discussions writing & publishing

Where Have The Book Editors Gone?

This is a question asked in the Globe and Mail:

Among the recognizable Canadian publishers that have laid off editors since the economic downturn are Penguin Canada, McClelland & Stewart and Key Porter, which stopped publishing altogether early in the new year. Even plucky Gaspereau Press, the Nova Scotia publisher that brought out Johanna Skibsrud’s Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning novel, The Sentimentalists, has laid off its only full-time editor.

“We just couldn’t afford it,” said Gaspereau co-publisher Andrew Steeves, adding that he is happy to do the work himself. At the same time, he worries about the ultimate effect of industry-wide downsizing. “How do you cultivate a professional publishing ethic if you’re farming everything out?”

Authors, finding today’s downsized publishers increasingly unwilling to invest their own resources in the often laborious process of polishing rough diamonds into marketable gems, are now often forced to hire their own editors – before even before submitting their manuscripts for publication. Toronto literary agent Anne McDermid saw the landscape changing two years ago, when a publisher told her, “I cannot purchase a book I need to spend 40 hours editing.”

I saw my agent post this on Facebook, and he suggested it rang true for New York and London, too.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

4 replies on “Where Have The Book Editors Gone?”

Interesting. When I published The Human Race my publisher outsourced the editing to two different people neither of whom appeared to be employed by them. It didn’t seem that big a deal to me. Partly because I am a new author and don’t know differently but also because I am used to it. Everything is outsourced these days. In my industry – IT – it’s being going on for years. Software development is outsourced to India. In the business I work for the receptionist is a virtual one. Our IT maintenance is outsourced to a networking company. Our book keeping is outsourced to an accountancy company. We retain independent consultants depending on the project and once it is done they move onto the next project often with another company. So maybe its the way of the world. Publishing is just moving in the same direction. Nothing wrong with that.

I realise that publishing is a business, but if you’re writing a long running series, and have a different editor for every book, there are going to be issues.

1. The author and editor need to build their working relationship from scratch every time.
2. Different editors may have different thoughts on how best to improve each book and this could lead to inconsistency.
3. Following on from 2, the editor has nothing at all invested in the series and that will affect how they work on a book.

Think of it like TV where they bring in new writers every season (and in some cases for every episode). The quality varies. A lot.

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