How Much Editing Can An Agent Do?

Before I became an agent, I’d been editing and writing books for years, so I naturally approached agenting from an editorial perspective. Meaning: I look for excellence in the craft of writing, and I also use my editorial skills to help polish a proposal or a manuscript before we send it out to publishers. Because I was confident of my ability to do this, I started off more likely to take on books that were “not quite there” and try to edit them into perfection.

However, this quickly became overwhelming. I realized I was giving away thousands of dollars worth of editorial expertise, with no guarantee of ever recouping it. I can’t charge clients for editing. (Ethically, agents can only profit from their clients by selling the rights to their books, not from any other services.)

I finally realized that there’s a limit to how much editing an agent can and should do. I can’t get out there and sell books if I’m spending most of my time editing (for free). Bottom line, it’s the author’s job to come to the agent with a publishable book. As much as I want to help everybody get there, I simply can’t do it, and I had to acknowledge that since I’m no longer an editor by trade, it’s just not my job.

I think I’m finding the balance, and it looks something like this:

For most clients, I’ll make some suggestions for improvement in a manuscript or proposal, but nothing so deep as a full macro edit (sometimes called developmental or substantive edit), for which editors charge upwards of $3000. I’ll also go through and generally polish—fix formatting, do some line editing and typo corrections. That’s normal.

For a select few clients (maybe 2 or 3 a year), I’ll spend more time, even providing a full macro edit. These are writers in whom I see tremendous potential, yet I know that their manuscript won’t sell in its current state. For those few, I’m willing to take the risk, spend extra time on the editing process, and see if we can get their manuscript to a publishable level, because I see them as someone I’d like to partner with for the long haul. I’m banking on my experience, my instinct and my editing skills. It may or may not pay off. But since it takes so much time, I must severely limit how much I do this, and choose these clients carefully.

For the most part, if I see projects I really like but still feel they need too much work before being publishable, I won’t offer representation. Instead, I’ll try to give some brief direction for revisions, and suggest the writer work with a professional editor or book doctor, or at least a critique partner, to improve the book and then resubmit.

This has been an interesting learning curve for me… a predictable one, I guess, considering I was a full-time editor before. It’s hard for me to say no to writers in whom I see potential, but sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do!

Do you have expectations of an agent about editing? Have you even thought about it?

Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, Colorado

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. April Rust on November 25, 2013 at 4:14 PM

    Hi Rachelle,

    I am starting my own freelance editing business and looking for tips on how to get novels ready to be handed to an agent or publishing house. Do you have any quick advice of things I can focus on with my clients? What makes them a “keeper” for you as an agent?

  2. Natasha on February 21, 2013 at 7:05 PM

    Thanks for this info Rachelle. I have a question. I have submitted a completed manuscript to an agent who showed a lot of interest after seeing my query letter and synopsis. The agent asked to see the full manuscript and then replied that ‘it’s not quite there yet’ suggesting something similar to what you have said above “join a writer’s group or hire a freelance editor”. She has not, however, asked me to resubmit. I feel that she has a point, I haven’t had it edited or proofread by anyone, past the first two chapters. But does that mean I can’t resubmit if she hasn’t asked me to?

  3. fontanna czekoladowa on December 29, 2011 at 2:54 PM


    […]Sites of interest we have a link to[…]……

  4. Anonymous on July 3, 2009 at 6:59 AM

    >Just wanted to add that the agent isn't really editing for 'free'. Remember there's a huge vested interest there. If the editing results in a sale, then the agent is well compensated for editing and selling the book.

    That said, I'm on the side that feels an agent shouldn't have to do much if any editing. I'd prefer that their focus be on selling my book…and that it's on me to edit and polish it myself so that it's good to go.

  5. Anonymous on July 2, 2009 at 7:59 PM

    >Speaking as a freelance editor, everything you said makes sense to me. Editing is extremely tedious work, and I can't imagine an agent doing it for free, regardless of how promising the story might be.

    Writers write, Editors edit, Agents pitch books.

  6. Laura Christianson on July 1, 2009 at 3:38 PM

    >From an author/freelance writer's standpoint, I've learned that anything I can do to make my editor's job easier is a very, very good thing.

