July 2 – 8: “How much editing/revisions do you do before sending a new project to a publisher?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5With Pitchfest on the horizon we’re honored to be joined this week by literary agents and editors Chantelle Aimée Osman, Jill Marr, Gina Panettieri, Peter Rubie, Ann Leslie Tuttle, Paula Munier and Terrie Wolf. This week’s question: How much editing/revisions you do before sending a new project to a publisher? Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along. You really won’t want to miss this!

Chantelle Aimée Osman, Down & Out Books
www.downandoutbooks.com

Bio: Chantelle Aimée Osman is an editor at Down & Out Books, New Wave Crime Division. The former editor-in-chief of RT Book Reviews and a freelance editor for over 10 years, she is the co-host of the Crime Friction podcast as well an instructor at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, Authors at Large and LitReactor. Find her on Twitter @SuspsenseSiren.

Currently Looking For: Mystery, thriller and suspense, particular new and unique voices representing all aspects, lifestyles and cultures of the modern world.

Not Looking For: Non-Fiction, Poetry, or anything outside of the above categories.

 

Jill Marr, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency
www.dijkstraagency.com

Bio: Jill is an acquiring agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. She graduated from San Diego State University with a B.A. in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing and a minor in History. She has a strong Internet and media background and nearly 15 years of publishing experience. She wrote features and ads for Pages, the literary magazine for people who love books, and continues to write book ads for publishing houses, magazine pieces and promotional features for television. After writing ad copy and features for published books for years she knows how to find the “hook” and sell it.

Clients: In fiction, Robert Pobi, Robert Rotstein, David Burnsworth, Janie Chang, Nancy Allen, David Freed, Neal Griffin, Jon Miller, J Lincoln Fenn, Eyre Price, Stacy Allen, and Jaden Terrell, Jacob Appel, Alice Blanchard, Don Bruns, Alex Dolan, Jody Gehrman, and Maureen Lindley. In non-fiction, Travel Channel’s Nick Groff, actor Fred Stoller, Christina Pesoli, Scott Bonn, Kristina Rizga, Leanne Shirtliffe, singer-songwriter Laura Roppé, Christopher Finan, Mark Johnson, Hana Ali, Pramila Jayapal, and Garrett Madison.

 

Gina Panettieri, Talcott Notch Literary Services
www.talcottnotch.net

Bio: Gina Panettieri is Founder of the Milford, Ct-based Talcott Notch Literary, a three-member literary agency seeking the freshest voices in adult and juvenile fiction and nonfiction. Some of her more prominent recent sales includes the WSJ-bestselling WAR SHADOWS by Andrews & Wilson (Thomas & Mercer), the Hillerman Prize-winning THE HOMEPLACE by Kevin Wolf (St. Martin’s Press), and her auction of Talcott Notch’s own Paula Munier’s A BORROWING OF BONES in a six-figure sale to Minotaur, debuting in September.

Currently Looking For: Fiction – mystery, thrillers, suspense, psychological suspense, upmarket women’s fiction, action-adventure and historical fiction; nonfiction – memoir, true crime, history, career, cookbooks, medicine and fitness, travel, parenting, self-help, coffee table books, juvenile fiction and nonfiction for middle-grade and young adult, particularly books that address timely and topical issues.

Not Looking For: Poetry, short story collections by new writers, novellas, and textbooks.

Clients: Jeffrey Wilson and Brian Andrews, Scott Deitche, Dr. Seth Meyers, Drew Eric Whitman, Paula Munier, Kevin Wolf, A.E. Rought, Sara O’Shaughnessy, Peter Tupper, and Rick Morris.

 

Peter Rubie, FinePrint Literary Management
www.fineprintlit.com

Bio: Peter Rubie, is CEO of FinePrint Literary Management, where as a literary agent he represents a broad range of high-quality fiction and non-fiction. He’s a former BBC Radio and Fleet Street journalist, who was a member of the New York University publishing faculty for ten years, teaching the only university-level course in the country on how to become a literary agent. For several years he was the director of the book publishing section of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute. Prior to becoming an agent, Peter was an in-house editor for Walker & Co., for nearly six years, whose authors won prizes and critical acclaim. He has also worked independently as a book doctor for what is now Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and other mainstream publishing companies. He was once a regular reviewer for the international trade magazine Publishers Weekly and is a published author of both fiction and non-fiction. A member of the Association of Authors Representative (AAR), he regularly lectures and writes on publishing and the craft of writing. (Blog: https://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article_center.php?in_type=263)

Clients: Luke McCallin (The Man from Berlin), Chris Goff (Birdwatching mysteries, Dark Waters), J. Madison Davis (Dub Greenaway mysteries, Murder of Frau Schutz, Edgar nominated for Best First Novel, And the Angels Sang), Macolm Shuman (Mysterious Press mysteries), Vicki Stieffel (Bone Man, Body Parts), and William P Wood (Rampage, Sudden Impact).

