The Brexit test for publishing

One of my purposes in setting up Mensch was to test different models of publishing.

Even so, when I decided to set up the business in the summer of 2018 I could not have imagined that the first two books under the imprint would be about assisted suicide. The first one, Guy Kennaway’s story of his mother’s and step-father’s desire to prepare themselves for suicide before sliding into infantile catatonia, Time to Go. A very personal, funny, and warm-hearted book about a very serious subject. It has sold well in hardback and e-book through the brilliant Bloomsbury sales and distribution infrastructure worldwide. The audiobook was co-produced with Creative Content and read superbly by Alex Jennings and Patience Tomlinson. The paperback will be published in January 2020.

The second assisted suicide relates to the thoroughly ridiculous decision to destroy the fabric of the United Kingdom by exiting the European Union without any real understanding of the consequences, short and long-term. I wanted a reliable, intelligent, well-written and non-ephemeral book to address how on earth we got here and where might we be heading, irrespective of the outcome of the current shenanigans.

On 10th July this year a mutual friend arranged for me to meet William Waldegrave who, in my opinion, would be the best person to write such a book. He agreed to think about it and a week later came back with some paragraphs outlining this thoughts. Then the logistically difficult stuff. We clearly had to publish quickly, preferably in time for the political party conferences in September.

Amazingly, William performed a miracle and delivered a complete and marvellous manuscript on 8th August. Clearly I had wrecked some of his Summer. Even so, there was no way Bloomsbury (or any traditional publisher) would want to run this through their systems on the schedule we needed. While copy editing was happening and a cover being designed I made contact with Ingram Spark who, without much arm-twisting, said they thought they could meet my crazy demands. And they did.

The last two weeks were insane. Fixing literals in the text, getting agreement on the cover image and text, determining a final title, typesetting in the USA, establishing the metadata, the prices for paperback and e-book editions in all territories, signing the author contract when his agent doesn’t use email, liaising between my 1990’s laptop in France, William on holiday in Italy, the copyeditor in London and the various Ingram teams in Milton Keynes and New York (platform, production, sales etc), publicity in Wales. It was a nightmare for me and nothing would have been possible without the unstinting support of Ingram and my brilliant freelance helpers.

At times this felt like testing to destruction but the model stood up to it. In this case the upside of the model is, of course, speed to publication and a quality paperback, not to mention the environmental benefit of not printing books which are never sold. The downsides are clearly that the unit cost of print on demand is higher than traditional print and manufacturing takes a few days from receipt of order, thus slowing down replenishment for bookshops.

We are publishing on 12 September, the day before the Liberal Democrat Conference. Actually Amazon are already selling the e-book. The publicity has begun with a marvellous interview by Emily Maitlis on Newsnight which took the paperback into the Amazon top 100. There’s much more to come of course.

Mensch’s next book, Getting Old: Deal with It, will be more traditionally published and I shall be delighted to be working with Bloomsbury again—and with several others due to be published in 2020—but it’s good to know that I can turn to Ingram again when speed and flexibility are more important than maximising sales and minimising print costs.