    Several editors have told me they re-hire me because they know I'll produce copy that requires little editing. They also confided that MOST writers don't produce immediately-publishable copy.

    That information surprised me… until I began editing book manuscripts. So many authors ignore basic details, such as using the spell/grammar checker, or following guidelines regarding spacing, indenting paragraphs, and so forth.

    Follow the guidelines your agent/editor/publication specifies, and you'll position yourself above 90% of your competitors.

    Laura Christianson
    Twitter: @bloggingbistro

  7. Janet on July 1, 2009 at 3:22 PM

    >Yes, I've thought of it. I'm pretty confident in my ability to produce clean copy, but I would really welcome feedback on the general structure, and direction if there are any substantive problems to be overcome. But I certainly don't expect a detailed crit from an agent.

  8. Eric on July 1, 2009 at 8:51 AM

    >Since I don't have an agent (yet), I can't speak from experience. But my thoughts so far have been that an agent would be the "promoter" of sorts and shouldn't be doing any in-depth editing of my work. I've heard others talk about having an agent who sent their work to an editor, who then of course promptly sent it back to the writer with proposed changes. This makes more sense to me, since the job of agent and that of editor are distinctly different.

  9. Betsy Ashton on July 1, 2009 at 8:05 AM

    >I expect an agent to provide wisdom on how to improve my work, but not to provide editorial assistance. If my work isn't ready to submit to an editor, I would take the guidance from the agent, turn off the TV, open the laptop and work, work, work to make the book as good as I can get it. Then, if the agent feels satisfied, I would expect an editor who selects my work to make more suggestions, leading to more work, work, work. Guess that also answers the salient question of "how do I know when I'm finished with a work?" My answer: when it's in print and not a page before.

  10. marcie ciampi on July 1, 2009 at 12:44 AM

    >I enjoyed this article and your job description. Your comments make complete sense to me. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Sheila DeChantal on June 30, 2009 at 8:50 PM

    >I htink you have my dream job. I have always wanted to do that. 🙂

  12. Camille Cannon Eide on June 30, 2009 at 8:10 PM

    >Just a thought in response to sunna: I think there are differing ideas on what "edit" means. Of course we should offer the most polished work we possibly can, free of plot holes and grammar issues.

    I entered a novel in a publishing house contest where the prize was a contract and when it was chosen as a finalist, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with the publishing house executive editor to discuss the story. She told me I had reached a point with it where I could do no more on my own and was ready for an in-house editor. That’s the kind of editing Rachelle is talking about. Not the critique group, fix the typos, plot holes and grammar kind. The kind of edit you would get after your book is contracted.

    Rachelle’s clients are way ahead of the game if they are able to take her advice and bring the book up a notch and get it that much closer to what an editor hopes to hold in hand as a finished product.

    In answer to your question, Rachelle, I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that most agents don’t do a lot of editing, certainly not on any large scale. It’s probably not something we should expect from most agents. And I’m also guessing that every agent has their own area of expertise. Editing is one of Rachelle’s. I’m sure her clients are very much aware of the added bonus they are getting by working with her.

    And I sure hope those 2 or 3 carefully chosen ones fully understand and appreciate what a tremendous gift they are getting with those deeply painful but highly effective large scale edits.

    Here’s to a good call on your hunches and fabulous returns on your investments, Rachelle. 😀

  13. Dave on June 30, 2009 at 7:15 PM


    Yes, I've thought about it. I guess that what I am hoping for in an agent is someone that can help me decide on some big picture issues. There are certain choices that I would like to talk through with industry professionals that have an understanding of the genre and the people that read in the genre. In my case, that's fantasy, which I know is not your cup of tea.

    I've heard some editors at conferences say that they do three letters to the author, with the first one being the biggest and each of the next being considerably smaller. Is that typical?

  14. Lisa Lawmaster Hess on June 30, 2009 at 5:53 PM

    >I think it's my job as the author to present a publishable draft to my agent. That said, I appreciate any suggestions my agent has about making the book more marketable, but I think that's different from the type of editing you referred to.

  15. Mariana on June 30, 2009 at 5:44 PM

    >Hello Rachelle.

