Thursday, June 18, 2009


Publishing has seen a lot of changes over the past twenty years, one of the biggest being the role of agents. Fifteen to twenty years ago, agents didn’t edit. Some gave a little verbal feedback, but even that was rare. Now agents are actually editors.

How did this happen? And is it a good thing? I don’t know. I can look back and say that the old system worked well for the times. Editors did the editing and agents submitted material and brokered deals. It felt balanced. Editors liked long synopses and very little manuscript so the writer could support herself while writing the bulk of the book. It made sense, but those days are pretty much gone. Editors got laid off, and the ones who remained took on bigger loads with less time to edit. When editors cut back on editing, agents stepped in to take up the slack. Now manuscripts are whipped into shape before they ever hit an editor’s desk. Many are almost ready to go to print.

The agent/writer relationship has replaced the editor/writer relationship, and the gap between concept and sale is now so vast that most writers can’t support themselves by writing, which in turn makes writing seems almost a luxury or an indulgence.

I don’t think any agent ever said I want twenty times the work for half the money. Agents are overworked and underpaid, and they earn every bit of that fifteen percent. I know it’s unrealistic, but oh, how I’d like to see publishing go back to the old formula of buying on twenty pages so writers – and agents -- could support themselves while the books are being written.

I see three strong advantages to this method:

income (naturally)
books can be slotted before the book is written (this is HUGE)
editors can be involved in the developmental phase of book if they so choose

The big disadvantage is the risk of writers turning in inferior work at the final hour. That’s a biggie.

*sigh* I feel like a dinosaur.

reminds me of the Modern Lovers' song:

And I still love the old world

I wanna keep my place in this old world

All right now we say bye bye old world

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