 

Ann Leslie Tuttle, Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret LLC
www.dystel.com

Bio: Ann Leslie Tuttle joined DG&B in 2017 after working for 20 years at Harlequin Books where she most recently was a Senior Editor. At Harlequin, she was fortunate to work on an extensive and varied list of bestselling and award-winning titles in romance and women’s fiction. She received her B.A. degree from the College of William and Mary and an M.A. from the University of Virginia. Finding and nurturing talented new writers has always been Ann Leslie’s passion. Ann Leslie lives in New York City with her husband and young daughter, who is just discovering the magic of books and writing.

Currently Looking For: I am actively seeking romance, including romantic suspense, and women’s fiction. Within women’s fiction, I am seeking thrillers, psychological suspense, historical fiction and commercial and upmarket fiction that focus on friendship, and the bonds between mothers and daughters and sisters. I’m especially drawn to projects that have well developed emotional conflicts and fully realized characters; provide a fresh take on a familiar subject, and include a strong sense of place. The South and Southern Gothics especially captivate me as do foreign locales.

Not Looking For: Dystopian, New Adult, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Mystery or Horror.

Current Authors: USA Today bestselling author Tara Taylor Quinn; PW bestselling authors Debbie Herbert and Jenna Kernan; debut authors Sloane Calder, Lisa Kröger, Amanda Hopkins and Carolyne Topdjian.

 

Paula Munier, Talcott Notch Literary Agency
www.talcottnotch.net

Bio: Paula Munier brings twenty years’ experience as a writer, acquisitions editor, and content specialist for such media giants as Disney, WGBH, and F&W Media to her work as a literary agent. She’s the author of PLOT PERFECT: Building Unforgettable Stories Scene By Scene. Munier has been with Talcott Notch Literary for three years. In that time she’s sold projects to HarperCollins, St. Martin’s Press, Sourcebooks, Penguin Random House, Skyhorse Publishing, Kensington, Career Press, Koehler Books, Crooked Lane Books, Entangled, F&W Media, New Horizon Press, and Five Star, among others.

Currently Looking For: Crime fiction of all kinds, true crime, women’s fiction, literary fiction, high-concept SF/fantasy, YA, and nonfiction.

Not Looking For: Paranormal, picture books, memoir, and poetry.

Clients: Kim Van Alkemade (Orphan #8), Brian Thiem (Red Line), Cate Holahan (Dark Turns), Michele Dorsey (No Virgin Island), Vaughn Hardacker (Sniper), Cynthia Riggs (the Victoria Trumbull Martha’s Vineyard mysteries), Kate Flora (Death Dealer), Meera Lester (the Henny Penny Farmette mysteries), James T. Shannon (Dying for Attention), and Richard Thomas (Disintegration).

 

Terrie Wolf, AKA Literary Management
www.akalm.net

Bio: Terrie Wolf, a full member of AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives) and founder of AKA Literary Management, is a literary agent and foreign rights manager with a background in publishing, international media and criminal investigations. This fourth-generation Colorado ranch kid has built a solid reputation working with authors and entertainers across the globe and has literally traveled the world in search of real answers and unforgettable stories, but she might tell you the skills she developed as a member of The Greatest Show on Earth helped best prepare her – and her clients, no doubt – for the topsy-turvy, ever-changing, literary industry.

Currently Looking For: Fiction: crime fiction of any kind, commercial women’s fiction, inspirational, and most nonfiction. Think: anything between Hallmark Channel and Shonda Rhimes (How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, etc.).

Not Looking For: N/A

Clients: Terrie’s fiction clients include Margaret Mizushima, Climate Nexus editor and former White House liaison Jeff Nesbit, Brooks Mencher, and C.C. Harrison. Terrie also represents nonfiction notables like Maria Shriver, QVC’s Toni Brattin, Ted White aka “Jason” from Friday the 13th fame, and a member of the Wahlberg troupe whose book will be released in 2020, among others.

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9 Comments
  1. When I connect with a project, I start taking editorial notes as I go. Part of the acquisition process that I really enjoy is going back-and-forth with my wonderfully talented second reader Derek. When we are excited about a manuscript, we are firing off emails to each other as we read–highlighting what we are loving and prepping the author to kill their darlings and/or give birth to new ones–basically changes big and small.

    Sometimes we ask for a lot of edits, sometimes just a few. And I only take on a project that I think I can change for the better–if I personally have a vision for it. We’ve been known to take a couple years with authors, prepping their projects so that they are to the point when I think they are ready to take to market. And the extra time is always worth it.