    I'm amazed that people actually dismissed the sharing of you personal experience as mere ranting. It's very interesting to learn how you reached this reasonable middle point where you are willing to do some editing to a prospective client, but must pass the ms that need more than you can give. It's evident wisdom!

    And from my view, is this wisdom that I expect from an agent. That is, the willingness to assist he writer in making some adjustments (not everyone has the agent's expertise regarding what makes a story publishable), or to give some good tips on and eventual rejection letter.

    In my recent research, I’ve seen that almost all agents do some level of editing, but same as you they don’t seem to be willing to coach the writer on learning the craft. I don’t know where the breaking point is for each agent, but I imagine that their willingness is also limited to general observations, which could lead to either deep changes or minor adjustments; assuming, of course, that the original is sufficiently well written to be “readable”.

    Thanks for the inside info, as usual very educating.

  16. Sharon A. Lavy on June 30, 2009 at 3:46 PM

    >Thank you for your comment Rachelle. Personally, I wish you did not allow anonymous comments because most of us who follow your blog appreciate what you are trying to do for us and we don't need to read what a basher has to say.

  17. Matilda McCloud on June 30, 2009 at 3:31 PM

    >I can understand that you would not do a deep edit of a book–that's not your job. But if you really like the idea and the writing is good, perhaps a detailed revision letter (with no quarantees of representation) might be a good compromise.

    I worked with an independent editor–I could only afford the "overview" letter. It was very useful, but the cost for a full edit was WAY out of my budget as I assume it would be for most writers. Let's just say it would have cost about 1/4 of the annual tuition for a year of college for my son.

    I agree with the other posters who despair about turning in the perfect, or close to perfect, manuscript. I don't think critique groups are the full answer.

  18. Rachelle on June 30, 2009 at 3:15 PM

    >I don't have time to reply to all these comments, although I really want to! Just a couple quick things:

    I know I should just ignore it, but I just have to say that it really bothers me every time I get accused of "complaining" on the blog, or worse, being part of what is apparently a "vast conspiracy" of agent-complainers. I am simply doing my best to inform writers of what it's like over here on this side of the desk. I'm letting you in on things that, prior to blogs, agents never talked about. I hardly think setting boundaries and creating a workable business model is complaining.

    Another thing: Please, everyone, use your own best judgment when deciding whether to hire an editor or not. Don't blindly believe those who categorically tell you NOT to hire an editor, or those who say you MUST. There are varying opinions on this, so base your decision on your own situation. Do you have the financial resources? Are you ready to treat the editing process as a real learning experience and take what you've learned into the writing of your next books? If so, then an editor might be for you.

    Lastly, Mary DeMuth who runs The Writing Spa is an incredibly gifted writer as well as talented editor and teacher. We should all be so lucky to be able to be edited by her and learn from her. I don't say that because I have any financial interest (she's represented by Beth Jusino at Alive Communications) but because I was impressed with her from the very first time I saw her writing more than five years ago.

  19. Eric von Mizener on June 30, 2009 at 3:09 PM

    >I have had two agents, both for film and television. The first gave such broad criticism that it was completely useless. The second really got into the stories, but lacked follow-through.

    To me, an agent is essentially a B2B salesperson. They take content – and a content provider – to a publisher in order to make a sale.

    Ideally they want to sell a sizzling product with built-in sales opportunities (platform) and the prospect of many more to come (ability to produce new books on a regular basis).

    Most projects are not at that level. If they were, publishers wouldn't need agents to screen projects.

    So some agents look at the diamonds in the rough. And each agent varies in what kind of diamond, and what kind of roughness they will work with. And a need for editing (light, moderate, extensive) is a kind of roughness.

    And as much as we writers may be concerned with putting out our Christian message, booksellers still have to pay the rent, publishers have to cover overhead and agents have to eat. Like Paul, most of us will have to keep making tents while pursuing the kingdom.

  20. Amber Argyle-Smith on June 30, 2009 at 2:17 PM

    >I'd like to think that the agent would want the best work put out there.
    I didn't know until I found an agent that that isn't the norm.
    Puts lots of pressure on us writers to get it perfect.

    One piece of advice: DON'T HIRE AN EDITOR. Honestly, you have to be able to edit it by yourself to have staying power (of course, hiring an editor to teach you might be something different.)

