Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Macmillan or PublishBritannica?

It seems there is a good bit of controversy over Macmillan's New Writing program. I've brought it up before here at the POD-dy Mouth East Coast Warehouse and Distribution Center, but I thought it might deserve a second look, as it seems many are on the fence.

Including me.

For those who are not familiar: The New Writers program is one where Macmillan will allow unagented authors to submit manuscripts (thus, recreating the slush pile) electronically. If they like the author's book, they will offer to publish it with--and here's the rub--no advance but a 20% royalty. Oh, and they keep all the rights to the book. Oh, and you may need to find an editor to edit the thing (Macmillan will do the copyediting.)

While the Guardian Article is 75% negative and 25% positive, I would say Michael Allen (the cogent and always informative Grumpy Old Bookman) seems mostly in favor, while Sarah Weinman is clearly against.

And so is Booksquare.

And so are a lot of other people.

Mostly because they are looking at it from the top down. The Guardian interviewed published (well-established, no less) authors who turned their nose up at it. Well, duh. But for the people who frequent this blog, is it as bad as it sounds?

The whole point of this blog, the reason I sometimes skip exercising and eating correctly is to read more PODs and publish this blog (I will, of course, look into getting a Lithium prescription.) But look at how many good books are listed on the right column that may never get anything more than, well . . . a mention on this blog. Would these people be willing to surrender rights (which, by the way, does not mean you get nothing if Macmillan sells rights to Japan or the U.S., it just means they control what they are sold for, and when.)

In the Joshua Cohen article, it seems the POD leaders also think it is a scam--and they are basing that argument on the loss of rights. And they would have to. Certainly Macmillan is not going to take any of Authorhouse's customer base. Unlike PublishAmerica, Macmillan only plans to publish one or two titles per month, not countless hundreds. So, let's say they release 18 novels a year. That is way less than any imprint coming to mind. So to think they would upset the POD world is hard to imagine.

Unless every publisher decided to follow Macmillan's model.

The publishing world does not like change. And when a publisher as respected and well-known as Macmillan throws a new option for publishing out there, the other majors (Random, S&S, etc.) have no choice but to pay attention. Will this publishing model work? Who knows. But if it does, expect every publisher in the world to follow suit.

And expect to see a lot of agents turning to freelance editing.

My take? It is not as good as the deal I got, for certain. But it's a lot better than the deal, say, Jamie Boud got (aka none.) There is never a downside to being published with a powerhouse like Macmillan. Simply being listed in their catalog is better than most small presses can offer. Further, I can think of ten authors off the top of my head that got almost no better: all were published by imprints at major publishers except one, and none of them got anything more than a listing in the publisher's catalog and the hope that the sales reps would push the book. Okay, they did get advances (most in the low mid figures) and that is a difference but not a major one. One close friend got a $15,000 advance, lost 15% to her agent, lost half of what remained to taxes and lost another $1,000 to recoup her expenses in trying to find an agent--she had just over $5k left (and she had to sponsor her own book tour!) Ultimately, advances that low mean the publisher is unlikely to spend anything on promotion.

So do I think it's fair? Well, I don't think it is a scam. (Imagining that Macmillan would be interested in getting kickbacks from freelance editors is silly.) I do think it is an excellent option for books that are exceptional, and where the author has already filled a three-ring binder with rejection slips. The world looks differently when you stand at the POD level and look up.