Ray Lee

Honors for books

Excuse the attempt at a catchy title — we haven’t actually won anything recently.  What I do want to do is explain the concept behind ‘Honors’, a new imprint we’re going to be launching early next year.

Like most publishers, MPP receives a good number of unsolicited manuscripts.  Roughly, these fall into three categories — the obviously publishable, and obviously unpublishable, and those in between.  There are a surprising number in that third group.  MPP is a business, and our titles have to have some prospect at least of paying the bills, even if they’ll never be bestsellers.  But we do get proposals every year for books that, while they have some intrinsic merit, don’t appear to us to have much chance of paying their way.  A good example is the second edition of ‘Bridge: the Ultimate Limits’, by Eric Mansfield, which I confess has been on my desk for the best part of two years now.  Those familiar with this book will know that Mansfield is a problem constructor of a very high order, specializing in extremely complex endings.  The book indeed contains the only known example of a hexagonal squeeze.  When I got the draft of the new edition from the author, I asked The Bridge World editor Jeff Rubens what he thought, and his view was that we might sell 50 copies of it (although I think he would have been a purchaser!).  So here’s a good example of a book that should probably be ‘out’ there’, but isn’t really commercially viable.  Of course, sometimes books surprise you.  When Roy Hughes brought us the first draft of ‘Building a Bidding System’, he agreed with our view that the same 50 people would probably want to buy that one too.  But we thought the book was so important that we published it anyway, and were pleasantly surprised by its success.

Evolving technology has provided us with a new option for these marginal books, though:  ebook publication.  And so ‘Honors’ will be born.  Hoors books will be books that we believe have merit, but that won’t work as standard books.  Basically we’ll offer the author our marketing channels, but will not put the time and effort and money into editing, design and printing that a normal MPP title would get.  So an Honors book will be available only as an ebook, and it will look pretty much as it did when we received it from the author.  The quid pro quo is that the author will receive a much higher proportion of the revenue than would be the case if we had a significant investment in the title.

It will be interesting to see how this works.  The market is still changing, and as usual, a format war is under way in the ebook world.  As of now, I suspect that ePub is going to be the winner.  Certainly, Amazon isn’t going to be able to impose their proprietary AZW format on the market any more than Apple was able to control the music download business.  The Kindle isn’t even a standout among the readers — my Sony is at least as good, and in some ways better, since it has touch-screen controls — and more new readers seem to be arriving every week.  It’s going to be fascinating to see how it plays out — and at MPP we’re trying to make sure we’re ready when the market does settle down.

Meanwhile, we have several potential Honors books in hand, and hope to get the imprint going in the next 3 months or so.  Anyone out there with a good manuscript?

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