Sunday, April 09, 2017

Well, maybe not epic, but....

If an agent who gives editorial feedback offers representation, is it appropriate (as part of the pre-acceptance process) to ask them to pick a section of the ms they think needs work and give editorial remarks? That is, in addition to discussing their vision for the ms in a general way, which I seem to recall you saying a writer should expect. The purpose being to see what it would be like to work with them on that level. If that's okay, rather than epic ass-hattery, what size section would be appropriate and not an imposition?




An agent is not auditioning for the lead in Editor On the Roof.

Either she's already given you notes;  she thinks chapter seven is fine; OR you're going to get notes and see what she thinks. It's entirely acceptable to ask "do you think the manuscript needs work; if so, what kind, how much etc." You can even ask "do you think chapter seven needs work?"

BUT saying "can you give me edit notes on chapter seven before I decide to say yes or no to your offer of representation" is not something you want to do.

Presumably by the time you've gotten to this point with an agent you know something about how she works. For example, you might have asked her clients if she gives notes to them, how fast that happens, how useful they are, and so on.

You might have read her blog to see if she can string words together herself.

You might have actually done a round of revisions with her before the offer was made.

But asking someone to give notes as part of the offer fails to recognize that until she sells something, she's got no income from you. In other words, you're asking for a favor. You'll want to be judicious in those asks.

You can get this information, or enough of it to be useful for your decision, without asking her to do more work than she has offered up voluntarily.

I'm glad you asked this question because it is one that would make me reconsider taking someone on, and I'd hate to see that happen if the writer just didn't know how it would be perceived on this end.


BJ Muntain said...

Editors don't belong on roofs. They rarely have the physical balance to dance up there. Their balance lies in the verbal and mental.

Regarding the OP's question: Agents and authors are both looking for partners, not employees or employers. Chances are an agent is going to treat their author well (and if not, that's something their clients can tell you.) Really, I'd be happy if an agent is as respectful to me as I am towards other people. And I would hope that would last the entire relationship. Unfortunately, the beginning of a relationship isn't always the way the relationship continues.

A friend of mine has a book contract with a small publisher. For her first book, she found the editor she worked with to be very helpful, asking her questions about the history involved in this historical fiction, and learning as much as he could from her while helping her shape her story. Now that she's working on the second book, she's very unhappy with him. He's become snarky and nasty. His editorial comments are laced with comments like "This is stupid." And, "This is completely unbelievable. Change this." (despite it being historically accurate and a necessary part of the story. Not all kings were nice, or even sane.) My friend is complete disillusioned, hates this book, and wishes she'd only agreed to one book in this series.

(Another good reason to have an agent - a go-between between you and the editor, a mediator, someone who can unruffle feathers and soften editorial nastiness. Better yet, have a shark for an agent, so the editor wouldn't dare be so nasty lest he meet with a shark's many teeth.)

Back on topic: An agent who gives editorial feedback is a treasure. Read her clients' books to see if you like how she handled them. Talk to her clients to see if they enjoy working with her. If you like the books, if the clients like working with her, then *how* she does the editorial feedback isn't important.

Anonymous said...

*snort* Yeah, I figured this one might make you go through the roof rather than want to dance on it. Which is sort of why I asked now.

Yes, fellow writers, this is my other question. Can you tell?

Editing, and being edited, is such a personal thing. It's right up there on my list of Things I'd Worry About When Looking for an Agent, but no one ever talks about it. In my experience, there are four-- no, five general styles of editing (not to be confused with the content/astuteness of the edits; I am perfectly fine with receiving critical, even harsh, feedback):

1. Looks great! I love it, don't change a thing.
2. This scene/chapter doesn't work (no other explanation).
3. This scene doesn't work, and this is why.
4. This scene doesn't work, here are some specific ways I think you should fix it.
5. This scene doesn't work, here's why, and look how I've re-written it for you.

I've been the recipient of all five. Aaaaand, over the years, have probably been guilty of most of them as well.

Each style might be acceptable to some writers, at some time. My preferences fall somewhere in between 3 (mostly) and 4 (sometimes). Options 1, 2, and 5 would make me want to reach through time and space and strangle someone, which probably is not a sign of a good working relationship.

Yet I've never heard anyone talk about how you can tell which style of editor an agent might be. And as many years as I've been reading your blog, Janet, and know you're a good writer yourself and would absolutely respect the content of your advice, I have no idea which style editor you might be. And honestly, that's a daunting prospect, regardless of who the agent is. It's such a huge leap of faith.