  21. Anonymous on June 30, 2009 at 1:37 PM

    >I chose my agent because she wanted revisions.

    I'm not an industry insider. She is. I did some edits on a couple of scenes for her before I signed. We both (wisely) wanted to see how we'd work together.

    Changing those scenes changed my LIFE. I didn't know I could give what she was asking for until she asked. I learned a valuable lesson about my craft and about myself.

    Don't be opposed to an agent because they want revisions. We can always, ALWAYS improve as writers.

    A writer friend gave me some amazing advice. She said, "If the revision suggestions sound like something an older, wiser you would think of…then go for it."


  22. XDPaul on June 30, 2009 at 1:32 PM

    >To paraphrase Rizzo from Grease: Keep your filthy paws off my dainty words!

    Why on earth would I, a true artiste, ever submit my masterworks to a, well, to a mortal agent?

    The agent's job isn't to turn my work into art, it is to turn my art into money.

    Lots and lots and lots of money. They can't possibly do that if they are off wordsmithing in the wild.

    I don't care if people read my books, as long as they keep buying them, so I can make more. Any fool and his dog can write or edit a book (as my dog will attest), but it takes an agent to make a living at it.

    So, that's what I expect out of my agent: sales to publishers. After all, my mastery of the English language is unquestioningly perfict.

  23. Dineen A. Miller on June 30, 2009 at 1:32 PM

    >Having been with an agent at one time who practically edited out my voice, I like your philosophy, Rachelle. And I'm very grateful for your input.

  24. Liana Brooks on June 30, 2009 at 12:27 PM

    >I plan on going to an agent with the cleanest possible manuscript. I'll spell check, and have a critique partner, and do everything I can to make the manuscript clean.

    What I want from an agent is someone who can see where I can cut flab from the storyline or emphasize a point. I want them to help me take something I've polished and turn it into artwork.

  25. Pam Halter on June 30, 2009 at 12:19 PM

    >Editors edit. Agents agent. Writers write. We all have our jobs to do. Unfortunately, cuts in staff and houses trying to save money have forced writers to write, edit, market and sometimes agent.

    That, in turn, puts more work on an agent to do things other than agenting.

    And with less assistant-type help, editors must take on extra responsibilities on their end, as well.

    So, we all have to do other jobs. If we want to get published, we can either learn these things and do them well or self-publish. Which means you STILL have to write and edit and sell your book!


  26. Janis Susan May on June 30, 2009 at 12:07 PM

    >To be definite about it, yes no and maybe.

    I do agree that it is the author's job to present an agent with a publishable book. That said, we all know that after working with a project for however long, holes and inconsistencies exist. If something jumps out at the agent, and she wants to sell this book, she should at least mention it to the author.

    Heavy-duty editing? I've had agents (and editors) who want to do that, so much so that it changes the story entirely. I say if they want to change it that much, they should write their own book.

    Typos? There is a little creature called the Typo Gremlin who afflicts all of us. A couple of common typos in a full ms doesn't bother me – glass houses and stones, don't you know – but double digit numbers in a proposal or short ms would drive me up a wall. If the agent picks up on the few and changes them, all the good to both of them. More than a very few… hmmm. Depends on the agent, the author and the relationship between them.

    What really drives me up a wall about agents and editors is when they praise a manuscript heartily, saying they love the writing and the imagination, then reject it saying it's not right for them. That could drive a person to madness when repeated sufficient times.

  27. Anonymous on June 30, 2009 at 11:54 AM

    >Someone has to do editing besides the author and an author can't easily get into a publishing house without an agent. But agents want publishable manuscripts that need little or no work. Those will come from authors who have already been published and edited by professionals.

    Of course writers can and should bring the best manuscript forward but agents shouldn't act like their is going to be an endless supply of books ready to market from unknowns and eventually the knowns will retire or die/ Where does the spring replenish itself from then?

    It's a catch 22. Don';t ask us how to fix your manuscript just make it perfect when we get it. OK, We'll get right on that.

