Phyllis’s World Tour Begins! And Oh Susanna – What Is An "Editorial" Agent?

Holy high and dry, Batman!

Phyllis has been sighted in the Mojave Desert!!!

It’s true!  She made the first stop on her World Tour (really, something as incredible as a World Tour has to be capitalized :)) at Kirsten’s house.  Kirsten and her family gave Phyllis a warm welcome and showed her a truly amazing time, including some important firsts for her:

First Time Piloting An F-117 Night Hawk

As you can see, this picture was taken after she had successfully landed the plane.  That Phyllis is a born pilot 🙂

First Time In A Joshua Tree

Actually, it was the first time she had even SEEN a Joshua Tree.  This picture was taken after she climbed down because furry brown groundhogs don’t show up well against furry brown bark.  But in case you didn’t know, groundhogs are members of the squirrel family and they can climb!

For a detailed post on Phyllis’s first stop in California, hop on over to Kirsten’s blog.  (For those of you ahead of me in time zone, or any other early birds, if the link doesn’t work right away it’s because Kirsten is 3 hours behind me and her post may not be up yet, and I won’t have a post-specific link until later today – but I will update the link, I promise!)

Phyllis is now on her way to Texas, where I hear Natalie has wonderful things in store for her visit.  We will keep you posted.  And by gum, I’d better get that extra tab up top pretty durn soon! *scribbles on very long to-do list!*

After all that excitement, you can probably barely concentrate on regular life, but let’s give it a try.  Most likely some chocolate would help, even though it’s not Wednesday 🙂

Today’s Oh Susanna question comes to us from Penny.  She says:

“When I have searched the internet in search of agents, some sites point out that some agents are more editorial than others.  What exactly does this mean?  Will an agent actually make specific changes to your manuscript or will they give general feedback and have you make the changes?”

This question is both easy and hard to answer.

From the easy side:  Yes.  To both.

Some agents are quite “editorial”.  They read a MS and give very specific suggestions for change and improvement.  I’m sure it is up to the author to actually make those changes, but they are quite specifically suggested in some cases, and the understanding is that without the changes the agent won’t send the MS out.

Other agents are not editorial at all.  They read a MS and say, “Yes, I’ll send it out,” or “No, this one doesn’t work for me,” end of conversation.

Still other agents fall somewhere in the middle.  They may give a broader, less specific suggestion, for example, “Change the beginning,” or, “It needs more emotional tension,” or “Give me a better idea of who exactly Jenny is” but they don’t give you suggestions as to how to achieve that, or any kind of specific details.

The harder side of the question is how to find out how “editorial” an agent is when you’re looking and thinking about submitting to them, and what kind of agent/amount of editorializing works best for you, which you may not know until you’ve gotten a little further in to the publishing process.

Some writers want a lot of hand-holding.  They like agents who will give them a lot of very specific feedback.  Other writers can’t bear to have someone else monkeying so much with their work.  (Still others would never dream of having an agent at all, but that is a whole nother issue!)

Finding the right agent is about so many things – personality, taste, and amount of editorializing being some of the key questions you need to address.  It’s especially difficult because it’s possible that the only agent offers you get might be from people whose style doesn’t match yours.  Then you have to think long and hard about what you really want.

For my part, I do have an agent.  (As you can see in my sidebar – Liza Voges of Eden Street Lit :))  She has a lot of experience, an encyclopedic knowledge of the publishing world, and a keen sense for what works and what doesn’t.  I would rank her somewhere in between on the editorializing scale.  If I send her a MS she thinks she can’t sell, she’ll just say so.  If it doesn’t work, she won’t waste my time or hers trying to force the issue.  If I send her a MS she thinks is really strong, she sends it out.  If I send her one where she feels there’s potential but I haven’t pulled it off right, she’ll give me a general comment like, “Try to write it more from the baby’s POV” or “The end is too abrupt.”  Then it’s up to me to figure out how to make changes that will make the MS work for her.  Sometimes I can, and sometimes I can’t.

