Why Agents Edit

typeAmong the many things we do for our clients it includes editing their work. Sure, the crux of our job is selling our authors’ books, but getting the projects to the point of selling involves anything from a light copy edit to complete overhauls.

We all know there are so many layers to get published: write the book, get an agent, get a book deal, publicize, have a writing career that spans many more books. And know that each opportunity requires its own mental stamina to achieve success. However, I still see so many aspiring writers putting an emphasis on getting an agent and think perhaps the rest falls into place. If it’s so hard to get an agent, then it must all be downhill from there, right? Wrong.

One of the big parts of our agent responsibilities is getting our client’s projects ready for editors’ eyes.

Why Agents Edit:

Because we know the difference between creative writing and book publishing. There is a lot of really good writing that doesn’t get published. Publishing is where creative writing meets Hollywood: Does it have a hook? Can you sell it in a sentence? Are the characters memorable? Is their journey compelling? Does it start when we meet the characters at an interesting point in their lives? Getting published requires some stripping down of overwriting and self indulgence. Getting published is about making your writing accessible to mass readers.

Because the competition is fierce. Sometimes I feel like this is the title of my blog. I do harp on it, but it’s only because I want everyone to know the stakes to ‘make’ it. It doesn’t make it easy when you know how many other writers there are out there trying to get published, too. But that information has to light a fire under you and make you want to revise and want to write the best book you can. Competition is about writing better than you did the day before, and the book before this. You are your own competition. Make that your mission.

Because we need to know that you’re able to work in a collaborative environment. Can you take criticism? Incorporate feedback? This is another reason publishing isn’t writing: Writing is solitary, publishing is communal. Agents get a feel for how writers react to editing, revision letters, and more work. We need to know you’re ready to work with an editor. That’s why when you get a revise and resubmit letter from an agent you should take it very seriously. It’s like a practice run before the big event.

Now, not all agents will be extremely hands on. Some of you who have agents, might have agents that are a bit more hands off. Some of you who are looking for representation need to think about whether you want an agent that edits or not. The fact of the matter is the industry has changed. Editors want projects that are ready to take to their editorial board meetings (i.e. books they want to buy), not projects that require extensive amounts of work to get there. That is now the agent’s job. More editing happens before the acquisition process than ever before.

Are you ready to get the red pen out?

02/18/14 Update: This doesn’t mean that YOU don’t have to the editing. We want to do as little as possible because we love seeing completely finished projects. However, we always do a bit of tweaking.

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

16 thoughts on “Why Agents Edit

  1. I am so glad I read this – I am at the stage of an agent having asked for my full manuscript – when I’ve had ‘revise and resubmit’ letters before I’ve left it there, self-publishing in one case. I’m much more confident about this one, and you’ve underlined what I suspected anyway, re publishing being about saleability, as much as the writing being great. Thanks – it’ll help me if I do get the ‘R & R’ letter – which is a damn site better than the ‘no thanks’ one!

    Followed your blog, and will be reading much more!


  2. Thanks for sharing! It’s always greatly helpful to hear form someone on the other side of the table about how things work for them.


  3. Your update about the importance of writers editing their own work is also important, Carly. Several years ago, at the request of an agent, I submitted my entire novel manuscript for her review. She wrote a letter back with some key points about why she decided to pass on representation. Her letter became the basis for a significant rewrite on my part that definitely improved the story. I ended up doing the hard learning and the editing, which was a good thing. The process taught me quite a lot about character arc.


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