When Agents Edit

red penBefore 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.

But 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.)

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. 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.

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 usually not so deep as a full macro edit (sometimes called developmental or substantive edit), for which editors charge upwards of $1500. 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 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 there’s only so much time in a work week, and I have to use it wisely.

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

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!


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  2. […] the agents you’re querying open to editorial work? (Rachelle Gardner talks about how this simply isn’t possible for most […]

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  5. […] Free editing? Nope. […]

  6. Noordin Noor Aston on July 18, 2013 at 2:32 AM

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    Yours sincerely,


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  9. Miriam Newman on September 28, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    Bless your heart, Rachelle–you sound wonderful. But I never had any expectation of an agent editing for me. I felt that was my job and the job of the editor at any publishing house to which I was lucky enough to sell. The job of the agent was to get us together. I was always pretty clear about that.

  10. Ilaria on September 20, 2011 at 10:58 AM

    Very interesting post! I wonder what people would think of agents who edit for a fee (or editors who agent): would it be too confusing and would people see a conflict of interests?

  11. TNeal on September 10, 2011 at 4:17 PM

    Even editors choose what they’ll edit. I know my wife took on most projects in her early days of editing. A few needed so much work she knew the manuscript would consume too much of her time, so she passed. As her expertise and her experience grew, she narrowed the parameters for those manuscripts she’d accept. I would expect that to hold true for experienced agents as well.

  12. Beth Ann Rowland on September 8, 2011 at 11:05 AM

    Personally, this issue is something that I’ve thought about quite a bit. I’ve done some editing for some college publications and to help friends before they submit something, but I know, mostly from experience, that a writer will often miss things in their own work no matter how many times they go through it. Luckily, I’ve networked enough to have a small handful of people, both English professionals and other writers, who are eagerly awaiting the day when I finish my manuscript and send them a copy for editing.

    By the time all is said and done, before I submit to an agent, I’ll have had at least three pairs of eyes, besides my own, look over everything.

    It is not the agent’s responsibility to edit an author’s manuscript. I’d much rather have the agent spend their time and energy on getting my manuscript sold.

  13. Naomi Rawlings on September 8, 2011 at 10:00 AM

    I’m wondering if you essentially do macro edits on manuscripts for those who are already your clients. Or do agents let editors deal with that once there is a contract for a certain number of books?

  14. Caroline Starr Rose on September 8, 2011 at 1:05 AM

    My agent has worked with me on some manuscripts a half a dozen times and on others just once. It’s one of the wonderful things about her: she believes in my work and wants it in the best shape before it’s sent out into the world.

  15. June on September 7, 2011 at 11:11 PM

    All I can say is, there’s only a certain number of hours in a day. As long as we’re trapped within the parameters of time, a lot of things we like will go by the way side and fade into oblivion…

  16. Ishta Mercurio on September 7, 2011 at 11:02 PM

    Good question, given the context of this post. I’ve always said that I’m looking for an “editorial agent,” because I want my agent to help me make sure that my book is the best it can be before it goes out on sub. I want an agent who won’t shy away from saying, “Hang on, you’ve got to fix this here.”

    However, I don’t expect any agent to take me on based on a crummy draft. I expect to query with the best work I have, the best work I can possibly do at this time. I realize, though, that the best I can do now is partly about how well I can write and revise, and partly about the quality of critique I’m getting. And an agent is probably going to see things that my crit partners and I don’t, because an agent sees more and reads more and has a palate that is that much more refined. In other words, I expect to give an agent the very best I can give, and I also expect that agent to still be able to find something to fix.

  17. Amber Argyle on September 7, 2011 at 11:01 PM

    In any job, you start to work faster and more efficiently. I found it in my writing. I takes me much less time to have a MS ready for publication than it used to.

  18. Douglas L.Thompson on September 7, 2011 at 9:06 PM

    Agents with an editor’s eye are probably better agents, but as you suggest here they occupy another role in the publication journey. Brief helpful direction and encouragement is usually sufficient and always welcomed by the aspiring writers I know.

  19. Marleen Gagnon on September 7, 2011 at 8:57 PM

    I don’t expect an agent to have to edit my novel, however I am sure I am not perfect and would be open to their suggestions to make the book better.

  20. Sue Harrison on September 7, 2011 at 8:55 PM

    I’m a realist. My work needs an agent who gives me input, not line by line, but as far as, “This part stinks.” or “I lost interest in the middle where…”

    Thank you, Rachelle!

