How Much Should Agents Edit?
Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
Before I became an agent, I’d been editing and writing books for years, so I naturally approached agenting from an editorial perspective. I look for excellence in the craft of writing, and I also use my editorial skills to help polish a proposal or a manuscript before we send it out to publishers. Because I was confident of my ability to do this, I started off more likely to take on books that were “not quite there” and try to edit them into perfection.
However, this quickly became overwhelming. I realized I was giving away thousands of dollars worth of editorial expertise, with no guarantee of ever recouping it. (I don’t charge clients for editing.) I also believe it’s important for potential publishers to see the writer’s true work as much as possible, and when I did too much editing, this wasn’t going to happen.
I finally realized there’s a limit to how much editing an agent 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 the deep editing work that is sometimes needed to get a manuscript and proposal to a publishable level.
I’ve found a good balance, and it looks something like this:
For most clients…
I’ll make suggestions for improvement in a manuscript or proposal, sometimes a significant amount. I’ll also go through and generally polish the prose—fix formatting, do a little line editing and typo corrections. But nothing so deep as a full developmental edit or line edit, each of which can take 20 to 40 hours of work.
For a few clients…
I’ll spend more time. These are writers in whom I see tremendous potential and I’m super excited about, and I know their proposal or manuscript needs just a bit more work than usual to whip it into shape. I’m occasionally 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 I’d like to partner with them 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 limit how much I do this.
For the most part…
If I see projects I really like but feel they need too much work before being publishable, I won’t offer representation. Instead, I’ll give some direction for revisions, and suggest the writer work 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 extremely hard for me to say no to writers in whom I see potential, so if I can’t represent them immediately, I always hope they’ll come back around when their writing has progressed.
Do you have expectations of an agent about editing? Have you even thought about it?
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