Category Archives: On agents

Do You Need an Editor? The *Definitive* Post

There’s a misconception I’d like to put to rest.

Freelance editors are not expendable. Freelance content editors are the unsung heroes of publishing.

Though it sounds like I’m tooting my own horn, I’m not. And this idea may not make me popular among my industry friends and colleagues. Yet as publishing continues to change, I see too many good writers, mid-listers and professional authors being sold a steaming heap of monkey giblets about how to sell more books. And I think it’s high time we jumped this collection of clunkers with confidence.

Wheeeeee!!! Craaaap!!!!

The unassailable history proves that word of mouth is what sells books over the long term. And despite publisher and traditional bookseller practices, long-term sales are what authors need in order to survive.

Check. (Thanks, Google.)

But what generates consistent and long-lasting word-of-mouth? Is it promotions, interviews, contests or other savvy marketing? Maybe killer content? Meaningful and enriching stories? Most professionals will mark “a good read at a good price” as the way to sell books best over the long-term–and little else besides.

Okay. So the question eventually comes down to: how do authors develop the most scintillating, wide-reaching material?

Now we’re ready, ladles and gent-lemons. The one way to writing good books (and my nomination for word of the year):


Show me a “professional” who doesn’t take many drafts to develop their material and I’ll show you an amateur who isn’t creating their most widely-accessible work. (Duck and cover, people! I warned you.) And even after initial rewriting, refinement always requires some outside help, objective opinion, and more specifically, experienced, balanced objective opinion(s).

So is it hyperbole to say that finding these helpers may mean the difference between success and failure for every author?

I do this for the money, prestige and power. Said no writer ever.
I do this for the money, prestige and power. Said no writer ever.

There are many stages in an author’s development, but freelance editing is one I see too often overlooked. In fact, questions and misunderstandings seem to be increasing.

What do they really do? Won’t they ruin my story? Wouldn’t they change my voice? Why would I want someone to mess with my vision and challenge what I’ve worked so hard on?

Real, valid concerns. Actually, if writers weren’t asking questions like this, I’d be worried. There are no guarantees editing will help you (and any editor who offers that is playing you). Step back and recall how many badly written books have made it to the bestseller list without any apparent assistance from an editor’s red pen. Do books really need editing to sell well?

Literary-snobs shut your eyes: “Not really.” (support) (proof)

So if quality control isn’t a valid reason, what’s the point of hiring an editor? And who needs editing beforehand anyway, especially if you’ll be going through the editing during the publication process?

Freelance editors are a dime a dozen and the wrong one could be disastrous. To top it off, they’re crazy expensive. Let’s just get straight-up honest, here:

Do you really need a freelance editor?

First, there are critique groups. Good writers all use them. Beta readers. They can be hugely helpful, harsh and honest, professional friends.

Agents. The good ones do still content-edit quite a bit besides crafting astounding, profitable ideas out of thin air. They are often the first and only line of defense and author advocate before the infamous …

In-house editors. Despite rumors to the contrary, they do still edit. And they do a bang-up job of it too, if not as singularly as editors who aren’t required to handle multiple concurrent book-production schedules, new acquisitions, pub-board presentations, sales conferences, departmental requests for early materials and publicity pieces, and the thousands of other insipid and infuriating things in-house editors are literally bombarded with every day. And if you’re independently published, you’ll have your…

Publishing package editors. And in some cases, they’ll actually fix some words you missed. Just don’t expect them to do much content shaping, let alone character or plot analysis or smoothing. But, then, sometimes you may even have your…

Ghostwriters. These are the most evolved industry folks around. No way any “word shenanigans” are getting past these bad boys and girls of publishing.

So freelance editors. What’s really left for them to do with all these competent folks around?

I can’t speak for all my freelance editor friends, of course. But as an independent business, my goal is not to achieve “high quality,” or improve the story, or even to fulfill the author’s hopes of a completed project. My one purpose is to sell books. To do this, the author must see how they’re authentically surprising and delighting readers. That isn’t crass or unbiblical, it’s simply ambitious: it’s how the most influential authors are publishing today.


I’m a seasoned editor and some say I’m rather good. So let me challenge you to consider who will help you gain the best perspective on your book. Is it:

Someone who knows you and may be tempted to put friendship first?

