Editors are the rainmakers of publishing. Without the books they acquire and the authors they foster, there would be no business. If that sounds obvious, then consider the current state of editors as a new year approaches. Their position, their authority, is not what it was.
When, twenty-five years ago, I entered publishing from journalism as a senior editor at Hodder & Stoughton, the business was so different from today as to be hardly recognisable. In 1980 publishing was mainly the preserve of modestly sized and often family-owned firms (Hodder among them). Bookselling, W H Smith apart, was similar. Tim Waterstone’s revolution in that industry was a couple of years away. Prices were still fixed by publishers; discounting only took place each new year when a National Book Sale offered reduced prices for what were mainly overstocks.
The editor in 1980 was a power. Every firm was slightly different from the next in the way it was run: but the process of appointing someone and giving them authority to purchase rights in books was not subject to layers of approval. At Hodder & Stoughton the acquisition process