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May 31, 2005

Macmillan's 'No–Frills' Publishing Venture Has The U.K. Literati's Knickers in a Twist


Macmillan, whose history dates to 1843 and includes such authors as Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling, has unleashed a firestorm of controversy and criticism with its "New Writing" program aimed at first–time novelists.

Long story short: the company offers no advance to authors and performs no editing in order to "keep costs to a minimum."

Writers receive a 20% royalty with Macmillan holding an option to publish a writer's second book under the same terms.

Makes me think about going down to the basement to unearth that medical thriller I wrote a decade ago and couldn't get published.

I toyed with the idea of publishing a chapter a week here but then decided it was too much effort to scan the thing in, etc.

Maybe someday.

Probably not, though.

Here's the May 26 Bloomberg News story by Charles Goldsmith.

    Macmillan's No-Frills Publishing Plan Divides U.K. Literati

    A no-frills plan for new writers by publisher Pan Macmillan Ltd. is the talk of Britain's book world as authors descend this weekend on the annual Hay-on-Wye literary festival on the England-Wales border.

    Macmillan, home to such popular authors as Wilbur Smith and Minette Walters, recently initiated a "New Writing" program aimed at first-time novelists -- a bid to yield surprise hits while spending little on upfront costs.

    Reviews of the program are mixed: supporters say it gives hope to undiscovered talent, while critics dismiss the initiative as a gimmick doomed to failure.

    Among the first crop of novels to be published under the system will be "North," a psychological drama by retired English teacher Brian Martin, 67, of Oxford, England.

    He sent his book to Macmillan after failing to win a publishing deal through two agents, he said.

    "I know what traditional publishers and agents tend to think," Martin said.

    "For someone at my age to find an agent who's going to invest time in someone like me is very, very difficult."

    The author describes "North" as a "novel of obsession" in which the narrator is "almost as enigmatic as his subject North, a strange, elegant Anglo-American youth."

    North's first name is never revealed.

    The New Writing plan's terms are simple: Macmillan offers no advance payments to authors, and Macmillan editors will perform no rewriting in order to "keep costs to a minimum."

    Writers will receive 20 percent royalties on books sold, with Macmillan holding an option to publish a writer's second book under the same terms.

    The first half-dozen books will be published under the plan in April 2006, followed by one or two a month, Macmillan said.

    It said the books will be carried in the company's catalogs, and "sold in the market" by the publisher.

    While Macmillan makes no promises about marketing efforts, it promises to keep the books in print for two years, Macmillan Chief Executive Richard Charkin said in a phone interview.

    The plan, which differs from vanity publishing in that Macmillan pays publishing costs, has sparked a spirited debate over the state of the U.K.'s book industry.

    "The New Writing scheme suggests that the days of taste and literary discrimination at Macmillan are over," wrote Robert McCrum, literary editor of the Observer newspaper and a former editor-in-chief at publisher Faber & Faber.

    Novelist Hari Kunzru, author of "The Impressionist," told the Guardian newspaper that the plan was "the Ryanair of publishing," a reference to the low-cost airline.

    Critics of Macmillan's plan such as McCrum say the system strips editors of their responsibilities to select and shape the most promising new fiction.

    Skeptics also say the plan will result in poorly selling books because publishers that have invested little in the works will inadequately promote them.

    "It's very, very hard to sell first novels at the moment anyway even with full promotion and published in the normal channels," said Dan Franklin, publisher at Jonathan Cape Ltd., a unit of Bertelsmann AG's Random House.

    Macmillan, part of German media company Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH, said the plan helps gifted new authors whose works wouldn't be published through traditional agent-oriented publishing channels because the cost is prohibitively high.

    Charkin said he's "almost speechless" over criticism that the system exploits authors eager to be published.

    "How could one possibly say that offering to publish someone who wouldn't be published, and paying 20 percent royalties, and making no promises but doing our best, amounts to exploitation?" he said.

    Much of the criticism reflects "snobbery and elitism" in the literary world, said Charkin, adding that he regards Ryanair as "quite a good thing."

    Macmillan, whose history dates to 1843 and includes such authors as Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling, has received several hundred submissions since directing prospective authors to the New Writing plan on its Web site a few months ago, Charkin said.

    The publisher requests completed works rather than ideas, sent electronically, and cautions writers to expect "a minimum of communication between publisher and author."

    The New Writing system has split Britain's literary community "right down the middle," said Charles Jones, co- founder of http://www.writersservices.com, a Web site aimed at writers.

    The plan is welcomed by "a lot of people out there writing wonderful things who can't get them published, but others say, 'No, the gatekeepers are there for a reason, and they ensure that good things get out.'"

    The buying manager at the Waterstone's book chain, Scott Pack, said the plan could help more "experimental books" make their way into shops.

    "Macmillan is being honest: they're saying one reason we don't publish these books is because it's too risky."

    The issue has also stirred plenty of debate on Web logs or "blogs" used by aspiring writers.

    "All those wannabe novelists see it as the answer to their prayers, while others see it as the end of civilization," McCrum said in a phone interview.

    He said he doesn't expect other publishers to follow Macmillan's lead.

    "Rival publishers may be dismissive of Macmillan's scheme, but they will nevertheless be watching carefully," trade magazine the Bookseller said in an editorial.


    "If any of the authors take off, expect to see more 'Ryanair publishing' ventures quickly crowd the flight paths."

May 31, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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What does 'no frills' really mean?
No payment...perhaps?

Posted by: patrick gallivan | Aug 15, 2005 7:26:12 AM

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