Banker launches publishing start-up offering novelists £24k salary

Banker launches publishing start-up offering novelists £24k salary

A new company has launched offering aspiring novelists an alternative to the "traditional" routes to publication: a salary from £2,000 per month to write their novels.

The outfit, De Montfort Literature (DML), says it will pay writers a salary to write their novels, which DML will then design, print, publish and promote.

After salary, production and marketing costs, authors will receive a 50% share of the book sale profits, the company said. In addition, writers will receive advice and support from professional mentors and editors, and get access to writing courses and classes to hone their skills.

The press will specialise in commercial fiction of all genres (science fiction, crime and thriller, romance, YA) and books will be published in hardback, paperback and e-book. There will also be audio editions, promising to “put the pezaz back into literature”. Although discussions with retailers have yet to take place, it is intended DML would work with companies such as Amazon and Waterstones to sell the books.

Behind the new publishing venture is Jonathan De Montfort, a hedge fund manager who used to work at Goldman Sachs and has since set up his own hedge fund company De Montfort Capital.

Also a writer, he decided to set up the company after “experiencing the difficulties of writing and publishing a novel”, his debut Turner (DML) five years in the making. De Montfort told The Bookseller that although he hadn’t had any disagreements with traditional publishers while working on his book, he thought the industry’s business model was “a mad way to do business” compared with industries like banking and tech, which invest in raw talent at the outset. By way of contrast, the goal of his new “game changing” enterprise is "to produce more great literature by creating an environment in which authors can learn and develop", he said.

“What I found is you have to read every day, you have to write every day and you have to edit your own work every day. And if you do that consistently over enough of a period you will eventually get it and be a much better writer,” said De Montfort. “It was when I took time off and could truly focus that I made big movements forward - and what I’m looking to do is say ‘don’t worry about that [an income]; we’ve got that. Just focus on writing as well as you can.’ What we want to see is writers making progress with their writing,” he said. 

He added that the traditional model represented a “literary lottery” for authors. “I looked at the way that it [the publishing industry] worked and it’s what I call ‘the literary lottery’. It’s this strange idea that, ok, you bear all of the [upfront] cost and all of the time and the effort of writing a novel, and then you send it to the agent, and hopefully they’re going to see it, and hopefully, when they send it on to the publisher, the publisher is going to have a look at it, and so on. 

“Imagine if Google operated that way; it said ‘Software engineers of the world, we want to build this fantastic system. We’d like you to send us in source code - just randomly. Come up with random ideas or else what you think we want; we’re not going to tell you what we want, we just assume that you know.’ And it’s like that, [publishers] say, ‘If we like what you’ve written, and we can monetise it, then we’ll pay you.’ That is an absolutely insane way to do business, in my view. 

“What I think is a much better way is what Google does, and what we do at DML, and what everyone in the banking and technological sectors do, and what the largest companies in the world have always done: they take the raw talent in and then they train them up over a period of time.”

DML is initially offering up to 10 places to successful applicants, which it says it expects to increase up to 100 over the next few years. 

To earn their place, writers will undergo "a rigorous selection process" which begins with psychometric testing using an algorithm to establish if candidates are suited to the writer’s life. In later stages, if authors get through, they will then be invited to an interview to discuss the ideas they would like DML to help them develop with the assistance of an experienced mentor and editor. 

De Montfort said DML is willing to spend in the region of £80,000 on each book, taking into account an author's salary, editorial and production costs, and PR and marketing.

Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors, has welcomed the opportunity that the venture represented for first-time authors in particular. However, she urged prospective authors "think carefully" before signing up to the current model.

She expressed concern over certain terms and conditions such as the request for joint copyright, copyright in authors' “ideas” (not just their work), and a clause (outlined in the FAQ section of the website) stipulating authors can’t write for another publisher for two years if they choose to leave DML.

"We are always happy to see new publishing models that give choice to authors and a salary of £24,000 a year for writing novels would probably be attractive to any new writer and is more than the advances that many would receive in traditional publishing," said Solomon.

"However, we always advise all writers to look a gift horse in the mouth and, on closer inspection, this one has some rotten teeth ... There are some good features and the intention seems to be good so we would be very happy to work with DML and its founders to come up with fairer terms."

Further details can be found online at www.demontfortliterature.com.