Life Sentence

Random thoughts about publishing, stamp collecting, politics, popular music of the 60s and 70s, mooses, and my motley other obsessions.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Publishing on the cheap?

The Guardian reports:

Out on a wing with 'Ryanair-style' publishing

Plan aimed at promoting new authors attracts controversy

Charlotte Higgins, arts correspondent
Saturday April 30, 2005
The Guardian

One writer is calling Macmillan's scheme a "scam"; another thinks it is "atrocious and wrong". Hari Kunzru, author of The Impressionist, has described the initiative, in which writers receive no advance and may have to bear editing costs, as "the Ryanair of publishing; it's like having to pay for your own uniforms". Natasha Fairweather, an agent, calls it "an exercise in futility". Macmillan, by contrast, describes its newly launched New Writing fiction list as offering a lifeline to thousands of writers who struggle to get their work seen by an agent, let alone an editor. According to Michael Barnard, Macmillan executive director, it is a way of giving "a voice to talented new authors".
If it decides to accept a novel for the list, terms are unnegotiable; no advance will be paid, though writers will receive 20% of royalties from sales. Macmillan will copy edit books, but if manuscripts need more detailed work, it will suggest that writers employ freelance editors. According to notes sent to authors, such editors "will charge realistic fees and this will not in itself guarantee publication".

"This is about Macmillan finding new authors," Barnard said. "Like a lot of mainstream publishers we haven't in recent years been accepting unsolicited manuscripts, but only ones sent through agents. And we are not discovering as many authors as we need.
Since the project was given the green light in February, Macmillan has been receiving 200 manuscripts a month. In April next year six novels will be published; subsequently one or two a month will come out.

But writers and editors are concerned about the fairness of the deal for authors, particularly since the standard contract means Macmillan will acquire all rights (such as overseas publishing deals) to the work, and, if it wishes, can publish a second book under the same terms as the first.
(big snip)
According to Barnard: "We won't be spending as much on marketing and promotion as on novels that have had big advances; but we believe we can find new ways of promoting and selling these books." He said the books would appear in the main Pan Macmillan catalogue and would be "very posh books" with ribbon markers, sold at £15. He expected them to become "collectors' items".

But Fairweather called the list a "scattergun approach to publishing", and Foden likened it to "putting a bet on every horse in the race - but without paying for any of the bets".
Jamie Byng, who runs Canongate Books, said: "Anyone who is ambitious for their book won't go down this route. But then you don't have to do it. The deal is fine, it's OK. If you'd spent years and years working on your novel and no agent will look at it you'd be bloody grateful for this. Good luck to them."

I'm with Macmillan on this -- I think it is potentially a great opportunity for writers.

I'm currently working on potential deals for several of my books. One, A Book of One's Own, has been out of print for a while. I've updated it (which didn't really take very long) and want someone to get the thing out to market again. Advances are always nice, but I don't need an advance for the book. I would be really happy to have someone just get it back into print. The deal I'm discussing with a publisher is pretty much the same as the Macmillan one (though we're talking about a 10% royalty, not 20% -- if that is 20% of the retail rather than wholesale price, it is a really high royalty rate).

One of the other books is a totally different story. (I can't tell you what the book is -- sorry!) The publisher has come up with the idea for the book, and I'm interested in writing it for them. We agree that it will take about two years to write. For that one, I need a decent advance to give me some income during the two years I'll be working on the project.

If I were a writer who had already finished a novel and was having trouble getting anyone to publish it, I'd be really happy to talk to Macmillan.