Let's not do lunch

<p>Here&rsquo;s a modest proposal. Let&rsquo;s get rid of editors. Seriously, would publishing be better off without them? Should we abolish lunch?</p>
<p>Any agent worth their salt will be able to tell you many recent stories of editors &ndash; senior, well known editors &ndash; who have loved books that the agents have submitted to them but for which they have failed to gain the support of their colleagues. <br />
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Of course editors are as status conscious as the rest of us and are keen to present themselves (particularly to agents) as mighty forces within the organisations they work for. But in unguarded moments it is possible to get them to concede that the majority of the projects they take forward get shot down during the acquisition process - often for reasons that seem to them to be obscure or arbitrary.<br />
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From an agent&rsquo;s point of view this raises the question of whether the editor was the right person to send the book in the first place. Editors clearly have increasingly little say over the acquisition of a book and if their taste and judgement does count for less than someone else&rsquo;s interpretation of BookScan data then are they the best people to submit to?<br />
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It is hard not to feel that it would make more sense for agents to do the rounds of the publishers on a quarterly basis and pitch that season&rsquo;s roster of projects to a focussed team of, say, the fiction and non-fiction publisher and the sales, marketing and publicity directors?<br />
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Out of twenty projects ten or more would be shot down in flames, but the rest one would be assured were broadly aimed at the right target and that from then on it&rsquo;s a question of how well do they deliver.<br />
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This would save huge amounts of time for both agents and authors who would be saved the trouble of working on and sending out projects which simply are not going to get published (that year at least).<br />
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It is also in publishers' interests. They rely on agents for good quality product and anything that improves the quality of product that agents can supply to publishers has to be a good thing, right?<br />
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Let&rsquo;s say I pitched a novel at this meeting, everyone agrees it seems a good idea, solidly in genre, with a marketable author. The publishing director then decides which editor should read it. They love it, others agree and the publisher offers. Fantastic, everyone is happy, except one has to ask, what is the role of the editor in this process?<br />
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Traditionally agents pitch books to editors (lunch!), get them fired up, send them the book, the editor loves the book, drives that &lsquo;passion&rsquo; through acquisition and editorial, sales conferences. They choose the image on the jacket, the blurb, even the title and author name in many cases. They are the publisher, the apex of a pyramid with sales, publicity, design and marketing all feeding into them. They own the project.<br />
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If, as is increasingly the case, that is simply no longer true, then what are they for? They are supposed to be the essential motors of the publishing process, but increasingly do little more than mediate the wishes of other departments. <br />
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If the tail is wagging the dog why keep the dog? It would be cheaper to employ freelance readers and managing editors instead. New projects would be read quicker, cheaper and by more people, streamlining the acquisition process; publishing, sales, marketing and publicity directors would be released from the time consuming business of reading, freeing them up to get on with the all important job of converting the product into money.<br />
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What can be the point of having jack of all trades editors masterminding the publishing process? Marketing should say how a book should be marketed, publicity how it should be publicised and etc etc. Why not hand power over to the specialists? Books don&rsquo;t need to be edited, they need to meet the needs of the market.<br />
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And if passionate advocacy is required &ndash; as sometimes it is &ndash; call on the agent. After all they pitched the project right from the start and they, unlike editors, stand to make direct financial gain from the success of the project. What better reason to argue passionately for a cause than that?<br />
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Of course, personally I believe in editors. They are my second favourite people in publishing. <br />
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