Never having been through the process, I don't know what clues one might encounter (and hoped this would generate discussion of same in the comments). This sentence gives me hope, though: "You might have actually done a round of revisions with her before the offer was made." That and asking clients, I guess.

Thank you for the answer. And the warning. :)

Amy Schaefer said...

By the time an agent offers rep, you should have a pretty good idea of what she likes about the MS, and what she thinks needs work. That should be a part of the discussion. If you find you have a similar mindset with respect to the MS, that's step one complete. As Janet said, talk to other clients to get a better idea of day-to-day interactions. If your working styles mesh, that's step two. There is no need to ask for formal feedback. You should already have a pretty good idea of what will be coming down the pike.

Brigid said...

Kdjames, while your request might get you the answer you want, the risk of alienating the whizbang agent is too high. But there might be another way to get that info. Such as asking for them to tell you about the types of feedback they have offered their authors in the past. Asking about hypotheticals is neurologically useless--the brain doesn't let us give an accurate answer, we're guessing--but you can get a reasonable idea by asking about past experiences, what worked, and why. Fun fact from my years in market research.

In other news, today is Ilaria's first trip to the zoo. I'm taking my 1mo and her 1yo cousin. This was supposed to be a date-while-babysitting, but my husband got sick and is staying home. Now it's, uh, an adventure. Yeah. Everything is going to be fine.

Karen McCoy said...

My hope is, like what Amy said, authors will get a sense of this during their interactions with the agent before a deal is made, so requiring the agent to do anything extra probably won't be necessary. Any time an agent gives me a lightbulb moment, I'm always grateful. My recent one-on-one critique with an agent plus his presentation about voice culminated in a learning experience that completely blew my face off, and totally changed my writing for the better. (Yet another reason why critique sessions are so much better than pitches.)

nightsmusic said...

I queried my first novel way too early (realized only after the fact) but before I did, I researched a lot on who I wanted to query. There are many, many places to get information on how agents and editors interact with their clients, before, during and after the publication of your novel - Absolute Write comes to mind first. I might have queried early, but I didn't want to be that one who queries hundreds in the hope of snagging someone who might be a horrible fit for me. It's a waste of both my time and theirs. Yes, you might end up with someone you find difficult to work with anyway, maybe you'll end up with someone whose personality has done a one-eighty for who knows whatever reason, but there are or should be, ways to deal with that as well.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, maybe this is one of those things that just doesn't matter. Or that you can't *let* matter. Whatever style your agent prefers, you need to suck it up and deal with it. It's not like you're going to be able to pick and choose which editor at XZY Publishing is assigned to your work (and man, have I heard horror stories). But editors come and go, while an agent is, one hopes, a more long-term relationship.

I suppose the only way to know for sure is to just forge ahead and see what happens.

Julie Weathers said...

Since I am getting a little long in the tooth, I'm seriously considering hiring an editor before sending Rain Crow out if I can.

Yes, I know, this is not the way to do things.

I've got some great crit partners and I'll take it through the B&W workshop, but I don't have ten years to go back and forth with this to figure out if it works. I need to get it as correct as I can before I start courting agents.

I would not ask an agent to audition for me. A person should be able to tell by the agent's blogs and various other things what type of editorial help, if any, you will get.

If an agent has been a senior editor or editor-in-chief at the big five, you assume he's not going to let a manuscript go out the door in less than stellar condition.

If all else fails, just ask them in "The Talk" what kind of editorial help they give.

Elissa M said...

The problem is, people aren't consistent. We have to make our characters consistent (or have a darn good explanation if they aren't) because readers won't accept them being as changeable as real people. But actual human beings? Nope. Mercurial as the wind.

One day an agent might give concrete examples of where something is a little off and suggestions on how to fix it, and the next week they say, "Doesn't work, fix it."

That's not to say people don't have an overall general consistency to their personalities and work habits, because they do. But no one is a robot. If you want to judge someone's style, look at the big picture, not an individual example. You never know if that example is just an outlier when you don't really know a person yet.

Karen McCoy said...

I'm with you, Julie. I will be hiring an editor also, and it's one that I feel really understands my work and what I'm trying to do with it. She will help me see the big picture issues, and without her I'd probably still be stuck in line-edits because I can't see the forest in the trees.

Lennon Faris said...

This is why I LOVE agents who have blogs!

Julie Weathers said...


"and it's one that I feel really understands my work"

And therein lies the problem.

