Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Monday 15th. February

For anyone who hasn't been following the discussion on when to have a MNWers gathering, this seems to be the date we've agreed on. So far we have (I think) Alis, Eliza, Len, Matt, Brian (possibly) Aliya, Tim and me, but it would be great if more could come, including (and especially) any new MNWers who may have been hovering round the blog but haven't yet introduced themselves. We haven't yet agreed on a time and place, but maybe it would be an idea to do that soon rather than start this all over again in the new year? So - Lunch? Dinner? Tea? What does everyone think? And where would be a good venue? I guess it will have to be London, but London is a big place... (exit blackboard monitor)

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Stray thoughts on being a published writer of both fiction and academic books.

Will (Atkins) is currently holidaying in India, and early this week he was here in New Delhi en-route to Varanasi and Goa. We spent a lovely evening at India International Centre, and while I introduced Will to the quiddities of an authentic Indian meal and gave him touristy advice, we also discussed MNW and publishing in general. As always Will spoke fondly of the imprint and its authors, taking pride in the discovery of talent despite modest sales and having to cope with down trend in the market. We discussed genres, branding, marketing and that elusive magic formula that brings phenomenal success for some writers. Though I have not been published by MNW since Across the Mystic Shore both he and Mike have continued to show keen interest in my writing, especially my academic work. We got down to talking about my forthcoming book from Palgrave Macmillan (Surviving Bhopal: Dancing Bodies, Written Texts, Oral Testimonials of Women in the Wake of an Industrial Disaster, April 2010). He put an interesting question to me, “How is the experience of being a published fiction writer different from that of an author of an academic book?”

It is different. For one your anxieties are different. Since your academic book has a limited print run, a niche audience and will only be bought for libraries you do not worry about sales or marketability. Somehow the risks do not seem yours. If anything the rigorous editorial process takes into account all the factors that go into preparing your book for scrutiny. It is as if the risks get taken care of in the pre-publication stages, and both you and your publisher know exactly what you are doing. Therefore, every step of the way is more impersonal and yet more reassuring. There is inherent pride in knowing that your book is part of a prestigious imprint (Palgrave Studies in Oral History) and the intrinsic value of the book is therefore taken care of. So you do not worry about reviews, Amazon sales rank or how sales can impact the publication of your next book. Your publication profile is somehow free from any need for branding. A different kind of buzz is created for your book. Institutions/ scholars from related fields know about your work and show keen interest. Therefore, a forthcoming book is anticipated with the right amount of eagerness and academic curiosity. I was telling Will that as a fiction writer you do know that one day your novel will simply cease to sell; the royalty statements will tell you that. It carries its own twinge of disappointment. I have a feeling that an academic book spares you this as well. If anything, the process of building up your reputation is slow but more sure footed. Your publisher knows it and so do you. Your book gets talked about in a limited circle and if it finds its way into other bibliographies then you book is still in demand.

I am wondering why it is not the model for all publications, fiction, non-fiction and specialized books? Will told me that no publisher can anticipate a best seller and somehow intrinsic worth is not the criteria. Then why not have a system that percolates this bit of assurance right down to the author? We need bestseller lists, popular awards and talk shows for marketing books to keep the industry afloat. I agree. But there is a niche market for that as well. Why bring fiction into it? What is it that determines the survival of fictions’ so called midlist?

I will end with a bit of self promotion for my Palgrave book. When I got back the cover proof I felt a quiet sense of satisfaction to see what had been included as promotional material. I am reproducing them below:
“Suroopa Mukherjee's important book tells how Bhopali women from one of the poorest communities on earth have thrown off the veil and led a spirited, inspiring resistance against corruption and injustice by a multinational corporation and its political allies.”—Indra Sinha, Author of Animal’s People, based on the Bhopal tragedy
“This is a captivating read and the work is an admirable example of scholarship and artistry guided by moral principle and passion. Mukherjee designed it to purposefully and forcefully keep the Bhopal gas tragedy in global public discourse – indeed, to reintroduce it. She works diligently and passionately with oral history narratives from women survivors together with vivid accounts of women’s collective participation in activities that continue to press for compensation, justice, respect, and dignity. With poignancy, her brave and timely objective is to ‘pierce the veil of secrecy’ by using indigenous oral traditions to deconstruct corporate and bureaucratic obfuscation that function as a tool of oppression. This work is an outstanding examination of every imaginable dimension of the Bhopal gas tragedy.”--Raymond E. Wiest, Professor Emeritus, Anthropology, University of Manitoba, Canada.

I know it’s the blurb and part of the marketing but it reads differently, does it not? I also know for sure that it brings the issue centerstage, which pleases me immensely.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


Interesting post by Matt on his blog.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

February - dates, please

It looks as though our get-together will have to be in February, so it would be good if we could start sorting out a date before everyone gets booked up (I'm beginning to feel like that bossy girl at school who always wanted to be blackboard monitor). Matt - would you like to have the first say? Do you have any preferences/no-gos for February?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

From The Guardian - "How Waterstones Killed Bookselling"

The rather sensationalist title aside, this piece in today's Guardian is an interesting examination of the book retailing business. It will have resonances for all of us who've had books turned down recently.

Friday, 6 November 2009


With particular reference to Matt's post (below), I wonder whether it might be possible to arrange a get-together/goodbye-to-Matt lunch or dinner, perhaps in the new year (I guess it's probably too short notice for pre-Christmas)? I know that these are hard to arrange, what with day jobs, children, distances to travel etc. But it would be great to meet up if we could. What does anyone else think?

Thursday, 5 November 2009

MFWC has left the building…

Okay, just a short note for those who don’t know yet, but I’m no longer writing for Macmillan. I won’t go into the reasons here, but the parting is amicable and I have no regrets for being involved in one of the most important author initiatives by a major publisher in the last ten years.

However, it will mean less time to blog here as I concentrate more on life after MNW – though I will be visiting from time to time and will certainly not be a stranger to this blog (having spent a huge amount of time here).
For the coming weeks you’ll still find me on the Muskets and Monsters blog, but my permanent home will shift to Wordpress over the new year , and then during next summer my web presence will consolidate at Wordpress under MFWCurran.com - blog and all.

I leave Macmillan New Writers in the capable hands of David and Tim, who have been fantastic since they took over the admin reins. And of course I leave it in the hands of the MNW gang, who have kept the blog going with their experiences (those highs and lows) and sage advice which has pretty much guided us through the whole adventure of being published that first time.

Finally, a massive thanks to you all for making this experience such a great one for me. One of the strengths of the imprint is this community, the ability to support, console and pimp books to everyone and their uncles. With the new wave of MNWers coming through like Ryan and Deborah, this community will keep going strong, and will hopefully have a top 10 bestseller to hang its hat on soon.

Best wishes