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Editors becoming agents

30 January 2012

There's been an interesting discussion this week sparked off by an article in Publishing Perspectives about why an editor who has been working at a senior level in a publishing house would want to become a literary agent in order to spend more time working on authors' manuscripts.

The editor in question is Rebecca Carter of Harvill Secker and before that of Chatto & Windus, both highly-regarded imprints of Random House UKPenguin Random House have more than 50 creative and autonomous imprints, publishing the very best books for all audiences, covering fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, autobiographies and much more. Click for Random House UK Publishers References listing. She is well-known for her work on translated authors but has had a wide editorial brief. The agency she has joined is the London office of Janklow & NesbitCommercial and literary fiction and non-fiction.

No poetry, plays, film/TV scripts.

Send an informative covering letter with full outline (non-fiction), synopsis and first three sample chapters (fiction) to the main Janklow and Nesbit (UK) Ltd address for the attention of the Submissions Department.

Please include return postage if you would like your manuscript returned to you. US rights handled by Janklow & Nesbit Associates in New York.

Carter says: "I want to follow an author's career. I want to be that stable person in an author's life.' Becoming an agent "will involve a certain amount of forgetting. It will be different in many ways and at the same time it won't be. My motivation comes from wanting to work with writers on editorial. To be involved in the flow of ideas and working on the text...

I've always been interested in chipping away at a text and finding the sculpture within. To bring in authors who come with a book in an embryonic form and to be able to help them is very exciting... As publishing companies become more risk adverse, as an agent I can do that legwork, you can experiment rather than having to be so sure."

For anyone who has been involved in publishing for any length of time, it is an extraordinary idea that you would move to an agency in order to spend more time editing books.

Over the years editors have had their role chipped away, mostly by the rise of the Marketing Department. It has become increasingly important in publishing houses to have a clear idea about how to market the book. Sometimes it is the editor who has that idea, but often it is the marketing department and the traditional work that an editor would do on their authors' manuscripts to get them as good as possible and maximise their chances, has, with a few honourable exceptions, been abandoned by editors in favour of a purely acquisitions role.

But someone's got to do it, haven't they? This begs an altogether different question, but let's assume for the moment that the vast majority of authors need some help with getting their work ready for publication. Structural editing of this kind is very time-consuming. Copy editing can be put out of house (although the many complaints about errors in books published by publishers suggest that this isn't working all that well either.) If editors don't have the time to do the work in-house, how is it going to get done? Publishers will be reluctant to take on manuscripts which are not 'ready to go'.

Thus the rise of the editorial function inside literary agencies. Many agents don't have the time (or in many cases the expertise) either, so they bring in a specialist. What Rebecca Carter is suggesting however is something else - that she would actually be able to devote more time to editing her clients' work as a literary agent than as an editor. This is quite a remarkable change in the relationship between agents and editors, and between agents and authors.