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.
Alexandra helped me get to know my characters and to convey what they were up against, frequently reminding me that Jackson, Mississippi, in that era would be a foreign country to most readers, even though it was so familiar to me. She encouraged me to plumb my memory, research still more, and then let my imagination soar.
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 (Amy Einhorn/Penguin)
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 Shelley worked for Bridge Works Publishing for 10 years as a fiction editor and Deputy Editorial Director. She is an editorial worker of the highest quality, being both sensitive and skillful. It is axiomatic that a good editor get the best results from a writer, without embarrassing or offending her/him. Alexandra was a topnotch example of that breed, patient but firm, understanding but intuitive about how to make improvements in writing tactics. The resulting titles reveal her magic touch.
She turned one writer’s affecting but scattered manuscript into a prize winner. She had a hand in delivering another manuscript from oblivion and, in so doing, the work was turned into one of Bridge Works’ best sellers. In my absence, she was quite capable of sifting through hundreds of manuscripts and finding some pearls. She also pitched titles at sales conferences and even, on occasion, wrote jacket copy. In sum, 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 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 and Lost Roses (Ballantine Books)
For my third novel I decided to learn how to do it the right way! Alexandra Shelley asks the tough questions about character, plot, location, pacing, and point. With gentle encouragement, unflinching honesty, and deft tips, she enabled me to live up to my own promise. More importantly, she helped me do right by a great American hero. Worth every penny.
Elizabeth A. Cobbs, Ph.D.
Author, The Tubman Command (Arcade Publishing)
Melbern G. Glasscock Professor of History, Texas A&M University
Author of best-selling novel The Hamilton Affair
I had heard raves about Alexandra Shelley from three separate people when I decided to contact her about my manuscript. She offered to read and edit the first four chapters so I could get a sense of how she worked. When I received those chapters back, it was like a revelation: although I had written seven previous novels and worked with several editors, I had never had been edited like that. Alexandra worked brilliantly on the macro level, addressing issues of theme, pacing and character with a deftness and insight I found without parallel, yet she was equally attentive on the micro level, even paying attention to such issues as punctuation—her comments on the use of the semi-colon were equally illuminating.
At every stage, she was rigorous, yet supportive, warm and encouraging. I found it an exhilarating and even thrilling experience to work with her and her suggestions for the manuscript improved it immeasurably. As a result, I was able to attract a new agent (something I had long wished to do) who in turn brought me to a wonderful editor at HarperCollins. I recommend Alexandra with the most lavish praise and gratitude, and I strongly encourage all writers serious about bringing their work to the next level to hire her without delay.
Author, Not Our Kind (HarperCollins)
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 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.
I went to Alexandra with the “finished” draft of a family saga set in north Yorkshire with the desire to polish it before sending it out to agents. She immediately understood the story I was trying to tell, despite its flaws, was clear-sighted about its stumbling blocks and practical about how to resolve them.
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.
Staff writer and editor, The Guardian newspaper; author, Homecoming (Faber & Faber) and Missing, Presumed (HarperCollins)
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.
I witnessed an author make a quantum leap in her work and asked "What made the difference?" She answered in two words: Alexandra Shelley.
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 (Simon and Schuster) and My Sister from the Black Lagoon (Simon and Schuster)
Hundreds of people helped me research and write Tiger in the Sea. The most important person is credited at the end of my acknowledgments: "And thank you, Alexandra Shelley, for being such a kind, brilliant, and uncompromising editor." That sentence is as true as any I've ever written. She was just as instrumental regarding my first book, Hospice Voices.
Working with Alexandra is like Navy SEALs training for writers. Many apply, few are accepted. Then comes the fun part: making it all the way through her rigorous demolition-obstacle course.
But if you apply, are accepted, and persevere? You'll find yourself writing at an entirely different level, shedding the ego-exoskeleton that holds so many of us back from identifying and honing our authentic voice. It's no wonder Alexandra has been the top choice of so many publishers, editors and authors—and has humbly, quietly orchestrated some of the finest books of the past 30 years.
Author, Tiger in the Sea: The Ditching of Flight 923
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.
I asked her to be Proof's fiction editor after we published a short story of hers. As editor, she selected stories that were both entertaining and profound. And then she worked to make them even better, not only polishing the prose, but helping the writers bring out new aspects of the story and its characters.
If you've got a story to tell, she'll help you tell it well.
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief
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, Start Without Me (William Morrow)
I am absolutely blessed to have found Alexandra Shelley as a freelance editor for my fiction work. She is uniquely skillful-- she has a discerning eye, she is schooled in literature and technique and has the ability to truly appreciate a story. Her respect for my work while teaching me to become a better writer has made this a remarkable journey. I trust her instincts and am continually impressed with her notes and guidance. Her organizational methods are forcible and this gave clarity to my project from the start. I am endlessly grateful to Alexandra.
Susan Shapiro Barash/pen name Susannah Marren
Author, A Palm Beach Wife and A Palm Beach Scandal
(St. Martin's Press)
Alexandra Shelley helped me to transform my messy draft into a publishable manuscript. That she was able to get me to go deeper, flesh out characters, and add dramatic tension while improving my prose speaks volumes to her keen, critical eye. And the fact that she didn’t make me feel like crawling into a hole afterwards is testament to the care she took with my story and my fragile ego, which made working with her such a pleasure.
author, Stars Over Clear Lake (Thomas Dunne/Macmillan)
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 has been my muse, teaching me how to improve my writing, challenging me to be honest and authentic, and giving me the courage to address some of the most difficult aspects of writing my book.