  28. Anonymous on June 30, 2009 at 11:49 AM

    >I'm not suggesting a writer shouldn't present the best possible manuscript to an agent. I am simply a bit weary of hearing so many agents complain about their end of things while sometimes seeming to obviate their end by suggesting they shouldn't have to do XYZ becuase XYZ isn't their job.

    I know XYZ isn't their job and you know XYZ isn't their job but I often fell like several blogs become pity parties for how hard it is to be an agent.

    When i read these blogs I wonder how hard said agents really do work and for whom. Many sites cliam editors are no longer editing and agents are doing more of it but now we have a situation where the agents don't seem to want to edit either. So, where exactly does this perfect manuscript appear from if neither the editor nor the agent wants to do some notes on the piece?

    If the industry wants ready to publish manuscripts than someone other than the writers needs to advise on what will publish in the marketplace. it seems to me that by doing so they might actually improve conditions rather than simply waiting for the perfect manuscript to arrive.

    Maybe the perfect scripts do arrive but I find it unlikely that any do without need of some sort of revision.

    The other point to consider, to my mind, is that as the industry evolves becuase of technology then the only element that will continue to persist from necessity will be the writer. Which is not to say that agents are going to disappear but that they may not have the luxury of waiting for the scripts to come to them anymore.

    Then again, the industry may persist as it is for some while. I just know, as a writer, when I read agents complain about writers doing this and writers doing that I mark those agents off as people i want to query.

    That whole queryfail business on twitter didn't do anyone who participated any good. that's the sort of thing you say away from the clients, not in front of them.

  29. Jane Smith on June 30, 2009 at 11:23 AM

    >Anon, at the risk of answering for Rachelle, I'd like to step in here.

    I don't think agents who want their clients to write a good book and then edit it appropriately are expecting them to do anything unreasonable. Writing is what writers do; agenting is what agents do. There's a whole load of difference between advising a client on what's marketable, and editing a book; the first takes a brief phone conversation, the second takes hours and hours of work.

    While I can appreciate your frustration (and please: don't think I'm dismissing you here–I know only too well how hard it can be to get the tone right on the internet, and I don't intend to put you down here at all), it is important to realise just how great the competition is to get published. If a writer can deliver good, solid prose which is as close to publishable as possible, they've got a big advantage over the writers who can't. And that means that if we want to get published, we have to be able to look at our writing dispassionately and edit it for ourselves before we send it anywhere.

  30. Anonymous on June 30, 2009 at 10:57 AM

    >I don't expect an agent to serve as editor but I do expect that they should know how to make a book more marketable. I am outside the industry, you are inside the industry, that is why I send my work to you and pay you, right?

    It seems to me that every few days another agent posts something about what the writer ought to be doing and how the writer ought not to expect the agent to do XYZ to which I say, well, perhaps the agents need to reconsider their overall utility in what might become a changing market paradigm.

    I understand you have hard jobs but no more hard than writing a novel while working another full time job. There seems to be a bit of an unfair assumption that all the burden is on you,t he agent and we the writers simply don't understand how hard you have it.

    I am not suggesting that you fix messy manuscripts nor take on projects the author didn't put the right effort into but I do think that as a group on your blogs you have a collective tendency to complain about how hard your jobs are while seeming to place much of that blame on the writers who constitute the reason the entire business exists.

    Do some of us suck, surely, but must you constantly remind of us of that fact?

  31. Jane Smith on June 30, 2009 at 10:53 AM

    >I also blogged about this a while ago. It's a popular subject!

    I think that while agents don't have the time or inclination to carry out a full line-edit on all of their clients' works, they do provide editorial advice every single time they reject a piece of work. Because while most writers only take note of the comments that agents give with a rejection, a string of blank, form rejections reveal a lot too–usually that the writing just isn't good enough for an agent to be able to sell it.

  32. Arabella on June 30, 2009 at 10:51 AM

    >It is clearly not the agent's responsibility to edit, which leaves me to wonder where I should go for help. We can't all use professional editors, as one commenter claims; I, for one, can't afford it. Plus, I'd be hesitant to do so. The book doctor who is advertising her services above doesn't impress me.
    Critique groups are the way to go, but I live in a small town. I advertised to find other local writers, and two people responded, one who has since moved. The other just doesn't show up to meetings. I've looked on the internet for critique partners–wow, talk about finding a needle in a haystack!
    Currently, I'm left with myself, my husband, and a few friends who have kindly read over my novel.

