The evolution of the book editor

A London publishing panel titled “New Skill Sets: Capabilities Publishers Don’t Have and How They’re Developing Them” has called for a new generation of book editors with a creative and collaborative approach to digital publishing.

In The Role of the Book Editor Needs to Change, FutureBook contributor Philip Jones reports that while the panel agreed that books still need their in-house champions, editors “also need to have a ‘vision’ of how the content can be used beyond the traditional book, otherwise they risk losing control of the book to the “digital department”.

This is a useful way of thinking about the editor, who has always been considered the poor cousin of the publishing industry (and I speak from direct experience). Editors have always worked with sales and marketing departments to develop passion for their titles in-house in order to generate enthusiasm among booksellers and media channels, but the book has always started with the editor’s astute selection of the title in the first place. I don’t see that process changing in any time soon, though a “book” is likely to refer less to a definitive text between hard-bound covers than to a story that can be told in multiple ways (the theory being that in so doing it will reach new audiences and greater numbers of total readers).

If I were interested in getting into book publishing now (and despite the increasing need for marketers, I’m told that editorial is still where most of the bright young things wish to be), I would be getting myself some sort of education in apps and web publishing. If you are addicted to reading you will already be reading both printed books and online material, so why not learn about the tools that exist, and start imagining what’s possible? Faber’s recent launch of the Wasteland app is a brilliant example of what the best sort of editorial and technical collaboration can achieve.

If publishers employ technologists who don’t live to read, they will run into trouble because they are focusing on bells and whistles rather than the reading experience. This is another reason why creative editors who understand the technology environment could find themselves very valuable employees. Thus technology, ironically, could prove the reputation-maker of the editors of the future.

Now certainly feels like a good time to get involved if you can shut your ears to the din of doom-saying that afflicts parts of the industry. At the London panelĀ Charlie Redmayne, executive VP and chief digital officer at HarperCollins Publishers, is quoted as saying that

Editors need to become not just editors of books, but people with the content vision, and there are not enough editors in the industry who have those skills.

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