The editor who sliced and diced my work and told me to stop trying to write historical if I was too lazy to do basic research also writes some kind of steampunk novels. The problem with doing your research on the internet on blogs and through etiquette manuals is you're not really getting the truth of what was going on.

Yes, the etiquette manuals say a man never appears in public in just his shirt sleeves without a jacket, but there are plenty of photographs that prove this wasn't true.

The trick really is to find someone you can work well with. On the ranch when we used the team of horses, we'd be forking hay off the back end of the sled and holler at the horses, "Little bit, boys". They move up about five feet so we could shove off some more hay. "Go on," and they'd just keep moving until "Whoaed". Sometimes you need a little and sometimes you need a lot.


I disagree.

Today is April 9. On April 9, 1865 Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox. The armies had moved together until they were about a hundred yards apart at one point. Riders had been going back and forth for the last 24 hours between Grant and Lee.

Fitzhugh Lee had escaped the vice with his cavalry. Longstreet sent a rider to Lee that they had an opening if he made haste they could escape. He told the rider to kill his horse if he had to in order to get the message to Lee. The rider made it to Lee who was waiting at a crossroad under flag of truce. Lee cried out tearfully, "What have you done? You've killed your beautiful mare!"

Lee didn't try to escape. He had weighed the options. They hadn't eaten anything but parched corn in days. Even if he disbanded the army his men would have to live like guerillas and he knew Sherman would wage more war on the civilians. He desired not one more man die if he could help it.

At last Grant agreed to meet with Lee and they agreed on a place. Lee looked across the field to the Union troops and turned to the commanders gathered around him. "I could ride to those Union lines and be at blessed peace. We must think of the women and children at home, however, and be men of honor."

I'm sure suicide would have been much preferable to surrender to him, but it was not in his make up to be dishonorable.

If a writer's characters are not people, they are cheating the reader.

One day an agent might give concrete examples of where something is a little off and suggestions on how to fix it, and the next week they say, "Doesn't work, fix it."

If I had an agent who was that wishy washy with the way he or she interacted with me I would ask if the doctor had changed their meds recently or offer to pay the ransom as, obviously, my agent has been kidnapped.

Theresa said...

This was a great question, KD, and Janet's answer really clarified where the line is drawn. I especially liked her point about the issue of perception. This knowledge could save a querier (queryer?) from a lot of grief.

Like you, I fall between your #3 and #4. If someone tells me something doesn't work, I want at least one example/explanation. Of course, I always prefer the #1 response.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Oh! Julie... The scenes you describe with horses makes me swoon. Until they were "Whoaed." Lovely. We expect very little of the horses here at the sanctuary, although they must accept the halter and allow us to touch them anywhere on their body so we can tend to their health care. One of my training phrases when gentling an unhandled mustang or a feral domestic horse is, "Ease up." I use it when I want them to step away from me, but face me. I just like the way it sounds.

Not sure where I was going with that...

Off topic, sorta, but on topic for yesterday's blog. An agent I respect recently inspired me to write in a genre I'd never tried before. Developing the story turned out to be a joy I hadn't anticipated. I was soaring by the time I typed "the end." When I feel my ms is ready (all that delicious rereading, revising stuff, which I love), I intend on querying that agent exclusively, as she is the person who offered inspiration.

If it's a no, I shall then query widely. All of this is such a fascinating journey, huh?

Donnaeve said...

I snort laughed at "Editor on the Roof."

*Wipes eyes* Whew. Made my day.

IDK, folks, maybe I need to be more analytical. Maybe I'm a tad impulsive. It's just that...I never thought of what I wanted in an agent to this depth.

I mean, it wasn't quite as bad as, "Oooo, I'll sign with the first person on the We B Agents site," or as weird as, "unless I get flown to NYC, get wined and dined, and shown sales records out the wazoo," but something in...between?

I admire anyone who wouldn't be hyperventilating and have their wits about them enough to ask questions. I think I asked, "When does the contract arrive? How quick do you want it back?"

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am definitely giving Idylls & Grimoires to an editor, even before beta readers. I sent my last book out too soon and ended up turning it into something I did not recognize. I got loads of feedback from agents and a too large sample of beta readers, and the evil voices in my head. The book wasn't ready and I paid the price. Trying not to do that again.

This time, I hope that by the time an agent enters pictures, the notes will be minimal. Bear not beer and cut a word here, a sentence there. Yeah, I do believe investing in an editor might be worth while. Before the agent enters the picture. That could just be me.

