7 thoughts on “Macmillan New Writing: Transparent Imprint by Michael Barnard”

  1. Ian — Cheers for review­ing Mike’s book, and apply­ing a sym­path­et­ic yet crit­ic­al eye. As an MNW author, I’m prob­ably biased, but I also con­ceiv­ably have some insight — espe­cially as regards how Mike’s account of mat­ters accords with real­ity. To keep from repeat­ing myself too much, here’s a post on Shameless Words where I described my exper­i­ence of MNW in some detail. But, here, just a couple of com­ments in response to yours:

    his ‘author first’ out­look … is under­mined some­what by his decision to cal­cu­late roy­al­ties on the basis of net receipts (actu­al unit pay­ment) rather than gross (the notion­al selling price of the book). Fine, you might say.

    I have to say I do say “fine”. ;^) For instance, my book, THE MANUSCRIPT was hap­pily just selec­ted by Waterstones as one of their 3-for-2 pro­mo­tions in April. As part of this, Waterstones demands (and gets) a 60% dis­count on the books. This dings my roy­al­ties rather deeply. But it also (appar­ently) gets me out on the front tables where I’m going to sell a lot more books. I expect I’ll make *more* money as a res­ult; but I know I’ll sell more books, which is what I really care about. Again, just me. But, as Mike also notes in the book, by not lock­ing them­selves into a gross roy­alty rate for authors, the pub­lish­er has the free­dom to wheel and deal in a very com­pet­it­ive mar­ket­place. And I (again, for my part) am thrilled to have them out wheel­ing and deal­ing on my behalf. Relatedly:

    MNW have loaded the dice in their favour. World rights: MNW has these, non-nego­ti­able. Other ver­sions of the book, in elec­tron­ic form, etc.: MNW has the rights to these. Subsidiary rights, for TV spin-offs, etc.: MNW has the rights but will split any pro­ceeds fifty-fifty

    Again: “use me, beat me, make me write bad cheques”. I admit this made me slightly uneasy at the out­set. However, Macmillan’s sub­si­di­ary rights depart­ment pretty quickly went out and sold the rights to my book in Russia. I only get half the pro­ceeds. Which is half more than I would have got­ten without them. Does any­one think I could have gone out and sold the rights to a Russian pub­lish­er on my own? Nyet, tovarisch. Similarly with film rights. If by some mir­acle the film rights sell, I know who I’ll have to thank. I’ve got a whole team of people, with a major inter­na­tion­al pub­lish­ing organ­isa­tion, out there try­ing to hustle them — if they suc­ceed, they can take their 50% with my thanks and com­pli­ments. 8^)

    So it looks like MNW are sit­ting fairly pretty. Not bad for an enter­prise that appears, on the sur­face, to be dar­ing.

    Well, in fair­ness, you must admit that Mike/Macmillan nev­er made it out to be dar­ing. The media — look­ing, as they will do, for a story — cre­ated that spin. Mike’s goal was to reclaim an agent sys­tem that had got­ten out of con­trol. With agents nego­ti­at­ing ever high­er advances for untested new authors, it was increas­ingly expens­ive (and risky) to pub­lish new authors. Inevitably, few­er were pub­lished. This was obvi­ously a prob­lem for writers, as aven­ues to pub­lic­a­tion closed down for less obvi­ously mar­ket­able writers, or ones who might take time to build an audi­ence. But it was also a prob­lem for pub­lish­ers: with few­er good new writers com­ing in, and few­er still being allowed to devel­op, their back­lists (and thus long-term rev­en­ues) suffered. Mike’s idea was simply to re-take con­trol of the pro­cess of find­ing new authors back from the agents, and try to bring costs down enough such that it was pos­sible to pub­lish more worthy new authors. If this was not the oppos­ite of dar­ing, it was inten­ded at least to be the oppos­ite of risky.

