Radio interview about book editing with Alexandra Shelley and agent Eleanor Jackson
[more horn-tooting on "Endorsements" page]
"I’ve been working with Alexandra Shelley for ten years, starting with my first novel, which we used for on-the-job training. With her guidance, I practiced the craft of fiction writing, from constructing a scene to birthing characters who readers would not only believe, but care something about. It was grueling but it was worth it because when Aibileen’s voice came to me -- which was the genesis of 'The Help' -- I was ready.
"Writing a novel can be a lonely business. Having a first reader who knew when to cheer and when to meddle kept me going through five years and I-don’t-know-how-many drafts of 'The Help.' For part of that time, I was also in Alexandra’s writing workshop, where I watched other books take shape, a weekly dose of inspiration.
"Having a literary advisor who works in publishing has a practical side too. From the first chapters of the novel, she helped me believe I could produce a publishable book, and after I’d finally written the last chapter, she convinced me I HAD done it and shooed me in the direction of the agent who took it on. I am so thankful that I found a mentor who shares my passion for bringing the truth of fiction into the world."
Author, The Help
"Alexandra Shelley is the freelance editor I have turned to for help for over a decade. She has worked closely with many of our authors and every time she has stepped in, she has worked her magic and vastly improved every manuscript she touched. She is a true pro. "
President and CEO
The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.
“Alexandra is one of those rare breeds, a person who, through a combination of education and instinct, can turn a merely good manuscript into one that is remembered."
Bridge Works Publishing Co.
"Alexandra Shelley came highly recommended, and did not disappoint. With humor, grace, and a fine critical eye, she tackled (and improved) every aspect of my manuscript: structure, pacing, characterization, and trimming the 'fat.' She's also a pleasure to work with—as kind and encouraging as she is brilliant—and I wouldn't hesitate to hire her again. "
Author, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War (HarperCollins)
“Alexandra has an uncanny ability to see the good in a manuscript. My book wouldn't have been acquired so quickly or become a New York Times bestseller without her."
Martha Hall Kelly
Author, Lilac Girls (Ballantine Books)
"Alexandra Shelley, without doubt, got my novel from patchy draft to a publishable manuscript which went to a three-way auction within days of being submitted to British editors. She is the most incisive, encouraging, and imaginative editor I've ever worked with, someone who pushes you to imagine every facet of the scene you're in, so that you're working at the top of your game.
She showed me how to inject tension, lighten the gloom, successfully hand off points of view, and most of all deepen the manuscript so that I had a cast of characters who were worth caring about. Alexandra pushes hard – she asks the question that you've avoided in your text, and makes you answer it, whether it's a character's motivation, his back-story, or the smell of what's cooking on the stove. The result is deeper, richer work. I will not hesitate to work with Alexandra on my next novel."
Author, Homecoming (Faber & Faber)
"Working with Alexandra has been like participating in a private creative writing program with a master editor. She addresses each element of a project, from language, character, and plot to underlying ideas and structure. As any patient editor does, she guides the writer, careful not to overwhelm the creative process, always with intelligence, respect, and focus. Her first goal is to make the book better and to help the writer realize a book's potential. I have absolute confidence in her literary judgment."
Author, The Moth Diaries (Random House)
"Alexandra Shelley's editorial process is impressive and rare: it's as exciting as it is exacting. She is incisive, asks the important and right questions that encourage an author to move ahead with understanding and much-needed momentum. She is able to help writers with big-picture, structural issues as well as offer spot-on line edits – while being sensitive in terms of honoring the author's personal vision. With her good humor and wit, she makes the process of developing a book entertaining – something unexpected when one is tackling multiple drafts of a book.
Alexandra is a joy to work with – her close reading of one's prose makes her a wonderful advocate, and her deep thoughtfulness about a book astonishes as well as gives an author genuinely helpful and concrete things to address. Too, I admire the energy with which she approaches her task. It is infectious and inspiring. But most importantly, her alchemical process makes good works great."
Agent, Linda Chester Literary Agency
Author, The Lost Girls and My Sister from the Black Lagoon (Simon and Schuster)
Alexandra combines rare talents: She offers the technical insights of an experienced editor and the wisdom of a thoughtful reader. She also has the patience of a saint. In dealing with a new work at an early stage, she was able to understand where I wanted to go with the piece and provided specific suggestions to help me get there. As a writer, you can't ask for better assistance than that!