    I have a great example with something that happened pretty recently. I spent approximately a year and I think about four rounds of editorial with one of my thriller authors and the result was a nice two-book deal last year at a big five publisher. Then the author was shocked when he received the editorial notes back from his editor because there were very few. I reminded my author about how much work we did on the front end and that the publisher didn’t acquire his book because they wanted to spend a ton of time editing it–they acquired it because it was close to being ready to go.

    With very few exceptions, if you are in a big hurry for your agent to take your book to market and rush it out, you are in the wrong business.

  2. From the moment an author writes ‘the end’ they have to take off their creative hat, and put on their business hat. Publishing is a business. Your book is your product. There are hundreds and thousands of products similar to yours competing for a spot in the marketplace. If you were selling a t-shirt, would you bring the sample that’s mis-printed and fraying? No. You’d bring the best of the lot. Same thing goes for your book. Don’t give anyone any extra reasons to reject your work.

    So, the answer to the question is “as much as possible”. Now, not everyone can afford to hire a freelance editor before they submit to an agent or publisher, but there is a happy place between finishing NaNoWriMo and pressing “send” immediately after the month ends, and getting some basic feedback. I also have to emphasize how much that first fifty page sample means—it’s how you will get an agent, a publisher AND a reader. The more you can give that submission a leg up, or at least ensure that there isn’t a basic reason (grammar, etc.) to kick it out, the farther ahead you are of the game.

  3. On behalf of Ann Leslie Tuttle:

    As a former editor with over 20 years’ experience at Harlequin Books, my ability to offer my clients’ editorial guidance is one of the things that I hope distinguishes me a bit as an agent. I know that editors sadly have much less time to edit because they are so busy with marketing, art, sales and production meetings when they are in the office. Often, they can only edit at night or on weekends. As a result, the projects they see need to be in near-perfect condition.

    There is no set number to the amount of revision rounds I will request, but there’s always at least one fairly significant round of revision after I’ve signed the project. As I’m reading, I’m always making notes about characterization, conflict, pacing and plotting and specific page notes. The author and I usually discuss my general comments when we are first speaking with them but, after they have signed with me and I have sent them my letter, I will usually arrange a time for us to talk further so we can discuss the points I’ve raised so we arrive at a solution that feels comfortable to the author. My goal is always to leave the author excited about their story and feeling it is stronger as a result of our work. One he/she feels will strengthen their narrative. Once I receive the revised manuscript, there can be a second or third round if I still feel there are issues that have not been sufficiently addressed or a change that’s been made created a problem in another area of the story. As the author’s advocate, I’m reading the manuscript to troubleshoot areas that could prevent it from selling.

    As an editor, I don’t think I ever had a sense or appreciation of just how much work agents can put into their client’s editorial to make it truly shine.

    The authors I’m working with are aware that we need to get the project just right before sending it out. And I am fortunate to work with authors who are professional. Ones who want to write the best possible manuscript. Ones who recognize that they will undoubtedly be facing additional revisions when their project sells to meet their editor’s vision.

  4. Posted on behalf of agent Paula Munier:

    I was an acquisitions editor for many years before I became an agent. Most of the writers I sign do not need much line editing, as they have mastered their craft. But they almost always need a good developmental edit. That’s where I come in.

  5. This is a great question! The only correct answer should be ‘as much as it needs to be the best it can be’.

    There is no one amount of revision that will take, though. Every manuscript goes through some revision – some go through a great deal and several rounds of revisions before the book will go out to publishers. Neither the writer nor the agent wants to send out a book that’s ‘good enough’ – you want to send out a book that’s really great.

    I get in books that have been workshopped and critique-grouped for years prior to me receiving them. Some have had very fine professional editors work with them. Those are in really great shape and the process I need to go through with the author is usually refining the book to help distinguish it to help it compete on a crowded shelf, or help it work even better in its space in the market. I may help the author strengthen their unique voice.

    With some more extensive revisions, I see plot holes that have escaped detection despite numerous other eyes reviewing the book, or the book has darlings that need killing or there are some wonderful opportunities that were left sitting on the table that I need to suggest to the author. Fresh eyes can be a marvelous tool.

    I’m surprised when I get back the occasional response from a writer who appears reluctant to revise asking ‘isn’t that what editors are for?’ Yes, editors will have their own revision suggestions, even after everything we’ve done together, but that doesn’t mean we leave all the heavy lifting to the editor. We need to get the book in the best possible shape before it hits the editor’s desk.

