Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Query Question: should an agent recc a freelance editor?

 I'm a freelance editor. I work mostly with self-pubbed authors, some of whom are best-sellers. Most don't have agents, although I've helped a fair number write queries and synopses. So this one surprised me.

I was talking to a potential client, and she wound up saying to me, "I went with an editor my agent recommended instead of you."

Umm... isn't that a conflict of interest, for an agent to recommend a particular freelance editor? Doesn't that open doors for accusations of hinkiness and kickbacks and being in bed with the wrong people? 

But we do it all the time.

It's not a conflict of interest (unless there IS something hinky or kickbacks going on) because I don't have a stake in which editor is chosen; I only care that it's one who can get the job done right.  

I'm sure you know that there are some really bad freelance editors out there (much like there are really bad agents!)

I've gotten burned by sending a couple clients and potential clients to editors I thought would be terrific and weren't.

I'm VERY hesitant to recommend editors I haven't worked with.

I'm pretty sure most of my ilk feel the same way.

Hinkiness and kickbacks are a very different question though.

Kickbacks are a sure way to get booted out of the AAR.  

The Canon of Ethics is pretty specific

Members may not receive a secret profit in connection with any transaction involving a client. If such profit is received, the member must promptly pay over the entire amount to the client. Members may not solicit or accept any payment or other thing of value in connection with their referral of any author to any third party for any purpose, provided that the foregoing does not apply to arrangements made with a third party in connection with the disposition of rights in the work of a client of the member.

But just giving a client or potential client a list of editor's names, or recommending a specific editor is still ok.  And mostly how it's done.

I've heard of agents recently who are on the wrong side of this and ranted about it.

It sounds like your business is going well (congrats!) which means you'll have a roster of people who WILL recommend you. 


Anonymous said...

Yippee! First!

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Congrats Brian for your first vomment... I look forward to reading comments on this topic because I have no pertinant knowledge.

It's good to hear agents know who to work with, though trial and error may have brought them there. I suspect agents know what publishers desire to read when they refer editors.

Love the cat's comment.

Anonymous said...

Well now that THAT'S over!

It sounds to me like opie is a little peeved that s/he didn't get the job of potential client. Makes perfect sense.

Used to run into this phenomenon all the time in music. Producers loved working with indie bands but indie bands didn't make any money and couldn't pay premium prices. Producers have more fun with indies because they don't have a pipeline of people who need to approve before editing and mixing are officially done. But then again, producers like getting consistent money, and the consistency doesn't come from recording bands on a label, it comes from getting in bed with the label itself.

My producer tried and tried to get signed bands to work with him. It failed miserably. But then he hit a break and was able to record a recently signed band who he had a pre-existing relationship with, and after a few of those he got a call.

"Hey, is this Jordan?"
"This is Buttonweezer from Blank Records. You're work is pretty good."
"Thanks? I mean.. thanks!"
"Yeah, so we'd like you to work for free..."

He took one or two jobs from the label, got his chops under him, and then he started working with lots of labels. Eventually he moved to Nashville to produce and now he's got his own record contract with Florida Georgia Line.

My point is this - If you're looking to break into the editing business with agents, my guess is you'll have to do some pro bono or perhaps some severely discounted work until you can prove your chops. Once you've built the relationship, you've got a potential client pipeline. This strategy worked out pretty well for me on a number of occasions, and obviously it worked out pretty well for my producer as well. :)

Hope this helps!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

The Slippery Slope of Ethics. All professions seem to deal with this potential. I was just reading "The Gollum Quality of our Souls" by Omid Safi on the On Being blog. Always, our ego has the potential to trip us up--in our professions, in our personal lives.

That caption on the cat picture! Mrowr. Ouch. Love it.

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

I would think that if your agent recommended an editor, that would be useful, knowing that it was probably a good, effective editor. It feels like so many people are out there hanging their editor shingle that it's getting harder to determine who to choose.

On the other hand, the hinky part to me is this kind of situation, too: I had a writer friend tell me that an agent she queried rejected her, but then offered her editorial services. My writer friend was under no illusions that getting her manuscript edited by this agent would suddenly change the agent's mind to represent her after she made changes/revisions, but the whole thing huele mala - smells bad - to me.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure I'd recognize hinkiness if I met it. And how would I know if anybody was getting kickbacks from my work? If my publisher said, "This quarter you only sold 5 books on Amazon, two on B&N, and one hard copy through us", how would I know any different? Not that my publisher would, he's a really great guy. I think.

LynnRodz said...

Nothing to add except I love the photo. Gotta' run.

DLM said...