Someone with a lot of experience and even objectivity, but 25-100 clients they’re carrying simultaneously?

Someone you’ve been assigned and needs you “processed” as quickly as possible?

Or someone who is free to invest weeks of professional evaluation into suggesting improvements for readability and mass appeal?

Freelance editors exist because they love books. And yes, they love successful books, because time and again they find the core of their author’s message and bring it out more fully to compel readers to proselytize about their books.

A freelance editor is your greatest chance to extend your reach and expand your writing career. With the right freelance editor, you will find a fulfilling sense of empowerment from an insightful supporter who gets you and respects your process. And at the very least, you will find new angles and depths you missed in your own work, which, in the end, will provide more compelling angles to sell your work.


So before you decide your next step, do one thing: run a simple search for experienced freelance editors. Ask them your questions and take a look at how hard they are working to balance author’s visions with reader appeal. And consider carefully the true value of investing in this powerful tool of education and insight you’re endeavoring to begin.

Could you use an unbiased coach and personal trainer in your corner?

Maybe the question isn’t, “Do you need a freelance editor?” Maybe it’s time the savvy authors recognized the better question is,

“Do you want to sell books?”

Pick a Fight You’re Willing to Lose

Dear Strong Christian,

How much I’d like to fight with you.

Charlotte fighting

But I suppose the truth is, I’m not that concerned. I know you’ll be fine in time, when life does its work and then God does his. I don’t need you to agree with me, and I don’t care about disagreement. I’m not sure what happened, but when did we start to think Christians all have to agree in order to love and find common ground?

I know there are more important matters than this. I’m not very high on the list of people whose opinions matter and sway others. Nor do I wish to be. I have a quiet life and a simple story to share. I don’t want that to change. I have enjoyable, behind-the-scenes book work to do.

Trying to convince people–even publishers, agents and writers in CBA–of my point is pointless. I do enjoy discussion, though often debates don’t appeal because competition implies a winner and a loser and that opposes my gospel.

It’s my gospel because who can say if it’s yours, however great our hope may be? Real life is not so cut and dry.

This post pretty much states my “position,” if I have one. And the blogosphere could do well to remember it:

Striving for answers is foolishness beyond the one Jesus offered. There are many things he didn’t talk about that get a lot of people upset. They wish so much he’d said more, but they’re missing the ones he did say. Make peace and you’re blessed. Accept suffering for another’s sake. When we’re focused on being right, too often we’re wrong. So many of his “answers” focused us on the bigger questions—it’s as though he’s saying, “I know it’s impossible, so what will you do with what I did say about trusting me?” Is that putting words into his mouth?

He wasn’t merely evasive; he was patient and unrelenting. But he knew answers too often barricade the high and the low, the insiders and the outsiders, and his work was leveling all of that out. He was okay appearing wrong. Appearing weak.

Who will be that hero?

Edgy Books Are Bad Bets

"You can possess all the ‘must haves’ publishers talk about—an uncommon topic, writing chops, proven interest in your subject, a ‘platform’—but none of it matters if what you’re saying is not what people want to hear."

Ran across this nice reminder today from Linda Konner in the June 30th edition of PW: "No Room for ‘Edgy.’" Konner eventually gave up trying to publish her book about her "living apart" relationship with her partner, concluding that publishers are “followers, not leaders.” It’s a good point and one I think is easy to forget, obvious as it may seem. Big publishers, successful publishers are followers—of trends and market forces. And publishers are followers of these things because publishing is gambling. Every single time, a house is putting money on the horse who they believe has the best chances of winning. Any successful business makes predictions based on piles of market research.

Now for Christians, gambling poses an obvious ethical problem (my own angst with that reality is well-documented over there in the sidebar). But even aside from the inherent pressure cooker of capitalistic opportunism, this game is incredibly and increasingly high stakes. Huge chance and devastating losses.

But can we blame publishers?

They would throw a party if the audience who claims to want “edgy” actually bought more edgy books. I’m not alone in wanting more edgy, innovative books. Far from it. And writers, that’s good news for you. Maybe I’m more foolish in my “edgy” statements, but I’m not arguing that edgy isn’t still risky. A bad bet is a bad idea for any publisher. So "edgy" is a term I think we need to be careful with. If you’re on the edge, you need to realize that publishers see edgy as a bad bet.

