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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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