“Are you an editorial agent?”
I’m never quite sure how to answer this question, as there’s really no industry standard for considering yourself to be one. But generally when asked, I answer yes.
I like to get down and dirty with a manuscript. Maybe I need better hobbies, but I find a certain level of satisfaction not just in giving big-picture editorial advice on a manuscript, but in doing line edits. I do feel that the devil can be in the details. While doing a line edit once, for example, I noticed that the author had a tendency to begin almost all of the dialogue with conjunctions. Little things like this can really add up and take the overall quality of a book down.
My procedure for editing usually goes something like this:
- Read the manuscript as is, start to finish.
- Go back to the beginning and start line edits.
- Fix incorrect SPAG (spelling, grammar, and punctuation)
- Suggest changes to dialogue, flow, paragraph structure
- While doing this, keep a separate sheet for notes on plot, characterization, and big-picture ideas
- Repeat until I reach the end of the book.
- Write an editorial letter talking about both the small and big picture edits.
In short, I explain my editorial philosophy as such: I don’t want to change a book. I want to make it the best possible version of what it already is. I take on clients’ books because I love what’s at the heart of them, whatever that may be. When writing an editorial letter, I do my best to be prescriptive, to offer solutions for the problems that are keeping the book from being the best it can be.
I’ve been asked if I have any special training in editing, and the answer is no. When I was in elementary school and junior high (yes, I went to an actual junior high, not a middle school), my English classes taught grammar and editing, and I not only found it interesting, but I had something of a natural ear for proper grammar. (This was a good thing, as I needed my English grade to offset my math grade so I could still come out with a decent GPA.) All I do when editing is mark what sounds right or wrong to me, and within that framework I consider what the audience for this particular book might like to see. It’s neither art nor science, just something I try to get better at with every manuscript I work on.
And yes, I use the Oxford comma, but I don’t get upset with writers who don’t.