Kitty above looks enough like Gossamer the Editor Cat that now I want to find some really good reason I need to work from home so I can sit at my desk in my nearly-silent home office with nice windows - and a Gossie purring at my shoulder (or trying to get on the keyboard). And a Penelope at my side, too.

That is a snoot-able face, is what I am saying.

And, by "work from home" what I really mean is, can I just work on my research for the WIP today? (It's getting good.)

And yes: I have nothing of worth to add regarding the question of the day.

Carry on.

Colin Smith said...

Since much of what I know about today's topic I learned here, I really have nothing to share of value. Aside from the fact that the term "hinkiness" is one I don't hear a lot. At first I thought this might be the first time I've heard it, but it's probably not. Just not one I hear used a lot, nor one I use myself. It seems it is actually a real word, though, as in it's in the dictionary: "hin·ky (hĭng′kē)adj. hin·ki·er, hin·ki·est Slang So peculiar as to arouse suspicion; curiously odd: 'If a person looks a little hinky, they'll send him away' (Paul Theroux). [Variant of African American Vernacular English hincty, hinkty, wary, of unknown origin.]"

And now you know! :)

Anonymous said...

I would love an agent with the capacity to help edit. That sounds phenomenal. But if s/he edits on the side as well? As in freelance? That might be a deal breaker for me. In my head, anytime a deadline was missed or things weren't moving forward as well as I had hoped or as well as had been suggested -- I'd have a thought lurking... I wonder if s/he's paying the bills by editing and not by agenting... Maybe I'm wrong, but I feel like that's a very odd situation.

There's conflict of interest... and then there's offering to edit but not represent a work which was submitted to you as an agent...

Janet? Can I get a ruling?

Colin Smith said...

And brian stirs the pot... ;) Conflict of interest. Should an agent also be a writer? Should an agent also be a freelance editor? Should an agent beta read for friends? Agents certainly can do these things, but ought they? I think it's an interesting question, especially since there are agents (good ones, too) who DO write novels and perhaps do some editing on the side. To me, there are two different considerations:

Professional conflict of interest: Where, for example, the agent and one of her clients both have novels in the same genre. She is effectively competing against one of her own clients, which can be considered unfair since the agent is also an industry professional with contacts and "insider knowledge."

Personal conflict of interest: The agent may be able to handle the professional minefield of working two careers, but does she have the time? Is she giving sufficient time to her clients' work, or is she sacrificing manuscript reading/editing time to work on her own novel, or keep up with her editing clients? If she is working on her novel in her "free" time, then one might not consider this an issue. Sure, agents' "free" time is usually spent working the slush pile, or reading submissions (client and non-client), but that agent might just as easily go for a drink with friends, or binge-watch Doctor Who in their "free" time. Why not work on the novel? Where this makes some writers bristle is because the novelist-agent is choosing to spend her "free" time working what is, essentially, a second job that puts her in competition with her clients, instead of working for her clients.

Personally, I lean toward the view that agents who take up second jobs in other areas of the industry (writing, editing, etc.), open themselves up to a whole host of ethical and professional issues such that I don't think it's worth it. Isn't being an agent enough for one job?

That's just how I see it though, but what do I know? I'm neither an agent (or agented) nor an editor (though I should be edited). :)

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Since questioner is bringing this up in the Shark reef, odds are they are on the ups rather than a predator trolling for victims.

A few questions I would ask:

1. Am I already agented or is the editor being suggested as part of the agent contract process?

2. Did I ask my agent about an editor or was it suggested to me by my agent?

3. Was I given a suggested list or just one name?

4. And, as always, references. Did all of this agent's clients "need" or be suggested/steered to an independent editor?

5. If the agent's other clients have used this editor, read their book. Good job or not?

You know, be professional . . . Terri

Donnaeve said...

If my agent said "I'd like you to use this editor," I'd think it was simply because he recognized the editor's skills and believed they could make improvements. I mean, how do you refuse? Do you say, "why? Are you two in cahoots with each other? Lining the ole pockets with a little extra dough?" I'd trust my agent to know the reasons, and I'm sure he'd tell me the why's and what for's.

On the other hand, I, as some of you know, worked with a freelance editor who was also freelancing for HarperCollins. She would get clients referred to her all the time from agents. It's not different IMO than "Angie's List," where word of mouth, and a person's reputation for being good at what they do grows their business.

And unless, like in that beautiful example Ms. Janet supplied where she went on a stupendous rant (and the infamous " "You are not a goddamn beggar at the banquet of publishing." was born)this agent doesn't have anything HINKY going on with the editor, it's just business.