  21. Kristin Laughtin on September 7, 2011 at 8:46 PM

    I’ll naively hope my novels won’t need too much editing by the time I get to the agent stage, but otherwise I would hope the agent could at least identify any big elements that weren’t working (i.e. “this character’s backstory isn’t compelling enough” vs. “there’s something that’s just off…”). I want advice that will help my book to sell, without being micromanaged.

  22. Lisa Marie on September 7, 2011 at 8:28 PM

    Well, here’s my story. I didn’t think that I wanted an editorial agent, and yet I found that this type of agent was the perfect fit for me. She’s very clear about the substantive changes that she wants to see without micro-managing the project. She thinks in terms of what sells in this genre. Like the Nike commercial slogan, I “just do it.”

    I dearly hope to be one of those clients who doesn’t need that much hand-holding on future projects, and I feel that handing in a detailed book proposal will help eliminate the need for time-consuming editorial work in the future. Had I had that guidance to begin with, the m.s. I’m working on would not need as much revision as I’ve put into it. I have put in a serious amount of effort, but it’s really taught me a lot. 🙂

  23. Melissa Pearl on September 7, 2011 at 7:49 PM

    This is an excellent post and a good reminder to authors of what to expect. From all the blogs I’ve read, I know that agents are EXTREMELY busy.
    In saying this, I’d love an agent to see my potential and want to work with me. I often get to a point in my manuscripts where I feel like there is no more that I can do. Unfortunately being a mom at home, I simply can’t afford to get my work professionally edited.
    Maybe that will change as my boys get older. In the meantime I’ll keep writing my best and using my writing group and friends as editors. Hopefully one day an agent will snaffle me up 🙂

  24. Linda Banche on September 7, 2011 at 7:11 PM

    There’s editing, and there’s rewriting the entire book. I’ve heard of agents telling authors to rewrite the book, the authors rewrote, and the book didn’t sell. Some cosmetic work is OK, but every author has to decide how much is enough.

  25. Heather Marsten on September 7, 2011 at 6:33 PM

    I really appreciate learning more about the role of an agent. I think your earlier clients and the one or two are lucky to have you. But I can see that if you are spending hours editing, that isn’t helping you sell books or gain commissions, for that adds so much to the hours you put out for your authors. That being said, if you were an agent in my genre, I’d vie to be one of the one or two. Have a blessed day.

  26. Bess on September 7, 2011 at 5:44 PM

    I’d be seriously flattered if an agent was willing to edit me. I’d also be humbled by the fact that it was necessary, because the agent shouldn’t need to. It’s my job to turn in a polished, edited manuscript and dynamite story. Kudos to you for mentoring like this!

  27. Diana Harkness on September 7, 2011 at 4:34 PM

    I recently read two published books, Eric Wilson’s One Step Away and John Doe’s Indelible. Both suffered from editing errors from missing words, wrong word usage, homonym confusion, and hyphenation problems among others. They needed a good editor which they must have failed to procure at either the agent or publisher stage. These errors severely diminished the flow of the novels. I edit my own work, but my eyes miss some of these obvious errors. I need my publisher or agent to help out with editing so my novel won’t suffer as those other novels did.

  28. Joelle Wilson on September 7, 2011 at 4:26 PM

    I feel it’s part of my job as a writer to make sure my work is edited before submitting to an agent. I’m bookmarking this post for my writing group. This question has come up and now I can direct them to a great answer.

  29. Martha Ramirez on September 7, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    Interesting post! I would love to have an agent who gives feedback and offers a bit of editing advice.
    I know it’s impossible for agents to give a full macro edit so I’m completely content with receiving general feedback:)

    I think just as love working with great cps, I would love to work with an agent who offers their feedback as well. Esp when I’m brainstorming for a new project. I would love to hear from her/him.

  30. Michelle DeRusha on September 7, 2011 at 4:08 PM

    I never considered that an agent would edit — I assumed that was largely my job, and the editor’s, should my book ever get to a publishing house. That said, it’s a bonus that you come from an editing background. I’m thankful for the polishing you did on my proposal and the savvy advice you offered me to get the proposal in tip-top shape!

  31. Loree Huebner on September 7, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    Thanks for posting this.

    I agree with Heather S – I too would hope that the agent would give me a chance to correct or edit if he/she saw potential in the project.

