Books by Our Members

Monday, January 30, 2012

Thoughts on Editors and Agents in the world of Amazon

Today I came across another in the long list of doom and gloom articles about the publishing industry, but it seemed to me to ignore one role of agents and publishers, to weed out the rubbish. Does Amazon do this for its authors or does it just publish anything submitted to it?

Editors and agents act as a filter so that the shelves of our bookstores only carry the best of what is written. They reject the unsaleable and nurture those with promise. As authors and would be authors, they are our heartbreak and our hope. Where will we be without them? They force a higher standard on those who get published, because they will not be published unless they reach that standard.

Amazon offers us the final democratization of the publishing business - anything can be published, no matter how bad, because there are no agents or editors involved. And what do readers do as the quality of books goes down? Are they forced to restrict themselves to anything written before 2012, because most of what is written after is awful, and what is not awful has never reached its full potential for lack of an objective editor?

In the world of Amazon, does the critic become more important? If the agents and publishers don't weed out the bad books, does the critic perform that function as people turn to them to decide what they should read. Somehow I don't see critics becoming the new editors.

So when the publishing industry is called Amazon, how will it keep up the quality of the books we enjoy and when we finally submit our manuscripts, how will it help us to get the beautiful, insightful, profound masterpiece that each of us is working on, onto the shelves or Kindles where they belong?



2 comments:

  1. I hear what you're saying. Agents & editors do ask a more-professional standard of writing. However, publishing as an entity really hasn't been around that long.

    Point of fact, when Thomas Jefferson was around, it was all self-published newspapers and writings. I find it exciting (and frustrating) to see the pendulum now swinging back the other way...
    The other thing we should realize is that not all rejections are because the work was rubbish and not everything that gets published is gold...

    Andrew Davidson got $1.5 million dollars for his first novel "Gargoyle." I think we can all agree that any publishing house that spends that kind of money definitely doesn't think the book is lower standard. However, he went through fifteen years of rejections on the same book, so there begs the question: how can it be rubbish if fifteen years later, it's worth almost two million dollars?
    Also take into account that many of Amazon's best selling authors now have agents because their books sold so well...Amazon is democracy: the books that connect with the public sells, the ones that done, don't.

    At the end of the day, we have to remember a few things:
    1) An agent/editor's opinion is subjective. It's one opinion and we only have to look at the diversity of books to know that everyone has a different opinion about what makes a good book.
    2) Most publishing houses are owned by movie studios (think Hyperion & Disney). The hard truth is that the first question asked of books today isn't whether it's good, but whether it can be turned into a movie. There are a lot of novels that will be rejected because they can't be merchandised into pillows, cereal or toys. It doesn't make the book any less worthwhile, nor does it make the publisher/agent a villain because they're trying to pay their mortgage.
    3) I had a chance to talk with a variety of agents/editors a few years back and the most astonishing thing they told me was the number or REALLY GOOD books they reject because they don't think they will sell.

    At the end of the day, I believe every author needs to make the choice that is best for them, whether that's looking for a publisher or an agent or doing it themselves. The beauty and heartache of writing is that it is an individual experience and journey, and the path that one person goes down may not be the path the other person can follow.

    We each must make of it what we will and hopefully, we'll find friends and supporters and mentors along the way.

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  2. I suppose, like everything else, publishing evolves. The industry could barely have existed without the printing press, despite scriptoria all over Europe. From that start it has brought us to the internet and Amazon.

    According to Susan Bell, in her book 'The Artful Edit', editors were at different times, creative re-writers of old classics and censors. Only in recent times have they filled the role of assisting writers.

    Bell's book, which uses the relationship between Fitzgerald and Max Perkins as her case study, left me with the impression of an editor as someone who puts the final polish on a book. I had always seen an editor as someone who could help me if I ever had an offer to publish a book, though of course, they also are involved in selecting a book for publishing. As someone learning how to write, I had also seen them as people who could help me learn.

    I suppose the key point is that an editor's role evolves to suit the business, and will evolve as the publishing industry evolves. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

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