Sunday, September 21, 2008

Person of Interest: Eric Kampmann, Publisher, Beaufort Books

This is the first in a series of short profiles of some of the people you might run into walking the halls at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year.

Eric Kampmann isn’t shy of controversy: Last year, following it’s cancellation by HarperCollins, he picked up the rights to O.J. Simpson’s neo-confession “If I Did It.” Last week he just signed a contract to publish Sherry Jones’s controversial historical novel ``The Jewel of Medina,’’ which was cancelled by Random House earlier this year.

Jones’ novel, which re-imagines the life of Aisha, a pre-pubescent wife of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, had been scheduled for publication in August by Ballantine, an imprint of Random House. (See story earlier on this blog).

Ballantine thought highly enough of the book that they paid the author $100,000 for it and a yet-to-be written sequel, as well as set up an 8-city author tour.
Kampmann paid nothing for the book. Beaufort Book’s publishing model gives the author nothing up front and offers a higher than traditional royalty rate on sales.
``It’s the same model we used on the O.J. deal,” said Kampmann, who declined to reveal the specific royalty percentage.

Kampmann first learned about the controversy while watching Fox TV’s “The O’Reilly Factor,’’ when the author Irshad Manji (author of “The Trouble with Islam Today”) was discussing the book.

Many have described Random House’s decision as a kind of “preemptive censorship.” Kampmann believes that it is a mischaracterization: “This is not a free speech issue, it’s a free market issue. I come down on the side of Random House in that regard. With them, it was a fear issue.”

Kampmann is confident that his security, that of his author, or of bookstores selling the book is not likely to at risk following the publication of the book.

“In Europe, they have far more problems with radical Islamic violence than we do here in the United States,” said Kampmann, “There are a half-dozen European publishers putting out the book and if they don’t have a problem with it, I don’t.”
He added, “I’m not looking for trouble, but if it happens, we’ll deal with it then.”
As to whether the book will sell, Kampmann is sanguine that the controversy will spur interest in the book and indicated that initial orders for ``The Jewel of Medina’’ were better than expected and he’s anticipating a 50,000 copy first printing. It will arrive in US bookstores on October 15, concurrent with the UK publication by Gibson Square press.

He’s considering flying the author Jones to the Book Fair to promote the book and meet her international publishers, which include those in Italy, Spain, Hungary, Brazil and Serbia.

“Certainly, the book will be controversial,” said Kampmann. “Ultimately, it will rise and fall in the marketplace on its own merits. Hopefully reviewers will review it and we can have a debate about it. I’ve published a lot of books in the past. Some have done well, some have failed miserably. The one thing I know is that I’m no prophet.”

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