Q4U: Should Agents Edit?
Most of you know that I came from an editorial background before I was an agent. I love working with authors on their books, and over the years I’ve developed the skills to help writers improve their writing, or present a more saleable book or proposal to editors. As a result, I sometimes have significant editorial input on my clients’ projects. (I blogged in more detail about my approach to editing clients’ work here.)
I don’t always do this. I try to take on books that are nearly ready for submission. But it doesn’t always work out that way, and sometimes I offer representation based on the potential I see in them, even if the manuscript still needs work.
Occasionally even when I think the original manuscript or proposal is good enough to submit without much revision, we don’t end up selling it. Then my editorial experience comes in handy as we work to craft a better book and/or proposal for the second round of submissions.
All agents are different. Some prefer not to do any editing at all. They take what you send, turn it around and get it out to editors. That’s perfectly legitimate. (Janet Reid blogged that she’s not one of the “editing agents.” While Jessica Faust blogged about how she often goes through many rounds of revisions with clients before submitting.)
This is one of the things you should consider when searching for an agent. Are you comfortable with an agent who offers revision suggestions?
A couple of clarifications:
1. Agents usually offer editorial suggestions before the project is submitted to publishers. Once the project is sold, in most cases the agent steps back (unless asked for an opinion) because the manuscript is now the editor’s responsibility.
2. Some authors believe an agent’s only job is to “sell.” But let’s be clear: the only reason an agent edits is to increase the chances of selling. So when editing is called for, I believe I’m actually doing the job of “selling” by offering advice that I think will help the book sell.
So I have two questions for you:
1. Which kind of agent do you think you’d prefer, one who edits or one who doesn’t?
2. Philosophically: Should agents edit?
Looking forward to your answers. Have a good weekend!
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An agent wants to represent my book. She wants to charge me $3500 to edit my book. Is this standard?
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>I would much prefer an agent who is willing to work with me on my ms to get it ready for submission to publishers than one who either a) rejects it because it's not perfect or b) submits it to publishers even though it's not perfect. And philosophically I don't see a problem with agents editing – unless they are charging for the services.
>I used to think I wanted an editorial agent (when I was with agent number one.) Agent number two did have many edit suggestions. They were crap. They ruined the MS. Now on agent three, I signed with the one with basically no suggestions who just did a once over to make sure the MS was clean. Perfect for me.
I'll edit for an editor. I'll be glad to. But it's not the agent's job, IMO. If the MS is so awful it needs extensive editing by an agent before even making it to an editor's desk, it has no business being represented.
>I love that my agent edits. When I got the book proposal she edited back, I actally gained confidence in my writing ability.
For some reason, I thought it would be hacked to pieces. What a compliment that the changes were minor with just the right touch from an agent who knows the industry and what publishers are looking for.
Agents that edit rock!
>My hope is that my agent and I will have a partnership of sorts, with a long-term career plan that will do nicely for both of us, and if my partner has suggestions that make the product we sell better, I'm all in.
>This is such a good question. I also come from an editorial background and do a great deal of editing to get a novel or proposal ready to sell. I think that's one of my draws as an agent. But once the book is sold, I like to step back. Hopefully the editor and author will bond at that point. But I often step in here, too. Sometimes editors have asked me to, which I find outrageous. Also, I've been hearing that some agents are taking as much as 25% when they do the editing. I've always felt it was a conflict of interest and don't do it. But in some cases the hours I put in are crazy.
>i would likely consider it a compliment if an editor thought my work was good enough to represent if only they could tweak this one bit…
i imagine it is done in the most sensitive of ways!
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>i would likely consider it a compliment if an editor thought my work was good enough to represent if only they could tweak this one bit…
i imagine it is done in the most sensitive of ways!
thank you for your site, naomi
>No, I don't want an agent who edits. It would be my hope that my work would just be rejected if it wasn't clean enough to be submitted. I have many friends who are published and since the editors always have revisions, it seems pointless to go through that process twice.
That said, I'd certainly be open to broader feedback such as 'this section didn't flow well for me' or 'you may want to tighten your ending or up your pacing in chapter ten'.
That kind of feedback would be welcome, but not a list of specific changes that must be made before submitting.
So, I guess I'm open to some editing. I think before signing with an agent though, I'd want to know what their general level of input is, so that everyone is on the same page.
I also don't think this is a right or wrong type of thing, different styles work for different people and as long as everyone knows what the expectations are, it's fine.
>Hopefully what I send an Agent will need very little or no editing, but as I've read my novel so many times I see more the intent than the words, I'd like an Agent that does some editing.
If it still need a lot of work, then I don't mind being told. So yes, I think Agents should do some amount of editing if needed.
Thanks for asking our opinions Rachelle.
>If I do my homework, I should know the answer before signing with an agent. Because if they will add their opinions or say something if they see errors, then as the author I'm that much closer to publishing a perfect copy. Sadly, I had many eyes on my book before it was published, and still there were mistakes that slipped by.
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>I'd rather go the rounds with my agent than my editor, in terms of revision. Mostly because I'd feel that my agent was on my side, even if we didn't always agree.
>I hope my agent will be someone I like and trust so I would appreciate and enjoy her input. Because she must already like and understand my work to have taken me on. we would both be moving toward making my novel the best it can be before putting it out there. Of course I have already done the best I can before she ever sees it.
If I did not feel connected to this person I would not accept her even if she wanted me as a client.
>I think I may prefer an agent who could make some editing suggestions, just because its always good to have another eye on the project. Its not a requirement with me, but it would be an ideal situation.
>I would welcome any editing that would improve my manuscript, so I'd be delighted if an agent wanted to offer editing advice.
>I think an agent who knows her stuff and edits well offers that "value added service" we all like to get. If my agent makes suggestions, I'm definitely going to listen because she reads extensively and knows what publishers are looking for. Maybe she sees something in my manuscript that I and my crit partner missed.
>Different agents bring different things to the table. If my agent has a background in editorial, I'd be disappointed if that expertise wasn't offered to my book. So, answering the second question first, yes, agents should edit, in my opinion, but only if that's one of their skill areas.