  32. Flower Patch Farmgirl on September 7, 2011 at 2:46 PM

    Fascinating peek behind the curtain! It’s to intriguing to think of how great books are born. My favorite book of the past year – the one I had to go out and buy after reading it, just to know that it was under the roof with me – included a note in the acknowledgements section that there had been three full re-writes. I couldn’t imagine! The writing is so luminous, the story so layered. It was interesting to wonder what the first two tries looked like. It was also encouraging to see that even the authors I idolize much need some help here and there. 🙂

    • Michelle DeRusha on September 7, 2011 at 4:09 PM

      Now I’m curious…what was your favorite book of the year?

      • Flower Patch Farmgirl on September 7, 2011 at 9:06 PM

        The Used World – Haven Kimmel. It’s not as beautiful as The Solace of Leaving Early, but almost. I wasn’t as enamored of the actual story than the writing. Oh, her writing! It slays me.

  33. Rachna Chhabria on September 7, 2011 at 2:44 PM

    Hi Rachelle, I have heard so much about you from everyone (writers who are your clients and even from other agents). Before I joined all these social networking sites, I was wary of Agents (as we don’t have agents in India, I had a different image of them). But reading so much about you and few other agents has made me see the agents not just as a writer’s ticket/road to publishing, but as humans who have a job to do and well… cannot please everyone.

    I am amazed at how much you do for your clients.

    Rachelle..I have a question for you. Does a writer have to accept every editorial suggestion made be their agent? Not all agents may have your level of expertise?

  34. Alexis Grant on September 7, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    Great insight here, Rachelle! I do the same thing as a blog editor… I used to want to help writers who were almost there, but I quickly learned I only have time to edit so much. This will be helpful for anyone trying to figure out what to expect from an agent!

  35. joan Cimyotte on September 7, 2011 at 2:29 PM

    That was good to know. I think I assumed the agent found an editor for the client. Is it different for every agent?

  36. Donna Pyle on September 7, 2011 at 2:23 PM

    Wow, this was informative! I didn’t know agents ever undertook editing so I never expected it. I’m amazed once again at your level of expertise and how much you’re willing to invest yourself in your clients. Thank you so much!!

  37. Michele Shaw on September 7, 2011 at 2:19 PM

    I have a great working relationship with my agent. She is supportive and gives me general feedback to consider as to her overall impressions. Rather than suggestions, she asks questions which get me thinking. This is approach is very helpful. Everyone is different, with different needs and expectations. Researching agents instead of querying blindly is key!

  38. Mandy on September 7, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    I came from a writing background (my 4th YA just released form Penguin) prior to agenting. I’m definitely an editorial agent too– the first two projects I sold (one at auction, one in a six figure pre-empt) were both revise/resubmit requests. For the latter, i wrote a six page revision letter.

    I can already see, as time goes on, how I’ll be forced to cut down on how extensive I edit clients. For now I tend to have one general revision round (basic stuff like beef up X character, tweak that weird plot line, etc) and one line edit round.

    I read once on Kristin Nelson’s blog about how she started out this way, too. I think part of it is there are more agents then ever before. I “compete” with established agents to sign the killer projects. Sometimes its worth the time to guide a writer who is almost there.

    For me, it’s paid off. But as the client list grows, the opportunity to expend that time shrinks.

  39. Janet on September 7, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    Reading the first section of your blog, I had to chuckle. Old habits die hard, don’t they? Once a person is used to wielding the blue pencil, I would imagine it would be very difficult to wean oneself from editing everything they read! (Like the morning newspaper, letters from your Mom, etc. – LOL)

    Two friends of mine had their first novel released 7/1. I was amazed when they told me their agent had done the preliminary editing. Of course, they ended up going through 4 or 5 rounds of edits before all was said and done, but most of that was from the publisher’s staff.

    I think I’m more of a polish until it shines writer than that. I know what I submit probably won’t be perfect, but I learned early on to have several others read the manuscript before I go to revisions. Fresh eyes see things mine do not. “Beta” readers also help with content and flow. Since I have more than the whole story in my head, sometimes I filter too much out and other times, I leave out information that is critical to the flow. It’s extremely helpful to have that kind of input from readers who have no emotional or personal investment in the story.

  40. Shannon LC Cate on September 7, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    I have to say, it’s good to hear from someone who had to learn how much is reasonable to “give away.” That’s always been a tough one for me. I think part of it is that as women, so much of the work we do is A) uncompensated and B) collaborative. We have to pull back, assess the real value of our labor and line up our priorities.

