Wednesday, May 26, 2010

An agent-turned-independent editor, Part I

Today I'm interviewing the independent editor I hired to evaluate the novel I’m currently shopping around to agents, THE SPARROW THAT FELL FROM THE SKY. Yes, we Blood-Red Pencil editors walk the walk: knowing how difficult it is to fully assess one’s own work, we too have been known to hire independent editors. I was getting a lot of “beautifully written but not for me” feedback from agents who’d been intrigued enough to request my full manuscript, so when I was ready for fresh editorial eyes, I sought perspective from former literary agent Anne Dubuisson Anderson (left). From the mid-1980’s to the mid-1990’s, Anne was a literary agent for the Georges Borchardt and Ellen Levine agencies, where she represented numerous fiction and nonfiction writers, including mystery writers, first novelists, memoirists, and journalists.

In 1998, she applied her insider’s understanding of the industry to a new role as an independent publishing and writing consultant. Since then, she has worked with dozens of serious writers at different stages of their writing careers, from beginners to established authors, including creative writing professor Rachel Simon (RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER), who says, “My career would simply not exist if it weren’t for Anne Dubuisson Anderson.”

Kathryn Craft: When you were an agent at the Georges Borchardt and Ellen Levine agencies, what were the five most common errors you saw in the manuscript submissions you received? Do you see these same mistakes now that you are a free-lance editor? Any guesses as to why these mistakes are so prevalent among new writers?

Anne Dubuisson Anderson: I started agenting at a time when most people still wrote on word processers and typewriters. It could be my imagination, but I think the painstaking task of putting words to paper made writers more careful about each word they chose. For the most part though, I think writers still struggle with the same issues. Here are a few:

—overwriting: using two or more sentences to say the same thing in multiple ways

—mistaking good nonfiction for good fiction: using "real-life" experiences in a novel because they make a good story and not because they make a good story and actually fit the narrative at hand

—failing to research the market: writing stories with plots and characters too similar to other, successful books

—throwing characters off a cliff, literally and figuratively: bringing an unrealistic or rushed ending to a character or under-using a minor character who deserves more space

And last but not least,

—not following instincts: More often than not I will suggest a change to a writer and they will tell me they thought of doing that, but at the last minute, shied away from it.

Kathryn: How does your experience as an agent give you an edge as an editor?

Anne: There are many, many, very capable editors who can offer writers the right suggestions for improving the quality of their work. Since I worked as a literary agent, I read with the eyes of an agent, which means I use my experience and instincts to evaluate the marketability of a piece of writing as well as its quality. Sometimes the two do not go hand-in-hand.

Check out the conclusion of this interview tomorrow, when Anne translates from agent-speak this common component of a rejection letter: “I was not able to connect with your protagonist.” The answers may surprise you! If you have a question for Anne, post it in the comments. I'll post answers there as soon as I get them back from her.

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, a manuscript evaluation and line editing service. She was a dance critic and arts journalist for 19 years before writing fiction. She is currently seeking representation for her women's fiction manuscript, THE SPARROW THAT FELL FROM THE SKY.

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  1. This is fabulous! I will continue to watch this space - I always do but I found this to be most helpful and blessedly straightforward.

  2. Overwriting is something I've just got under control. Took me a few years. Always good advice here. Thanks, Simon.

  3. Good interview and tips. Look forward to the conclusion tomorrow. Hope you will be telling us how Anne was able to help you, Kathryn. I may need that objective eye for my humorous memoir.

  4. This is wonderful information - much more specific than I've seen elsewhere. Thank you.

  5. Very informative. It's always helpful (and eye opening) to hear from an agent/editor. Thanks.

    Straight From Hel

  6. Gulp. I have a character I was thinking might need to fall off a cliff. Literally. Oh my. Time to rethink. Thank you!

  7. Fascinating. I'll have to check back tomorrow for more.

    Morgan Mandel

  8. This is excellent information. In the past I've been VERY guilty of over-writing. I'm getting better, but we each always need an objective eye. Thank you.

  9. Very interesting. Thanks for interbiewing Anne for us.

    Blood-Red Pencil


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