The first question is more difficult for me. I choose who to submit manuscripts to based on what they represent and whether their philosophy, their approach to publishing/life, interests me. Some of these are not editorally focused, but there are other reasons I'd love to be taken on by them. However, the majority seem to have some editorial background, and I don't know whether that shows a hidden preference in me or just the high percentage of editors who have become agents.
>I'm definitely on the wanting agent input side. My agent does that, and I'm sure it's helped him sell my books. But perhaps that's because I consider myself in a permanent learning phase when it comes to writing, and don't have one of those egos that thinks anything that comes from my pen is sacrosanct! I think, though, that historically some of the great writers have had significant agent/editor input.
>I too have an agent with an extensive editorial background. I enjoy the fact that another pair of highly editorial eyes are available to give my MS a once over. I also appreciate the fact that he is the best sort of editor — he makes suggestions and points out flaws without for a moment forgetting that HE is not writing the book (doesn't try to micro-manage or suggest line edits to every sentence in the 80k MS)
>that's so easy.
1. prefer the agent who knows what they're doing – making a good story sellable (if that means editing, go for it).
2. refer #1. If it makes it a better book. absolutely.
What other answer must there be?
>If the ultimate goal of the agent is to get the book sold, they should be allowed to edit and do whatever they can to accomplish that end.
I have no problem with someone critiquing me and offering suggestions. There is always room for improvement and I'm grateful to receive assistance from a more seasoned eye.
This is one of the reasons I attend writer conferences and offer my pages for critique when possible. I've truly seen my writing improve as a result. I received very positive feedback from an agent and editor at the Winter Conference of SCBWI.
This was the direct result of allowing professionals at other conferences give me their feedback. If writers have an agent who edits, don't turn it down. They've found a gem.
>Whatever is best for the book is fine with me. A writer/author should be prepared for comments/edits from outside their critique circle or their own edits – and be prepared to accept them or not.
>I wouldn't mind an agent who edits. I'm always open to suggestions/feedback from people, esp. of course editors and agents. I'd prefer an editing agent.
It's been fun reading everyone's opinions!
>If an agent chooses to represent a writer, I would think it's because that agent saw great potential in the writers work. But that doesn't mean said manuscript couldn't or shouldn't be further polished. It can always be better.
Agents are on the front lines and know what sells. So, yes, if an agent feels it's neccessary to further edit a manuscript, why not? A writer has to trust that relationship enough to know the agent wants the best for the manuscript. Both want it to sell.
By that stage a writer has already cut things they thought they couldn't live without, so furthur editing shouldn't cause a writer to bat an wee eyelash.
>I wouldn't be a published author without my agent editing my books and proposals. I was fortunate enough to have an agent take a chance on me. I've written 4 books. The first two, it was a team effort, I have to say. They really taught me how to write through the first two books. By the third book I was flying solo, with just a once over edit at the end before turning it in. I really learned to craft a solid manuscript thanks to my agent and his writer wife. They invested lots of time and energy in me and I learned so much and appreciate it.
>agent and only goodness knows how many with my editor. Then the copyeditor. Then a final reader…shoot me now.
Work From Home
>1. I would prefer an agent who edits.
2. Yes, agents should edit when the manuscript calls for it.
As the creator, I feel that by working with an agent, I would be placing my manuscript in the hands of a representative that I trust. I trust that she or he knows what she's talking about when she makes editing suggestions. I trust that she or he has a vested interest in selling my work. I trust that she or he is my ally, and an Omega Reader, in the sense that this is the final person who should see the manuscript before it reaches an editor's desk.
>I prefer an agent who edits. I am all for constructive criticism.
Should agents edit? I don't see a problem with it as long as they don't change the author's voice. And every reputable agent will know not to do that.
>I would like my agent to feel free to use any experience or expertise available to offer honest critique and suggestions about what will put my book in the best possible light and would hope to be able to discuss differences in a professional, collaborative and mutually beneficial manner
>Agents know what editors want better than writers do, I think, so agents should have some hand in being sure the manuscript is as good as possible.
That being said, I have a friend who recently made changes for the agent, only to undo many of them for the editor.
I think agents who are good at editing should make that part of their work, and those who aren't, shouldn't. Writers who want more collaboration will be drawn to the former.
>I'd like an agent who likes to edit. Somehow that gives me extra confidence in him/her; maybe because it shows their willingness to be intimately familiar with the books they will try to sell. As to the "should they edit" question, I'd say only if they feel qualified and the desire to do so.
Happy St. Valentine's and Mardi Gras!
>I don't think that agents should edit anything unless there is something glaring and obvious. For me, agents do two things: Sell the manuscript to the publisher, and manage the contract. If an agent feels the need to edit my manuscript, then I expect a rejection. If an agent thinks I have potential and wants to work with me, then a note saying something to that effect is what I expect, not an offer to edit my work. It is up to me to edit my work prior to the agent accepting the manuscript.
>I'm one of those writers who falls in love with her own novels (after about the fifth rewrite), and you know what they say about love being blind. I need and welcome the editing of unbiased eyes. My choice has always been the agent who edits.
>I'm on the fence, because I agree with Mike on the point if I need that much editing reject me. By the time my ms gets to an agent it should have gone through the ringer. Even if I'm signed with the agent the ms should have gone through the ringer. Twice. Or more if the book needs it. I shudder at the thought of going 7 rounds of edits with an agent and only goodness knows how many with my editor. Then the copyeditor. Then a final reader…shoot me now.
But even a keen eye can miss something and I would appreciate my agent to say something. I want the best book possible out there. So I'd probably have an editing agent to be on the safe side and just have a gallon of lighter fluid ready to burn it for when I absolutely hate the book and wish I'd never thought of writing it.
>I definitely want an agent with editorial experience. I know agents are more knowledgeable about what will sell than I am at this point.
>It may not be the perfect metaphor, but I've always thought of a publishing agent as similar to a real estate agent.
