I’m an agent who loves the editorial process of working with a manuscript. It says that right in my bio on the agency website. There’s very little more satisfying to me — other than, of course, getting to call a writer and say that their dreams are about to come true and that someone wants to publish their book.
But saying “I love to do editorial work with clients!” opens up an ugly Pandora’s box. When certain unprofessional writers see my passion for editorial work, they think it’s okay to query with statements like:
I know this needs a lot of work but I’m fed up with it. I need professional help because, if I ever have to look at this manuscript again, so help me God…
I never done written nothin’ befor so I need sumone to healp mak this teh best book evar…
Together we can develop this into a bestseller bigger than Twilight and Harry Potter combined…
My idea is so great, and if you could only write it for me…
An agent makes money by doing one thing: selling books. Not by developing projects (though that’s a huge part of the work I do every day…for clients), not by taking on the role of a freelance editor, not by ghostwriting, not by playing critique partner for free. That’s not our job. That’s us wasting time on something that, most likely, will never amount to anything.
When I say that I love doing editorial work with my clients, that does not mean that I will rehabilitate every querier’s Ugly Ducking Manuscript into The Next Bella Swan. It doesn’t mean I want to fix your hot mess. It means that I’m hands on and love to give guidance to the clients I sign. And here’s the most important thing to remember:
The clients I take on are already going to have manuscripts that are 95% ready for editors to see them. That means I will take the best of the best and make sure it is irresistible to publishers. If I see promise and potential and, ahem, professionalism and craft, I will work with you until the ends of the Earth. If you beg for me to fix your thing for free, I will shake my head and chuckle. Impatience, as you can see from the comments in my last post, It’s Easy to Get Published, is one of the biggest mental hurdles writers have.
The point is, if you can’t bear to look at your manuscript one more time, hire a freelance editor. If you’ve never written anything before in your life and you want to know whether you’re doing it right, keep writing because you’re probably not. If you want free guidance from another reader, join a critique group. If you want someone to develop a project with you, try to get a co-writer who will agree to work for free and take a risk on you.
However, if, and only if, you want someone to take your nearly-editor-ready, sparkling, beautiful manuscript and sell it, I am gladly at your service, because that is what an agent does.
I know a lot of people will think “But what if something really is a diamond in the rough and will be the next Harry Potter if only some enterprising agent plucks it from the coal mine where it’s working and gives it a good shower and a hot meal?” I’m sure this has happened. But you know what? In my own work, I’ve tried doing that with a few writers. I really saw promise…or convinced myself I did. There were glimmers of hope. I spent hours giving extensive notes.
But the problem with people who have promising yet unpracticed writing is that the writer doesn’t have as many revision skills as people who have been writing and honing their craft for a while. Every single one of the “diamond in the rough” projects I’ve tried to rehab have fallen apart in the revision phase and I have pretty thoroughly learned my lesson. If some writer comes to me and says “Here, please fix my urchin of a manuscript and, oh yeah, I’ve invented a machine that’ll give you 24 more hours in every day”…then we might be in business, but not before.
Tags: Agent/Client Relations