential people. Bravo Books is back! our publicity yelled to people who’d barely noticed that the firm had ever gone away.
My reviews were good, but the print run turned out to be ambitious. I was onto my fifth screenplay before I realised that most of my paper-back originals had been returned to the distributor. By then, only a movie deal would keep Bravo in the black. My pal at E said she didn’t see a movie in any of Bravo’s books.
‘The story of how I rescued one of the world’s oldest publishers might make an offbeat biopic.’
‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘All it needs is romance.’
‘It’s always amazed me that a beautiful, talented woman like you is still single,’ I said.
Reader, I married her.
© David Belbin, 2007