I might compare this question to an realtor who also does remodeling, who takes on some houses as a fairly easy and straightforward sale, some houses as a listing that will take longer but will still be worthwhile, and some because the realtor has an eye for houses with great potential.
I'd expect any real estate agent to tell a homeowner what's hurting their ability to sell and make recommendations. If the agent does remodeling, and wants to lend a hand, why stop them? It would obviously not be ethical to take on a house, charge the owner to do a remodel, and then not see to it that the house sells. On the other hand, if a real estate agent has put in the hours to make a house saleable, it seems to me quite reasonable for their commission to increase.
So I think that those publishing agents who make general suggestions are just doing part of their job. If they take the time to do substantial editing work in a project because they really believe in it and see its potential, then while it's not ethical to charge an up front fee for the editing, I can't see why they their investment in the project doesn't warrant a higher return.
Thanks again for responding.
I appreciate the work you and others like Nathan, Janet Reid and Jessica Faust do to keep us informed.
>I think I'd prefer an agent who edits. If they think my work could be improved, it makes sense to me that they tell me that and have me fix it, instead of sending what they consider an inferior manuscript out to be rejected.
I think it makes sense for agents to edit, because it can increase the chances of being able to sell the book, which is the goal.
>I would prefer an agent that edits. Feedback is amazing. If it comes from your agent first, you as an author have a chance of improving your work for a better deal.
>As someone who had an agent, and am about to part ways with him, I used to be of the mind that I would prefer the agent to simply sell the book, and then do my edits upon the request of the editor/house that took it on. But after editors mentioned some issues with "flow" (my manu is written in two voices), I asked my agent (several times) for suggestions. It wasn't until I had been blown off a few times with comments like, "It's great, it's fine, you're a great writer, we'll get the next one!", that I really called him on it, and his answer became "I'm not an editorial agent". It's not that I think every agent should edit their clients' work, it's more that what I have personally discovered I need in an agent is the ability to see what editors will have problems with, especially if that issue could be a dealbreaker. This agent had "been in and around publishing" for more than 20 years, so I felt as if he should at least be able to respond to editor feedback in a constructive way, with a few suggestions, rather than opting to continue on and try to pitch that same manu to the next editor, as well as to be aware of the editors that might be most open to my particular genre/subject matter/style.
Long story short (and, of course, this is just for me personally), I used to think I did not want/need an agent to edit my work, and after experiencing 9 months of having one who did not (and following the blogs/tweets, etc of agents who DO edit), I realized that FOR ME, this is a show of ultimate interest and care in a client's work.
Keep in mind this is not to say that I view "editorial agents" as more caring than the agents who simply sell your book. I think that my experience had to do with the fact that my agent was extremely non-communicative on everything (once he signed myself and my partner in the book to a contract), and choosing not to/not being able to edit my work (once I finally outright requested it) was just a small part of the realization that we were not a strong match.
To be honest, it's agony starting the search all over again for an agent (esp. considering the fact that my manu's subject matter is a little taboo, and I originally queried many agents who responded that they were into the writing, liked my fresh take on things, yet didn't want to touch the topic at hand). But I also know that I want to be with an agent who chooses to have a strong relationship with their client, on all fronts – including editing.
Just one more writer's take on the topic!
>Although I would not expect an agent to edit because of the amount of time it takes, I prefer one who does. You do, and I'm a recent beneficiary of your knowledge and expertise. Even though I sent the best work I was capable of producing after years spent writing and studying craft, I'm an as-yet-unpublished writer. I don't know it all. As much I liked thinking my story was a gem ready to be snatched up, it isn't–yet. However, you saw something in the story I didn't and are guiding me through the process of making it the best it can be.
I know there are agents who don't choose to edit, and I'm sure that works for many writers. Those agents who are skilled editors and offer that service are giving their clients an incredible gift. You have a wealth of experience, having edited for Mary DeMuth, Lisa Samson, and Brandilyn Collins, to name but a few. You know your stuff. Because of your editorial input, my story will be far stronger when it goes out to publishing houses.
I don't think an agent should be expected to edit. The fact that you do is a bonus. If I were to ignore your input, I'd be setting myself up for rejections. So, thank you for being an agent who goes above and beyond for her clients.
>To me, the question is like "Would you rather just purchase something, or have a free gift with a purchase?" Um, I would take the free gift in two shakes of a lamb's tail.
>Sarah @ 10:05am:
You're right, as a matter of fact, I just did an edit for a client of mine who is contracted. We both wanted to make sure she delivered the cleanest copy possible to her editor. So yes, sometimes it happens that way.
Basically, I do what my clients need. If they don't need editing, I don't offer it. If they do, I offer.
>Anon 8:31 and 10:06am:
Thanks for the clarification, and I do respect your opinion, of course. It's important that writers know what their expectations are, going into an agent/client relationship, and clearly you know what you want. That's a good thing.
However (and please know I'm saying this with a BIG grin), if you're an attorney, I highly doubt you will leave your lawyering skills at the door when you begin work with an agent! I have a couple clients who are lawyers and naturally they scrutinize the contract much more closely than other clients, and they question me on every tiny detail. So, perhaps it's a bit artificial to expect people to keep their various roles and skills totally separate. 🙂
But like I said, I DO respect your opinion and your choice. I know lots of agents who don't generally offer editorial input, so there will be plenty of choices out there for you.
>With all due respect, what difference would it make if I am anonymous or Mike Evans? Nobody knows me regardless. The point is the point (and it is only opinion and should be taken as such, obviously.)
So if knowing my name is Mike Evans from Hartford CT makes my point more valid (or less), there it is.
>ANON: I hear what you're saying. Your point is valid. But why stay anonymous if you aren't taking a jab?
It seems like your voice might be heard better in forums like these (and perhaps by agents?) if you're willing to own responsibility / consequences for your opinions.
But that's just my opinion.
As an addend to my previous post, I also suspect writers who aren't willing to at least consider suggestions for improvements from agents are less likely to sell their stuff
Of course voice and vision have to be maintained. But I am a big girl. If my agent made a suggestion that I felt compromised the voice or important themes, I would simply decline and look for a way we could achieve the editing goal without doing that.
