Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Macmillan New Writing nears take-off

Macmillan New Writing (MNW) is an imprint which, you may remember, was announced in the UK in the spring of last year. It was covered here several times, first on 3 May 2005, when I gave it a warm welcome.

A week or two later, I was obliged to note that many in the book world were much less enthusiastic. Some indeed called it a scam. Robert McCrum, bigwig at the Observer, was the most scathing. The general feeling was that writers were being exploited, it was all cheap and nasty, standards falling, world collapsing about our ears, and so forth.

Well, if you've never heard of MNW, perhaps you ought to get up to speed by reading those early posts. Or perhaps by going to the imprint's own web site. There you can find details of the first six books, which will be published together on 7 April 2006. From May onwards, MNW will do one book a month, and those scheduled for the rest of the year are also listed. Full details of how to submit, if you're interested, are available there too.

One of the striking things about MNW is that just about the only factor that the books will have in common is that they are by first-time novelists. Previous short stories et cetera will not do you any harm in attracting attention, and any genre -- whether literary, crime, science fiction, or other -- will be considered.

Macmillan have begun beating the drum for this new imprint's launch. First, some shortish extracts from the first six books were sent out to the trade, perhaps six weeks ago. Now, review copies of the hardback versions have also arrived.

Well, given that the company has been kind enough to send all six to me, the least I can do is write about them, which I shall be doing over the next week or so, probably in two groups of three, with some concluding remarks. Today, however, I just want to say something about the production values.

All the MNW books are the same size, which is about 5.5" x 8". To be precise, the company lists the size as 129 mm by 198 mm. This is about the size that novels used to be in the 1950s, though nowadays publishers often go for royal octavo, which is roughly 6" x 9". The number of pages varies a bit, but none is either very short or very long. The size of the type also varies, sometimes being a bit smaller than I would wish, but in no case outrageously so.

And -- this is something of a surprise -- the books are stitched, in the old-fashioned way, not perfect bound. This means that the books are printed in sections, which are then stitched, and the sections are assembled into the finished book. The alternative, which really is cheap and nasty, but often used, even in hardbacks, is 'perfect binding', a method in which single sheets are held together (or not) by glue. Finally, and this is a really nice touch, we have an old-fashioned ribbon in each book to enable you to mark your place.

Mike Barnard, the boss man of MNW, has a background in production and is an authority on printing technology, and his influence is clearly visible here. All in all, it seems to me that production values for the imprint are rather higher than anyone has any reasonable right to expect.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the MNW launch is that Mike Barnard has written a book about the genesis of the imprint. This will, it is said, give details about the terms and conditions offered to authors (a standard contract in each case), how the books were chosen, how they were produced cost-effectively, and so forth. Entitled Transparent Imprint, it will be available for review shortly, and I look forward to reading it.


Andrew O'Hara said...

First-time novelists...no agents...stitched binding--with a ribbon marker? It actually sounds legitimate and well thought out.

They're doomed.

Clive Keeble said...

A point of interest for Andrew O'Hara. In the recently posted Wottakar's - CC - evidence, I note "item" 20 which states "The Society of Authors said that it was now almost impossible to be published without a literary agent....." Many more pearls of wisdom in the 274 (item)collated Key arguments and views of third parties 6th March 2006(excluding third-party submissions on the CC website).

Andrew O'Hara said...

I have no doubt, Clive, (as far as the agent or a big friend named Guido). It's no doubt impossible to sell your cow without an auctioneer any more, either. Still, while I've learned to read closely between the lines, I always fear that in between are a few outfits that actually mean what they say--and will be quickly buried six feet under because of it.

Thanks for your comment!