Monday, October 12, 2009

Agents and editing

Once a writer has feedback from the Editorial Department of a publishing house, to what extent do literary agents involve themselves, or make themselves available during the editing/rewriting process?

Presently, I’m an unsigned writer, with a dozen pages of detailed chapter by chapter comments and an invitation to rewrite and return, from a Senior Editor at one of the big houses. I’ve started the rewrite, but wonder whether I ought to seek out an agent to oversee the process of getting the best book possible out of this pile of pages before resubmitting (and hopefully, negotiating a contract). I realise that there are plenty of reasons for working with an agent, but I’d particularly like to know how the editing stage is managed. Many thanks.

I can't speak for all agents on this issue, as I don't know what they all do. So I'll just speak for myself, and I have as little or as much editorial involvement as the author wants me to have. Sometimes I'll read part of a first draft and give feedback on that; sometimes I'll read the full first draft; other authors don't want to show me until draft three or six or whatever number it is when they feel ready.

Once the authors have received editorial notes from their editor/publisher, again, it depends how much they want me to be involved, but usually they'll send me the notes and ask me for my opinion, especially on contentious points. And it's just that: an opinion. As is everything with editing. One thing I never want to do is come between them and their editor - that is a very intense relationship that should not have a third party inserted into it, unless there is a fundamental problem with communciation between author and editor. Happily, that doesn't happen very often.


Anonymous said...

AS, thanks for this informative response. It's helpful to know what is standard operating procedure for agents, and what is by arrangement. This gives writers some useful questions when considering whether to work with a particular agent or not.

Sally Collings said...

Sounds as though this query is talking about edits that the publisher has suggested before offering the author a contract. I think that's a different kettle of fish and that this writer may indeed benefit from an agent being involved. It can often happen that authors make what they consider to be adequate rewrites at the publisher's suggestion, only to be turned down by said publisher. What are your thoughts on this process?

Anonymous said...

Sally, you've summarised my anxieties precisely. BTW, your site is gorgeous. Good luck with the new book. I'll check it out with interest.

Zara Penney said...

I think this is a positive response and you should be flattered that the editor is interested enough in your work to pursue it. They are very busy people with a bunch of people on their backs called marketing, accountants and works in progress.

It is also part of the learning curve in a writing career which is getting better with each passing year.