This has to be a process. Writers who aren't willing to let someone else have a say are going to find the business a lot harder, I think.
>I personally feel that an agent is in a better position than me, the writer, to know what is saleable and what isn't. (Hence, that's why I want to work with an agent!!!)
If that entails I get a round or two of edits from my agent once I snag one, so be it. However, I'll be perfectly accepting if my agent doesn't choose to do that, and leaves it in the hands of the publisher.
I also think that it's in an agent's best interest to have the work as perfect as possible before attempting to sell a project–it can save time in the long run (from where I sit) and make it more likely for a project to get picked up. So, while I'll be willing to sign with an agent who usually doesn't offer editorial services, if we've gone a round or two and aren't getting anywhere, I'd honestly expect them to step up and help me edit my project into a better story.
Just my two cents.
>If an agent is an excellent editor, and she is generous enough to use those skills to help her clients, that's a major bonus.
I imagine there may be agents who think they are qualified to edit, but do not possess the necessary judgment. That would be bad.
in your case, however, I wanted you as my agent in part because you had worked as a highly-respected freelance editor, trusted with the work of some of the best writers in the industry.
When I received a few line edits from you on one of my chapters, I was DELIGHTED to discover that you were every bit as good as I had hoped.
I pay a lot of attention to style, and there are (thus far) only two or three people I trust to give me good line edits. I'm immensely blessed that one of them happens to be my agent.
>I love agents who edit. I'm always open for suggestion. It doesn't really need to be a line by line, because hopefully, by the time someone gets an agent, that part of the craft is well-honed.
But when it comes to content, like, helping deepen a character or something that might make the plot just a hair stronger….. I LOVE agents who do suggestions like that.
My agent does that for me and I love it. Each time we chat my story ends up being that much stronger.
As for "should" they? I think that's up to the agent and if a writer doesn't want one who edits, don't query them. 🙂
Have a great weekend, everyone.
>The right agent/editor will only make suggestions that are in keeping with the writer's work. If too much rewriting is necessary, the writer might not be ready for an agent. Editing is its own skill, I think. The key is my point #1. I am able to edit, but my eyes get tired. I have a critique partner whom I completely trust to make suggestions based on my style. I would hope that I would have the same relationship of trust with my agent. If not, what would be the point?
>Who wouldn't want an agent who edits? It's exhausting scrutinizing your manuscript for mistakes, or places that could be improved. After I've done all I know how to do–to have someone complete that process for me would be such a luxury.
>I read Janet Reid's post on this same subject. I didn't realize that some agents prefer not to edit until I read her comments. This is good, need-to-know information.
I read today's blog at Carina Press on top reasons for 'manuscript rejection'. You can check out the list here http://carinapress.com/2010/02/reasons-for-rejection/
While these are the kind of issues you could work on with the input of an outside/freelance editor, I would hope your agent would also help address such problems prior to submission to aquisitions editors. As you pointed out, the goal is to present the best possible manuscript (the one most likely to sell).
As for myself, yes – I would prefer an agent who reads my work with a strong editorial eye.
And yes, I also think agents should be willing to help edit – to a degree (once they represent you). A writer shouldn't use that as a crutch. Turn in your best work, get outside input even if you have to pay for it (freelance editors), and then be open to additional suggestions from your agent.
>Absolutely! I'm sure once I've written and sold a dozen books *cough cough* I'll be able to submit something that an agent is fairly happy with…but in these novice forays I'm putting together the best work I can (with the help of experienced authors) and expecting my agent to suggest improvements. After all, they know better than me what a Publisher wants.
I suspect agents who don't edit don't sell as many books. Pure and simple.
>I personally would like to have an agent that edits. An agent with an editor's eye can only help the author. When I am submitting my manuscript to an agent, of course I think that it is well prepared, but a fresh pair of eyes always helps to make sure it is the best that it can be.
>It never hurts to have an extra pair of eyes to make an author's work extraordinary!
>I'd prefer an agent with editing experience as I think that type of background would be helpful for determining if my book needs work. I would hope she/he would point out were the problems were, but I wouldn't expect the agent to do the rewrites or major editing.
Thanks for responding to my above comments. (@8:31)
To answer you, of course I have another job. But that misses the point entirely. My job as a lawyer doesn't affect my job as a writer anymore than your hobby as a stamp collector (if you have one 🙂 ) affects your job as an agent.
The point of the question was to ask my opinion. So your accusation that I got my *facts* wrong is kind of off base, no? Of course I know some agents are also writers (you and N Bransford for example) I also know that a great many agents used to be or still are editors. Again, not really the point.
As a writer, when i approach an agent I am asking for the services of an agent. Not an editor, not a writer. If I think I need an editor, I can hire one. So, in the context of what I look for in an agent – which was your question – I want an agent – not an editor or a writer.
I have no beef with agents who edit or write. I don't want an editor-agent working for me unless I really clicked with them and we shared a very tight vision of my work. I expect to be rewriting for an editor at a house, not an agent who has yet to secure offers yet. Again, if the agent feels significant editing is required to make my work ready for an editor's desk, I fully expect that agent to reject me.
In short, I agree wholeheartedly that we all wear different hats. I simply expect to work with an agent who leaves his/her editor hat out of it as much as I leave my lawyer hat out of it. just my *opinion* of course. But, again, that's how I understood the question.
>But let's be clear: the only reason an agent edits is to increase the chances of selling.
Not always. I sold my latest novel on proposal and my agent edited the manuscript before forwarding the final version to my editor. Even though the book had sold already, we wanted to send the best possible version we could.
My agent is a former editor and I value her editorial suggestions very, very highly and am grateful for the time she takes to be sure my books are as good as they can be before my editor sees them.
>Should agents edit? Depends on their background. You're a really good editor, Rachelle. So, in your case I would say yes. In the end, whatever contributes to the success of the book and the author I'm in favor of. Having said that, IMO it limits the number of projects the agent is able to take on and still provide good representation to all their clients.