I first met Alexandra through a mutual friend, a fellow writer. When he spoke of how helpful she had been to him, I inquired whether she was still accepting new clients. Fortunately for me, she was. After I relayed to her the details of my manuscript, she asked me to articulate the arc of my story. Only then did I realize that I didn’t know it. I had drafted an entire book, line by line, without ever stepping back and looking at the big picture. By the end of our first conversation, I realized that I had several different story lines, each of which required further exploration.
Alexandra requested two commitments from me before she would take on my project. The first was that I had to promise to return to the scene of my memoir, interview as many of the people I’d known as possible, and just soak in the setting. In retrospect, it was obvious that this needed to be done, but I had left that town forty years earlier and never been back; I wasn’t sure if I could face what I would find.
The second commitment Alexandra wanted was the recognition that I was near the beginning of my project, not the end. She knew – although I didn’t – that we would go through many iterations before getting it right. Initially, her feedback was provided in the gentlest way, suggestions mixed with praise so I wouldn’t give up. As my trust in her grew, she became more direct, letting me know clearly which sections of the book were more interesting and which were superfluous. Under her guidance, which ranged from individual line edits to direction regarding the overall structure, I was able to mold my work into a dynamic, smoothly flowing narrative.
What drew me to Alexandra initially was her willingness to share my excitement and passion for the story I needed to tell. It was only after we’d begun working together that I appreciated how it was her expertise and coaching that would allow me to succeed at doing that.
Author, The Outskirts of Hope (She Writes Press) and Once a Girl, Always a Boy (She Writes Press)
My experience working with Alexandra Shelley on A Recipe for Daphne went far beyond the development of a single novel. She taught me about structure, tension, forward movement, character development, and much more. The process was more valuable, I believe, than the best MFA programs.
Although I often joked that I was paying her to kick my ass, the truth is that she believed in me and in my novel when no one else did.
Alexandra's advice remains with me whenever I write, almost as if she were an angel sitting permanently on my shoulder. I will be forever indebted to her, my dear teacher, and if I write again in English, I will most certainly work with her.
Author, A Recipe for Daphne (Hoopoe/American University of Cairo Press)
By adding depth to my characters and subtlety to dialogue, Alexandra Shelley pushed my novel from two dimensions to the full three! Because of her, my protagonists and villains started acting and talking like real human beings!!!
Author, the verse novel Mr. Either/Or (Etruscan Press, 2017)
Alexandra Shelley is 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. As a journalist, I have written stories all my life, but never attempted fiction before. My personal journey in writing "Rough Passage to London" was like a tree sprouting new limbs. I kept growing, and I suppose you could say she kept pruning the branches. She encouraged me to take risks and push myself as a writer into new uncharted territories."
Author, Rough Passage to London: A Sea Captain’s Tale (Sheridan House, October, 2013); and Harbor of Spies (Lyons Press, 2018); former NBC Correspondent
Working with Alexandra Shelley was, as my son said, "like getting a private, graduate school education." She was instrumental in helping me bring my manuscript to a higher level - a publishable level. Alexandra is a consummate professional and I am forever grateful for her expertise.
Author, Kids and Cocktails Don't Mix (Apprentice House Press)
Writing a novel is daunting. Writing a good or memorable or even great novel is perhaps the challenge of a lifetime. Alexandra’s support, critical thinking, and gifted perspectives have made all the difference. After working with Alexandra on four revisions, my book Bar Maid is in a good place. She administers tough love. It’s what a writer needs. Her eye for what works is only outdone by her eye for what doesn’t. Alexandra once told me that she was the great granddaughter of a tailor, one who mends and beautifies. The progeny of a tailor with the surname of a romantic poet. Care for the writer; passion for the word.
Daniel Roberts, playwright
When I was introduced to Alexandra Shelley I was a new writer with a rambling novel that needed editing. I didn't know what to expect, but I had heard stories about editors! However, Alexandra tackled my novel with a light touch, never insisting on a change unless I agreed. She challenged me to write better by posing questions: What was the character thinking? What did he look like? How did the scene smell? 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. She went on to edit my second novel which was also a satisfying experience.
I highly recommend Alexandra Shelley because I trust her editing savvy.
Author, “Worthy’s Town” and “What Else But Home” (Bridge Works Publishing)
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. Alexandra took work I was proud of and made me prouder. She is an exacting reader and a fine editor.
Author, “Aria” (Bridge Works Publishing)
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.
My novel, “Morgan’s Castle,” was my first serious work in the English language. My native tongue, Spanish, is far more flowery, which required my editor to chip away at adjectives and adverbs, in addition to guiding the development of the manuscript from its early stages to the final draft. This Alexandra did, first with an editorial report, later with margin comments throughout the manuscript.
My second novel, “For the Love of Penny Whistler,” written from the point of view of three different characters, presented my editor with the task of making sure I spoke in three different voices.
My third novel, “Summer Night, Winter Moon,” was written in reverse chronology, a style that presents daunting difficulties to both writer and editor.
These three novels were published by Delancey Press in London, and received critical praise. My play, “When the Lilac Blooms, My Love,” has been staged in London. Upon reading the play, Alexandra offered intelligent comments. I have no doubt she will do the same for any writer she may work with.
Author, Morgan's Castle and For the Love of Penny Whistler and Summer Night, Winter Moon
We at Delancey Press acknowledge with thanks the remarkable editorial work done by Alexandra Shelley.
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. Her many useful comments throughout the manuscript enhance the quality of the final product.
This is a great talent – indeed a gift – hence it is without reservation, that we are in a position to highly recommend her services knowing that Alexandra will be an asset to any project.
Delancey Press, London