  41. Cassandra on September 7, 2011 at 1:38 PM

    What editing would I expect from an agent? None whatsoever, in terms of grammar, spelling, syntax, consistency, fact-checking, etc. That’s my job. Okay, typos happen, and some grammatical points are debated or subject to house custom, but in general it’s the player’s responsibility to learn the rules of the game before trying out for the team.

    Copy-editing aside, however, it doesn’t seem too much to ask that the agent read the client’s work (at least at the beginning of the client’s career) and offer frank feedback about any weak area, without doing the rewriting itself. If representation has been offered, a partnership of some kind is in effect.

    Great post.

  42. Casey on September 7, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    Hello Rachelle! I appreciate learning how you edit a book… or I guess in this case not edit. 😉 That is always a sticky subject for me, especially this year going to ACFW, because (though I don’t expect representation AT ALL) I would hate to ask, “so are you going to edit my book??” Because I know that isn’t your job.

    But I will say, I read a lot of your client’s work and your instint really pays off. So many great books!

  43. Dave Clark on September 7, 2011 at 12:53 PM

    this seems to be news to some authors and agents, but this is a business, and marketing needs to be there, and uppermost in everyone’s mind. After my first published (and unagented) book, I’ve researched agents for my second work, and I’ve not approached a few I found who either were not updating their website in some years(!) or showed that they considered an author’s manuscript their “baby” and they wouldn’t do a thing to touch the author’s baby.

  44. RobbG on September 7, 2011 at 12:12 PM

    ‘…which you find *more* often…’ I need an editor, and I are one!

  45. RobbG on September 7, 2011 at 12:11 PM

    With the writers in whom you see great potential but need work, I’m curious which you find often: great stories that need better writing, or great writing that needs stronger stories.

  46. Dianne Liuzzi Hagan on September 7, 2011 at 12:05 PM

    I would hope an agent would feel enough interest in my work to read it through before trying to place it, but I wouldn’t expect editing. I’m anal about submitting work that is technically proficient, even to my critique group. My book has been through thorough critique and I was lucky to know a very skilled journalism editor. She promised me her “bitchiest” and did not disappoint. It was a fine balance for me as a literary writer, taking the suggestions of a journalist, but I think it worked, just as I listened to the comments of my critique group and implemented some suggestions but not others. I would not submit a work to an agent hoping the agent would clean it up. I’m new at this, and as I go through the agent search process, I hope my work is viewed as ready to publish.

    Rachelle, I learn so much from this blog! Takes some of the pain out of the process!

  47. David Todd on September 7, 2011 at 12:05 PM

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

    Among the many things that must consume my attention along the road to being published, I can’t say that this has ever been one of them. However, this: “…it’s the author’s job to come to the agent with a publishable book” seems true to me. And, if to the agent, then more so to the publisher. We’ve discussed it before on this blog, and maybe in an e-mail. I have come to expect nothing out of the publisher as far as editing is concerned. I hear too many authors saying detailed publisher editing is a thing of the past. Why should I expect more from an agent?

    Sorry. My inner cynic is rising today.

  48. Renee Vickers on September 7, 2011 at 11:51 AM

    Great article! I learned a lot here, thank you!

  49. Reba J. Hoffman on September 7, 2011 at 11:45 AM

    I appreciate your candor and transparency in this blog post. Authors, agents and editors have to continually adjust their sails to be able to tack into the wind. And that’s the key to success: reading the winds and adjusting our sails to get the most out of them. Excellent post!

  50. Carrie Schmeck on September 7, 2011 at 11:40 AM

    I’ve discovered my critique partners improve my work tremendously. Even just a few well-put questions help flesh out or get my reader deeper into the story.

    I’m curious, though. I think I have much to offer as an editor but am not sure how to prove my qualifications or get started doing it professionally. As you establish your boundaries, maybe you could share with some of us how to make your job easier. 🙂

  51. Jessica on September 7, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    Editing wasn’t a priority for me when I was looking for an agent. I have a wonderful crit group as well as a network of writers who are wonderful supports and editors. So it doesn’t bother me in the least that my agent doesn’t edit. That said, I’m not averse to it. I love to get opinions and advice and try to make my work as strong as possible.