>Personally, I would love an agent who edits. Whatever it takes to make the book ready for the public, is part of an agents responsibility, in my opinion. (Catching spelling, grammar, punctuation errors.) As long as it doesn't make my story unrecognizable.
I would need to be able to choose whether or not to make those changes. Also, I think it depends on how far along you have come as a writer. If it's a debut novel and you have little experience, you should listen to an editing agent. Obviously, if you have a number of 'best sellers', you can afford to have all the creative input you would like .
>I knew I wanted an editorial agent going in, so working with someone who describes herself this way is a pleasure.
The manuscript I signed with had just minor things to change. Since then, I've sent my agent a handful of other pieces. Her input has been invaluable. She's given me suggestions but reminded me to follow my heart. I'll fire off an email with ideas, and she responds with what she thinks might work and what I need to consider.
I know she loves my work and wants the best for it. Hooray for editorial agents!
>I don't know that all agents should edit, but I do know the one I'm associated with should have some major input into my novel. Right now my MS is undergoing editorial surgery, but even with that I would like some guidance and input if need be.
Have a great weekend and Happy Valentines!
>I think an agent should do edits–if they feel competent enough to do so. An agent is, after all, a partner in my success, and I would hope that they would care enough about my writing and my career to notice my strengths and weaknesses, and tell me how to play up the former, and bolster the latter.
>Great question – and one I've been asking myself for months.
In reverse order – yes, agents who are gifted in editing should edit. Those who aren't, shouldn't. (Gifted assumes "enjoys" as well). The key is for an author to understand what they need / prefer, and how their potential agent rolls. This should reduce unhappy surprises and resentments. (Expectations are pre-conceived resentments!)
Which do I prefer? I'm struggling with that. Having been working at this for several years, I'm hearing that my work is saleable. I'd love to get to the point where I'm working w/ an editor to make the book(s) better. But my concern is that I won't get from A to C if a non-editing agent (B) sees that it's not quite there yet and passes on the MS. Yes, I could hire a freelance editor, but that is currently out of my budget. I think that, at least initially, I would benefit from an editing agent. Hopefully over time my MS's will need less and less editing, and both my agent and I will reap the rewards of the early collaboration.
>I'm very much interested in an editorial agent. I want my manuscripts to be the best they can be and, providing it's a good match, an editorial agent will bring me that much closer.
Should agents edit? Yes and no. Like you said, does it need editing in order to sell?
I guess I don't think it should be so black and white. If a manuscript comes in pretty much perfect, why touch it? On the other hand, I think it would be a real shame to pass up a manuscript you really love because it needs work and you're not "editorial."
>Wow! That's a lot of comments.
1) I would prefer an agent who did offer revision advice. The point of having an agent is that you trust them to know what works and what sells. Avoiding an agent because they offer advice doesn't make sense to me. Either you trust your agent to know this business better than you do, or you don't.
1a) On the other hand, I wouldn't EXPECT an agent to have revision advice. I imagine it's not the sort of thing all agents feel comfortable with. I wouldn't turn away an agent because they didn't offer the advice, nor would I consider them less able to do their job. I'd consider it an awesome perk, though, to have an agent able to offer sound revision advice.
Agents aren't Editors, though, and it would be poor form indeed to query with an incomplete manuscript and expect your agent to help you clean it up.
2) As a philosophical question, I reworded to "is it (morally-ish) wrong for an agent to edit" (which may not have been your intent). I think the background for asking this question would come from the fact that agents are hired to sell books. Editing isn't a primary function in that, so it might seem like overstepping professional bounds.
On the other hand, I doubt any agent could be successful at selling books without being able to evaluate voice, style, concept, plot (and a million other things) with an objective view combined with a knowledge of what is selling, what has sold, and what will probably never sell.
Even though "editing" may not be in the job description, I'd take any editing/revision advice from a successful agent VERY seriously.
>I haven't got an agent yet, but I would hope for one who was willing/able to make sure I'm sending out the best manuscript possible. I plan to make sure my manuscript is the best I can make it, but I'll be glad for any suggestions that will really make it zing in submissions.
I don't think that all agents should do edits. Just like everyone else, they should play to their strengths. Just like there are authors who don't want an agent to edit their work, there should be agents who don't want to edit. Every one needs to find a good fit.
>I have a critique partner that I met through Writers Digest Onlineworkshops. I have taken more than one class with her and we exchanged emails. It seems every time I share with her advice I get from an Agent I met through ACFW she tells me the agent she is working with tells her the exact opposite.
When I get an agent I want the agent to be a career builder. So that would require at least subjective editing.
Unless the manuscript was already perfect. Now wouldn't that be great!
>I would love an agent who will work with me, not just on my first project, but on any future projects, to make it as perfect as possible before we put it out on sub. Even though I've got crit partners and am going to make it the best MS I can before I query, agents still know a lot more about what editors and publishers want than I do. So if they see problems, I want them to speak up. And I would love an agent that I can bounce ideas off of for future projects, kind of, "Do you think this will work?". So I'm definitely looking for a more editorial agent, but also one that I can actually have a dialogue with about my ideas, and will listen to me if I tell them I'm not sure their suggestion will work. (I would do the same to them, of course.) I always think the more input, the better.
>I always thought I would like to have and "editing agent,"and my gut feeling is that I still do. But I just had a conversation with a published author who cut ties with an agent because after a round a edits on an unsold ms, the author thought the agent's suggestions really made the ms weaker. I've never read the work of course, but it made me a little more hesitant to desire an editing agent. At least I will enter with caution.
This is one of those writing advice paradoxes. You have to listen to other people, (particularly industry professionals,) but you can't let anyone tell you how to write your story. It has to come from you. Sometimes I think writers let someone else take over their work a little too much, (in the name of being easy to work with, or trying to please everyone,) and consequently the story ceases to be their own.
So to answer your question, I think it's perfectly right that agents offer editorial advice, but in the end it needs to be the author's work, their voice, their choices. Point out the problems, but the solutions have to come from them. I guess if I ever get an editorial-minded agent I'll just hope that I'll listen to my gut and know when the edits are right for me or when to stand my ground. I want to be easy to work with, willing to learn and grow, but I also don't want to be a push-over and let my creative vision get away from me.