No matter who your agent is, though, they won’t (and shouldn’t) do your job for you.  It is up to you to give them only your very best work.  Too many half-baked, sloppy MSS will find you looking for a new agent.

I know a number of people who read this blog have agents.  It would be wonderful if you would share your thoughts and experiences in the comments for readers to learn from!  If you can share your agent’s name and how “editorial” she/he is, I’m sure that would be very helpful to people starting their search!
Others of you, what would you look for?  Would you prefer a lot of editorializing or a little?

56 thoughts on “Phyllis’s World Tour Begins! And Oh Susanna – What Is An "Editorial" Agent?

  1. Renee LaTulippe says:

    Good to know! As an editor myself (not for kidlit, though), you might think that I would NOT want an editor/agent messing with my work – but it ain't so! As a writer, I crave input and would probably work best with an opinionated agent with a strong editorial bent. Thanks for the info, Susanna – I hadn't considered this side of agents!

  2. Corey Schwartz says:

    Well, it's funny. I always thought of the term “editorial” agent” as more applicable for agents repping novels (YA, MG). I write only PBs, but I suppose my agent does give me specific comments about what is not working for her. I think she would argue that in today's publishing world, agents have no choice, but to be fairly editorial. She tells me all the time that “editors are always looking for reasons not to have to move forward with a manuscript aso we have to make sure we give them no space to even think about rejecting them.”

  3. tkd2lady says:

    For me, if an agent is going to make a comment about my work, then it would be helpful it they give an example of how to improve it or maybe at least tell me specifically what is wrong…instead of just saying something like “change the ending”…I'm not saying hold my hand…just give me a clue as to what they are talking about…lol

  4. Joanna Marple says:

    Phyllis' World Tour was such a brilliant idea, Susanna!

    I also would prefer an editorial agent. I truly like input and concrete suggestions. I will be seeking a very hands-on agent when the time comes.. but hey, who knows!

  5. Sharron says:

    A hymn I wrote got published a long time ago. A little church in England sent me a tape of their singing it. It was quite sweet and I was delighted…. until — I discovered they had changed a word. I finally let it go. (yeah, sure.

    To get back to the premise. I have an editorial editor so I'm hoping my agent will not go in that direction.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Iza Trapani says:

    Like Renee, I also crave input. I love the editorial process, of having that extra set of eyes that can spot the rough spots right away, and I love the puzzle-solving process of revision. My agent doesn't edit my stories, but may make a suggestion or two. By the time I send her a manuscript I have worked very hard on it and it's as polished as I can make it. I've also worked with one publisher for most of my titles so they all know what to expect. That said, when I ventured into writing a memoir, I sent my agent the first four chapters of my first draft and then she had a lot to say! (and it wasn't all sweet to my ears.) I think agents do more editing for older books – perhaps middle grade, but more likely YA and adult. I will say this- an agent's role seems to have changed with the advent of social networking. I had an agent starting in 1990 who did only contracts. She may have offered a bit of editorial input, but after the book was sold, I didn't hear from her. My current agent is supportive and involved in promotion. She's very active on twitter, highlighting her authors. Recently we signed on with a new Press and she suggested a meeting with the publicity department to discuss a strategy for promoting my new book. Last week she went out for drinks after work with my senior editor to discuss possibilities for my book and to discuss new ones. Now THAT'S what you should really look for in an agent.

  7. Heather Ayris Burnell says:

    I think I’d have to say that my agent is all of these types rolled into one. It depends on the manuscript, really. She might love something and send it out as is, she might make general suggestions such as the story needs more tension or a stronger narrative arc, or she might go through a manuscript and write very specific notes. The main objective is, of course, having a strong manuscript that she believes we can sell. Each specific story has its own route. And yes, sometimes my agent says no (in a very nice way), that she can’t send a manuscript out, and that’s okay. It’s a judgment call on what she thinks she can sell for us right now, in this market. Discussions on salability, revisions, and give and take are all part of the process.

