Blog The Writing Process Agent Advice Part 2: Line-Editing and Copy-Editing

Agent Advice Part 2: Line-Editing and Copy-Editing


Literary agents are the gatekeepers of the publishing world. Their verdict on a five-page submission can make or break an author’s dreams. It’s critical to ensure your submission catches an agent’s eye and doesn’t immediately get passed upon.

This two-part series covers advice I received from a local literary agent. These editing guidelines ensure a submission is agent ready. Part 1 looked at developmental editing and Part 2 is all about line and copy editing.

  1. What Are Line-Editing and Copy-Editing?
  2. Avoid a Play-By-Play
  3. Cut Repetitive Sentences
  4. Use Descriptive Verbs
  5. Clean Up Dialogue
  6. Make Passive Voice Active
  7. Look Out for Adverbs
  8. Cut All Whimper Words
  9. Final Thoughts

What Are Line-Editing and Copy-Editing?

Line-editing refers to the clarity and flow of a piece. Some flow issues are addressed in developmental editing, but line-editing takes a deeper look. Copy-editing is another word for proofreading—ensuring grammar and spelling are correct. These editing techniques are crucial before turning your draft into an agent.

Avoid a Play-By-Play

One of the biggest red flags in a five-page submission is a play-by-play of what’s going on. You know the style. It’s something similar to this:

Jane walked to the park. She sat on the bench. She opened her book. Jane read her book until dark.

Here, the author (please don’t judge my flash fiction!) leaves nothing to the reader's imagination. We’re told exactly what is happening and what emotions are being felt. There’s no room for interpretation.

Not only is this style of writing boring, it will cause agents to place your submission in the rejection pile.

Cut Repetitive Sentences

Readers get bored when sentences are repetitive. It’s important to break things up, use different structures, and vary the sentence types.

Again, look at the example above (I know, it’s terrible!): not only is it a play-by-play, but there is no variation in sentence structure. If you’re bored reading the passage, you know an agent will be too.

It’s important to break repetition using varying sentence structures. Mix short sentences with complex ones.

A grammar guru, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.
Try it for free!

Use Descriptive Verbs

Verbs are the action of every sentence. Using natural and descriptive verbs is extremely important.

Suzie walked through the puddle conveys action and is clear—the character moved through a puddle—but is not not very descriptive.

Suzie stomped through the puddle conveys the same action but is much more descriptive. One different word portrays a very different image in the readers mind.

Clean Up Dialogue

All dialogue should have a purpose in the overall story. The conversation should ultimately lead the character somewhere—be it the next portion of the story or to some internal insight.

Similar to verb choice, dialogue tags are equally important. Said is a common dialogue tag that works in many situations, but not all because it’s not descriptive. Using more descriptive tags (whispered, shouted, mumbled, etc.) paints a clearer picture for the reader.

Make Passive Voice Active

Okay, I’m sure you’ve heard this one a million times, but it’s important. Passive voice has less impact than active voice. It removes agency from characters and acts as narration.

For example, Jane was walking is passive and feels lackluster. Instead, write Jane walked and keep the drive of the sentence.

Was and were can be key indicators of passive voice. Before submitting to an agent, do a word search in your manuscript for them and see if the sentence can be restructured. Alternatively, ProWritingAid will identify each instance of passive voice with suggestions on how to make them active.

Look Out for Adverbs

Similar to passive voice, removing adverbs is also important. Adverbs are modifiers that add color to writing. For example, Jane walked quickly modifies the verb and provides the reader a little more description.

Some adverbs provide value to writing, but it’s important to remove most of them. While the sentence above works with an adverb, it could be rewritten. Jane jogged or Jane power-walked provides the reader with more precise detail.

Cut All Whimper Words

Whimper words are filler words: that, really, so, like, kind of, just, and apparently.

Whimper words put agents on high alert for lazy or amateur writing. They are unnecessary and only beef up word counts.

Thankfully avoiding whimper words is pretty simple. Search for every instance in your manuscript and remove them. Doing so will often not even require the sentence be rewritten. Take the following sentence filled with whimper words:

  • Apparently, Jane drove really fast just to escape the storm.

Removing the whimper words provides a more direct sentence without rewriting anything:

  • Jane drove fast to escape the storm.

Final Thoughts

Before submitting a five-page manuscript to any agent, take the time necessary for developmental, line and copy editing. Not only will your submission be polished, it will show an agent you are ready to move toward publishing.

Subscribe for writing hacks, special offers and free stuff
We will not share your details
Have you tried  ProWritingAid  yet? What are you waiting for? It's the best tool for making sure your copy is strong, clear, and error-free!
Justin Cox

Justin Cox

Administrator at The Writing Cooperative and Eater of Donuts

Justin Cox is a writer, minister, and donut eater. His words are available online at Wired, Film School Rejects, The Writing Cooperative, The Coffeelicious, and more. Besides writing, Justin is an avid traveler and foodie. He lives in Orlando, Florida with his wife, Carla, and their dog, Mac. Connect with Justin on Twitter, Medium, or at

Log in
to your account to leave a comment or fill in your details below to comment as a guest.
I would love to turn my draft into an agent, but I haven't discovered the right incantation. ;-)
You are so right and prowritingaid has simplified the process for me by reminding me not to be passive. Best writing tool ever because it actually does some of the work for you, instead of all those books out there, that you’re never going to read properly, that expect you to do all the work.
"Jane was walking" is not passive voice. It is past progressive, or past continuous, and is used to denote an ongoing action in the past. If you’d wanted an example of passive voice, "Jane was walked by her nanny" would have been a better choice.
I’m currently doing all of this and more to my WIP. What really drives me crazy though is seeing highly successful, traditionally published authors break nearly all these rules. They use passive voice. They tell instead of show. Filler words? You bet. Everything I’m supposed to avoid to make it past the gatekeepers they get away with. Seems once an author gains a healthy readership they can become lazy writers (probably because most readers don’t know any better). I can barely read fiction anymore because of this.

Great Writing, Made Easier.

A grammar checker, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.

Try it for free today.