Negotiating the list: launching Macmillan's Colonial Library and author contracts

Towheed, Shafquat (2011). Negotiating the list: launching Macmillan's Colonial Library and author contracts. In: Spiers, John ed. The Culture of the Publisher's Series: Nationalisms and the National Canon, Volume 2. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.



Launched in 1886, Macmillan's Colonial Library list issued a modest 34 titles in its first twelve months. Despite the firm's claims that the venture was an experiment in publishing, Macmillan was clearly intent on capitalising on the expansion of both the domain and effectiveness of international copyright law following the passage and ratification of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (signed 9 September 1886; ratified 5 September 1887). In addition, as Graeme Johanson observes, they sought to benefit from the extraordinary appetite of the Australian market for imported British books. Macmillan's Colonial Library soon became one of the most successful ventures in the history of colonial publishing; some 624 titles were issued by 1913 at the rate of about one title every fortnight, and over 1,700 titles were published under the imprint of the Colonial Library and its successors, a feat which was unsurpassed.

But how was this Colonial Library list constructed? This chapter offers a brief overview of the nature of the contracts offered by Macmillan to its authors for the Colonial Library list in the first few years after its launch, and in doing so, will attempt to answer some of the following questions. What were the terms offered to established and new authors on the Colonial Library list? How did putative authors respond to Macmillan's enthusiasm (or otherwise) for their inclusion on the list? Were the majority of authors during the first few years of the list bought in, or did Macmillan use the list as a vehicle for further promoting their more established (and perhaps, more literary) authors? Did any of Macmillan's house authors record their resistance or scepticism to this new venture in transnational publishing? How did royalties differ between 'Home' and 'Colonial Library' editions? And finally, did authors view their presence on the Colonial Library list as an officially sanctioned marker of esteem within the firm, or simply as a commercial expediency to be tolerated? I draw upon correspondence in individual author files in the Macmillan archive in the British Library in order to shed light on some of these questions.

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