  33. Dara on June 30, 2009 at 10:45 AM

    >I suppose I never expected an agent to do extensive edits because they're well, an agent. I always figured that's was the editor's job.

    I wouldn't be against an agent editing my ms, but I wouldn't expect it of them either.

  34. Andy Shackcloth on June 30, 2009 at 10:43 AM

    >It seems strange to me that anyone would submit any work into one of the hardest challenges i.e. to escape the slush pile, without some independent checking. Just had to say that.

    To me an agent should be pushing the book out to the best possible outlets and if they push poor books then the agent will be received badly the next time. This means if I go with an agent who does that, then my book will receive a poor reception. Then everyone loses.

    If an agent is editing a book then obviously other books are not being promoted during those hours, one of them might be mine.

    I realise it is “iffy”, as someone said, to recommend an editor but an agent should know the trade and so should be aware of editors who have worked successfully in the particular genre.

    If an agent said to me “Your work needs improving in xx, xx, xx and xx areas, here is a list of editors who could help. I would like to see it again after…” I would be happy.

    It would still be up to me to investigate the list and select from reputation and affordability, or ignore the advice and go else ware.

    Is there not a case for synergy between author, editor and agent?

  35. Beth on June 30, 2009 at 10:39 AM

    >I think it's the agent's choice, and something to be worked out between agent and client. If a client wants a lot of editing and the agent is not willing/able to provide it, then it might not be a good working relationship. Vice versa, too.

  36. Anne Frasier on June 30, 2009 at 10:25 AM

    >I tackled this topic a couple of weeks ago, so it's refreshing to see an agent bring it up. Confirms a lot of things. Publishing has seen a lot of changes over the past twenty years, one of the biggest being the role of agents. Fifteen to twenty years ago, agents didn’t edit. Now my impression is that the majority of agents are actually editors. It's too much, and it's unbalanced, but I have no solution.

  37. sunna on June 30, 2009 at 10:25 AM

    >I would never expect a full edit from my agent: if the book needs it, it wasn't ready for me to send it to her, so clearly I didn't do MY job.

    I expect my agent to review my manuscript, point out any problems that from her perspective and experience would make the book less appealing to editors, make suggestions that could make it *more* appealing if she has any, and leave the actual mechanics of fixing it to me.

    So, pretty much what it sounds like you're doing. 🙂

  38. jimnduncan on June 30, 2009 at 10:11 AM

    >Beyond big structural story things, I would say no, but…

    I keep hearing stories regarding how more and more big house editors are really only acquiring and not doing any actual editing. So…who's going to do it? Either it falls back toward the agent or the author pays for editorial services. Sucks, but we are heading in that direction

  39. Teri D. Smith on June 30, 2009 at 9:48 AM

    >I agree with you, Rachelle, that it really isn't the agent's job to edit. Any comments, advive, etc. would be icing on the cake.

    Critique groups and critique services like Mary DeMuth's or Susan May Warren's are the place for getting help with editing.

  40. Kim Kasch on June 30, 2009 at 9:33 AM

    >Never thought much about it but it sure is nice to have some help along the way. And, when someone who knows what they're doing starts editing, I can really see the problems with my writing much clearer.

  41. Anna Letha on June 30, 2009 at 8:43 AM

    >That you are willing to offer any editing help to your clients is a wonderful thing, especially considering you don't get paid for any of it. I hope your authors appreciate your help.

    I myself have always thought that a writer will only gain an agent if they present a book that is as close to perfect as possible. I'm finding out that some authors actually expect to be edited and usually work with that in mind. That surprised me, until I learned that most of those people aren't authors, but rather writers with demands.

    I certainly wouldn't say no to an agent editing my work, but I'd do my best to have it as well written as possible before I even attempted to find an agent.

