Last post I cited Digital Book World’s article on measuring the value of editors by James Mathewson. What’s equally valuable is the discussion the post generated below. As the business model of publishing is changing, and professional roles are sliding all over the place, I think a place is emerging for a tighter relationship between authors and their personal publishing consultant. Previously this used to be the role of the publisher’s editor, and, if you had one, your agent. But what authors really need is an advocate throughout all stages of the publishing arena – not just in helping them develop their manuscripts, polish them for submission to publishers, keep track of submissions, etc., but also in helping them manage the project of publishing once their book is accepted. Many authors are shocked by what is expected of them after they thought they won the prize of publisher’s acceptance (particularly when they have full-time jobs alongside their new job as “author”), such as handling all permissions, creating graphics, indexing, marketing, etc. Of course, not every editor has skills in these various areas – project management, indexing, even marketing – but as the Internet has allowed for the personalization and customization of almost anything, it seems an efficient model that emerging is the personal publishing consultant, helping the individual author navigate every step of the way from manuscript to published book. The separate specialized roles – developmental editor, copyeditor, proofreader, indexer, agent, marketer, even publisher as authors choose to self-publish – although they certainly require their own kind of expertise, are starting to blur and meld. I’ve also heard agents talk about the same dynamic as they find themselves doing more direct editing of their authors’ manuscript. The new gravitational center, rather than skill specialization, could be the author as a person (and, yes, commodity).
However you view it, authors could at least use some more help navigating the publishing world, as the publishers are struggling under the weight of their offset printers and working hard to accommodate electronic media and still make a profit (which they deserve). It’s just not realistic to expect publishers to do a lot of author hand-holding right now. Publishing has never been terribly profitable, and if authors need lots of help developing their manuscript, it makes sense for them to invest in a personal consultant or trusted guide, whether that’s an independent editor or an agent. And although an editor might have a knack for finding a book’s place in the market, and an agent might be a skilled, intuitive wordsmith, I’m not at all claiming that editors or agents have to be all things to all people. The closest thing to this would be a project manager, someone who will take charge of the process, working within her realm of expertise but also knowing the process inside out (as well as her own limitations) to contract out when needed. But this is more than just a project manager – personal connection is just as key. The relationship between author and editor will be the significant motivating factor in pushing a previous specialist into a generalist. If you believe in a project, you’ll naturally want to help it succeed – and that means the author as a person as well as the book as a product. So even in the midst of all this uncertainty in the future business model (and job security) of publishing, authors may actually end up benefiting – the fluidity of editors and agents’ roles can only help the author, while publishers’ resources are strapped at the moment.