If I had a platform…

What would it look like? Can a book editor have a platform outside the publishing industry?

A recent post by Guy LeCharles got me thinking about the question. In “5 Things Books Should Learn from Magazines,” he says:

…Good magazines have strong personalities, both figuratively, via their tone, and literally, via their editors and contributors…

*** For book publishers, can anyone identify even 10 editors with ANY name recognition or influence at all outside of the industry? Every author is expected to have a platform, why not editors, too?

Yeah, why not? Well…

Unlike magazine editors who greatly shape the tone and voice of their publications, book editors are supposed to let the author’s voice take center stage. Even if the book requires heavy editing (rewriting) it is the author’s name on the cover and the author who gets the credit. A book editor, at least traditionally, is supposed to be a behind-the-scenes player. We are sometimes mentioned in dedications or letters in the front matter, but never on a “masthead.”

What if “Title of this book edited by Stacy Boyd” appeared on the copyright page alongside the disclaimer? Would readers write me letters asking why I bought this book over another? Would they congratulate me on selecting a great story? Would they even care?

If editors of books were connected by name to the books they edited, how could one editor within a house create her own editorial voice? A book editor may work with dozens of authors, contribute to multiple imprints (each with its own “identity”), or inherit projects from editors who have left the company. And though an editor can be heavily involved in a project, the true creator of the work is the author. Under these conditions, it seems difficult to create a consistent list, one that a reader can trust will always lead them to books they will enjoy.

Authors have their own voices, magazine editors shape the voices of their magazines, but book editors must work with many voices: that of authors, genres and publisher brands/imprints.

Maybe a book editor’s platform could simply be made up of her own personal taste. Sharing her opinions and publication choices with readers might make an eclectic compilation of books feel cohesive. (Though I would worry about implied favoritism if I seemed more vocal about one book than another.)

LeCharles seems to think interaction with readers might be the key to creating book editor platforms:

Long before email, blogs and Twitter came along, magazine editors were connected to their readers via mastheads and Letters to the Editor sections…. As new channels became available and popular, many magazine editors have embraced the opportunity to more effectively, and more frequently, engage their readers.

*** Other than Twitter, where they mostly talk to each other, when and where do book editors connect to readers on a regular basis? How can they position themselves to be influential curators, someone readers can trust to help good books find them instead of always having to seek them out?

Right now it seems book editors don’t interact with readers much at all. The only way we know what readers like is to look at the data from research teams and the sales numbers. Even when prime opportunities present themselves, editors and publishers sometimes give up the chance to interact with their audience. (Richard Nash had a very interesting post a while back about the nixing of the idea to open a day of Book Expo America to the public, which would have encouraged readers to engage with publishers, editors and authors.)

Maybe publishers should consider sending editors, instead of PR staff, to the reader fairs (Brooklyn Book Fair, Miami Book Fair, RT convention, etc.). Maybe editors should think of their acquisition choices differently, as a way of establishing a curated collection of books they can personally promote (instead of as books they think the company sales force can sell.) At the very least, maybe book editors should try interacting with readers, instead of just amongst themselves, via social media.

So, readers of books, let’s try this: Friend me!


5 Responses to “If I had a platform…”

  1. 1 Angela James December 17, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Digital-first editors do this, actually, and some are quite good at this. They get used to marketing to the consumer because epubbing is a more intimate environment. There are a handful of digital-first publishers that put the editor’s name in the front of the book, as well.

    • 2 Stacy Boyd December 20, 2009 at 10:27 am

      Good point, about the digital editors. The interaction between print book editors and readers vs. digital book editors and readers is quite different, on a daily basis. As a print book editor, my usual interaction with readers happens through letters, if readers write them to my authors, and book events like Brooklyn Book Fair or readings where I attend for the fun of it, not in my official role. That means the interactions are sporadic and not very timely.

      Digital editors, though, have a direct link to readers through their publication’s web site and the nature of online interaction, which has fewer boundaries. Everyone can be part of the conversation, without having to write a letter.

      Putting editors’ names in the front of the book makes sense on some level, like movie credits. But I wonder which editor’s name should appear: the senior editor–who makes the final decisions, the actual line editor and/or copyeditor, or the acquisition editor–who felt so passionate about the book that she advocated it be published? For some freelance line editors, who get manuscripts by assignment rather than by choice, a name mention might not always be a good thing. If the project you receive is not one you would have chosen as an acquisitions editor, you may not want your name attached.

  2. 3 Guy LeCharles Gonzalez December 19, 2009 at 12:29 am

    There’s a number of ways for a book editor to build a platform for themselves, and none of the best have anything to do with representing themselves in an official capacity as editor for Publisher X and just talking about the books they’ve acquired. It’s about finding and engaging with communities of readers with similar passions.

    People respond and engage with people — REAL people — and IMO, social media at its best is when it connects people to people, not products to people.

    That’s the advice I always give to authors who ask about platforms (http://bit.ly/JIcce), and it’s the advice I’ve given to every magazine editor I’ve worked with over the past few years, too.

    Lead with your passion, and the rest will follow.

    • 4 Stacy Boyd December 20, 2009 at 11:29 am

      You’re right. You can’t have a quality platform–no matter its final form or purpose–without connecting to people and following your passion.

      But my assumption before reading your post was that platforms were always promotional tools closely connected to the personality behind them, e.g., authors or magazine editors with books, blogs, articles or speaking engagements to sell. So my first thought was that the purpose of a book editor’s platform would be to sell the books they’d worked on, with whatever publisher, or to sell their own work (books, blogs, etc.).

      Perhaps the true purpose of a platform is simply to say, “This is who I am. This is what I care about. Who wants to talk about it?”

  3. 5 Jose Sanchez December 21, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Interesting post. I believe publishers should let their authors do the talking. After all that’s what people really want.

    But I also believe that new technologies have blured the limits between the audience and executives. We all should at least know that, nowadays, information is more accessible than ever. Hence, we should all have a presence in any platform used by our audience (Good ones for publishers: Twitter, LinkedIn, Scribd, Digg). We don’t want to be out of touch with them, right?

    Btw, check out this site http://www.mygazines.net. It offers hundreds of publications for free. Publishers can also upload their content, have a friendly digital edition and get readers for free. It’s worth a try.


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I work as an editor at Harlequin, but the posts on this site are all mine and don’t represent my employer's positions, strategies or opinions.
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