Tuesday, December 8, 2015

In The Life of an Agent: Editing Edition Part 1

My job as an agent consists of several — okay, a dozen — aspects. One is preparing client material for submission to editors. When I offer representation most authors ask what my submission process is. Well, the first step is receiving a kick-ass manuscript that I can fall in love with and gush to editors about. That’s a given. So what’s step two?

Editing said manuscript. Not to toot my own horn, but I am awesome at editing — if only I could edit my own crap.

Today we’re going to talk about the editing process. I often read a manuscript several times before I’m satisfied it’s ready to go out on submission.

The first read-through is just for fun. I read the manuscript the same way I would a new Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman novel from Barnes and Noble. I’m not looking for anything except to be entertained. Sure, I notice things. Grammar. Sentence structure. A plot hole. But I ignore these at this point. I just want to familiarize myself with the story. The characters. Who’s my favorite? Who do I hate? Who blends into the background like a snowflake in a blizzard? When I finish the first read-through I set the manuscript aside and move on to something else. Another client’s manuscript. A contract that needs another once over. Emails. Etcetera, etcetera.

The second time I read a manuscript is pure business. This is a close read, and it takes a long time. For me, at least. I read every sentence slowly and carefully. Weigh each word on its own and within its sentence to gauge its purpose and how it affects the overall structure. This may seem tedious and overzealous, but it helps avoid fluff, filler words, and unnecessary verbosity (like this).

Every word in a book needs to serve a purpose. Be it character development, pushing the plot forward, or evoking one of our senses. If it doesn’t do anything, cut it out. There’s a few words consistently marked as fillers. These include:

- Just (as in “She just stared at her.”)
- That (as in “He stood there, thinking that if he could just make it across the parking lot he’d be safe.”)
-  Like ({most often in dialogue}) as in “Mike, you need to, like, stop it.”)
-  So, a weak modifier (as in “She so wanted to punch him.”)
- Very, also a weak modifier (as in “He was running very late.”)
- Really, basically the same as “so” and “very”.
- Some (as in “He thirsted for some gold.”)

Let’s edit the above sentences. This why you can see how removing a word or two can dramatically strengthen your writing.

-       “She just stared at her.” vs. “She stared at her.”
-        “He stood there, thinking that if he could just make it across the parking lot he’d be safe.” vs. “He stood, thinking if he could make it across the parking lot he’d be safe.”
-        “Mike, you need to, like, stop it.” vs. “Mike, you need to stop.”
-       “She so wanted to punch him.” vs. “She wanted to punch him.”
-       “He was running very late.” vs. “He was running late.”
-       “He really hated green beans.” vs. “He hated green beans.”

You can see the second sentences feel more direct, cleaner, and less wordy. Every filler word distracts from the story.

Okay, I think that’s enough rambling for today. Don’t forget to check in on December 22nd for Part 2 of In The Life of an Agent: Editing Edition where we’ll discuss plot structure and craft in a close read.

Happy Tuesday, and remember to write on!

Lane Heymont is an associate agent at The Seymour Agency, representing science fiction, fantasy, romance, nonfiction, and attempts to write his own stuff under a wonderful pseudonym. You can follow him on Twitter at @LaneHeymont. 


  1. Great advice! It's always a good idea to do a search for such words and get a count. Seemed, still, and just are three I overuse and always have to pare down.

  2. Great post.
    Thanks Mr Heymont