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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