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Jan 12, 2021

How hands-on in the editing process are literary agents?

A literary agent's job is to sell the book, not necessarily edit it. Yet, many agents help authors polish their books prior to sending it to editors. But how hands-on in the editing process are agents really? The answer? It varies significantly by agent, but many provide detailed feedback! 

Here's how 10 literary agents responded: 

Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency:  It really depends on the manuscript.  Some authors come in with manuscripts in very strong shape and might need just light edits whereas others may need more editorial feedback.  In the latter case, I am hands-on and will go back and forth to try and make the manuscript as strong as possible.  For a debut author who has never written before, there tends to be more feedback and editorial focus whereas a bestselling, experienced author might need more help with career building, marketing, and branding rather than editing. 

Mary C. Moore, Kimberly Cameron & Associates:  I tend to be heavily involved in the editing process, although less so than I was at the beginning of my career. Again, it depends on the individual, but I expect no less than one round of revision with a new project, and on average, do three rounds of revision. These revisions are focused on big picture developmental edits; I rarely if ever, do line-editing for my clients.

Jackie Williams, The Knight Agency:  I'm very hands-on. I love supporting the author and creating a dialogue on how to improve the manuscript. And every manuscript needs something different. My editorial comments are entirely at the author's discretion, but it's one of the best parts of the job to get creative with the author and figure out the solutions needed for their book. 

Felicia Eth, Felicia Eth Literary Representation: The answer here varies from project to project but on the whole, I am quite hands-on. Rarely does a project get sent out by me where the author hasn’t gone through one or two revisions, and I can recall one project which was a first book, where the author revised the proposal 8 or 9 times, but I did end up getting him a $100,000 advance. But honestly, I’ve worked just as hard with books that sold for $7500. 

Annie Bomke, Annie Bomke Literary Agency: I am very hands-on.  I usually go through anywhere from two to eight drafts of a manuscript before I send it out.  I’m a compulsive grammar-corrector, so my comments always cover copyediting as well as big picture stuff, like character development, plot and writing.  

Dawn Dowdle, Blue Ridge Literary Agency: Every book goes through full editing with me before it is queried to editors. 

Malaga Baldi, Baldi Agency: I am not an editor instead, more of a cheerleader.  There are many superb editors turned agents. Most of the manuscripts I represent are written at a top level.  If there is a manuscript I believe needs work, and I am Gaga over it, I suggest to the potential client a handful of paid for editing former editors. This does not guarantee publication and the author pays for the editing out of their own pocket.

Linda Glaz, Hartline Literary: Probably a LOT more hands-on than my clients would like. I am fanatic about getting a proposal in its absolute best condition without annoying typos and obvious inconsistencies. I want an editor’s first take to be: “Now, THAT’S great work!”

Duvall Osteen, Aragi Inc: Quite, especially at a macro level. First, I work with authors on bigger picture edits, and edit more via asking broad questions rather than line by line. Of course, there is also a time when focused editing is necessary, and that takes shape based on the individual needs of the book, and the work style of the author.

Heather Jackson, Heather Jackson Literary: Very much so. It is so very difficult to sell a book and made much more so if you don’t present the absolute best version of a proposal or manuscript that you can to the editors you are pitching.  They are bombarded every day from every angle, and as such, their lists and their mindsets are tilted towards a reason to say no.  I like to try and remove as many reasons for that “no” as possible before we send out, so as to give an author the absolute best shot at a good sale and a good home.  And even then, most of the process of selling the book is filled with rejection, even when making a ‘big’ sale.   

Check out more literary agent interviews with our Agent Spotlight Series!

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Jan 5, 2021

How many authors do literary agents represent?

Querying writers frequently wonder about their chance to get a literary agents. An often asked question is:

How many authors do literary agents represent at any given time?

The number may reveal an agent's activity, workload, selectiveness, or network. Well, no need to wonder any more! We asked 7 literary agents. Here are their responses:

Mary C. Moore, Kimberly Cameron & Associates: It’s constantly fluctuating, but I usually have around 20-25 clients, with around 10 super active clients (i.e. clients that are in the middle of a project whether it’s being written/submitted/negotiated). I’ve found over time my list has become very curated around the authors, i.e. I’m looking for strong writers with interesting backgrounds, voices, and perspectives that I feel I can really help have a long career. So these days, although I’m always excited about the projects I sign, I’m more excited about the writer themselves when I offer representation.  

Annie Bomke, Annie Bomke Literary Agency: Right now, I have 22 clients.  While there are certain genres I gravitate towards (like mysteries and historical fiction), over time I’ve found myself broadening the list of genres I represent.  For instance, last year I sent out the first memoir, interior design book and horror novel I had ever represented.  If you had asked me a year before if I had any plans to work on those genres, I probably would’ve said no, but the right projects came along that made it easy to say yes.

Dawn Dowdle, Blue Ridge Literary Agency: I represent approximately 60 authors. People sometimes say that is too many. You have to remember that not everyone is at the same stage at the same time. Some are writing their next book and so there isn’t anything I need to do at that time other than disburse royalties to them. Some I am editing their manuscript and that takes more interaction or some I am querying. Once the query letter goes out, then it’s just checking back with the editors and keeping the authors notified of responses. Early on I had to realize that, while I would like to be an author’s agent for their whole career, that might not happen. Sometimes an author’s writing changes and they don’t fit what I represent. Sometimes an author’s book’s sales are low and they really don’t need an agent any longer. Sometimes an author stops writing for one reason or another.

Malaga Baldi, Baldi Agency: About 50.  Some authors have books out now, others are between books, others not active. My list has grown.  I still hunt for the books I wish to represent

Linda Glaz, Hartline Literary: I have 54 at the present. Many are currently on sabbatical for various reasons, but most are actively writing and pursuing publishing credits. Obviously, I’ve learned how important the agent/author relationship is long term, and have adjusted to the different personalities who are amazing to work with, and those who aren’t. I try very hard to stick with “amazing.”

Duvall Osteen, Aragi Inc: I represent roughly 45 clients, but only about half are active at any single time. A few of my authors are professionals in other fields, so they may really only write one or two books. I don’t typically take on clients who only plan to write one book, but in each case, I loved the person and the material so much, I was happy to be a part of the work. My author list hasn’t really changed over time, and I don’t anticipate that it will – I am committed to representing authors whose work I love, and that looks wildly different all the time. You’ll find a lot of diversity on my list, of material and among my authors. I have broad tastes, so I’m always eager to read from a wide variety of voices and styles.

Heather Jackson, Heather Jackson Literary: I currently represent 40 clients at various stages of the publication or pre-publication process, but I try not to ‘sell’ more than 12-15 titles a year so that I can be deeply involved in every aspect of the book’s path to readers.  I believe that the sale to a publisher isn’t the endpoint, but rather the start; I try to use the years I had on the other side of the desk to build a bridge for the author, so they can understand the publishing process best and I can help shepherd them through each step.  The beauty of becoming an agent—and the primary force behind my decision to become one—is that the editorial and creative concepts can be and have been broadened out to all of my interests, not just one segment of the marketplace. As an editor, I could work on one particular genre; now I can work with authors who write commercial fiction, narrative non-fiction, and of course, the more practical non-fiction that I have been lucky enough to have had success with throughout my years as a publishing professional. So I’m ridiculously lucky to be able to ‘play’ in the field of the ideas that excite me most while helping authors to find homes for their brilliance and creativity. 

Check out more literary agent interviews with our Agent Spotlight Series!

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