When it launched in 2013, Regan Arts was touted as a multimedia venture that would produce an array of entertainment properties with a focus on what its publisher, Judith Regan, knew best: books. Although the house got off to a promising start, publishing insiders say things have changed. After staff reductions, softening print book sales, and a number of canceled projects, alarms have been going off in publishing circles. For her part, Regan, who declined to talk directly to PW for this story, said through her lawyer that it’s business as usual. For a number of literary agents, who claim their clients have had their titles unceremoniously dropped, it’s no such thing.
Unveiled five years ago as a new division of art book publisher Phaidon (which was acquired in 2012 by Leon Black), Regan Arts was touted as its namesake’s triumphant return to publishing. A successful if divisive figure on the literary landscape, Regan was ousted from her eponymous imprint at HarperCollins in 2006, in the aftermath of her acquisition of O.J. Simpson’s book If I Did It. She subsequently sued HC and its parent company, News Corp., over her dismissal and reportedly received a $10 million wrongful-termination settlement.
According to industry sources who spoke to PW on the condition of anonymity, Regan Arts was aggressively going after properties in its infancy. The imprint, they said, was regularly outspending competing publishers to land sought-after projects. The effort led to what many said was the makings of an impressive list. Then, a little over a year ago, according to multiple sources, things started to change.
Editors at Regan Arts began leaving. (Among the departed are Stacy Creamer, Alexis Gargagliano, Ron Hogan, Kathy Huck, and Jordana Tusman. None of the former staffers that PW reached out to would discuss the publisher.) Projects fell into limbo. Agents who spoke with PW all shared similar stories about the progression of events. They heard that the editors handling their authors’ books had left. Contact with the publisher then diminished. Demands for editorial changes followed, and manuscripts that were previously close to being accepted were suddenly declared in need of serious revisions. Finally, offers would arrive from the publisher: authors could take back their rights in return for the advances contracted.
In the past two years, titles Regan Arts acquired and were then canceled include Andrew Beaujon’s A Bigger Field Awaits Us, Chelsea Fagan and Lauren Ver Hage’s The Financial Diet, Whitney Hsu’s Silicon States, Sophie Lucido Johnson’s Many Love, Paul Shapiro’s Clean Meat, and Sara Zaske’s Achtung Baby. (Most of these books have since been published by other houses.)
While it’s not unusual for books to be canceled or for disputes to arise over what constitutes a satisfactory manuscript, several sources interviewed for this story said this felt different. It’s also unusual for so many titles to be dropped by the same publisher.
One agent claimed Regan has been “sending authors and agents on fools’ errands with editorial requests that couldn’t be fulfilled.”
A second agent said that her author, before his project was canceled, was told by Regan Arts that his title was “a smaller book than what they thought they initially bought.” In that instance, Regan Arts offered to publish the book on the condition that it could renegotiate the contracted advance and pay the author a smaller fee. The author opted to return the portion of the advance he’d been paid, in exchange for getting back his rights. The book wound up selling to another publisher.
Matt Fitzgerald, who was ghostwriting triathlete James Lawrence’s memoir, Iron Cowboy, which Regan Arts acquired in 2016, said he suspected something was wrong when an email sent to Tusman, who was his editor, bounced back. “We got an auto-reply saying [Tusman] was no longer with Regan Arts. The whole thing went sideways from there,” Fitzgerald said.
According to Fitzgerald, he, Lawrence, and their agent were told, after a new editor was finally brought on, that the nearly complete orphaned book needed to go through another review. “The manuscript had been fully vetted and it had been accepted in all but the most formal sense,” Fitzgerald added. “I smelled a rat.”
Fitzgerald said that when he received the revision requests from Regan Arts, he feared the worst: “I knew the new editor would find something wrong with [the manuscript]. I think she was tasked with finding something wrong with it.”
The fixes that were requested struck Fitzgerald, who has written and co-written a number of trade books, as part of a strategy “to create a breach that was irreconcilable.” The situation did ultimately cause a rift, and the project was canceled. Lawrence, after opting against trying to sell the book to another publisher, wound up self-publishing the title.
When contacted with questions about the status of her company, Regan did not respond. Instead, through her lawyer Andrew L. Weitz, she threatened to sue. Weitz said PW can expect legal action if it makes statements that “mischaracterize, misrepresent, or otherwise are false” regarding Regan Arts.
A spokeswoman for Regan Arts did at one point reply, via email, to a series of questions, including one about why the publisher has canceled so many projects in what appears to be a fairly short period of time. She responded with a list of already-published books from Regan Arts, noting that a few of its titles have won awards. The spokeswoman also highlighted a handful of new titles from the publisher, including The Audacity of Inez Burns by Stephen Bloom, which was released on February 6.
Several of the company’s first titles have indeed sold well. According to NPD BookScan, which tracks 80%–85% of print unit sales, Strong Looks Better Naked by Khloé Kardashian has sold almost 99,000 print units since the hardcover was released in November 2015. Another early Regan Arts title that did well is Ronda Rousey’s My Fight/Your Fight, which was released in May 2015 and has sold more than 92,000 print copies. (At the time of this writing, Regan Arts has published nearly 100 titles that are tracked through BookScan.)
The top-selling Regan print title in 2017, however, was the trade paperback edition of Strong Looks Better Naked, which sold about 8,000 copies, according to BookScan. (That edition has sold about 13,000 copies since its release in November 2016). Regan’s bestselling print title published in 2017 is Sometimes Amazing Things Happen by Elizabeth Ford, which sold less than 5,000 copies last year. Additionally, three of the four fall titles that the Regan Arts spokeswoman noted in her email to PW have failed to sell more than 1,000 print copies to date, according to BookScan: Unjustifiable Means by Mark Fallon, Preservation Pantry by Sarah Marshall, and I Love You, Sign Here by Roy Pierson. The only new Regan Arts release to pass the 1,000-print-units-sold mark is the $39.99 Plantlab by Matthew Kenney, which has moved more than 1,600 copies at outlets that report to BookScan since its release in November 2017.
The spokeswoman did note that Regan Arts is developing “numerous film and TV projects.” One recently announced film project is based on James Bone’s The Curse of Beauty. Deadline reported in August 2017 that Regan Arts is partnering on the project with a new production company called Felix Culpa.
On January 18, Regan Arts issued a press release announcing a new graphic novel, The Godfather Gang, but did not provide a publication date for the book. No agent information was included in the release about The Godfather Gang, and the publisher did not respond to a question from PW about whether the book was bought directly from the author.
When asked again for information relating to other new books, the publisher declined to comment. In an email exchange, Weitz, Regan’s lawyer, called details about forthcoming titles “proprietary information.” He did say, however, that new titles from the publisher are listed on its website. At press time the site had two books available for preorder: Upstate Girls by Brenda Kenneally and Lion Hearted by Andrew Loveridge.
Weitz ultimately insisted that Regan Arts “continues to publish award-winning books and television shows, as always.” When pressed for further details on these projects and the state of the company in general, Weitz said, “We decline to comment on your anonymously sourced allegations.”