I don't think the OP has anything to worry about in the loss of this one client, and must feel better knowing this isn't unusual at all. I'd like to know who they are in case I need an editor! I can't use my old one - she's basically retired, and I don't mind spending a little to get some unbiased, honest, professional feedback.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

My daughter got A-s in Junior High English. She's cheep. I use her. Maybe that's why I don't have an agent for my fiction.
Non-fiction, my editor loves my stuff. We're not related.

Anonymous said...

I have experience with this.

Agency declines the manuscript but refers me to their sister editorial service. I spend $500 getting one hundred pages edited which comes out to 625 pieces of ironing taken in or 104 hours of labor. The edit was a very generic copy edit and not all that useful.

I didn't send the next 100 pages and started getting phone calls. "Julie, we loved your manuscript. I know this is going to be a best seller if you just believe in yourself enough to invest in your writing. Writing is a business, you know."

Well, yes, except my ironing, baking bread, and cleaning houses makes ends meet and school is coming up. I'd like my kids to have some decent clothes to wear to school and I already selfishly squandered $500 on your editorial service.

The phone calls continued until I finally got hateful. I know hard to believe.

Sometime after that I came across a bit of information about this agency warning writers away. This was standard practice. They referred wide-eyed hopefuls to the editorial service which was also owned by them. Win/win for them, not so much for the writers.

Today it's very easy to check out agencies and agents ahead of time. There's really no reason for a writer to be caught in their unawares.

If I'm dealing with a reputable agent (And why would I be dealing with a disreputable agent pray tell?) and they recommend an editor I'm going to believe it's because they want my book in the best shape before it goes to a publisher.

Some agents are very hands on, but in the end, they are still agents, they are not editors. The writer may need editors. Some agents wouldn't touch track changes if their lives depended on it. I just had a discussion with a friend about this who left her agent over just this thing. The writer just felt like she was bobbing around out in the ocean all alone with no advice about what to do.

A lot of good writers use editorial services. I recently had a lovely conversation with the copy editor a well known, best seller author uses before he sends off to his publisher. This isn't unheard of.

OP, sorry you missed a job, but this happens and frankly, I would rather go with a recommendation from an agent I trust or an author I trust than an editor I may not know. It happens.

Anonymous said...

Donald Maass married a freelance editor (he met her at SiWC, if you can believe it.)

He will often suggest an editor if you need help with your work - but he will never tell you what editors to go to. If pressed, I think he has a list of them that he'll give out, but he won't out-and-out say 'choose my wife. she's the best.'

I just went to the DMLA site to see if they have this list of editors, just to see where his wife is... and I found this:

DMLA Policy on Independent Editors

I've always thought Mr. Maass was a very wise man.

As for agents doing something else on the side:

It's not like agenting is a lucrative business. Unless you have clients like James Patterson or Stephen King, you're not making a ton of money. Some agents leave the business they love simply because they can't make enough money at it. If they have to work a second job, does it have to be at the corner McD's? Why not use a skill they have and, at the same time, hone that skill so they can do a better job when they're working with their clients?

I've worked as a communications writer / social media manager for a non-profit. On my own time, I wrote fiction and kept my own social media up. Conflict of interest?

No. Because I did my own writing and social media on my own time.

If an agent wants to write as badly as I do, I'm not going to say, "No. You have to put all your dreams aside for your clients. Either that, or leave your job." That's unfair, that's unrealistic, and that's a darn good way to lose a good agent.

To go back to editing: If an agent has skills in editing and needs to make more money, I don't think editing on the side is a problem, as long as they are up front about it. I *do* think that an agent who has rejected someone should *not* offer to edit for the person they have rejected.

Agenting and editing should be kept completely separate in this case, I believe. If an agent edits on the side, they should not offer editing services to writers who have approached them in their agenting guise.

As for offering representation to authors who buy their editing services... Perhaps they should wait until they are approached by that author before offering representation. Keep the editing and the agenting separate.

Anonymous said...

I, in a moment of weakness, pitched a couple of times during #PitMad this last week. Two friends got requests for their historicals from very good agents. Yay friends!

I got a request from an indie publisher who specializes in SFF and has favored my pitches every contest. This doesn't mean much. I think they may just hit everything that is fantasy or science fiction.

I also got a favor from an agent with a boutique agency. There's nothing wrong with them. What I find odd is, this agent is also an indie publisher. When you click on her link she touts her experience as a graphic artist and editor and professionalism in putting your next book together.

Now that seems to be a conflict of interest to me.

Maybe I'm seeing dark fae where there are just shadows, but I'm going to keep iron handy just in case.

Anonymous said...


That does sound ... what's the word she used... hinky.

