My advice to writers? Glue yourself to an editor who is also starting out

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We are fellow travellers, he and I. I’ve been an editor, then a literary agent, then an editor again, and many of the writers I work with now I have been working with for what seems like centuries. I’m always hearing about the fickleness of publishers. I edited his first book of stories, The Meat Eaters, when I worked at Jonathan Cape in 1992. Another such companion on the road is Michael Collins, the brilliant, mercurial Irish-American talent who flashes out a novel every three or four years, intriguing, annoying and illuminating his readers on both sides of the Atlantic. His latest, The Death of All Things Seen, has just been published in paperback, again by Head of Zeus. Well, I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think that is down to the infidelity of the editor. Another such companion is Michael Collins, the brilliant, mercurial Irish-American talent who flashes out a novel every three or four years, intriguing, annoying and illuminating his readers

In the case of the novelist Ben Okri, I have worked with him consistently since I edited The Famished Road in 1990, and I just signed off on the edit of his new story collection The Magic Lamp to be published this year by Head of Zeus. It’s probably more like 20 years.
Rehired. It happens. What else could you do anyway? My advice to writers? It makes sense for a publishing house to hold onto its authors. It’s like Gertrude Stein’s to Hemingway – stick with your contemporaries. Then the wheel turns and you’re back with your author again, if you are lucky. Each new writer is an investment. Fired. If you are starting out, glue yourself to an editor who is also starting out, they will make their name while they make yours, and vice versa. The editor is the constant. I know many other editor/writer collaborations – if that’s not too big a claim to make forthe process – which have endured, despite the occasional skirmish, the occasional wandering off. That wheel turns, and here we are together again. At its best I would call that relationship a friendship. It can be genuinely heartbreaking for a editor to lose a valued author, painful to leave them when you go to another publishing house, bitter to hear how well, or badly, they are doing without you. Of all the trades that make up the publishing industry, the editor is probably the one who hangs about longest. The two factors that make a writer stay with a publishing house are money and the editorial relationship. I’ve been through anguish – so have the writers I’ve worked with. It just feels right. You can grow together. But times change, fashions change, publishing houses get eaten up by other publishing houses, editors move, get promoted. But the world of books is a small one. Why would you ever want to be anything but an editor?