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Editors Vs. Literary Agents

by Christian Fisher

Editors work for publishers while literary agents work for authors. As self-publishing challenges traditional publishing, editors seek the most promising book projects they can find by working closely with literary agents. An agent is the first contact most hopeful authors turn to when starting down the path toward a major publishing deal. Whereas editors work with authors to craft winning books, literary agents work with authors to secure winning deals.

Publishing House Editors

An acquisitions editor is an author’s main contact at a publishing house. After finding a book project that might meet the publisher’s needs, the acquisitions editor pitches the project to the publisher as a book worth investment. This editor then oversees the book’s handling through various stages. For example, a content editor may come in to improve the overall structure of the book including how the story develops and flows while copy and line editors make sure grammar, facts and language use won’t confuse readers. Acquisitions editors sometimes help with all or some of this work.

Acquisitions Editor's Role

Editors are responsible for making deals that lead to publisher profits and reader loyalty, suggests Algonquin Books acquisitions editor Chuck Adams in a 2008 “Poets & Writers” interview. All editors working together ensure that a book is marketable, competitive, and can become a best-seller. In some publishing companies, acquisitions editors can make deals directly with authors to buy books. For nonfiction books, they generally want a proposal, which is basically a business and marketing plan for the book along with sample chapters. For fiction, a full manuscript is necessary. An editor uses this information to help a publisher eventually market and sell the book to readers.

Literary Agents

In most publishing houses, editors decide to take on new book deals they receive only from literary agents. Agents shop book proposals and manuscripts to acquisitions editors, and represent authors in the negotiation process. For their work, agents are paid a percentage -- usually no more than 15 percent -- of money earned from the publishing deal and the various revenue streams that might come from the book, such as movie deals, audio book versions, or hardcover reprints.

Agent's Role

A successful and well-connected literary agent can mold and market an author’s career to great success. While an editor nurtures a book throughout the publishing process, a literary agent nurtures an author’s talent throughout the publishing industry. An agent becomes a stable relationship throughout an author’s overall career, according to former Random House UK editor-turned-agent Rebecca Carter in a January 2012 “Publishing Perspectives” interview. An agent might do editing work with the author to shape the proposal or manuscript so that it has a better chance of being accepted when an editor sees it. Agents also help authors develop opportunities to promote themselves and their work to an ever-growing audience.

About the Author

A writer since 1995, Christian Fisher is an author specializing in personal empowerment and professional success. From 2000 to 2005, he wrote true stories of human triumph for "Woman's World" magazine. Since 2004, he has also helped launch businesses including a music licensing company and a music school.

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