>My thoughts are simple. Good agents read a LOT, and also know what they can sell. If an agent saw sales hindrances in my ms, I would be a fool not to listen.
Also, the idea that an agent is taking the time to vet my work tells me he or she is committed to selling it. And that is the whole point of the deal.
>Anon 8:31 am:
I'm not going to argue with your opinion because I wanted to hear people's honest thoughts. However, I will say that some of your facts are wrong.
You wrote: "Agents are not writers anymore than writers are agents." Untrue. Many agents are published authors.
Yes, there are three distinct skill sets: writing, editing, and agenting. Some people have one of those, some have two, and some have all three.
It's an inaccurate assumption for you to say that each of us can only do one thing. In my career I've been paid good money for doing each of those things, and I believe I do them well.
I wonder how the argument of only being able to do one thing would hold up with all the writers who read this blog and are also schoolteachers, lawyers, doctors, plumbers, homeschooling moms… whatever. Would you tell them they can only do one thing?
And what about you? Do you do anything besides write? I assume you have another job as well, and I'd also assume you have many talents and skills besides writing.
Just something to think about.
>I don't feel there is a 'one size fits all' answer to these questions.
1. My ideal is for my agent to help me edit and shape my proposals and sample chapters to make the product as saleable and attractive to editors as possible. Anything above and beyond that for editing from my agent would be gravy. 🙂
2. Not all agents are created equal. Some are natural editors, some aren't. Every agent has strengths and weaknesses unique to them, just as ever writer has more skill in one area than another.
The job of the writer is to find an agent that fits what they want and need from the agent/client relationship. If you don't want an agent expressing opinions and at least offering editorial advice, then you're probably not as ready for an agent as you think you are.
>It's an agent's job to know what is selling. Who better to fine tune a book or proposal? As a writer, I appreciate all the help I can get. I would prefer an agent who edits.
>Great question, Rachelle!
I feel very lucky that my agent (Michelle Wolfson) strikes a nice balance between "editing" and "not editing." One of the great things she brings to the table is insider information about publishing and a keen knowledge of what certain editors do and don't like. The fact that she can use this to help me make tweaks to my manuscript before she sends it anywhere is invaluable. She's not overly heavy-handed in her suggestions, and I feel confident that any edit she's suggested has made the manuscript better.
I think a lot of this is about trust. If I DIDN'T have an agent I trusted so thoroughly, I might bristle at the idea of an editing agent. Then again, why would anyone want an agent they didn't trust 110%? 🙂
Love the blog, Rachelle!
>I would prefer an agent who edits, but when I start shopping for an agent in a couple months, I'm looking more at personality and the type of works they rep than whether or not they're going to make sure I'm not abusing the commas too much.
Also, I think an agent's ability to market a book is more important than editing. I'm good enough with grammar that the amount of mistakes I make are limited, but I could definitely use a lot of help in the marketing area. Other writers might be the other way around, and want someone who can tighten up their loose grammar while they take care of their own marketing and publicity.
That said, I think if an agent feels comfortable editing and/or has some experience in it, they should edit. After all, you want to put the best version of the book possible out there when submitting to editors.
>I wouldn't mind if my agent (when I am blessed enough to get one) edited my ms. I don't think it's something that would make or break my decision of whether or not to sign with them.
>In a word – no.
With all due respect, that is not an agent's job. Why would I rewrite for someone who is not paying for the book? It is MY responsibility to write a publishable book. IF I can't, I should be rejected. Period.
Agents are not writers anymore than writers are agents. I write – you agent. If an editor at a pub house asks me to rewrite – fine. He/she is paying.
Now before everyone gets all down on me for my comments, let me say this : if an agent says 'hey I think the transition from chapter 4 to chapter 5 is a little jarring maybe you should take a look at that' I'm ok with that as long as said agent is ok with 'I'm not changing that.'
If my refusal to edit for the non-paying agent is going to hurt their desire to send out my work and negotiate on my behalf, I need that agent to say that upfront so that I can find a different agent.
I appreciate the fact that agents have a level of expertise in the field that i do not – but writing books isn't one of them. If J K Rowling's agent knew more about writing than she did, that agent would be the bazillionaire.
None of this is meant as a shot against agents – thank God for them. If not for agents authors would be getting snowed in every deal they made, markets would go untested and contacts would be limited to the 2 guys you met at the latest conference.
IMO agents are so busy because they have taken it upon themselves to be editors and career planners and they needn't be. Writers need to wake up. IF you want to make a living as a writer, treat it like a business. That means doing your own editing. Make it perfect. Agents shouldn't have to edit your book to make it saleable. That's MY job as a writer. If I can't, I expect the rejection in the (e)mail.
>I would prefer an agent to accept my work with the caveat that it needs revision than flat-out refuse me. In my mind, I have a better chance with someone like you or Nathan Bransford, who will work with me rather than just say 'no', but I'm going to query everyone I can, because I don't feel agents like Janet Reid would accept me as a client to begin with if she didn't think my work could go on submission pretty close to as is. So, I guess I trust the system to find the agent that fits best.
If I were an agent, I think I would be willing to edit because I could help clients get their work into the absolute best shape before submission, giving me a greater possibility of sales, and thus earnings – then again, the agents who don't edit are probably able to spend the time another agent would be editing looking through more queries to find near-perfect submissions off the bat.
A look through my bookshelf:
The Tabby Catt – Shelf by Shelf#2
>I love feedback and would make extensive revisions if that's what it took to sell the novel.
My ex-agent said at one point, "Of course, I didn't read your whole novel."
Right. I'd been offered representation by someone who had praised my work over the phone without reading the whole thing. No wonder the agent wasn't able to sell it: how can you advocate for something you don't even know?
Never again. If I ever get another offer, I'm going to ask an editorial question about an obscure scene two-thirds of the way through the work. Editorial suggestions would mean the agent had read, digested, and probably re-read the work before agreeing to sell it.