    And I always caution the author to keep in mind, it’s her book in the end. Whatever I’m suggesting, it has to feel real and organic to the author’s vision for the book, and if it doesn’t, we need to talk about it more. If some things I know to be a truth for the genre or the industry and I’m cautioning a revision that will be necessary to save a book or more it viable, and I get pushback, that may be a non-starter. I’m all for an author loving and supporting her book, but I will be looking for signs that the writer is someone I, and the editor, will be able to work with through the many revisions this book, and others to come, will demand.

  6. Jill is my agent, and my debut novel comes out Oct 2. She required three revisions of my novel before she felt it was ready to pitch. We had five publishers interested, but went with the one who offered us a two-book deal. She made sure it was ready before we sent it out, and I’ll be forever grateful.

  7. Like they all said . . . as much as is needed. People come to me for representation not just because I’m an established agent, but partly because they want the kind of editorial feedback I can hopefully give them. I was a reporter and newspaper editor, and later a frelance book doctor and then an in-house hardcover trade book editor before I became an agent, so I’ve developed a little bit of a reputation over the years I hope for doing good editorial work. It’s the part of the job I enjoy most. I try to be the first Reader who “gets” the book even though it’s often a diamond in the rough. I have several clients whose books were helped, I think, because I was able to provide an objective pair of eyes on the material, pointing out places where I thought the manuscript was unclear or a little wordy, or a sequence was out of place or missing. Questioning whether THAT character would act in that particular manner in that situation. And then they willingly went away and did the work, and both of us saw what an improvement it had made. It’s deeply satisfying work to me.

    More importantly, I think the “trick” such as it is, to having a strong editorial relationship with an author, whether you are an agent or an editor, is that as I said you “get” what the author is doing – or trying to do – and if you’re right when you explain what you think that is to a writer (and the author will quickly tell you if you’re not!) then you are both starting from the same page as it were (excuse the pun), and the writer has faith that your editorial comments are based on making his or her vision clearer and more elegant, rather than imposing often unconscious preferences on a piece making it not what the author wants but what you think it should be. That is the great challenge of editing someone else’s work.

    It’s always vital to remind yourself that it is the author’s book not yours, as much as you can usually see what could make it stronger. If the author doesn’t buy your ideas, then you have to choose to either go along with the author’s view because the book does work in its current but not perhaps as well as you think it could, or you walk away if you feel the book is too flawed to send out in its “finished” form with your name as agent attached to it. Over the years I’ve been wrong about editorial advice I’ve given, and it’s really useful to remind myself of that if I get strong push back from a writer.

    It’s not about making the dog a cat, it’s about understanding why there is a creature at that point in the story in the first place. In essence, I think good editors do little more than articulate what an author already knows but has not previously been able to put into words for themselves. Sometimes, particularly if an author is having a problem with a book, you can point to something and say, I think your book is really about this, and if youre lucky and have a great relationship with an author they will stand back and say, “Damn! I’d never thought of that, but I see what you mean now,” and that becomes a launching point for them to take flight in unexpected ways, which is a great feeling because you’ve helped someone get to land, as it were, after swimming in the sea towards a far off shore.

    Pragmatically, I also do editorial work because my name and reputation is connected to material I send out and I hope opens doors with some editors, so I want it to be the best it can be before I send it to an editor on a writer’s behalf. I want editors to turn things down because they don’t like them, not because they aren’t any good. The author agent relationship to me is a partnership, like a good marriage. What can go wrong between agent and author often reflect similar problems in a poor marriage, and what works I think definitely reflects the strengths of a good marriage.

  8. Oh, to know the end-all answer to this question! I try to look at a given project from every angle since in-house editors and publishers have very few opportunities to review a submission more than once.

    Before we agree to work together, I have a heart-to-heart with authors about a project. Usually, like most agents, I’ve made several pages of notes about style, characterization, plot, formula, marketability, similar titles, and the like. This author has kindly allowed me to learn loads about them via their writing, so we’ll chat about our shared vision and what to expect. If the author wants apples and I envision oranges, I’ll probably be forced to pass. I’m a gardener, not Mother Nature! Edits are simply a part of the process.

    To me, those manuscripts are just like my bottle calves. Their mamas trust me to feed them, and I’m here to help them grow and get strong. I don’t want to put anything into any show ring that isn’t champion quality. Meanwhile, I’m thinking about the editors and publishers and what they’ve mentioned they need to find, would like to place on their lists, or might never want to see again. It’s terribly important that agents and authors know market trends not because we need to write to them, but to be aware of how a given project might fare.

    There is a strange sort of knowing that takes place somewhere between the second and fourth edit. It’s like when you send your kids to college. You’ve been working with them for how long? You don’t want them to go, but you can’t wait for them to leave. So it is with your manuscript. The author feels it. So does the agent. We’re strong. We’re ready. And sometimes, we aren’t. So we do it again until we get it right!

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