Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Window or Aisle

Hi everyone,

I thought I'd repost an article I wrote on the subject of MNW when I first signed the dreaded contract with them. It first appeared on Sarah Weinman's blog, 'Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind' and my feelings haven't really changed since then. Other friends of mine have gone on in the past year to be published by other houses, and yes, they have received advances and publicity, but the end result in terms of sales has not been much different from my own. So we're all still going to the same place, even if they were ostensibly up in the champagne section.

Here's the article:

The last time I flew with Ryanair, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I queued for two hours to check in. My jumper got ripped in the scrum whilst trying to board the plane. And I forgot to buy a bottle of water beforehand, and so ended up shelling out ten pounds for three glugs of Evian. All in all, not something I was willing to repeat.

So when the first thing I heard about the Macmillan New Writing initiative was that they were the Ryanair of Publishing, I decided they weren’t for me. But, as usual, my mind and my body didn’t communicate very well, and I ended up emailing my latest manuscript off anyway. I blame the publisher. It was all too easy to click the mouse button and send 100,000 words off into cyberspace without considering that anything might ever come of it.

A month later, I received an email. My novel, Three Things About Me, had passed the initial reading stage and was now going to be evaluated by an independent reader. It cheered me up a bit on a rainy day, as I remember. Another month passed, and I received another email. This one was from Mike Barnard, the Head of Macmillan New Writing. He said he loved my novel. He said he wanted to publish it.

As shown in my novel, email is a dangerous, seductive thing. It’s impossible to take seriously. How can one equate such news in a format which is followed by three messages telling me how to enlarge my private parts? And so, until the proofs arrived by courier, I found it extremely difficult to believe that anything was actually happening.

A team of designers are working on the cover.

That’s nice.We have eight possible designs – we prefer number six.

Ummm…. lovely.

It was just all so easy. And that’s the point of Macmillan New Writing. It is what Ryanair was supposed to be, conceptually speaking. It’s a short queue and an easy check-in. No wrangling over price or seating arrangements. The contract is the same for everyone, and therefore energy that might have gone into discussing the fine print can go into looking at the big picture – that is, the industry needs new writers to survive, and it can’t, or won’t, afford to give all its long shots big advances and star treatment.

That’s not to say that we writers are sat out on the wing. Every manuscript accepted so far (a total of twelve out of over 3000 manuscripts received, last time I checked) has been edited by Macmillan’s in-house team, and each cover individually designed. A glance at the excerpts from the eclectic range of novels on the website suggests that some real quality has been found, and I’m sure Macmillan will put their best efforts, if not their coffers, into marketing. After all, it’s in their best interests. And sometimes the hole left by a lackof money can be filled, very effectively, by invention.

So, would I have liked the usual benefits of signing a contract with a major publishing house? Would an advance have made my life easier and made me feel more loved, creatively speaking? Of course. But if it’s a choice between having an advance or having my book published, then it’s no choice at all. And I’m sure every writer would agree with that.

After all, the important point with any airline is to reach your destination, not have a pina colada and a massage on the journey.


David Isaak said...

Nice--I hadn't seen that.

But the pina colada and massage still sound like a good idea.

Eliza Graham said...

Good article. Thanks for reposting it, Aliya.

David Isaak said...

BTW, Aliya, love the new headshot. Very writerly.

Suroopa said...

To think the bloke who started the Ryanair controversy was a Non-Resident-Indian writer - a breed apart from us homespun varieties! I am not surprised that he should have such disparaging remarks about publishing first time writers. Ah, the politics of writing and getting published!

Aliya Whiteley said...

Thanks all - glad you like the shot, David! It's going to be on the back of Light Reading. It's me trying to look serious. It never quite works.