Monday, 24 August 2009

Trios: Beachcombing, by Maggie Dana: What Editors Want

Maggie Dana began this particular trio of articles with an account of her potholed path to publication; then Will Atkins, her editor took over and discussed Macmillan New Writing. This time Will considers the role of the author in the publication process, and nails down what authors can do to imrpove their chances of success.

Beachcombing was recommended to us by another of our authors, who was in a writing group with Maggie (‘recommendations’ sometimes make the heart sink, but in this case it was clear from the first page that Maggie was a real talent). Part of the fun of MNW is that we publish across all fiction genres—crime, thrillers, literary fiction, comic fiction, fantasy, historical, etc, etc—and so our criteria for publication are pretty simple: do we love it, can we sell it and does the author have a future? If the answer is yes, yes and yes, then we publish it. Beachcombing is a novel that fits rather neatly into its given genre (broadly: commercial women’s fiction; or ‘hen-lit,’ as Maggie calls it) and is, to abuse a cliché, a perfect beach read—as the title and cover suggest. But sitting neatly in an established genre isn’t, of course, enough to guarantee sales.

Beachcombing was MNW’s first paperback original—nobody wants to lug a jacketed hardback onto the beach, do they? It’s also worth mentioning that the publication date isn’t accidental—it’s a summer read. This enabled our sales team to present it to their key accounts—Waterstone’s, Borders, WHSmith, etc—as a straightforward commercial proposition: loveable book; nice, sunny cover; June publication date. There are now heaps of copies in the shops and, happily, it’s well represented at UK airports and rail stations, just as the summer season gets going. We’re fortunate that Maggie has energetically embraced digital marketing and self-promotion (she even Twitters, heaven help her); she’s made herself available for a fortnight’s worth of readings, interviews, signings and launches during her visit to the UK, and has also proved herself to be an energetic advocate and supporter of budding authors—of all ages—seeking publication (she spoke inspiringly on this subject at the Writer’s Handbook Live event recently).

What we are always looking for is an author whose writing ticks all the boxes: who can create engaging characters and settings; construct plausible and satisfying plots; write with fluency, grace and style. Plenty of the submissions we receive at MNW tick one of those boxes, or two—very few tick them all. We’re also looking for authors who are unafraid to get their hands dirty, who know their value as writers but understand the collaborative aspect I’ve mentioned; and who’re able to weather the knock-backs and dead-ends and ‘potholes’ that Maggie mentioned in her blog, alongside the highs. Above all, we’re looking for writers with a future—who can cast their spell once to capture readers’ loyalty, and then keep casting it, again and again. It’s the reserves of dedication, talent and sheer energy that all this requires that makes truly successful and lasting authors so rare.


Dan Holloway said...

I've thought of subbing to MNW a few times, but decided against it because I've heard things on the rumour-mill about very strict wordcount guidelines. May I ask the kind person from MNW who posted this whether this is an urban legend, or if word count really is essential (mine's 67,000 - designed to fit in with my favourite authors - Murakami (his shorter books),Darrieussecq, Ugresic, Hirvonen, Yoshimoto)?

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

wow. I've already got a contract but this post is inspiring. I hope I can be everything this author is.

Maggie Dana said...


I've never heard anything about strict word counts at MNW, but I imagine they have some sort of guidelines. I'll email my editor and will get back to you on this.


Well done on your contract ... and thanks for the kind comments. It's my editor, Will, who's inspiring. A great guy. Am lucky to have him.


RDJ said...

Hey, Dan.

I placed a couple books with MNW, both between 60,000 - 70,000 words long. No one suggested I either trim or add fat to make them longer. And looking at some of their other books (David Isaak's SHOCK AND AWE is a pretty hefty job -- and worth a read, I might add), I feel safe in saying they don't shy away from books of a good length either.

I think their website's 60,000 - 130,000 word guideline is probably as strict as they get.

Tamara: congratulations.

Derek said...

What we are always looking for is an author whose writing ticks all the boxes

I'm amazed at the fact that publishers find enough material to fill their lists.

BTW that's an interesting blog you have, RDJ.

Maggie Dana said...


RDJ is correct. MNW accepts fiction subs from 60,000 to 130,000 words.


M. L. Kiner said...

"The Hong Kong Connection" is a legal thriller about a gutsy female attorney who takes on high ranking International officials. It's a taut, rollercoaster of a ride from New York to Palm Beach to Washington D.C. to Hong Kong. The plot is expertly woven, the characters persuasive, and the dialogue snappy and spot on.

Jane Smith said...

Apologies for the comment-spam from yet another author "published" by Strategic Book Publishing, which is part of Robert Fletcher's stable of dodgy agents and vanity publishers (you might remember him from my recent blog post "Robert Fletcher of Writers' Literary Agency Labelled Fraudulent And Frivolous In Legal Ruling").

Apparently, Fletcher (you know, the one whose business habits are fraudulent, who brought a frivolous law suit against Ann Crispin and Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware and not only lost, but was ordered to pay Writer Beware's costs) advises all the writers who he "publishes" to register for Google alerts of key words associated with their books, and to then place comment-spam like this in every blog that the Google alert turns up.

That's why that comment is here. Ignore it: and don't buy the book.

Not that any of you were going to.