Thursday, July 07, 2005

Macmillan: Agents and Editors Speak . . .

Publishing certainly slows in the summertime. In fact, August brings it to nearly a standstill. Proof of this would be the two long email discussions and one IM discussion I had with my editor and agent friends regarding yesterday's post regarding Macmillan.

As a result, I asked my friends to answer one simple question regarding Macmillan and allow me to post the answer here. Wonderful folks, they are.

Question: What impact will the Macmillan New Writing program have on the publishing
industry? Will this affect POD?

Editor One: Anything Macmillan does [of this nature] gets noticed and discussed. Rumor has it that Random House is about to do the same thing. [Another editor] just told me yesterday that they were considering it at Warner at a high level. What many of my peers would like to see is an elimination of the agent intimidation. [We] take an unknown talent, nurture her and get her published and promoted, secure some good reviews, then the agent comes to us on book two and says, "we want X dollars." And if we come up short by a few grand--or God forbid it goes to auction--we get shafted. It would be nice if publishing could go back to an author sticking with a house and having a real partnership and career set up. Maybe this is the first step.

Still, there are a lot of unanswered questions, like what about the cover? Will it get the same professional treatment as the other Macmillan titles? What about securing rights to lyrics [that may appear in the book], etc? Who is handling that? We are watching closely to see how this plays out. Macmillan is being progressive here.

As for POD, I do not see any change. Maybe they will publish 100 less titles per year. Big deal.

Editor Two: This publishing model was something of an urban legend, or so we thought. There has been talk [at this editor's publishing house] of doing this exact thing and the reason is quite clear. Spending high five or six figures on an unknown author creates a surge in demand for antacid in Manhattan. The risk is unreal. We have to create these mind-boggling P&L statements to justify the purchase. You hear about the instances of a publisher paying a crazy advance to an author like Janet Evanovich, but the truth is she is pretty low risk. On the other hand, paying $90,000 to a debut author is extremely risky and so frequently becomes a failure. Editors panic when [we] make these deals because we know we may have to move to another house if it bombs.

So, as a result, [publishers] are looking for a way to reduce risk and funnel the money to the proven authors. That is not to say that only the Evanoviches will get the cash. An author who proves himself on the first book will get a nice slice in the next project, but the days of the six-figure advance on a debut title needs to be reduced or eliminated.

If Macmillan is successful in this venture it will certainly come to the States, and quickly.

POD? No change. Macmillan, and anyone who follows suit, is still looking for top talent--in fact, it could be even harder to get picked up by this program if they are trying to find books that can bypass an editor.

Agent One: Well, I am an advocate for authors. So the idea of this is horrible from my point of view. The writer needs a guide for the publishing industry, and the agent serves that purpose. I know editors are not keen on the power-hungry antics of most agents, that we are mostly viewed as a bunch of two-faced rats who happen to carry the best product in the industry. I mean, do editors really want to go back to reading the slush pile? With regard to POD, I cannot envision this having any impact unless Random House starts printing 10,000 titles per year, in which case I am going to the movies.

The real problem (generated from my perspective as an agent) is the surrendering of world rights. It is hard to fathom justification for that. An agent might be able to sell rights to, say, China, where Macmillan might not be bothered. It is a waste, and gluttonous.

Agent Two: What turns me off the most is the lack of everything: little editing, no advance, no promotion. I would take it more seriously if they were backing the author normally but it sounds as though these books may be doomed from the get-go. If, however, one of these books takes off, I will not be surprised to see the entire industry try to climb aboard with each having a slightly different hybrid version of this publishing program. If it does work for Macmillan, what is the risk for everyone else to try it? The only losers are the authors (and I suppose the agents.)

I do not think this will change a single thing in the POD or self-publishing venues. Off -topic books will always have difficulty finding a home, as well as the terribly-written stuff.

Agent Three: So it is true. I have heard of publishers trying to work this model for years but have never seen it given life. If it works, expect a half-hearted revolution. All Macmillan has to do is get one breakout title to justify the experiment, and I bet they will get just that (at least one.) As for us agents, it will only be easier to represent proven authors; the debut writers are the toughest sale.

I think Macmillan has good intentions here. In fact, if Guardian had not written that article, I'm not sure most people would even know about it. They have kept it fairly close to the vest.

POD will remain unchanged, in my opinion. Though they may lose a handful of books that might have gone their way. That would be a good thing.


Well, thanks for answering my query, one and all. Now, hurry--the last train is leaving for the Hamptons in 40 minutes. Have a great--albeit pretentious--weekend!

As for us common folk, it's back to finding some living, breathing books among the dead titles that amass the POD world.