The Editor/Agent Relationship - article

It’s amazing how many submissions a publisher receives—dozens every day, thousands over the year. Very, very few of them are ever acquired, because very few of them are really what the publisher is looking for. There aren’t that many editors; it’s not a big business. Generally speaking, editors want to work with agents they know who have provided them with good books or book proposals in the past, an agent who knows what they’re looking for. (I should note that here I’m talking about the editor at a traditional publisher who chooses which books to publish; there are also freelance copy editors and so on whom you may work with while getting your book ready for publication, but that’s not quite the same thing).

There are editors who specialize in memoir or general fiction or mystery or science fiction or cookbooks. It’s an agent’s job to know who specializes in what. When I was at Jossey-Bass, I sometimes got submissions for cookbooks and chemistry textbooks, but we didn’t publish those kinds of books at all. An agent who knows which editors are looking for what kinds of books can help you avoid that mistake. There are exceptions, but most books that are purchased for publication come through agents. So yes, if you’re interested in publishing traditionally (even if you’ve already self-published), you need to have an agent.

I say that with some ambivalence, because as an acquisitions editor, agents have always been my best friends and worst enemies. They bring me good books, but they also negotiate to get as much money as possible in exchange for those books. My job is to pay as little as possible for a book, and the agent’s job is to get me to pay as much as possible. As an author, you want an agent on your side in that negotiation.

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  • I just self-published my first novel, Circle of Life, by Denise Peake-Tucker. You can purchase at or download onto your Android device at Google books. Just in case you are looking for new talent, thought I'd put my bid in. It's rough out here on your own.
  • Thank you for the insights that you have provided. Your expertise and knowledge shine through. It is always good to hear people's experiences and you certainly assit with better understanding the editors role.
  • Very interesting for a starter. A good tool for a beginner who doesn't know what to do with his first book, especially marketing of such Book. And how to approach an agent for onward reaching to the traditional publisher. I will like get in touch, my email- Tony Kingpresent.
  • A very informative presentation by Alan. It seems that the key to having a book published by a traditional publisher is to go through an agent.