But Are You a Match? Six Things to Consider Before Accepting Representation: Prt 4/6–EDITORIAL OR NOT EDITORIAL, THAT IS THE QUESTION

Part the fourth in a six-part series, here are one, two and three.

Another one of the million things to consider when mulling over an offer of representation, is whether he/she is an editorial agent.

Pretty easy to tell the difference. An uneditorial agent will say he/she leaves the editing up to the editor.


An editorial agent will tell you she/he wants your work as polished as it can be, before it’s sent out.


Well. What to do. When in doubt I always say, “Make a list.” Or two. Or four.



  • Another pair of eyes, fresh ones, can find the weak spots in your manuscript and help you clean them up.
  • The agent might know a certain editor’s taste, and help you revise accordingly.
  • The agent should know how the market is swinging, a small subplot or character suggestion, or change in length might get your manuscript sold.


  • The agent might want to alter your story radically. Which is fine if you like the new direction. But if you don’t, will you still be happy when she sells the manuscript?
  • The agent could be–ahem–not equipped to function as an editor. You can waste a lot of time on revisions that go nowhere.
  • There are some lousy agents out there who are frustrated authors. They want to make your story over in their image. Sometimes, it improves the manuscript. Most times, it only makes the story different.
  • In the past, I’ve heard about the odd agent who is…odd. Strings a writer along making adjustments and rewrites for years, and never sends the manuscript anywhere.
  • Maybe the agent is an excellent editor and has you revise your masterpiece with one, specific publishing imprint in mind. If that imprint passes, will your story be a fit for anyone else?



  • Your manuscript will get out on the market quickly.
  • Too many cooks spoil the picture-book broth. You’ve had your work critiqued to death, it doesn’t need any more changes until the final ones, with an editor.
  • Leaves plenty of room for the actual editor who buys your manuscript to revise with you, which saves you plenty of wasted effort.
  • The editor at the publishing house knows that when an agent sends him/her a novel, the work is the writer’s alone. She/he won’t have to guess how much brilliance is because of the writer and how much is due to the agent.
  • If an agent doesn’t suggest any changes before she/he sends it out, what a vote of confidence!


  • You might need a give-and-take with a business partner to do your best work. And your best work is all you want an editor to see.
  • The agent might not give you revision suggestions because he/she is too inexperienced to do it.
  • An agent who doesn’t offer some sort of suggestion to improve your product could be borderline-illiterate. Well, perhaps not illiterate–but might be too much of a salesman and not enough of a respecter of the written word.

Revising for an agent can be the best thing that you ever did, or it can be a bottomless mire from which you’ll never escape.

Some years ago, Leonard S. Marcus came to my local library. He spoke of the great editors in children’s literature, like Ursula Nordstrom, and how little time editors of today have to actually, you know, edit. At question time, I asked him if the role editors filled in the past is now filled by agents.

His eyes lit up–no doubt, he’s got a keen agent of his own–and said that indeed they do.  Editors almost never do slush piles anymore, and they don’t have time to languorously mentor a promising writer.

Maybe your manuscript is already in nearly perfect shape, or maybe you need the firm hand of a professional whose income depends on selling your book. You’re the only one who can choose.


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