Agenting & Editing – Part Deux
Last week I explained that it’s not considered ethical for literary agents to benefit financially from the editing of their clients’ books. (Agents should not profit from their clients in any way except for selling the rights to their books.) As part of my mission to clear up some misconceptions about how WordServe operates, I wrote to the Preditors & Editors website, which had WordServe listed with an “Editing Advisory” in red next to our name. I explained the same things I wrote in my blog post and asked them to verify our legitimacy by looking at our website where we list some of our authors and recent sales.
I’m VERY happy to report that the editor of Preditors & Editors was extremely gracious and after verifying our agency’s record, he removed the advisory from our listing. You can see our P&E listing here… scroll down the page. (Note how many “agencies” are not recommended or don’t have the $ symbol that indicates verified sales to royalty paying publishers.)
In any case, I wanted to take the editing discussion a little further today, and talk to you about the editing of your project. Who does it? And when?
Once you have an agent, there are two times your book will be up for possible editing: Before it’s submitted to publishers, and after you get a contract. Please note that all agents are different; some edit, some don’t. I’ll tell you how I handle things.
When I agree to represent a client, the first thing I do is work closely with them on their proposal and manuscript. Obviously my goal is to increase the saleability of the project. The editing of the proposal might be quite intense, because this document is so important (more for non-fiction). The editing of the manuscript itself is not quite so intense because I know the publishing house is going to edit according to their own preferences. The goal at this stage is to increase the perceived quality of the writing where necessary, make sure those first few pages really grab the reader, and eliminate any obvious reasons for a publisher to reject the book.
This back-and-forth with the author sometimes takes only a few days, but sometimes takes a few weeks. (On my end, it can take eight hours or more to do a complete edit of a novel.) I usually edit right in the manuscript itself, using Track Changes and Comments for the author. I also write an Editorial Memo for the author, giving an overview of my thoughts.
Right now I’m in this editing stage with several authors, and with first-timers I’m always a little worried how they’re going to take it. If you’ve never worked with an editor before, it can be shocking and distressing to have someone looking at your baby and saying, “Change this, this, and this.” On the upside, I hope that by working with me on the pre-submission edit, authors are more ready for what might come later when the publisher starts editing their work. In any case, I always keep reminding my authors… even if this seems like A LOT of revisions, please know I’m only doing this because I believe in you as an author, I love your book, and I want to help you sell it. Heavy editing doesn’t equal bad book! It means good book with the potential to be even better.
After your book is sold, the agent is completely out of the editing picture. You’ll go through the publisher’s editorial process, which is different at every house, ranging from very intense to very light or even hands-off. In the most comprehensive editing process, it looks something like this:
1. Substantive edit or developmental edit (sometimes called a macro edit). This is the big-picture editing. In fiction: story structure, character development, scene structure, plot, pacing, dialogue, and general fiction technique. In non-fiction: structure, clarity of ideas, logical flow, continuity, readability, transitions, repetition, author voice, and general appeal.
2. Line edit: Polishing the writer’s style, correcting awkward grammar, suggesting improved word choices, restructuring paragraphs and sentences where necessary, refining the author’s voice and tone, and generally making the prose shine.
3. Copyedit: Corrects grammar, punctuation, capitalization, clarity, consistency, and conformity to style. Also might include fact-checking, verification of sources and footnotes, and verification of permissions received.
Depending on what publisher you’re with, these stages might be condensed and handled by one person, or you might go through three separate stages and three editors.
Hope that helps explain the editing process. If you were under the illusion that once you finish writing your book, it’s “finished,” I hope you start to get disillusioned right now!