Interview with Peter Cox, Literary Agent

The man himself

Deciding who to
seek an opinion from about the future of the publishing industry was easy; the
obvious choice being Peter Cox, owner of Redhammer literary agency, founder of Litopia
writers’ colony and part-time Oracle. So I was delighted when he agreed to be
interviewed ethereally: one Skype connection, two mugs of tea.

There’s been much
gloom cast over of the publishing industry, predictions of a poor prognosis,
suggestions of  its demise in as little
as five years. But even as it limps towards ITU, Peter does not share this
gloomy view. So are the problems real or has the press created theHimalayas out of the Sussex Downs?

The challenges
are true and several fold. The purchasing public can be fickle, choosing
supermarket books and Amazon for convenience and price, spurning the local
bookshop shops; yet mourning their passing when inevitably woe betides them.
This process is somewhat like divorce: much upset and sorrow; but with a more
subtle transfer of money.

A potential
problem for the next generation is self-dumbing down. Short words are les mots
du jour, usually joined to very few more. Tweets, facebook posts, texts.
Outgoing or incoming. All short. Often electronic. How can you embrace the
richness of language with such a paucity of words? Just can’t. Situation not

Peter pointed out
that there are always distractions, as he reached for his mug of tea. An
electronic reader, call it Knoodle, also has facebook, the internet, games. So,
Pride and Prejudice boys, or arrange the rave for Saturday? Bit of a no-brainer,
but isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid? First, endemic flabby bodies, now flabby

“E-book should be
cheap,” cries the book buying public. “No paper. No ink. Practically no
distribution costs.”

reply the market savvy. “There are people to be paid; not least the chap or chapess
who wrote it. And marketing; the launch. Marketing’s lunch.”

“And so …”
(sorry, that’s all I can remember of the exact quote – the rest is a précis), in
the price wars, who is the casualty? Correct. The book, its words bleeding into
the soil of despair, its cover inadequate to protect it from… you get the
picture, right? But not the prose, struck down in its prime.

It’s difficult to
know why the industry has been surprised by the e-book and how well it’s taken
off. It had the same inevitability as trains blocked by apparently
unprecedented leaves on the line. Or snow inNorway.

Do all of the
leaders of the literary world have names that end in -asaurus? Peter swiftly
denied that they were all dinosaurs, although there was a faint hesitation
before the word ‘all’. He understands technology better than most, his past
steeped in megabites and RAM. Peter describes himself as a geek; if he is one,
he entirely re-defines the word. Many of the other players in the industry are
less interested, ranging from bored by
to frank denial. We need a mover and
shaker. Less like Little Richard, more like Richard Branson.

For inspiration
on how the future might be re-shaped he pointed me in the direction of
initiatives like, Seth Godwin, founder of the Domino project and
the 1983 Swiss watch industry. No, this analogy wasn’t obvious to me at the
time either. Peter feels that the history of the failing Alpine chronologists,
requiring business bravery, lateral thinking, marketing bravado and a hero,
Nicholas Hayek, has a direct resonance with our needs today.

“Peter, you must be our hero. We need to
embrace technology, or at least give it a quick cuddle. We need to stick up for
excellence; stick two fingers up to the negative. Here’s the Quill of Truth and
the Keyboard of Justice. Fight well.”

Speaking slowly
as if addressing a particularly thick koala, Peter explained that he loves what
he does and is already the busiest man on the planet. I turned up the wattage
of my most appealing smile.

Peter shook his
head. “No, still not becoming Superhulkbatwonder.”

“Remaining vociferous
bystander, life critic, acid wit?”

“Deal done.”

I asked what he
wanted to be vociferous about, sat back and waited for the tsunami.

“Literary apathy.”

“Anything you can
do about it?”

“Not much.”

So is the
industry scared? Witness. (Ah, la politess). Hence job losses, belt tightening
extrordinaire, decisions driven by fear. Publishers wish to own the IP, stifling
creativity, forcing writers into a job they don’t want to do (think Victorian
chimney sweeps here). Yes, it is a black prospect.

For the future, Peter
favours the model of book shops as printers. This is a fabulous concept. All
they’d need is a list prominently displayed, perhaps illustrated, like a
literary menu.

“Memoirs of a Town
Ferret? Certainly, sir, I’ll just whistle one up now. Coffee while you wait? Free
muffin today if you order our book special: You
Don’t Need Meat

Our challenges
are much the same as those of the music industry, only not as loud. It has been
beset by piracy and the digital revolution, which is like normal piracy and revolution
but with no guns, blood or bodies. However, politics, ideals, fighting for a
goal remain.

So what can we do
to help? Us book-crunching, epic writing lexiphiles of the world?

Keep asking the
questions. Hold out for books: paper kind and their ethereal mates. Hands on laptops:
protest, air the arguments, challenge negative change. We can turn this around.
Finger power! Join the digital revolution.

Many thanks indeed to Peter Cox for
talking to me. Find him at:


About alisongardiner1

Writer of YA series of books. Broadcaster/podcaster Litopia After Dark.
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4 Responses to Interview with Peter Cox, Literary Agent

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