  52. TC Avey on September 7, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    This is interesting and enlightening for me. I am new to the writing arena and am continually learning new things. Prior to this, I had not really thought about an agent providing some editing. I am glad to see you do offer some guidance and help regardless of how detailed. I find that encouraging…thank you so much for taking time with clients and for explaining your working process in this blog.

  53. Krista Phillips on September 7, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    My thoughts echo many of the others. While I don’t “expect” an edit, I LIKE the idea of getting, “This part stinks, fix it” kind of feedback. Never would I expect a full edit, although I think all of us would be more than willing to be those “2 or 3” a year! I think that’s another good thing to know going into the agent relationship, just how much editing/input the agent gives. I’ve heard stories about anywhere from “zero” to stories like yours where they do a full-edit.

  54. Jeanne on September 7, 2011 at 10:34 AM

    This post is informative. It dos sound like you have found that perfect balance between agent and editor roles. My goal is to write my MS in a way that will be as well-done editorially as I can make it. My hope is that my one-day agent may catch the things that can make it better. But keeping editor and agent roles separate makes a lot of sense.

  55. Maril Hazlett on September 7, 2011 at 10:33 AM

    Sounds like a plan.

    But I bet you are an awesome editor!

  56. Laura Matson Hahn on September 7, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    Rachael: Your statement about partnering with a client for the long haul speaks volumes to your intention. (a good thing)

    I’ve heard about writers who have agents requesting revisions before accepting them – some of which work out while many don’t. (not so good thing)

    The hardest part about selecting an editor is finding one with the editorial expertise (in the writer’s genre) AND the understanding (and embrace) of the author’s vision.

    Without those two factors — the agent-author fit, and a long haul partnership, isn’t in the cards.

    Nice Post! Thanks.

  57. Sharon A Lavy on September 7, 2011 at 10:23 AM

    Rachelle, I wondered how long you could keep up the pace.

    I am glad you have found balance because it would be a loss to the whole writing community if you were to burn out.

    It is wonderful how other published authors are sometimes willing to take up the slack.I have been blessed by mentors for two of my manuscripts, and it was a God thing.

    I am using their suggestions on my first manuscript as well. After all, that one is my first born.

    It’s like spring cleaning,though. After 3 full days of editing,the first four chapters were starting to stink again.But pushing through them again this morning they are starting to present the story,and so it is all worth it.

    The story doesn’t necessarily have to change, but the presentation of it is everything.

    I’m counting the days until the ACFW conference, determined not to let my mentors down.

  58. Cristy Fossum on September 7, 2011 at 10:09 AM

    You hit the practice of agent editing right in the perfect middle, seems to me. Thank you for this cogent piece and the rich variety of quick, helpful advice on your site.

  59. Diana Dart on September 7, 2011 at 9:44 AM

    Well communicated expectations are golden. Your statement that it is “the author’s job to come to the agent with a publishable book” says it all. Cheers for being clear and upfront.

  60. Wendy on September 7, 2011 at 9:39 AM

    I did my research. I was looking for an agency with editing expertise. It comforts me to know I’m with an agent who is not only aware of what’s marketable, but one who is extremely knowledgeable about the craft.
    ~ Wendy

  61. Susan Bourgeois on September 7, 2011 at 9:33 AM

    It makes sense to me.

    It sounds like you’ve found a nice balance.

    As an agent, I think you bring a tremendous amount of insight due to your editorial background.

    That’s a huge plus.

  62. Joseph Baran on September 7, 2011 at 9:16 AM

    A good agent should provide some form of editing since she /he has the expertise not only in publishing and marketing, but also in the art of writing itself. Receiving any direction, even if it’s only limited and generalized in scope, for revisions and then being open to resubmitting is truly sweet and unique on your part, Ms. Gardner, since other agents are not so “writer friendly.” I really appreciate your openness and accessibility that you maintain through your blogs, for all of us alike.

  63. Anna Banks on September 7, 2011 at 9:06 AM

    I don’t expect my agent to edit, ever. I *do* expect her to tell me that “chapter twelve sucks irretrievably; fix it.” I don’t want to go on submission and humiliate myself with a suckish chapter 12! But I never expect her to go line by line, never ever. However, she is a grammar freak, so I will get the occassional email, equivalent to a ruler-slap, which says, “This tiny little thing is bothering me on page 187. Could you fix so I don’t get an eye twitch?” LOL.