There are some agencies that also have e-publishing sides. For the most part, these seem to be used for the back lists of their own clients. I wouldn't mind an agent who would help me figure out what to self-publish to make my traditionally published works more valuable (stories, novellas, whatever would work better in an e-format than a print format).

That said, if her link goes to her indie publishing business and not to her agent credentials, I'd be wondering where she really hangs her hat.

Iron can be useful against fae - and non-fae - hinkiness.

REJourneys said...

Maybe this won't fly in the publishing business, but I'm going to throw it out there anyway.

Ready? The wind up, the pitch:


I'm with Julie, I would trust my agent to recommend an editor they have knowledge of and I would go with that editor (I'm a trusting fool sometimes).

However, OP, and everyone, you can use this to your advantage. When I say network, I don't mean the aggressive "I'm an editor, here's my card," but just talk to people. There are probably agents you don't want to work with. They may get into fisticuffs over silly things (I was going to say period placement, but those can be heated discussions).

Being friendly and out there, odds are people will start throwing more work your way because 1) they know you 2) they like you and 3)you do good work.

Another note, while I'm vommenting and haven't in quite some time, the idea of a free or discounted service is intriguing. I believe a lot of Japanese businesses, at least when I was learning this information, offer free services/items or something special to the first few customers. It was a way to get people in the door, sampling their product/service, and hopefully, wanting more. It also got their business' name out there.

I don't know if any of this is useful (well, networking is supposed to be, but that's another topic for another time), but I hope it stirred some thoughts. :)

Side note: I purposely don't log in before commenting, just so I can see what Captcha is going to feed me today. The menu? Hamburgers that weren't.

DLM said...

Julie M. W. ... "I, in a moment of weakness, pitched a couple of times during #PitMad this last week. Two friends got requests for their historicals from very good agents. Yay friends!"

The sound you hear right now is me KILLING MYSELF because I knew #PitMad was coming and I didn't bother. Nobody ever wants histfic.

Le sigh.

And The Ax and the Vase sleeps on. (Until temptation overcomes me and I look at #MSWL/historical again, hoping against hope ...)

Got another rejection today, from a query I literally can't even recall, it's so old. Hey, it's movement of a kind.

Not the right kind.

But there it is.

S.D.King said...

One of my favorite authors, Rebecca Stead, just signed on as an agent and you can bet that I would love to work with her. It doesn't bother me that she also writes. In fact, my work has been compared to her (the biggest compliment possible, with full understanding that I am nowhere near the level of a Newberry Winner).

Hoping to open my inbox and see a request for full from her. Hoping. . .hoping. . .hoping. ..

Craig F said...

On Topic: I am not going to look for an editor. I am fully aware that my punctuation is not what a grammar cop would want. It is the style I affect though. There are other things I think about. I call them pacing and concept. Others have other names for those. Rhythm is one of those.

If I get to be agented and they request or offer up an editor I might accept. First I will ask some pointed questions. As in all things communication is the key. I would tend to trust my Agent though.

Past News: Donnaeve, sorry I couldn't congratulate you yesterday. So, congratulations again. It seems that I have done it before. To have won more than once is spectacular. I hope to get my shit together soon so I don't fall too far behind.

News of the Weird: I left Miami at midnight and drove to the farm for a blackberry u-pick. Nigh onto ten this morning a cadre of news vans descended. It turns out that I am running for President. It was the first I heard about it. I spent two hours expounding on politics and still don't know who tossed my name in the hat. What are friends for?

Anonymous said...

True story Craig -

I once won a presidency and I didn't even realize I was running. Talk about embarrassing. Heck, I didn't even show up for the vote.

My homeowners association must not know me and really like me... Or know me well and really hate me.... Can't decide which.

Katie Loves Coffee said...

Late to the party but this makes me think of some work we just had done on our house. We could have saved a couple of bucks to go with someone different, but went with the contractor we had worked with before. We knew they did great work and as usual, they did a beautiful job. When it comes to something so expensive as home repairs, I go to someone I can trust because the other guys don't always deliver. But there are probably other companies that do a great job and I just don't know who they are yet. I sympathize with you though, OP. I feel like I have to deliver something pretty amazing to convince someone to take a chance on me and my work. Instead of being discouraged, I'm thinking of it as a challenge :)

John Frain said...

Yowza! That was worth reading just for the "ranted about it" link. I know if was about 17 months ago, but I'm left wondering one thing:

Have the scars of that post writer healed yet? Whew, that was a tongue lashing. I bet the temperature in New York went up 4 degrees by the time you finished that blog entry.

