The rise and role of the literary consultant.

Vanessa Curtis looks at the increasingly important role of the literary consultant.

At a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult for a new author to get representation with an agent, the literary consultant can provide a useful step between the stages of writing a book and submitting it to agents/publishers. There are far more literary consultancies than there ever were, some specialising in YA fiction, others more general and they have multiplied over the last fifteen years as it gets increasingly difficult for new authors to get their manuscripts noticed. As with all businesses, there are reputable consultants with significant publications of their own to their name, and less reputable ones who seem to be out to make a fast buck from the insecurities and desperation of would-be authors.

Finding the right person to help polish and improve your book can be difficult, but working closely with a consultant who has been through the publishing process themselves is something which benefits many authors. Indeed, it’s essential - choosing a literary consultant who hasn’t been published is a bit like taking piano lessons from somebody who can’t play.

So what can a good literary consultant offer?

Time. Whereas an agent or publisher will often only have a few minutes to read the first page of your book and make a snap decision, a consultant is paid to sit down with your work and devote their full attention to it. They will offer a detailed report of at least 3,000 words on how to improve the book.

Editorial expertise. The better consultants out there have published books themselves and/or worked as editors on other projects. They’ve been through the process, so they have a good knowledge of what agents/publishers might like, or be put off by.

Candour and positivity. It’s no good a consultant praising a book to the heavens if it actually needs a fair amount of work. But it’s important that a literary consultant remains positive and upbeat about the suggestions they make for improvement. Authors are notoriously self-doubting and sensitive to criticism, particularly before they’ve ever made a submission. They need to be encouraged and enthused in order to be able to make the requested changes and polish their book to the highest standard possible.

Experience of the market. A good consultant has an eye upon what’s in, and what’s not. They can advise you on whether your project is commercial enough to get published.

Introductions. Whilst most literary consultants will state that they don’t include any recommendations to agents or publishers as part of their fee, it is also the case that anything outstanding might be the exception to that rule.

Technical know-how. With the right amount of both editorial and authorial experience, a good consultant can break down a novel into sections and address various issues in a detailed report.

Subjects covered can include:

o How to improve characterisation so that it is not one-dimensional. o How to ‘hook’ a reader with the very opening of the novel or non-fiction book. o How to achieve that elusive ‘voice’ that a strong novel needs. o How to write strong, intriguing chapter-endings. o How to make dialogue sound realistic o How to shape a novel by playing close attention to pace and tension o How to avoid over-writing and under-writing (the latter often occurs due to an excess of adverbs) o How to develop a plot o How to write a killer selling-letter and put together a submissions package for either fiction or non-fiction. o How to write a synopsis for either fiction or non-fiction. o How to approach agents in a targeted and appropriate fashion o How to improve sentence construction

A literary consultant can step in at any stage of a book’s creation – when the first three chapters and synopsis are written, when the entire book is written in draft or after a draft has already been edited and re-worked (in which case the consultant’s job then involves a copy-edit in order to hone and polish before submission).

The editorial skills of a consultant are becoming more important in a world where publishers no longer always have time to suggest detailed editorial changes themselves and where agents are inundated with submissions and will only consider manuscripts written, edited and presented to a very high standard. Although there will always be authors who prefer not to show or share their work with anybody else until they submit, there are countless others who appreciate and benefit from the editorial support and advice that a good literary consultant can offer.

Vanessa Curtis is the author of two non-fiction books and five novels for children. Her literary consultancy can be found at