Joshua Max Feldman
Author, The Book of Jonah (Henry Holt)
"Alexandra’s enthusiasm and devotion to making 'Aria' the best that it could be were instrumental to the book’s evolution. Her work was meticulous and incisive; she addressed the text on a sentence-by-sentence level -- dedication that has been unparalleled in my experience."
Author, Aria (Bridge Works)
"When I was introduced to Alexandra Shelley I was a new writer with a rambling novel .... Alexandra tackled my novel with a light touch, never insisting on a change unless I agreed. She challenged me to write better. The result was a tightly woven story that made the difference between a so-so novel and one that I was proud of. Because of Alexandra's keen editing my first novel was a finalist in the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program."
Author, Worthy’s Town and What Else But Home (Bridge Works)
“Alexandra Shelley is both a gifted editor as well as a veteran teacher of fiction writing. She has the patience to listen, the willingness to read a rambling narrative, and the ability to find the drama through the haze and clutter. I will forever appreciate her professional oversight, guidance, suggestions and detailed criticism. "
Author, Rough Passage to London (Rowman & Littlefield)
"I am convinced that no matter how talented or accomplished a writer may be, he or she can greatly benefit from the advice of a brilliant editor. This has been my own experience – three novels and a play later – with my editor, Alexandra Shelley."
Author published by Delancey Press
Alexandra Shelley has over 30 years of editing experience. She worked as an independent editor with author Kathryn Stockett on The Help, a novel which was on the bestseller list for more than 3 years, selling over 10 million copies. She is currently working with Ms. Stockett on her new novel. She recently worked with Martha Hall Kelly on Lilac Girls (Ballantine Books, 2016), a New York Times bestseller; Karen Abbott on Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War (HarperCollins, 2014); Emily Giffin on Where We Belong (St. Martin's, 2013); Susie Steiner on Homecoming (Faber & Faber, 2013) and Missing, Presumed (HarperCollins, UK, February, 2016; Random House, June, 2016).
She worked with Laura Hemphill on Buying In (Amazon Publishing, 2013); Robin Lloyd on Rough Passage to London: A Sea Captain's Tale (Sheridan House, 2013); Eric Linder on Hospice Voices: Lessons for Living at the End of Life (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013); Karen Fielding on American Sycamore (Seren, 2014); Jo Ivester on The Outskirts of Hope: A Memoir of the 1960s Deep South (She Writes Press, 2015); Erin Siegal on Finding Fernanda: Two Mothers, One Child, and a Cross-Border Search for Truth (Beacon Press, 2012).
Among the authors she is helping with works in progress are Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone among other best-selling nonfiction books and novels; Rachel Klein (whose prior novel was The Moth Diaries [Random House]); Joshua Max Feldman (The Book of Jonah [Henry Holt]); Laurie Fox (The Lost Girls [Simon and Schuster] and My Sister from the Black Lagoon [Simon and Schuster]).
Ms. Shelley is former Deputy Editorial Director of Bridge Works Publishing, where she was responsible for choosing and editing some of that house’s commercial and critical successes. Among these are the best-selling Patty Jane’s House of Curl by Lorna Landvik; Worthy’s Town by Sharon Rolens (B&N Discover Great New Writers Award Finalist); Aria by Susan Segal (Washington Post Best Books of the Year); Zip Six by Jack Gantos, who won the 2012 Newbery Award. She also brought in Tom Perrotta’s first book, Bad Haircut, Stories of the Seventies.
Illuminated Manuscripts, Ms. Shelley’s editorial agency, works with novels, short story collections, memoirs, biographies, and other narrative non-fiction, mainly with authors referred by agents or publishers. She seconds Thomas Mann's observation that “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." In addition to hands-on editing, she endeavors to help authors slogging through an umpteenth draft remember what is most worthwhile and vital in their book.
Ms. Shelley’s editing is informed by 23 years of teaching writing at Columbia, Yale, The New School University, and Hungary's graduate journalism program at Eotvos Lorand University. She also teaches an independent workshop of seasoned fiction writers. To both clients and students, she provides user-friendly feedback with the goal of helping the author become his or her own best editor.
It took Ms. Shelley several years to recover from the English Literature major at Yale and to recognize that words don't come down to us on stone tablets, nor is iambic pentameter always the way to go. She also holds an M.F.A. in fiction from the Columbia University Graduate School of the Arts, where she learned to use "workshop" as a verb. She's a former Fulbright Scholar and recipient of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize for short fiction as well as several other obscure but prestigious awards for fiction and journalism.