The editor as hero

<p>One of the most exciting developments in British publishing over recent years was undoubtedly the formation of the Independent Publishers' Alliance. By grouping together, otherwise-small publishers have been able to negotiate with the major retailers with the same strength as do the largest publishing groups. It has certainly enabled the UK market to enjoy an unprecedented growth in independent publishing at the same time as the diversity in bookselling has diminished.</p>
<p>Larger publishers have noticed this, and now seek to grow by acquisition or by spinning off new imprints. The latter makes additional sense as many brilliant editors are not necessarily designed to be managers. To date, successful editors invariably moved up the ladder into management, where they often became miserable. How much more sensible to give them freedom to create a list reflecting their real tastes and interests, and to dedicate themselves to working with their authors, overseeing every aspect of&nbsp; publication.</p>
<p>John Karp's &quot;12&quot; is an exciting US example: 12 books a year, one each month, will be published by one of the most brilliant publishers of his generation. Here in the UK, Fig Tree has been a hugely successful example, where by giving Juliet Annan the wherewithal to follow her own sensibility, Penguin has a new way to focus energy on writers who might otherwise have suffered the fate of being termed &quot;midlist&quot; and thus disappearing from view. Instead, they have enjoyed a succession of bestsellers. Random House is seeking to do the same thing by hiring two fine editors and giving them their heads with the launch of Preface later this year. Others will surely follow the trend.</p>
<p>But is it enough, simply to increase diversity at the front end?</p>
<p>I recently asked a major US agent who was publishing best on the other side of the Atlantic. Without hesitation he answered that it was Penguin. When I asked why, he cited an outstanding editorial team led by Kathryn Court, and the fact that, unlike any other American publishing group, it had its own dedicated paperback sales force.</p>
<p>Here too, the federal nature of the Hachette group is surely one of the reasons for its continued success.&nbsp; But while other &quot;big corporates&quot; try to imitate them by spinning off new imprints, they should also take note that Hachette has separate sales forces too. Expensive&mdash;counter-intuitive even in our polarised market&mdash;but it does seem to work.</p>