An American Editor

October 10, 2011

Competition Gets Keener: Agents, Authors, & Perseus

The world of editing is a tough, competitive world that is getting tougher and more competitive. The toughness and competitiveness I refer to is that of finding paying work as a professional editor. The Perseus Books Group has created yet another new wrinkle for the professional editor.

Previously, if a major publisher wasn’t interested in an author’s work, the author was on his or her own. For some authors, agents who believed in the project would act as publisher, but this option was limited. One problem with agents for freelance professional editors is that the agents often do their own editing of client manuscripts. This is not to say that an agent never hires the freelance professional editor, just that it occurs with less frequency than traditional publisher hires.

For professional editors, Perseus is changing the editorial world. It has created a new unit, Argo Navis Author Services, and is offering agent-represented authors whose agency has signed on with the unit an alternative to wholly self-publishing ebooks. Argo Navis is offering marketing and distribution services — key items in the world of self-publishing — to these authors, even as the authors remain the ebook’s publisher. It is a hybrid of traditional and nontraditional publishing.

This is good for authors, but makes it significantly more difficult for professional editors to connect with new clients. Argo Navis is not offering editorial services; each author is responsible, along with the author’s agent, for obtaining such services independently.

The setup shifts the production burden. In exchange, the revenue split is 70% author/30% distributor. (I’m not quite clear on whether or not this is 70% of 70% as the retailer needs to get its cut, too.) The traditional publisher no longer provides the author with financial support, and what services the publisher does provide are fewer than under a conventional publishing contract.

We knew this was coming. There had to be a change in the way business was conducted because top-tier authors see self-publishing as a way to maximize their revenues and publishers need a way to capture a part of those revenues while simultaneously cutting costs. When cutting costs, the first thing to go is editorial services.

Editorial services are the invisible services. They have no perceived value on the publisher’s spreadsheet because no one can point to a particular book and say: “This book sold better than expected because of the high-quality editing.” or “This book sold fewer copies because of a lack of editing.” The average reader is numb, for example, to homonym error — the difference between seam and seem doesn’t register high on the annoyance scale for most readers; there, their, were, where, your, you’re are just interchangeable words that mean what they mean to the reader in context. (“’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’” [Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass. Raleigh, NC: Hayes Barton Press, 1872, p. 72.]

With this new role for a traditional publisher, the professional editor will have a harder time finding clients. Where under the traditional model 100 agents funneled 300 author manuscripts to one publisher and editors sought work on those 300 manuscripts by discussion with the one publisher, editors now will need to find and approach the 100 agents and the 300 authors, and hope that the agent doesn’t already provide editorial services, which many do, in-house.

It isn’t clear to me how to approach this changing market. What is clear, however, is that it not only needs to be approached if professional editors expect to survive the transition to ebooks and the world of self-publishing, but that professional editors need to rethink their compensation as agents have a worldwide reach and professional editors will be competing globally, not locally.

1 Comment »

  1. Do you really believe that the errors do not matter? I do not think that the reader is numb to them. When I see them it irks me to such an extent that I lose focus on what I’m reading. I’ve even gone so far as to underline the error for any potential future readers to see that I too saw it. It is the very epitome of unprofessional; writing mistakes in the profession of writing. Sure, grammar isn’t an issue when reading a forum post, and not too much of an issue when reading a blog post, but if you sell me a book that contains such errors then I start to think you’re wasting my time; I’m unlikely to read you again and not very likely to finish reading what’s in front of me.

    I’m of the opinion that the editor adds great value. Even Hemingway had an editor…one that he hated greatly.


    Comment by Justin Timer — October 10, 2011 @ 9:42 am | Reply

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