Have trees, need forest

Hello Miss Snark–

If an agent chooses clients based on excellent writing, a great plot, and a polished manuscript, what is left for an editor to do? I’m not being snarky. I’m just curious after reading lots of agents’ blogs.

buy the project.


r louis scott said...




Anonymous said...

An editor at a writing conference informed us that she only tends to acquire work that is ready to go...sure, she will probably make or suggest some changes, but she buys projects that don't need a ton of work. Diamonds in the rough get rejected.

She seemed to be implying that years ago, a not-entirely-perfect book had a better chance of being sold and then the editor would work with the author a bit more. These days, not so much.

the poopie says said...

And if the editor "buys the project," what's left for the reader to do?

Johnny Relentless said...

Sounds a little snarky to me!

However, if it's that good you've just made everyone's job easier---the editor's, the agent's and yours as well. The hard part is getting it to the point where it's that good!

randomsome1 said...

Nobody's perfect, but we can help try to get you there.

flem snopes said...

"She seemed to be implying that years ago, a not-entirely-perfect book had a better chance of being sold and then the editor would work with the author a bit more."

Yes, times have changed. The American classic "To Kill a Mockingbird" was a mess when Harper Lee submitted it. Her editor worked with her for two years before it was ready for publication. And most novelists know about the animal called Thomas-Wolfe-Maxwell-Perkins.

I was just curious as to whether Her Highness had any thoughts on how things have changed, and I am grateful for not receiving the Nitwit of the Day Award for asking. Likewise, given the need to ply KY's girlfriends with expensive gifts http://tinyurl.com/2vwguy
I entirely understand the brevity of her answer.

ORION said...

Guys! Please!
Editors are awesome!
Mine really helped.
Novels can always be polished further.
My editor gave my book another very close read. She made great suggestions. I had an option of making the changes or not. I can tell you her editorial letter was insightful and amazingly helpful. After I made my revisions she did another read and had only a couple of additional comments.
The final version feels so much more polished -- both my editor and agent said that my prose was extraordinarily clean but it STILL could be improved.
This only took a few weeks. We are not talking major re-write.
Keep in mind this is NOT grammar, spelling or punctuation.
The editorial letter had to do with character depth, theme and plot elements that needed a bit of tweaking to be enhanced.
My book WAS ready to go, but a new pair of professional eyes made it even better.
By the way I am now waiting for the hard copy from the copy editor -- It still continues...

Anonymous said...

The editor will...

help you make it better!

There is not a work out there that can't be improved one way or another.

And the editor will also see that the book gets, yanno, published.

Sherry D said...

One of my former teachers (a published author himself) once told the class that editors "don't really 'edit' anymore - they choose, and try to convince the publisher to buy." That might be a slight exageration, and it doesn't mean the editor 'never' suggests minor changes or revisions.

--E said...

1. Buy the project.
(1.a. Work with the author to make it the best possible version of the project that it can be.)

2. Talk to the Art Director and the Marketing Director about how best to sell the project to the bookbuyers and the reading masses.

3. Stand up in front of the sales force and tell them what an amazing book it is, and how they should be able to convince the bookbuyers to stock the book.

4. Work with the Promotions and Publicity departments to generate buzz where the target audience is likely to hear about it.

5. Convince the Subrights department to exploit whatever rights beyond North American English were acquired, so that the P&L looks good.

And a whole bunch more stuff beyond that.

Anonymous said...

We have to remember that in the days of Maxwell Perkins, there were no MFA programs or writing workshops. Critique groups serve the purpose that editors once did. Also, with the advent of word processors, agent blogs, and email queries, so many people have the ability to submit so many books--I imagine that editors can afford to be choosier than they once were.

j h woodyatt said...

"What's left for an editor to do?"

Um, edit the book?

No, really. Editors may have outsourced an awful lot of the acquisition process to agents, but they still have a metric crapload of other stuff to do.

The book you want to read about this is called The Fiction Editor, The Novel and The Novelist by Thomas McCormack.

Richard Lewis said...

My editor has sent all my manuscripts back for significant revision. I was grumpy about one (the middle one) although the edit made it much more focused, but the other two did need that squinty editorial eye.

Ryan Field said...

Another keyboard covered in diet coke. Didn't expect that one.

s.m.o'shea said...

This is disheartening. I had been thinking about becoming an editor because I LIKE editing, (yes, I am a loser) but for a publishing company, because I wanted to learn about the business and I didn't want to work for a newspaper...

clarice snarkling said...

s.m. - Publishers do still employ copy editors. They're the ones who will comb a manuscript for typos, various discrepancies (a character's name being spelled two different ways, for example, though let's hope the author catches that one most of the time), punctuation goofs, etc. The amount of influence they have in suggesting stylistic changes and plot troubles probably varies from publisher to publisher.

I know several writers who have worked very closely with their editors to make changes to their manuscripts. IF there is a plot hole or some device that doesn't work quite right, it still falls on the editor to figure that out and have the author make changes accordingly. That kind of thing isn't always part of the editor's job anymore, and I suppose it often falls to the agent and the writer to make that as small a part of the editor's job as possible.