  64. Cathy West on September 7, 2011 at 9:04 AM

    I have never heard of any other agents editing a clients work. I know how blessed I felt when I saw all the hard work you had put into Hidden in the Heart, which will now, finally, be published!! It truly was invaluable, because any writer who has never worked with an editor or gone through the editing process is pretty much flying blind. We may have the tools and the skill, but we don’t always know how to use them when we start out. You were the exception to the rule, I think. I’ve actually heard of agents sending out proposals on manuscripts that their clients aren’t sure they (the agent) has even read.

  65. Nancy Peske on September 7, 2011 at 8:59 AM

    I’ve been an in-house acquisitions editor, an author, and a freelance developmental editor and ghostwriter. I don’t expect agents to edit. I can’t imagine how agents make money if they do more than make some general comments and catch small errors in formatting, grammar, etc. I think a writer should expect to have to pay for professional editing when it’s needed. That said, if an agent’s involved and I’m being hired as a freelancer, I want to be certain everyone’s on the same page about what I’m going to do. It can be hard to please both agent and writer, even if I set aside my own editorial ideas to cater to their vision. It has to be a mutual vision or my job is a nightmare. In the end, I answer to the author, not the agent, because the author is the one paying me.


  66. Anne Love on September 7, 2011 at 8:44 AM

    I’m agent shopping by interviewing authors and asking about their agent relationships. One author told me her agent never even did a full read through of her MS. That surprised me–okay, maybe she did a fast skim job??

    That made me think about your topic. I don’t expect my agent to do deep edits and sacrifice their precious time and money–unless they feel led by God–:o) But, I think you’ve described a great balance, and I do expect an agent to know my voice, my potential, my strengths and weak areas, and give me a sense of where I fall on the “need-to-fix-it-meter”.

    I’m also wondering, how polished is polished? For us newbies, without agents and editors and pubbed books, when do I let my WIP sit and move on? When do I dig deeper, polish more? That’s the balance I’m looking for now.

  67. Heather Sunseri on September 7, 2011 at 8:28 AM

    My expectations only lie in my hope that an agent will give me a chance to correct something if he/she sees potential in the project – not necessarily that the agent would be the one to do the editing. And I’ve also read that different agents bring different specialties to the table. Some don’t edit at all.

    • Jaime Wright on September 7, 2011 at 10:09 AM

      I was going to say the exact same thing! So Heather, I’ll just ditto your post 😉

  68. Peter DeHaan on September 7, 2011 at 8:24 AM

    I completely agree with your conclusions and resonate with the path you took to get there.

    A few years ago, I spent some time as a consultant to call centers. I enjoyed helping people, answering questions, and sharing my expertise. I would often provide free advice on the front-end, expecting that doing so would foster relationships and ultimately gain me business. All it did was make be tired and frustrated — and much wiser.

  69. Jan O'Hara on September 7, 2011 at 8:05 AM

    Your boundaries make perfect sense, though I’m sure there are many who regret they aren’t in the select category.

    They say “begin as you mean to go on,” but as a business or practice grows and times change, it’s wise to re-establish balance.

  70. otin on September 7, 2011 at 7:31 AM

    For an agent to edit my book, first I have to get one to read it. I’d just be thrilled with that for now.

    • Lisa Fender on September 7, 2011 at 11:14 AM

      Otin, I agree with you! The hardest part is getting your foot in the door! I am a new writer so for me just figuring out when my book is ready for publishing is a major challenge, let alone getting an agent!

      • otin on September 7, 2011 at 8:31 PM

        I think that my biggest problem in some cases is my subject matter. It’s very dark for the most part. It doesn’t reflect my attitude or beliefs, but it’s where I always seem to end up in my writing. Most agents don’t seem to be interested in the King/Koontz genre, at least that’s what I’m finding. It’s surprising to me because they seem to dominate the best seller lists.

  71. Sherri on September 7, 2011 at 6:08 AM

    I don’t think of agents editing so much as providing guidelines about what is working in the publishing world right now, and how to navigate in that world, especially when it comes to contacting publishers.

  72. Rosemary Gemmell on September 7, 2011 at 5:08 AM

    I think you are exceptionally fare in your outline above. I hadn’t realised some agents did as much editing as you offer until reading your blog. And I’d be just as happy getting a few pointers if you decided against representation.

  73. marion on September 7, 2011 at 4:20 AM

    Rachelle, you work too hard!
    (But I can understand that you would miss editing, & find it a nice change of pace.)