In other words, I loved it. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

DLM - see if you can find out which agents requested the histfic. Nothing says you can't query them the ordinary way. :)

I've had nibbles at #PitMad, but no full requests. The last #PitMad (March, I think it was?) had all the same agents requesting, so I figured the same would go here. I spent the day researching more agents to query.

You might also check #MSWL (manuscript wish lists). They get gathered here:

#MSWL website

Sometimes they'll surprise you.

DLM said...

Hi, bjmuntain! Yeah, I mentioned #MSWL because I know about it (and the site) but the thing is, AX has been at rest for a while now as I've been working on the next novel.

Funnily enough, months along, I got *two* rejections today on old queries. I don't really take that as a sign, since I'd already resigned myself to letting AX lie fallow, but ironically it's the most action the thing has seen since like April.

Anonymous said...


I'm not saying this to make you feel bad, but one of the #PitMad requests just got a request for a full today. I only say this because I think there's another contest coming up later this month, so you may want to dust off your pitches.


DLM said...

Julie, thank you! :)

Y'all are dangerous, tempting a writer to drag AX out of mothballs. Thanks to all of you.

Fortunately, even if I do stop to query or pitch, momentum on the WIP is good right now. Yum!

AJ Blythe said...

I use hinky all the time. Thought it was an American term until it was questioned, then thought, okay, must be English, until Colin quetioned it. Maybe it's Aussie?

I don't know much about this one. So instead I'll ask a question: I have always wondered what qualifications are needed by someone before they hang up their 'editor' shingle?

DLM said...

A. J., maybe a regionalism? I'm certainly familiar with it (American Midatlantic South). Hinky and wonky.

Now I need a drinky.

Okay, seriously, I will shut UP comment hogging now.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, DLM. I missed or forgot you mentioning #MSWL.

I guess the message to take away from these late rejections is: If you still have queries out, there is always a chance someone will like it. If so, great! If not, no loss, since as you say, it's fallow for now, anyway. Good luck! :)

AJ: hinky is a slang word, but I think it's older slang. Too old for some of these readers (not old enough for others, I'm sure, though I do think I've heard it before. Yes, I count myself among the older readers.) It's a good word. It says what you want it to mean. No reason not to use it.

AJ Blythe said...

bjmuntain - so I'm showing my age? Dang it, lol. Although Colin didn't know the word so I'll cling to the hope it's regional, as DLM said, and not age related *grin*.

Megan V said...

AJ—I've used hinky before. I'm from the Midwest (originally). I'm also NOT old (or at least, not showing it...). Conclusion: It must be a regional thing.

Back to the original post. It does seem that the agents are giving their roster of editors a leg-up on the competition, a fair and reasonable leg-up, but a leg-up nonetheless. That said, there are so many editors available out there, many of them untrustworthy, that recommending a reputable and trusted editor would be a benefit to both agent and writer. Why not hand out the names of those you trust? Word of mouth within a community is a powerful thing, no matter the community.

Anonymous said...


I have several friends who write historicals and my current WIP is a Civil War historical, so I'm sort of keeping an eye on these things. That's not saying I've given up on the fantasy, it's in revision again, my brain just needed something completely different to think about.

RE hinky, I think it's from the '50s. Seems like I recall that.

I posted part of the Civil War piece in writers exercises on Books and Writers and we got into a discussion about my use of one of the characters saying, "I swan."

Some felt she should be saying, "I swear."

In actuality, "swan" is a substitution for "swear" as even that was/is considered vulgar to some southern ladies.

I had a dear friend in Texas who would always use it. "I swan, Julie. Come in and have some sweet tea. If you'll pardon me just a minute, I'm about to go brain this contractor with a shovel if he doesn't fix that fence like I told him. And if he lets those horses out of my backyard we are going to have a come to Jesus meeting."

Sweet tea is the balm for all that ails you in the south.

Gads I love language.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Since being first has become a challenge of late, how about being last. Last certainly suits my station in life, so I'm thinking last here might be of merit. Because I have to leave my house in five minutes I'm thinking that perhaps one of you yahoos might mosey on in and beat me to last. If you do, it just proves...well it doesn't prove much of anything.
Have a nice day.
Last is cool, isn't it?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ah, last is cool.

Unknown said...

Thanks for writing about this important topic. I think it's fine (great!) for agents to recommend freelance editors, but only in the form of a list. It's up to the writer to check out each of the names on the list and determine who really is the best fit. One exception: An agent once recommended that an Indian American writer hire me, specifically. The agent thought we'd be a great match and we were, but the author asked a lot of questions about payments, timing, general expectations, etc. before we proceeded. All writers thinking about hiring an editor should do the same.