>I'd LOVE an editing agent, if they were talented and had the same vision for my work. Absolutely – it would be a great gift and blessing.
But I'm ambivalent – my fear is around the control element – I've heard scary stories. I guess what would scare me the most is I wouldn't say 'no.' I'm worried I would make revisions to please them even if they didn't 'get' my work. And once you change a work, it's so hard to get back to the original voice.
So, I guess my answer is a provisional, yet enthusiastic, yes – I'd love an editing agent – as long as it was in the nature of suggestions and collaboration. At base, it still needs to be my vision, and I need to have ultimate control over my work.
>I can't say that I have an opinion on either question. The agent is the professional, and more experienced than me. If they edit or not, so be it.
I don't know what type of agent I would be more comfortable with. From where I'm at right now, any professional agent would be a godsend.
>1. Agents only offer editorial suggestions before the project is submitted to publishers. Once the project is sold, the agent steps back because editing is now the editor's responsibility.
Actually, there are agents who offer editorial advice for books under contract on either a beta draft (before the editor ever sees it) or on the submitted draft (so the client gets notes from both the agent and the editor).
>I would hope that both the agent and author would want to do whatever it took to sell the work. At that point, it's a partnership.
Plus, the author is expecting the agent to put his name out there as a representative of the work. My thought is that he/she should have some input at the pre-sale stage especially about content, characterization, etc.
I don't think line edits are my agent's responsibility, but I sure hope he'd call out a typo if he found one. 😉
>Oh, SO editorial. I could easily have written a very good book, but one that doesn't–for some reason–have what the market needs today. Or one that's so close, with evidence that I can write & revise, but one set of fresh eyes could say just what it needs to be "there." So, yes, I'd want an editorial agent. And–philosophically–yes. Please. 🙂
>Feedback is good, but control is not. Expectations related to editing/content suggestions should be discussed by the author and agent in advance.
>I think it should be up to the agent to decide what services she wants to offer, and the writer to decide what she wants in an agent.
When I query, I'll be looking specifically for an agent who enjoys editing and revising like me. If there's one more round of improving my book, of course I'll take it!
>I do not understand why any writer would not want help with their manuscripts.
I don't think they are living in the real world of publishing.
>1. I prefer agents who would edit.
2. I think agents should edit. They usually have the skills anyway, it seems like it should be a part of the package.
I can understand why some authors may prefer things the other way, but I think an agent's help in editing would be invaluable.
>Here’s where I stand on this…I want to work as a team with my agent. When I start querying I want to look for agents who are engaged in my manuscript—excited about it. If an agent has insight on how I can improve the manuscript before submitting it to publishers I’m all ears. Before I query I’ll polish my MS and trust my critique partners—I’ll edit it to the best of my ability. When it’s in the hands of my agent I want to demonstrate my trust by following their advisement. If editing is their gift I’ll appreciate their wisdom that much more.
I think the key is expectation. I don’t expect an agent to “fix” my work, but if he/she has thoughts on how to improve it and I’ve researched them and trust them, why wouldn’t I take heed? I want to grow old and still have a teachable spirit.
>I don't think there is a black or white answer on this one. When an agent represents an author, they are engaging in a partnership. Each situation should be different.
>I like an agent that is willing to help out and edit when needed. The agent and author are a team. They both want the novel to get sold and they should work together helping one another. Just like the author needs to get out their and network to help sales so the agent should be willing to polish when need be.
I say all for any help we can get 🙂
>I think it's definitely the agent's choice. I just feel bad for an agent who spends a considerable amount of time editing and doesn't get paid for it. I mean, ultimately the goal is 15% of an advance/royalties, but man, that can be far off in the distance.
I love the fact that you have an amazing Editing Eye. Every suggestion you've made to me has been spot on.
Looking forward to Round 2!
>I think I'd prefer an agent who edits to certain degree. I mean, I'd love the boost of confidence if they sold my novel as-is…but I'd love knowing that, if my second or third novel needed a tad bit of help somewhere, they'd be there for me. (Although what happens if the editing agent and the publisher's editor disagree?) Anyway…
I won't say that an agent should edit, though. Like you said, different agents do different things, and that's good, because some authors want editing agents and others don't. It takes all kinds to make the publishing world turn!
>Should agents edit? Depends on what they feel comfortable doing. I definitely prefer an agent who offers editorial input. Fortunately, that's what I have–and thank you!
If the agent's thoughts about the book clash significantly with my own, I'd trust an experienced agent over my tendency to fall in love with my words and ideas.
>Oh, I didn't answer the first question…what kind of agent would I prefer? The editing kind. I would feel REALLY apprehensive if an agent submitting my manuscript without at least one round of edits.
>I would imagine that the field of agenting is like anything else, there are certain core qualifications you must have, but otherwise you should work toward your strengths.
For example, the way Vince Young played QB in college looked nothing like the way Payton Manning played at Tennessee. But they were both stellar QBs.
So I guess the question is whether or not editing one of those core skills an agent must possess.
The answer is yes and no. I think an agent should be able to offer some advice on improving a manuscript, but what kind and how much depends on the agent's experience and interests.
>1. Myself a compulsive editor, I strongly believe that a book can't be perfect enough. 🙂 Besides, an agent knows so much more about "publishable" books so his or her suggestions can only improve the original draft. And thirdly, I do so love learning more about writing from professional editors. So yes, I consider my submissions nothing more than a "working draft" and am always open to all kinds of editing, from grammar to the actual story.
2. I think, if agents feel that a submission has definite potential but stillrequires some work, then yes, they should definitely edit.
>I'd would like an editing agent because of the level of insight the agent brings to the table. Although authors should submit polished work, I believe there are things that make a novel more able to sell, and not everyone has the money for a top-notch freelance editor or manuscript consultant. I also think that agents are the one who know what sells, and if they see potential and know what the fixes should be, an author would be foolish not to listen.
I don't think there is a wrong way to agent – but you're right – an author has to know what would work for them.