  74. Beth K. Vogt on September 7, 2011 at 4:04 AM

    I don’t think all agents have your editing expertise, Rachelle. So no, I don’t automatically think that all agents edit their clients work. If they don’t, I would hope they would know who to recommend–recognizing what level of editing the manuscript required.

  75. terri patrick on September 7, 2011 at 4:02 AM

    You were an editor and a writer prior to becoming an agent so it makes sense that you would have a learning curve as you changed the focus of your career. But it’s good you still edit for a few select authors because it’s a rare talent and you have it.

    Now you have your agent boundaries in place and can continue to refine them. I always love hearing how agents limit their client list to work with the few they believe have merit.

    Agents get a lot of flack from authors who are full of their brilliance but I’ve personally considered becoming an agent instead of a writer as my business/marketing/contract analysis skills are strong. But I’m a horrible negotiator so I will continue on my path as a writer. Only when I have something polished enough to self-publish will I seek representation the business partnership to publish for a greater market potential and broader readership.

  76. Joanna on September 7, 2011 at 3:52 AM

    I would want exactly what you offer, Rachelle, but am aware I could probably not expect this from every agent out there, and I accept that.

    Thanks for sharing your learning curve on this with us. I do think you have come to a realistic compromise. I really do want an agent with a bit of an editor’s eye.

  77. Mikalee Byerman on September 7, 2011 at 3:16 AM

    I definitely look at the two — agenting (did I just make that word up?) and editing — as separate functions, both of which I would contract independently during the book-writing process. But I can only imagine how difficult it is for you to extract yourself from that editing function, even with your author clients.

    Similarly, it’s also difficult for those of us who are passionate about both writing and editing to see the need to hire an editor to review a book we’ve written. But we all know that’s a necessity…

    So, much like the trite advice suggesting there is a right tool for a job, I think it’s important to hire the proper professional for the proper function.

    Not that I’m equating an editor with a “tool” or anything… 😉

  78. Claude Nougat on September 7, 2011 at 3:14 AM

    You sound like the perfect agent, just the person I’m looking for! I agree with you, a macro edit should not be an agent’s job (and I’m convinced I am a story teller, one who is capable of producing a page-turner). So if you’re a “real” writer (let’s say with a minimum of talent), you really shouldn’t need a macro edit. That’s for celebrities who are writing their memoirs and are not born writers!

    But a micro-edit? Yes, and I for one need it because my mother tongue is…French! And I live in Italy. I’ve worked all my life in English (in the United Nations) but I know I keep stumbling in English (especially those horrible small thingies like at, on, to etc!)So I’ve always dreamt of finding an agent that would help me out when I stumble…

    This, of course, is a highly personal comment. On a more general level, I think your distinction between macro edit and just giving out some general suggestions for ms improvement is spot on! Writers should not expect their agents to do the editing for them!

  79. Lana Vaughan on September 7, 2011 at 3:10 AM

    I never considered an agent editing. I really saw the relationship of agent and writer as more of a partnership with the editor and publisher subject to the project being produced.

  80. Taryn on September 7, 2011 at 2:30 AM

    It’s handy to know. This is probably the one thing that keeps me from submitting because I want my work to be in the best condition it can be. Being able to afford an actual service as required just goes to show how much the writing game has changed compared to days gone by. If an agent were to edit my work, as long as they were well experienced, I would love it!

  81. Nancy S. Thompson on September 7, 2011 at 1:52 AM

    I would expect there to be things the agent doesn’t like & would ask for revisions, but anything more than that seems beyond the scope of the agent’s responsibility. Sure it would be nice to have a critique, some feedback from someone so knowledgeable, but it’s the writer’s responsibility to get their manuscript in the best shape possible before submitting.

    Having said that, your earliest clients sure were fortunate to have you as an editor, as well as an agent.

    • Sherrie on September 7, 2011 at 3:37 PM

      I agree. Rachelle’s first clients were very fortunate. I initially had hoped for an agent like Rachelle, who would tell me how to whip my ms into shape. I LOVE the way I tell my story, but have discovered that it is very confusing for the reader.
      Having the great fortune of an agent telling me to send the first ten pages “when it is finished and polished” made me realize that I can not expect an agent to help me write the final draft. I need to whip it into shape and then find the agent. Hopefully, at least at that point, there won’t be unbearable revisions being asked of me.
      Well, I can dream, can’t I?