  8. tiltonph says:

    YEAH for Phyllis! Brilliant idea. Wish I could respond to the question today, but I don't have an agent. Enjoyed the various comments.

  9. Natalie says:

    I think I would also prefer an agent who offers editorial input. Anything that will make my writing stronger is completely welcomed, in my opinion 🙂 Phyllis has not arrived yet, as our mail arrives –but I will let you know when Phyllis has landed! 🙂 We are ready to show her the town tomorrow.

  10. Laura Barnes says:

    I just ordered your book from Scholastic. 🙂 Does that suck for you that I bought it from them when its discounted? I was meaning it to be supportive! And I can't wait to get it!!

  11. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Laura, I am thrilled and touched if you buy it in any way, shape or form. I truly appreciate the support. I wish I had thought to ask you to get ME one and mail it to me – I still haven't gotten my copies and I don't have anyone in that age group anymore. I really want to see how it cam out, and I want to hear the audio recording!!!

  12. Eric VanRaepenbusch says:

    Thank you once again for the Oh Susanna! I am learning so much. Also, I love the conversation that is started as a result!

    I would love to be at a point where I needed an agent. But, I know I would enjoy an editor that would give me helpful feedback.

  13. Jennifer Young says:

    Looks like Phyllis was having a blast with Kirsten's family. Looking forward to hearing more about the trip 🙂

    I found your 'Oh, Susanna” advice very helpful as always. If I ever get an agent I would like the editiorial advice.

  14. Ado says:

    Great post. I have an agent and I would definitely say she's of the “editorial” variety and man am I glad to have her. She is fantastic. I love her input. On the filp side of that though – as a writer it really, REALLY helps if you are able to take on board criticism without getting offended. And thank heck, I am. (-: So it works.

  15. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Good point, Ado! The criticism part is always hard. But I think I'd rather have it from an agent, do the work, and then sell the ms to an editor, then have an editor turn it down because no one had told me it wasn't ready.

  16. pennyklostermann says:

    Susanna~Thanks for the comprehensive answer to my question. I think I would prefer an editorial agent who would give a few details to work with along with general comments. I have really enjoyed all the comments from those of you who already have an agent. It's interesting to get input as I continue my search for an agent.

    Kirsten~I'm sure Phyllis hated to leave! What fun for you and your boys :•) Your post was wonderful.

  17. Stina Lindenblatt says:

    I would love to have an editorial agent. The main thing you want is an agent who shares your vision. Without that, you're only going to be frustrated in the end.

  18. Hannah Holt says:

    Penny, thanks for the great question and thanks Susanna for the helpful answer. I'm loving Phyllis's world tour already. Can't wait to see all the fun places she “pops up.”

  19. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Well, having mastered the ability to be in more than one place at the same time – something I've been trying to do for years! 🙂 – she is currently in both TX and GA. I am eagerly awaiting updates! 🙂 I hope she's behaving her marmot-y little self 🙂

  20. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    I'm so glad if we have all helped answer you question, Penny. Good luck with your search! And yes, Phyllis did hate to leave, but she has photographs and memories 🙂 And she's excited to see what awaits her in TX… and GA… and FL… 🙂

  21. Clarike Bowman-Jahn says:

    I have loved all the comments both about Phyllis and about agents.

    I had an editor take out all the repetitive lines in my soon to be published PB “Annie's Special Day.” She didn't see the use of them. It hurt me to take them out but as it was I felt like she knew best.

    If I ever get an agent for other works, I hope I get the editorial kind where they tell you what works and what doesn't and give you an idea of how to fix it. Usually at that point I have given my best and don't know how else to make it better so any suggestion is welcome.

    Thanks Penny and Susanna for a very informative post!

  22. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Glad you found the post useful, Clar. I'm interested because almost everyone has said they would like editorial feedback – I guess we don't have many of the independent-don't-tell-me-what-to-do types reading this blog 🙂

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