I also like (ok,like is a strong word) rejections from those editing type of agents because they seem to be the ones who offer feedback, even if it's just a line or two of exactly what didn't work for them or what they wish had been different.
Obviously that's not a given in the realm of rejections, but to me it's a hint of how helpful an agent could be in the last stages before submitting to editors.
>I'd prefer an agent who edits or at the very least, offers suggestions about my books, but would I turn down one that didn't? Probably not… Especially if it was a very reputable agent.
But really, I view the agent/author relationship as a partnership to sell the book. If my agent sees things that would help it sell better, then I am completely all about perking up my ears and learning more. We're constantly in a state of gaining knowledge, and it's gravy on top (or… whipped cream and a little caramel topping) to get this great advice from an agent.
SHOULD agents edit? Yes and No. I know some authors who would hate this. Their agents job is to sell, sell, sell, not edit.
But then others, like myself, would love to have the input and deeper agent relationship. I think there is room in the industry for both types of agents, as long as there are both types of writers (and.. visa versa!) 🙂
>This is an interesting question for me. From recent experience, I can tell you that getting a heavy revision letter from my agent was … frankly, a little irritating at first. 🙂 That said, it came to me with a very valid point: The agent's years of experience were something important to factor into the way I weighed her suggestions since the edits were geared toward getting the book SOLD. Once that happened, the final draft was my responsibility.
So I made the changes with that in mind. I guess we'll see how that decision holds up, but I thought it was a great perspective that I hadn't really thought about before. Selling the book is a collaborative effort with an agent. Writing it makes me the lone wolf.
Until the publisher's editing process, of course. 🙂
>Coming from a software engineering background, I think anyone who sees a problem has the responsibility to report it, but there is always that problem of too many cooks spoiling the broth. If an agent is going to edit, the agent should understand the work and what the author is trying to do or not edit at all. Ultimately, it should be the author who has the final say. The author understands the work like none other.
>I think the agent's skill set and talents are different from an editor's skill set and talents. I don't have an agent, but I think I'd be fine with an agent who does not edit… provided we had a good editor to work with!
>I agree that we need to use freelance editors first. But that would be no excuse to reject an agents advice. Providing the writer and the agent click.
I think it is that magical moment both the writer and the agent look for. The "click".
>Wow, that's a tough question, Rachelle. I think it boils down to the potential you see in the manuscript and whether you think you can sell it once the changes are made. Obviously an agent can't take the place of a freelance editor. And as I've blogged, I think writers need to be more open to that option. But if an agent sees a "diamond in the rough" and doesn't want to pass on something they think they can sell after it's edited, then perhaps it would be a wise investment.
>Although I don't have one, I would expect an agent to suggest improvements – no book is perfect and everything can be improved – and I'd kind of expect that any agent who wants to sell a book would want it to be the best it can be before trying to sell it. Put it this way – if I gave a horse to a third party to sell at a sale and told him he'd get 10-15 percent of the price of the sale price I would imagine that even if I'd groomed it before I'd given it to him, he'd give it a final going over before taking it into the sale room.
>I think it's a lovely idea. Just as long as an author never takes advantage of it. AGents have enough on their plates without being expected to be the first reader of a manuscript. I want my manuscripts to be as polished as humanly possible before I send them your way.
>An agent who gives editing advice would be wonderful. The goal is to find someone who gets your work and then helps you chip away the dross.
We've all seen a book slip through from a multi-published author that somehow missed the line edits.
>I hope I never become immune to accepting editing help. What's hard is getting conflicting advice. Knowing who to tune out.
>As an emerging writer, I would appreciate any wisdom from an agent who's been in the business for a lot longer. Maybe established, award winning writers would be less receptive.
>I'd love an editing agent myself. Obviously, my project should be as perfect as I can get it before I send it out, but I would love an agent who would suggest revisions if they were needed because it seems like a great way to find out if you have the same vision for the writer's work.
>1. I was fortunate enough to be able to choose from three offers of representation. The first offer came from an agent with many bestselling clients and 30 yrs experience who wanted to send my ms out as it was, the other two came from agents who are more editorially inclined. I had revision notes from one of the latter agents before I signed and couldn't imagine sending my ms out without making the changes she suggested. Even though she's relatively new to agenting, I went with her because we clicked and because I agreed with her revision notes.
2. Should agents edit? If I'm forced into a yes-no answer, I'd say no, but I think an agent who edits is a bonus, kind of like hitting the jackpot. I want my ms to be as perfect as possible before submission. Betas are great, but having the eyes of an industry professional look over my work, too, is priceless.
>I prefer editors who give you helpful ideas or suggestions–and let you run with it–over editors who try to completely rework a ms. in their own voice, or try to rewrite it to fit their personal preferences.
Light to moderate editing or editorial suggestions are fine, if the writer agrees. But if an agent is that heavy-handed, they should try writing their own books!
>If an agent gives suggestions, why would a writer not appreciate it? Suggestions are not commands or demands. Everyone everywhere should be open to suggestions. If someone isn't; I think they need to reconsider for their own good.
I remember many times throughout my life when someone suggested something to me; which helped me. I still am thankful that they did it.
>I've sold one short story, and I loved that the editor I sold it to said, "I like a lot about this. I just have this one thing bugging me at the beginning." He could've just sent a form rejection, but he helped me make it that much better. And consequently helped me as a writer.
I felt this way before, but even more so after that experience: I would definitely prefer an agent who edits.
Should they edit? I would say if they have the skill and desire, absolutely. But they don't have to.
>Like you, my agent comes from an editorial background, and I am always grateful for her feedback. I want my manuscript to be as strong as it can be before submission.
I also enjoy the feeling of collaborating. I love looking over my stories and being able to think 'that was my writing partner's great idea' and 'that was my agent's suggestion' – it means those who are important to me are there in my stories too 🙂
But it's up to individuals. I always knew I wanted an editing agent. Surely more informed feedback could only ever be a good thing?
>I would hope that my work is as good as I can make it before I send it to an agent but I'd like them to tell me if I have spinich in my teeth before a publisher sees me!