    Any oth­er pub­lish­ing con­tract is sub­ject to nego­ti­ation under the firey glare of a lit­er­ary agent. MNW con­tracts are non-negiotable, which renders an agent point­less. So any unfair­nesses — which I think is the right word; MNW is the behemoth, the author is the little guy — can­not be remedied through dis­cus­sion

    Fair enough. And this might be a prob­lem if Macmillan were prone to abus­ing this pos­i­tion of power. (This cer­tainly occurred to me at the out­set.) But, as it’s turned out, they’ve proven them­selves totally hon­our­able and above-board, and have earned my trust. And, while I won’t say I’ve had uni­ver­sally unpleas­ant exper­i­ences deal­ing with agents, I will say that, on bal­ance, I’m delighted not to have one. The way I see it, Mike — and the team at Macmillan — are my agent. They cer­tainly appear to have my interests at heart.

    Hope I haven’t been overly defens­ive here; I cer­tainly enjoyed your look at Mike’s book. I hope that my per­spect­ive is of interest.

    All best,
    Michael

    P.S. I always feel com­pelled to point out, as Mike nev­er does, that all pro­ceeds from Transparent Imprint are being donated to BTBS, the book trade char­ity.

  2. Thanks for your com­ments, Michael. I’m glad you see my post as being ‘reac­tion’ rather than any attempt to eval­u­ate the imprint — some I’m not qual­i­fied to do. It seems clear that the you authors, at the sharp end of this pro­cess, seem to testi­fy again and again that the bad stuff peddled by cer­tain news­pa­pers isn’t an accur­ate reflec­tion of what’s going on behind the scenes. With luck, the suc­cess of the imprint will be down to the qual­ity of its authors — if we live in an ideal world, to para­phrase Roger Morris.

    Cheers,
    Ian

  3. Hi, Ian.

    Well con­sidered post. (I’ve a sim­il­ar, briefer sum­mary head­ing my inter­view with Aliya for Aesthetica’s sum­mer issue.)

    Thought you might be inter­ested in my tuppeny’s worth.

    I used to work for Nature Publishing, which is owned by Macmillan, and did some work exper­i­ence with the Macmillan fic­tion edit­ors. The edit­or­i­al meet­ings were a real eye-opener–there are so many books going through, even without unso­li­cited mater­i­als to con­tend with–and staff there pas­sion­ate about them, but it’s exceed­ingly dif­fi­cult for the edit­ors (let alone a new writer) to get approv­al for pick­ing up a new author. They have their cur­rent stable to worry about. I read a lot of ms’s there, one of which was Cory Doctorow’s excel­lent and rather suc­cess­ful Somebody Comes to Town, Somebody Leaves Town… and they couldn’t take that on.

    I think Mike Barnard was wrong to pub­lish his book–it seems like a knee-jerk reac­tion to the pub­li­city already gen­er­ated. But I think he and Macmillan should be applauded on estab­lish­ing of the imprint. They are well placed, being such a large force in the UK mar­ket, but without pesky share­hold­ers to con­cern them.

  4. while I won’t say I’ve had uni­ver­sally unpleas­ant exper­i­ences deal­ing with agents, I will say that, on bal­ance, I’m delighted not to have one. The way I see it, Mike — and the team at Macmillan — are my agent. They cer­tainly appear to have my interests at heart.”

    I’m sorry, but this seems incred­ibly naive.

    The pub­lish­er has your interests at heart as long as you’re mak­ing money for them on their terms. You could say that’s the same rela­tion­ship as with an agent, but an agent will try to win more money for you (and her) from pub­lish­ers. If your agent is also your pub­lish­er then they clearly have no incent­ive to do so.

    If your book is a mod­er­ate suc­cess you may be grate­ful for the chance to be pub­lished by any means, but if it’s a huge suc­cess, with a block­buster movie adapt­a­tion etc, you may well come to regret this deal. Of course, at this stage it’s all about the read­er­ship, but money changes everything.

    For me it’s hard to see this as an exer­cise by Macmillan in mak­ing it easi­er and more prof­it­able for them to pub­lish new nov­el­ists and at the same time turn­ing it into a mar­ket­ing strategy.

    The fact remains that if a pub­lish­er thinks a book will make them money they’ll pub­lish it, even with a nego­ti­able con­tract.

  5. Sorry — what I should have said was:

    For me it’s hard to see this as any more than an exer­cise by Macmillan in mak­ing it easi­er and more prof­it­able for them to pub­lish new nov­el­ists and at the same time turn­ing it into a mar­ket­ing strategy.

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