• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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‘Twas in Another Lifetime

Id Rather Be Editing

I'd Rather Be Editing

A young editor asked if I had some time to talk with her — she wants to become an agent. Oh god. Really? Pick this brain? She said she reads my blog. Well, okay. We met this morning at Spoon, the lovely coffee shop next door. Have I mentioned it? The morning coffee person knows how I take my coffee. My husband hasn’t mastered that in 17 years, but hey, we’re only LIVING TOGETHER. First,  I just want to say, Young Editor wore a really pretty frock, had her hair pinned up in a way that looks sort of blowsy and thrown together, and cool glasses. She’s half way there, no?

Young editor wants to know if I miss being an editor. A lot of people ask me that. It’s exactly a decade since I left editorial row and I do look back. No matter how bad it gets out there, I have this huge soft spot for the profession. It doesn’t matter how much editing I do as an agent, and the twitch in my left eye attests to how much I did this weekend, I still have this romantic notion of being an editor. What can I say, I loved choosing the end paper colors, and deciding what the running heads should say, and finding the perfect piece of art for the jacket. I liked being “in-house” and trying to get everyone behind my authors’ books. I liked putting on the play. No matter how hard I work on behalf of myclients to help their careers,  and even feel that the work is valuable, I still think of agents as dirt balls.  That’s how my first boss referred to them and, well, I can’t shake it. I can say this:  being an agent is more fun. Sadly, fun has never been a huge priority for me.

18 Responses

  1. She must have left slightly confused, no? I picture her starting to get tearful. Then withdrawn. Then quietly backing out of the coffee shop as you stare up toward the wall, observing your past life.

  2. Which role is indispensable to good books bobbing up to the public surface for air?

  3. I must admit I find a desire to be either an editor or an agent fascinating. In every book I have written, the agent is evil. If one thinks about the word, an agent is someone who suspends their own will to act on behalf of another. The internet is changing the role of the editor incredibly quickly. The use of RSS feeds and so on makes everyone their own editor, the inexorable rise of independent publishing…I think in ten years their will be jobs for editor/agents but they won’t be much like the jobs they have now. Basically there are writers and there are publicists in vary disguises.

  4. I must admit I find a desire to be either an editor or an agent fascinating. In every book I have written, the agent is evil. If one thinks about the word, an agent is someone who suspends their own will to act on behalf of another. The internet is changing the role of the editor incredibly quickly. The use of RSS feeds and so on makes everyone their own editor, the inexorable rise of independent publishing…I think in ten years their will be jobs for editor/agents but they won’t be much like the jobs they have now. Basically there are writers and there are publicists in various disguises.

  5. To Paul Squires: No one would go into this industry for the money, and for that reason, people who talk about agents and editors as “evil” seem to get it all wrong. Isn’t there something inherently anti-ego about working as an agent,something inherently self-effacing about working on the behalf of someone else? It’s easy to trash the business side of publishing, but quite frankly, it’s not that much of a business. And isn’t it rather egotistical to assume that most writers wouldn’t benefit from an editorial eye and a business advocate to deal with the mountains of rough stuff involved with publication?

  6. I agree, I would benefit immensely from someone acting on my behalf, correcting my typos and signing my contracts. I would agree to it in a minute, just so long as I am free to write and say whatever I want. I would happily type away all day and just send the mails to Ms Lerner. I am interested in the monetisation of writing because I enjoy eating. I am only suggesting that the roles are changing rapidly and that the word ‘agent’ generally has a negative connotation as does ‘manager’. If one looks at the history of art, very similar tales are told over and over. Perhaps a new word for a new world? There need only be one degree of remove between the artist and the money. I have enjoyed our little chats, Ms Lerner but I am departing the internet. Good luck, you are an extraordinary person.

    • DOn’t go.

      • i have two problems Ms Lerner. In my country some intellectuals who control the left wing literary journals are trying to start a campaign to get rid of copyright. They have their motivations, I’m sure, but I am implacably opposed. I have also complained publicly about nepotism in Australian literature which has made me no friends. So my opportunities to collect the correct ‘publications I have appeared in’ is very limited. Australian literature is tightly controlled by a very small clique who use their positions to promote their friends, you see.
        So that leaves the internet which I believe is where it is all happening anyway, more people read my blog than read their literary journals anyway, but on the internet, any good idea you have will be ripped off. Will, not might. Ripped off, as in used without acknowledgement, simply rephrased in their own words.
        So it is a checkmate for me, I’m afraid, it is obviously unimportant whether I can write or not because I have no social networking skills. This is the role of the editor as I see it. To bring a set of skills that is used to PROTECT the writer.
        But I am giving up anyway. I discover that I loathe and detest the world of ‘literature’ more than any other society I have encountered.

  7. To echo Les in less visual (and depressing) terms, I do wonder what this young editor took from the conversation. The fun of being an agent? The loss of control over certain things? The fact that she’ll still do editing even if it’s not her job title? The persistent suspicion that one might be, as you say, a dirt ball?

    Aspirations crushed or encouraged? I guess it depends on how she ranks fun vs. jacket art.

    • Oh, she was lovely and smart and passionate and I told her that she would thrive no matter what she did.

    • I didn’t actually believe what I wrote… That was just me trying to be funny. And depressing. I’m funny-depressing.

      • ps, I was also the anonymous person in Betsy’s Oct 5th post. Anything obnoxious written by an anonymous person is also probably me. But I wasn’t serious in that comment either. I was sort of assuming the persona of the inappropriate doctor in question. My apologies to Stacy Overman Morrison. I was just being silly.

      • Ha, well, I believed it and I may have even smirked upon reading it.

        Depressing is the better part of funny, and vice versa. I’m reminded of some wise words. “Comedy’s a dead art form. Now tragedy, THAT’s funny.”

        Betsy – you should give her a job, it sounds like!

  8. I feel like I’m missing something here. Maybe it’s because I’m new to all of this, but why, Betsy, do you think of agents as “dirt balls”?

    Like I said, I’m think I’m missing something, and I’m just curious.

  9. Truly, it is a term of endearment as is snake, snakeoil salesman, slimeball, percenter and what’s that smell.

  10. Unsentimental discernment, willingness to bite the hand that you know what’s you–attractive to people doing the same thing– writers. That’s a trustworthy advocate!

    Still, the point Mr. Squires made before strolling offline are good ones. Perhaps agent/editors become publishers in the evolving e book paradigm?

  11. John and Paul wrote some great shit. George worked his ass off in the background. And Ringo got blisters on his fingers.

    I doubt Ringo felt any less fulfilled. However, he did know how to have fun.

  12. I can’t believe you remember when endpapers still had colors.

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