One of the questions I often get asked by potential clients is whether or not I’m an editorial agent. With my background in editing the answer is of course. That leads to authors wanting to know how much editing I do, which depends on the amount of work each individual project needs. Editorial agents are becoming more common and I think the increased competitiveness of the industry is going to lead to most if not all agents becoming editorial agents eventually. Honestly I’m glad I started on the editorial side first to work on editing since these days it’s an important skill for agents. While I don’t give specific edit notes until a client has signed with me, on the offer call I try to cover my expectations of what needs edited to clue the author in how many edits we’d be doing together.
When it comes to my clients, as an agent I tend to work with authors who don’t need heavy line edits and I tend to focus on developmental edits instead. By that I mean their overall style is polished and the changes needed are usually not grammatical issues that pop up throughout the whole story like passive versus active voice or too much telling. My clients are authors who have put in a lot of time to studying the craft and aren’t still learning the basics. They are also often experienced with taking critique as well.
My editing style is very much right to the point without any beating around the bush or sugarcoating everything. If I’ve made an offer on a book then know I like your writing, but I’m not the type to write a lot of gushing comments. In fact I often read manuscripts on my kindle and make notes to myself that I add to the edit letter instead of littering manuscripts with my reactions via comments. I like to read while I exercise on my elliptical, which is how I started the practice of reading on my kindle. I’m a pretty private person and maybe that causes me to be more reserved when it comes to my edits, but I tend to focus on “how can we make this even better” instead of praise.
I tend to do R&Rs on projects that need more than little edits to test an author’s revision skills. I’m looking for authors who have studied the craft enough that they have not only have strong writing skills, but revision skills too and are ready to tackle revisions instead of getting defensive or making excuses. As an editor I’ve encountered authors who are loathe to make any changes to their books even when it came to things such as plot holes because they were too sensitive about feedback, too wedded to the current version, or just didn’t want to put in the work. Those are the authors my R&Rs aim to weed out. Publishing is a difficult business and not putting in the work on edits can lead to a weaker product that can make selling a book harder. Getting an R&R edit letter from me is also a great way to give potential clients a look at my style and the type of edits to expect from me. If they don’t agree with my vision or don’t work well with my style then I’d rather know that before making it to the offer stage.
So how much editing do I do with clients? Those with multiple critique partners tend to go through lighter edits with me and I recommend everyone keep working with critique partners after landing an agent. Some clients get away with very light changes, sometimes just some polishing at the scene level or fleshing out characters. Others have undergone plot rewrites with me, whether partial or rewriting the whole manuscript to rebuild the plot from the ground up (although these big rewrites tend to be on projects that come after the one I offered on). I don’t ask for the revisions because I want to make life difficult for my clients, but because I think the changes will lead to a stronger product overall. I discuss the changes with clients and often they come up with great ideas that I love for revisions. In the end, how much editing a client can expect to do with me can change from project to project depending on how much each one needs.