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Showing posts from September, 2008

What Happens at Your Publisher's Sales Conference and Why it Matters Desperately to You

By Richard Curtis

Twice every year, around mid-May and mid-December, a curious lull befalls the frenzied lives of literary agents, like those abrupt silences that occasionally muffle a party when everybody, inexplicably, stops talking at exactly the same time. I've experienced enough of these semiannual brownouts that I ought to expect them by now. Yet they always take me by surprise, and I can predictably be heard at these times barking to my staff, "Is there something wrong with our phones? Is this a mail holiday or what?" At length it occurs to me: it's sales conference season. I then take advantage of this hiatus to catch up on paperwork.

Sales conference is the time when a publisher's list of forthcoming books is introduced to the company's staff and in particular to the its commissioned sales representatives, who then go forth to the stores in their territories and line up orders. Since this is the point where the editorial process interfaces with marketi…

Are Editors Necessary? - Part 2

By Richard Curtis

The paternalistic treatment of authors by editors in earlier times, however, produced its own set of inequities, for publishers took advantage of many authors who were too ignorant, shy, or well-bred to demand good terms of their editors. Knowing that most authors write for love, publishers tended to assume that they didn't care about writing for money.

Resentment toward publishers over their exploitation of authors created the conditions for the rise to power of literary agents, and though new authors today are still at a disadvantage, the balance eventually shifts when they engage agents and become more successful. Good agents often insist on a large measure of control over the author-editor relationship, holding authors at arm's length from their editors to protect them from being taken advantage of. And what has happened in the four or five decades since this transformation occurred is that the agents have begun to take over the role formerly played by edit…

Are Editors Necessary? Part 1

By Richard Curtis

There's been a lot of talk lately about the decline of editing. These are fighting words.

The problem with evaluating this allegation is that everything editors do today is invidiously compared to the accomplishments of that quintessential master, Maxwell Perkins. Perkins practiced his art at the offices of Charles Scribner's Sons from 1914 until late in the 1940s and midwifed the masterpieces of such immortals as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Wolfe. "Where are today's Maxwell Perkinses?" is the plaintive cry of authors who discover horrifying grammatical, syntactical, factual, and typographical errors in their freshly minted books, or, worse, have them gleefully pointed out by friends and critics. Every such erratum is a rebuke to the hallowed memory of that figure who has been depicted as gracious, patient, erudite, nurturing, precise, demanding, polite, and modest, a man whose love of authors was exceeded only by his love of good and well-made boo…