So, to the group, I am downsizing. But I have a rather huge collection of books. How many copies of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and about 8 other series are too many? I have started collecting 1st editions of favorite fantasy authors and subsequent paper backs and I could open a bookstore. I feel like each edition has special value. I also am going down to less than 1000 sq feet. I can't keep a full library anymore. Should I rent storage space? This is really hard.

Steve Stubbs said...

Many thanks for this. I would not make this mistake, but it is extremely interesting that such a minor faux pas would shoot the whole deal. Sometimes I think we are all walking on upended razor blades - barefoot - and that the razor blades have been warmed in hell imediately before use.

OP probably does not realize what a humongous, gargantuan, brobdingagian task editing a book is. Trying to puzzle out why some obviously good writers cannot sell anything, the only things I can come up with are either: (1) the book is well written but not commercial for some reason, or (2) the book will require more editing than any agent could justify putting into it. An editor who takes unagented MSS once told me she gets submissions with the author's statement that, "this thing is a hell of a mess, but I just know your editors can do something with it." I was just amazed that some writers do not know they are supposed to do the best they can BEFORE submission and expect that no editing will be required because they have worked so conscientiously. It only gets worse than that when people (and their name is Legion) think their job is to toss out ideas and let someone else develop them. I have a mental image of someone saying, "Hey, you. You over there! Write this book for me."

Of course no matter how hard you try, it is d--n hard to get all the typos out. Yesterday I found a sentence terminated in a comma instead of a period, and the word "table" spelled t-a-l-e because my long suffering typing finger somehow missed the "b" key. Spell checker slides blithely past those kinds of errors. I have about decided it is not humanly possible to get all those hinkeys out. But they make the product look bad.

BJ Muntain said...

Julie, there is nothing wrong with hiring an editor before querying a novel. You don't *have* to, but there is nothing wrong with it. It is definitely one way to do things. There is no "the" way to do things. I won't comment on whether you should or shouldn't, though, because although I know you're a capable writer, I also know you're a capable person, and will do what you feel is necessary to be prepared.

Elissa, our characters have to be consistent TO THEMSELVES. If the character is mercurial - and this is established early on - it's okay. They may not be a likable character, but they'll be believable if they are true to their own character. People are usually consistent to themselves, too. You may wonder at a person's changing moods, but these moods don't come out of the blue. If you'd known the person awhile, you'd know they have moods. The moods are consistent with that person.

Anonymous said...

Steve, Steve, Steve, bless your heart. Let me allay your concerns. This OP has a thorough working knowledge of what a monumental task it is to critique or edit a novel-length ms, having done so many many times herself. In fact, I'd say this OP is a more competent editor than writer. She would never query a ms that she considered to be "a hell of a mess."

While I applaud the intention of many of you to hire an editor before querying, please do not do so thinking that it will eliminate editorial requests for changes from an agent and/or publisher. I don't think that's a realistic expectation.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

KD I think we all know we can't avoid edits after procuring agents and after the sale. For me, it's just trying to send my most polished work to the query trenches. Competition is so fierce. That seems to be the way of things these days.

When my cousin sold her first book twenty five years ago, she had not even written the book. She sold it on spec. Fiction never sells on spec anymore. At least not for debuts. Anything I can do to make my work stand out, I am going to do.

Danae McB said...

When kdjames posted the "five types of feedback" list, I had this thought: editing is a conversation. If an agent or editor (or critique partner) gives feedback that doesn't help, you can respond in a way to solicit better feedback. For example,

Agent: "The first three chapters are great. You don't need to do anything."
Author: "Thank you, but I feel worried that readers won't find the MC sympathetic enough before the events in chapter 4. Do you see any way I can improve that?"

Agent: "Chapter 15 just isn't working. You've gotta fix that."
Author: "I realize it can use improvement, but I'm struggling to figure out how to approach it. Can you give some specific suggestions?"

Agent: "I didn't like the pacing of your last two pages, so I rewrote them. Here."
Author: (deletes agent's pages, rewrites them) "Here is my revised version. Does that address your concerns?"

Panda in Chief said...

E.M. Goldsmith I urge you never get a storage unit. Unless of course, you like paying rent for things you'll need see again. Oh yes, you'll have good intentions, but I know people who have paid rent on storage units for years, to the point they could have flown to Italy first class, had they not been maintaining their possessions in style.

