Aliya Whiteley on Macmillan New Writing

Some of you know Aliya Whiteley for her short stories, which have appeared or are forthcoming in, Shred of Evidence (later in the ADVENTURE OF THE MISSING DETECTIVE anthology), Demolition and SHOTS (which was her first published effort.) Her first novel, THREE THINGS ABOUT ME, was accepted by Macmillan as part of their “New Writing” Program, one that’s resulted in some controversy but less detail on what it was like to be published by them. Aliya was kind enough to submit this short essay about her experiences which I’ll now share here:

**MacMillan New Writing: Window or Aisle?

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./o:p

That’s nice./o:p
We have eight possible designs – we prefer number six. /o:p_

Ummm…. lovely./o:p

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./o:p

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 New Writing 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./o:p

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./o:p

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

Three Things About Me is
released in July 2006.