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Who is More Responsible for a Book’s Text, Agent or Editor?

Is the cliché that “editors no longer edit” overstated?

By Edward Nawotka

author writing

In today’s feature story Rebecca Carter outlines the reasons she is transitioning from being an editor to a literary agent. She says, in part, that her primary motivation is to enable her to continue working to shape the text of a book, rather than, presumably, focusing on ancillary matters, such as sales, marketing and production.

It has become a cliché in the book business that “editors no longer edit” and have become a kind of hybrid literary middleman/guru/sales executive — a role which is, mind you, essential to the publication of the book. André Schiffrin has gone so far to derisively suggest they’ve been reduced to little more than bankers.

So who really does have more influence over the final text of the book — the agent, who initially shapes it for sale to the publishing house, or the editor, who ultimately shapes it for sale to the public?

Is the belief that “editors no longer edit” overstated? Or is the expectation that now that editors have other obligations that take priority, the traditional editorial function (advising on line edits, plot progression, characterization) falls to the agent.

Authors, editors, agents — please share your experiences and observations in the comments below.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted January 27, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had over a hundred short stories published over the past 30+years and, personally, I don’t mind editors pointing out mistakes in the writing, spelling or case and perhaps even 1st person or third but I don’t want them to change the story and those that have, have always ended up seeing my point of view. The writer is the best, and only, editor for his own writing.

  2. Posted January 29, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    I have been a freelance developmental editor since 2003, but my experience dates back to when I first started marking hardcopies as a proofreader and copyeditor in 1989.

    I am still at it, and last year became an independent publisher too for the simple fact that I LOVE working in true partnership with my authors throughout the entire editing/publishing process, and I wanted my books to be perfect from beginning to end.

    There may not be as many good editors as there used to be, partly due to a diminishment in education in general, but there are still plenty of editors who care deeply about books, authors, clean writing, and writing that conveys a message succinctly and effectively, whether fiction or nonfiction.

    I think good editors can have MUCH more impact on a book than we are often given credit for.

    Shine on, my fellow editors!

    Janet Angelo :-)
    Editor and Publisher
    IndieGo ePublishing LLC

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