You, of course, would never do this. I've seen some nifty chairs that have bookcases as part of the structure, also beds propped up on bookcases. Maybe this would solve the problem. :-)

Donnaeve said...


You need THIS


Donnaeve said...

Lemme try that second one again:


E.M. Goldsmith said...

Donna and Panda You are both brilliant. I can sit and sleep in bookshelves. Heaven. I love this group. Where else can I find support for my book borderline hoarder obsession?

Barbara Etlin said...

E.M. Goldsmith, by far the hardest part of moving from a house to a condo for both my husband and me was cutting down on our huge library.

I dealt with it by donating some to libraries and hospitals; he dealt with it by pretending the problem didn't exist, schlepping most of his books here, and putting them into our locker room.

I've turned one of our closets into bookshelves-behind-doors. (Yes, books are more important than clothes!) I'm no better than he. Not only do I keep buying new books now, I'm also replacing some of the books I regret giving away.

If you've got real collectibles you can bear to part with, you can try selling them online.

Anonymous said...

EM, I hear ya on the competition thing. I was just getting a vibe from some of the comments that they weren't going to have to worry about this because they were hiring an editor. But I've had very little sleep the past several days, so maybe I read that completely wrong.

Danae, you make a good point. And maybe this is the kind of thing that gets easier and more comfortable over time, as writer and agent get to know each other and their strengths/weaknesses.

Thanks, everyone, for the comments and feedback on this odd topic. For me, the worst part of anything new is not knowing what to expect. So I end up asking a LOT of questions about stuff I probably don't even need to worry about.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Barbara I am the same about my books. I am having the washer/dryer pulled out of the apartment so I can store books in the laundry closet. Yes, books are magic- more important than music or food.

KD I totally agree with you. An editor can help but it is no cure all. I am simply trying to get rid of glaring errors. Ones that any person in publishing would catch. Once I enter the query trenches and beyond, well, it'll be open season but hopefully it won't be minor league mistakes that causes a pass.

Karen McCoy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen McCoy said...

Julie I loved your horse stories as well, and they prove a really good point. Perhaps I wasn't clear about my working relationship with this person, because the nudging aspect seems to suit perfectly, and the suggestions they've made so far have been very helpful to the story overall...

Julie Weathers said...


There are myriad reasons well-written books don't gain an agent's attention beyond the two you mentioned.

I had someone link a youtube video to me explaining how a writer should use strong verbs instead of adverbs. I do understand that it's better to say a man "shuffled, shambled, straggled, muddled, dragged, padded, or even sashayed," instead of "walked slowly". Sometimes, though, when I say "His plump fingers plundered through his extravagantly tied cravat as if he were contemplating self-murder." I want exactly that.

Yes, I realize all "ly" words must die according to some writing experts. Thank you Stephen King for telling writers everywhere the road to hell is paved with adverbs so people automatically scream when they see one. God, give me a bit of credit for understanding the rudiments of writing. I understand what an adverb is and I realize I am going to hell.

IF I decide to go through an editor, it won't be because I am too lazy to edit my own work. I will go through it umpteen times. Beta readers will go through it and it will go through the B&W workshop. My crit partners will go through it. I just want to give it the best shot I can before I hit the query trenches yet again.

Anyway, back to writing.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Julie, I will be joining you in Hell no doubt with a few choice adverbs of my own. Sometimes, an adverb gives that little punch, that extra punctuation to a scene like with the cravat or my Wicker Woman's yard.

Wild flowers and herbs grew furiously along a fence groaning under the weight of clinging vines

A total ban of adverbs is silly. It removes an effective tool from a writer's arsenal. Everything in moderation certainly. Back to my own writing.

John Davis Frain said...

Everything in moderation, indeed. Back to my drink in progress.

Julie Weathers said...


Wild flowers and herbs grew furiously along a fence groaning under the weight of clinging vines--See, you can envision that fence sagging under the weight like a pot-bellied pig.

I know I'm being a grouch tonight. I do know how to take criticism. I guess I'm on the hook. I just get bone weary at all the writing advice that gets taken so literally and vomited by experts who don't even follow their own advice. Kill all the adjectives. Kill all the adverbs.

Don't start your book with weather. First sentence with weather novels: Danielle Steele-92, John Steinbeck-19, Nichols Sparks-18, Willa Cather-14, Stephen King-51, Nora Roberts-173, Tom Clancy-13.

If you didn't get an agent you must not know how to edit your work.

Anyway, I'm going to do a bit more editing and wrap up the night.