  42. Cindy on June 30, 2009 at 8:39 AM

    >I used to think agents did a great majority of editing–and this was usually in order to even accept a manuscript (of course I also had an undesirable agent experience in the past which gave me a lot of misconceptions of the agent/author relationship). Now I've evolved into believing true agents do edit some, as you said, if they see fit or they feel compelled to. But I am so happy it's their responsibility–it's YOUR responsibility–to weed out the manuscripts that have potential. To help guide authors in the right direction and, it seems, ultimately work in favor of the author if they believe in them. I think that's wonderful–how lucky for all us writers out here! Thanks, Rachelle, for all your helpful advice and insight into the publishing/author/agent world.

  43. Sharon A. Lavy on June 30, 2009 at 8:14 AM

    >I agree with Mary. Critique groups really help. But when each one has you changing back to before the last critique it is time for help from a freelance editor.

  44. CKHB on June 30, 2009 at 8:10 AM

    >What Jason Crawford said. And imagine that this is why some agents will, on some projects, ask to see revisions before they commit to publication — if the author can take the suggested edits and execute them well, then the agent knows that any collaborative editing done from that point forward is not going to be an excessive time-drain.

    I see non-fiction as a category where an agent might be willing to provide more "education" about the craft of writing, because there's a greater likelihood that a single person, of all the people on the planet, will have a unique platform/unique story to tell, and it's worth spending the time to teach them the craft of writing to get the story to the printed and published page.

    For fiction, I feel that it must be much rarer for a truly "unique" story to come along. How many not-quite-ready versions of every plot we love must be out there? It's all about execution, and if the author doesn't have it right ENOUGH, then all you can do is send then away to perfect their craft.

  45. Mary DeMuth on June 30, 2009 at 8:08 AM

    >Aside from my passion to mentor writers, this is precisely why I started the Writing Spa ( I'm like an agent before an agent, helping to polish and beautify a manuscript and a proposal before an agent even sees it. It's always best to put your very best writing forward. Which is why sometimes you need to hire out to get the help you need.

    Some can achieve this by a great critique group. (That's what I did.) But what happens if you don't have one, and you're the only one who has read your stuff?

  46. Rachel on June 30, 2009 at 7:52 AM

    >I'm sure I would appreciate any editing an agent would coach me through. I wouldn't expect it, though, as we can all hire an editor to do just that.

  47. Richard Mabry on June 30, 2009 at 7:31 AM

    >In the days BR ("before Rachelle") I was told by an editor at one publishing house that they were prepared to offer me a multi-book contract, starting with my two completed novels, if I used the services of a particular independent editor. (And, no, I don't think there was a kick-back involved.) I spent a significant amount of money on the process, worked very hard at the revisions, only to be told that they'd changed their minds. So my one venture into working with an independent editor wasn't so great.
    On the other hand, at least one author acquaintance freely admits that his multi-book contract came in some measure due to his working with an independent editor. And I know of other respected authors who use outside editors. Whatever works, I guess.
    As for how much editing an agent should be expected to do, I guess that depends on the agent. I think you've come up with a reasonable and workable plan for yourself–and I'm glad. Thanks.

  48. Krista Phillips on June 30, 2009 at 6:59 AM

    >I don't expect an agent to edit my book for me, but obviously don't mind the feedback if they decide to:-) I think your approach is spot on.

  49. Jason Crawford on June 30, 2009 at 6:56 AM

    >There's a big difference between editing and teaching someone how to write. I think an agent's job includes editing their clients, but not teaching them how to write a book.

    Of course you know better than I know, Rachelle, but it sounds like you've encountered writers who were *almost* quality writers, but not quite there. I agree, it's not your job to get them there.

    A good writer would understand your broad comments and know how to fix the problem. That's editing.

  50. Robyn on June 30, 2009 at 6:44 AM

    >I think when I do finally sign with an agent*she has started the search* I will not expect miracles from he/she. I understand that before I start searching, my book needs to be as ready as it can be. Never query manuscripts that aren't finished. Clean up the filler words, typos, and make the story shine.

    That said, I do think an agent should give their advice and expertise when it comes to plot concerns, etc. I think the editors job is to edit the book. Thanks Rachelle. 🙂

  51. Jody Hedlund on June 30, 2009 at 6:30 AM

    >Thanks for explaining the editing side of your work, Rachelle. Sometimes I'll notice on Twitter that you're editing for a client and I've wondered how you decide whose projects to edit. I don't think you edited much, if any, on mine and I was somewhat surprised by that. But I totally agree that if we're doing our job and polishing our MS first, then you shouldn't have to!

