If our theory at whitefox is correct that in 10 years time successful general trade publishers will primarily differentiate themselves by having the right roster of high profile magnets for creative talent at the heart of their organisational structure, then maybe it is time for those actual editorial curators to come out even further from the shadows.
Last year we saw Boyd Tonkin in the Independent write in praise of the curators and gate-keepers in light of the self-publishing tsunami and celebrate the selection of a handful of indie publisher’s books on the Booker long list. And at the Digital Minds Conference in London this weekend, Sophie Rochester of The Literary Platform reminded the audience in a session discussing the rise of self-publishing of a popular Follow The Editor post featured on her site.
As gratifying as it will be for any publisher whose books are chosen for a literary prize, these decisions are made at a moment in time by a few selected individuals on a one-off basis. There are editors who have been working in publishing houses who have been making choices for decades based on instinct, experience and knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. They are trusted by those around them to win more bets than they lose. They’ve lived through the rise of the sales and marketing machine and they are now being told that responding to consumer insight is the only way they will survive in the long run. Maybe.
Without wishing to advocate an unhealthy cult of the publishing personality, perhaps it is time for the UK buyers of, say literary fiction, to know how Simon Prosser, Nicholas Pearson, Alexandra Pringle, Francis Bickmore, Clara Farmer, Dan Franklin, Ravi Mirchandani et al thought they should spend their company’s money and why. At the moment, all we get is that end of year newspaper article looking back at the books that didn’t work that acquiring editors believe should have (very British that isn’t it, when you think about it).
Of course more insight and informed decisions are needed. But I bet a lot of pickers and successful taste-makers still believe the beauty of publishing is how gloriously unscientific it can sometimes be.