Alexandra Shelley

Illuminated Manuscripts



[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."

Kathryn Stockett
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. "

Jed Lyons
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."

Barbara Phillips
Editorial Director
Bridge Works Publishing Co.


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.

Susie Steiner, staff writer and editor, The Guardian newspaper; "Homecoming" to be published by Faber & Faber, April, 2013


“Alexandra is a great editor first of all because she's a great writer, and a versatile one -- as comfortable in the nonfiction world as she is in the realm of ideas and short stories. She's everything a fellow writer could want in an editor: an experienced strategist and an articulate, truth-telling reader, sensitive to nuance. She's worldly wise, and wise to the ways of publishing besides."

Stephen Davis
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief
Proof Magazine


"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."

Susan Segal
Author, "Aria"


"When I was introduced to Alexandra Shelley I was a new writer with a rambling novel that needed editing.... 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."

Sharon Rolens
Author, “Worthy’s Town” and “What Else But Home”


"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."

Jane Huxley
Author published by Delancey Press


"Alexandra has a gift seldom seen in editors: that of bringing out the best in the writer by guiding them to achieve their writing potential."

T. Wilson
Managing Director
Delancey Press

Illuminated Manuscripts



Alexandra Shelley has over 30 years of editing experience. She recently worked as an independent editor with author Kathryn Stockett on "The Help," a novel that has been on the Best Seller List for more than 3 years, selling over 10 million copies. She is currently working with Ms. Stockett on her new novel. 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, frequently with authors referred by agents or publishers who find a book promising but in need of major revision before publication.

As a writer herself, she’s acutely aware of the magical but fragile process of invention, that “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people,” as Thomas Mann put it. In addition to hands-on editing, she is often able to help clients slogging through an umpteenth draft to remember why they wanted to write in the first place, to illuminate what is worthwhile and vital in the book.


Ms. Shelley’s editing is informed by 17 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 ultimately become his or her own best editor.


It took Ms. Shelley several years to recover from being an English Literature major at Yale and to recognize that words don't come down to us on stone tablets and iambic pentameter isn't 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.

Selected Books Edited

by Kathryn Stockett - Bestseller
by Lorna Landvik - Bestseller
by Sharon Rolens - Barnes & Noble "Discover Great New Writers Award" Finalist
by Susan Segal - Washington Post best books of 2001
by Alan Isler - National Jewish Book Award winner
by Kristina McGrath - NY Times notable book