  52. Buffy Andrews on June 30, 2009 at 6:22 AM

    >Thanks for the insight, Rachelle. I think my expectations mirror what you've outlined here. It seems like you found a good balance. Your time is valuable and you need to decide what makes the most sense. Sounds like, too, when you do find a promising writer, you're willing to make the investment understanding that it might not pay off. I deeply respect that because many folks wouldn't go that far. If it's not a sure thing, they don't want to invest the time. But I like that in some cases you're willing to give back even if the payoff doesn't come. These writers should be grateful for your gift. My best.

  53. Lisa Jordan on June 30, 2009 at 6:18 AM

    >If an agent is expected to edit a writer's novel, that takes time away from the agent's true job–selling the writer's novel.

    I believe an agent, who may know the market better than the writer, can give solid advice about what may work and what won't, but presenting a polished novel is the writer's responsibility.

  54. Sharon A. Lavy on June 30, 2009 at 6:08 AM

    >I can see where agents walk a fine line. I think it is even iffy for them to recommend a freelance editor because the suspicion that the agent could be taking kick-backs. So the business gets to be tougher and tougher.

    That is why this blog is so valuable. You [and other agents]can give us a list of freelance editors that you respect, or any other information to help our writing.

    I hope you are able to keep up this blog for a long, long time.

  55. Cecelia Dowdy on June 30, 2009 at 5:58 AM

    >Do you have expectations of an agent about editing? Have you even thought about it?
    >>>I'd think an agent might be able to give suggestions on tightening the story and making it more appealing to the publisher. But I wouldn't think the agent would be responsible for a lot of editing. I would think that the story is would already be full edited once the agent receives the manuscript. Like you'd stated, most agents aren't going to have time to edit the manuscripts for all of their current and potentially-future clients.

  56. Timothy Fish on June 30, 2009 at 5:20 AM

    >I wouldn’t expect an agent to be responsible for editing, but in a royalty paying system, editing has the potential to reap huge benefits. I thought I had a post about this on my blog, but all I found was my thoughts on the royalty advance. The post I thought I had was one that talks about how we writers should look at our responsibility to our work as more of an intellectual property owner rather than just someone who writes books. That concept is even more true for agents, since they don’t write the book, but make their money from how well the book sells. I suppose that means there must be a balance. If we require that a manuscript be free of most mistakes, we do so at the cost of a more diverse selection of authors. That will help the well educated and the authors with more money, but I can’t help but wonder if that is in the best interest of the publishing industry as a whole.

  57. Solvang Sherrie on June 30, 2009 at 2:00 AM

    >I've come across agents who say they make a lot of editorial revisions as well as agents who will pass if they feel it needs editorial help.

    It's interesting, because Editorial Ass posted today about an editor who won't buy a project that needs editing! I realize that editors want pieces as polished as possible before they get them, but I was surprised to hear an editor say that they don't edit.

    No matter who's looking, I think it's important to put your absolute best in front of them. But the thought of paying a book doctor gives me pause. Money is tight in this household and hiring an editor is still no guarantee that your book will ever see the light of day.

    Have you ever signed a client who resubmitted after paying a professional editor? Was it worth the investment for them?

  58. Aimee K. Maher on June 30, 2009 at 1:59 AM

    >I think it's a rational fear on my part, that my first book is going to get ripped to shreds. And trust me, I work on that baby like a surgeon replacing a brain. It's nice to know that some agents will point out the flaws if the novel is deemed worthy.

  59. karenranney on June 30, 2009 at 1:48 AM

    >I've had two agents in my career. One edited me too much – and I always had to change her changes to fit my editor. My second (and current) agent doesn't edit me at all. As far as she's concerned, I'm expected to produce a publishable book.

    I much prefer my editor editing me – not my agent.

  60. Rie on June 30, 2009 at 1:46 AM

    >I never really thought about it, but I truly don't think it's the agents job. I work closely with a few critique partners and fully expect that without detailed editing on my part I'll never get represented.

    On the other hand I see certain well established authors that could use some editing.