What we need are more people able to show that the edge is actually the "new center." The coveted spot to be. There you’d have something. Show publishers the recent research that tracks a shift toward your type of talent. Prove how many people are looking for what you specifically offer. Who are the recognizable names of people who agree, and how many do you have personal access to? This is a big part of what good agents do. They dress up a horse to look like a safe bet. Some are amazing at it—you’d never know it, but there are horses out there that are actually camels. Or waffle irons.

Okay. The metaphor’s getting a little weird. But get this: "edgy" is constantly transforming, just like the publishing game. And like anyone, I struggle with the dynamics. I’ve attacked assumptions where I might have been a better diplomat. I’m learning. But I will say that I will never divorce my heart from the process. I love books.

And for my bet, it’s only by gambling everything on our shared vision for the books that matter that saves me from the despair in those who have stopped struggling to stand on that always surprising, shifting edge.

Good agent, bad agent

I have a friend who just recently secured a top agent to represent her fiction and in 2 weeks, she had a three book deal with a top national publisher. I have another friend who has had an agent for 8 years and has yet to sell a manuscript.

If you’ve ever bought or sold a house, or dealt with a lawyer, you know a little bit about what literary agents do. They act as mediators to negotiate contracts and assist you in protecting your interests. They have specialized knowledge of the field and apply all their experience for a given fee, usually a percentage of what they help you secure. That’s your basic definition. Agents are motivated to get you paid for your writing.

Securing one is a matter of applying effort to your writing. You don’t need an agent if you’ve written a few magazine articles and are thinking of writing a book. Wait until the book is written and you’ve been critiqued and edited. Even better, win a few contests and attend a few writers conferences. Join a national writer’s group like the Christian Writers Guild or ACW. Start the process of making your name recognizable to the agents in the industry through these channels and you’ll have no problem finding interest.

Beyond that, the question of whether or not to employ a literary agent to represent your writing is mainly one of common sense. Virtually none of the top-selling authors opperate without an agent. In fact, I can’t think of a single one. Simply, when you spend your time writing, you don’t have time to know everything there is to know about the book industry. Oh sure, you can adequately secure a book contract on the strength of your writing if you’ve been doing it for a number of years. But when it comes to really getting all you’re worth, a good agent is much more than an expendable commodity.

The question is, how do you find a good one?

Agenting is about reputation. Ask around to editors and authors who they enjoy working with. I recommend the ones in the sidebar, but there are many good ones out there. Stories of bad agents and unsatisfied authors are scary, but typically, fabulous writers will have little to complain about. It might sound trite or unkind, but great writing makes bad agents easier to avoid. It may take a few tries, but don’t give up. Your writing career is worth the effort.

To all my writing friends, agented and not-yets, I wish you all the success in the world and many happy days writing!

To agent or not to agent?

Ah, the eternal conundrum. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous publishing house’s offers alone, or to seek such representation as will improve your chances of securing a large fortune, minus the customary 15%.

But soft! Methinks there is an answer!

Okay, okay. Enough of that. As an editor, I get this question a lot from writers. of course, since my house doesn’t take unsolicited manuscripts, I have to say there are definite advantages. Most if not all of the biggest publishers are the same way. And bigger means better when you’re talking about getting your message out to the most people possible. There are alternatives to big business, of course, but most of them suck. I’m just going to be straight up about that and not hide my petty biases since this blog is a no spin zone.

An agent not only helps you get attention, he or she can help to inform you about the volatile market, keeping you abreast of changes and developments you might not otherwise know about. An agent, depending on his particular speciality, will also help greatly in crating not only your particular message, but your career as well. The idea of branding has become a necessaity in our info-driven market and most new authors need all the help they can get in understanding this new reality.

Yet lest you think I’m all about agents, I will say to take this with a modicum of sodium–agents are paid to creat brands and marketing is the great bane of my existence. However, it can only help a burgeoning writer to understand what an author brings to the table with publishers before beginning a writing career.

There’s much more, but I’m thinking that’s enough to begin with. We’ll continue with more if people would like. But until then, have a great day, everyone.