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Macmillan New Writing Interview

Posted on 16 June 2006. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to Will Atkins from Macmillan New Writing

Tell us all about the Macmillan New Writing scheme; history, ethos,

MNW was the result of internal discussions concerning the difficulty of publishing debut novelists cost-effectively. Because, like many mainstream publishers, Macmillan stopped reading unsolicited manuscripts some years ago, agents had effectively become the only source of new material and were in a position to negotiate high advances for first novels, often before the author had finished writing the book. The financial consequences for the publisher are uncertain, to say the least. The result is a tendency to reduce risk by publishing fewer first-time authors but this in turn would eventually lead to a depleted list of novelists writing for us and a weakening of our back list. We decided to return to the practice of reading manuscripts received direct from authors and to set up a streamlined system for processing these.

In fact, the model of publishing we are practising is very traditional: we read manuscripts sent in to us by authors and, if we decide to publish them we edit, produce and sell them, pay the author a relatively high (20%) royalty on sales and share any rights revenue 50/50. We also have an option on one more book.

How do you find writers?

All submissions are unsolicited. The vast bulk (well over 4,000 since we began accepting submissions a year ago) arrive via email (the address is available from our website).

Can you give us some examples of people published so far?

Well, Roger Morris is a regular on this website (see also his terrific blog – or rather plog). His novel Taking Comfort is a brilliantly original work: a shockingly modern and highly literary thriller which is fast becoming something of a cult; enthusiastic reviews are popping up all over the place. Conor Corderoy’s Dark Rain is part sci-fi, part eco-thriller, part detective story – a very enjoyable, provocative, and thought-provoking read. Michael Stephen Fuchs The Manuscript is a highly ambitious techno-thriller, very entertaining, very intelligent, and uncompromisingly modern. Brian Martin’s North, again enthusiastically welcomed by the critics, is a refined, erudite and unashamedly literary tale of love, sex and betrayal in an Oxford college. Across the Mystic Shore is Suroopa Mukherjee’s immensely assured debut, set in India, about a family that adopts a boy from an ashram – it has received terrific reviews both in the UK and India. Cate Sweeney’s Selfish Jean takes a wry but moving look at the adoption process, and the human stories that lie at its heart – a very loveable novel, and written with real fluency. In May we published Edward Charles’ In the Shadow of Lady Jane, a historical epic based around the life and loves of Lady Jane Grey, and a work of authority and compassion, full of affection for its subject; and this month (June) sees the publication of Hugh Paxton’s brilliant African techno-fantasy, Homunculus, which has already received rave reviews.

What excites you about a piece of writing-

The same things that excite any reader, I think: polished prose, engaging characters, a compelling narrative, convincing dialogue, vivid imagery, an original and persuasive authorial voice.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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Comments by other Members

Nik Perring at 16:37 on 16 June 2006  Report this post
Great interview, thanks. Makes a lot of sense.


Dreamer at 17:41 on 16 June 2006  Report this post
I have noticed that the authors all tend to be English yet in the submission guidelines it does not mention any nationality restrictions. Are you taking submissions from North America?


EmmaD at 22:59 on 16 June 2006  Report this post
From the aspiring writer's point of view it's a joy to see that there's a new door open, when so many others seem to be closing.

More generally, MNW is a fascinating model. I'm watching the rest of the book trade stop scoffing and start sitting up and taking notice. It's good to see a major publisher realising that when they close themselves off to unsolicited submissions - however difficult it seems to be to justify the cost of dealing with a slushpile - they also risk closing themselves off to some of the really exciting writers of the future.

According to The Bookseller yesterday:

...Mike Barnard, the executive director who came up with the scheme, revealed that the authors' subsequent books would be published under MNW after all. "Authors will feel more comfortable with the same editor [Will Atkins]," he said.

Some of the follow-up novels may be launched under Pan simultaneously, while any third books would be taken on by Pan exclusively.

I'd love to know if there's more behind this change than simply staying with the same editor, though that is, of course, very important to authors, and likely to result in better second and subsequent books.


Ian Smith 100 at 12:21 on 23 June 2006  Report this post
Thanks for an excellent, frank interview, Will. I know why MacMillan has acted. The internet provides effortless, free self-publishing of brilliant, diverse, challenging novels, and this will be a threat to the traditional because publishing shareholders will get jumpy, like they have in newspaper publishing. Markets are strange things, so well done for putting the slushpile back where it belongs, but what a shame you don't consider short stories, non-fiction, children’s books, or poetry. There are millions of great writers out there if only you could just get hold of them. All the best - Ian

MarkT at 10:46 on 21 July 2006  Report this post
I really liked this interview.

I does give an aspiring writer hope.

Top stuff.


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