Editing Services

What to Send
How to Send It
Comments from Writers Who Have Worked with Tom Jenks


Literary services offered include editing, manuscript critique, consultation, and private tutorials on short stories, novels, and literary nonfiction such as memoirs, biographies, and personal essays.

By way of beginning with anyone, I simply invite you to send me some of your work to read. I’ll read it in a preliminary way and give you an initial response so that you can see what kind of reader I’d be for you, what sort of help I’d be, if any, and, likewise, I can get a sense of your work. Then, assuming that a useful connection is made, we can define exactly what work I might do for you. There is no charge for this initial reading. Following an initial reading I will quote you a fee. (An outline of fees is given below.)

The kind of work that I do with writers varies greatly from individual to individual. However, a general format is as follows: I read your work (novel, short story, etc.), edit, and provide a written commentary on the pages and in a separate letter. Also, I allow time for a detailed editorial conversation after you’ve had a chance to look over your edited work. And, later, as other questions occur to you and as you are revising your work, I remain available for further conversation. Dialogue is an important part of the process; and if my thoughts help your work, I find that your thoughts and questions help focus and inspire me.

In some cases, a manuscript may need intensive line-by-line editing. In other cases, a more general or conceptual reading is required. Sometimes, it’s a matter of finding a balance between the two. Plot, characterization, point of view, patterns of imagery and symbol, the lyric aspects of the work, and the themes that underlie it are some of the areas on which I concentrate.

I provide my services online via email, over the phone, and via express mail. I’ve found that it’s very useful to have phone conversations over the writing on the page; however, if you prefer to work solely online or through the mail, phone conversations are not always necessary, though they are, in fact, extremely efficient.

Many writers work with me in person. This situation is of course optimal. If you’re willing to come to San Francisco, I ordinarily spend several hours going over the critique of a novel or book-length work. For short stories, I usually spend about an hour. And again, I allow follow-up time for questions and thoughts that arise from our conversations.

In addition to critiques and editing, I will provide reading lists specifically designed to dovetail with your work, and I can be available to go over the reading with you, with an eye on helping you develop certain techniques for your work. Writers teach themselves to write, in part, by reading, and over the years I have developed some useful ways of demonstrating how writers read in order to gain specific skills.

Finally, if you would like to get a quick idea of some of my ideas about writing, you might look at the introduction to American Short Story Masterpieces (Dell), which I edited with Raymond Carver. The Introduction describes many of my beliefs, and the selection of stories will give you an idea of my taste. You may also want to refer to my book on writing, A Poetics of Fiction: Six Chapters on the Art of Imaginative Prose.


Fees vary according to the length and type of work. A detailed line-by-line edit tends to be more costly than, for instance, an overarching, conceptual reading of a manuscript. Once I’ve reviewed your manuscript in a preliminary way and discussed it with you, I will be able to quote a price for the work.


You can send me long or short work, as much or as little as you like. I’m going to read as much or as little as I think I need in order to give you a preliminary reaction on which you can evaluate my usefulness to you.

Primarily, it’s important to send something you’d like to talk about, something on which you’d like to get feedback.

You may send work in progress, rough work, incomplete work. You needn’t knock yourself out, tweaking the work before you send it. I’m used to seeing manuscripts at all stages of development and can tell a lot about the virtues as well as the difficulties present in work in progress.

You may want to send a sampling of work that includes your best, something that is finished and represents you well, along with work that shows areas in which you want help.


Before you send anything, please contact me to set a schedule for reading. Ordinarily, I can respond to any submission within ten days to two weeks. However, my ability to keep this schedule depends on organizing my time in advance. Also, I like to touch base with a writer beforehand rather than receiving the work cold.

Work can be sent to me in the form of Word documents, via email.


Are you an agent?

No. I don’t act as an agent or in any way represent writers to publishers. Over the years, I have sometimes connected writers to agents and editors, though only when the work recommends itself. But I do not sell this service or make any guarantee about providing contacts in publishing.

Can you give marketing advice?

Yes. I am very familiar with New York publishing and the literary scene in America, including large and small magazine editors, MFA programs, writers’ conferences, book publishers, and agents. I can answer questions about these and offer strategies to aid in common dilemmas, such as identifying which agents might be right for you, how to get beyond having to send your work in as unsolicited, how to decide if you want to take an MFA degree, which schools might be good for you, how to submit work to magazines, and many other FAQs.

Do you work with genre writing such as romance, science fiction, fantasy, murder mystery, children’s books, and so on?

Not generally. My expertise is in adult, mainstream literary fiction and nonfiction. The only exceptions have been with commercial novels that also have literary aspects. However, in working with a commercial book, I leave most of the commercial instincts to the author and read the work for the same elements and qualities (characterization, language, plot, etc.) that I would apply to a book whose intention is literary.

Will you give me an honest appraisal and tell me specifically what I need to know to improve my book?

Every so often I’m approached by a writer who says, Don’t be afraid to be brutal. And, in response, I reply that it’s not necessary to be brutal but only to be accurate. I will provide every assistance I can. I’m quite good at what I do, and in every instance I try to come in and work under the laws that an author’s writing establishes for itself. My goal is to help the work achieve its greatest integrity and aesthetic form, to make the writing and storytelling as good as they can be. In this process, I am a sophisticated editorial reader, with a strong background in editing, teaching, and writing. I can provide ample, detailed, and accurate reflections and advice on your work. But I take the position that you are the authority for your work. If at times I imagine parts of your story, make detailed suggestions, or ask questions, all these types of help are to be received as query and used, transformed, or discarded as seems best to you.

In addition to providing direct commentary on your manuscript, I may also be able to help you locate yourself in relation to contemporary writers working in the same vein as you and in relation to writers throughout literary history. Or, more simply, you might think of this as finding your companions on the road.

Do you teach classes?

A schedule of classes can be found here.

Can you provide some references of people with whom you’ve worked?

Yes. If you are seriously considering making a significant investment of time with me, I’ll be happy to put you in touch with several writers with whom I’ve worked. They can give you the view from the other side—what it’s like to work with me and what results they’ve achieved.

Will you work with anyone, or are you selective?

I think of the initial reading and conversation about your work as a mutual audition. Sometimes, there are writers whose work seems good to me, yet I find that I don’t have anything useful to say. Other times, I read work that is beyond my area of knowledge or taste. And, sometimes there are writers who find I’m not the right reader for them.

Rather than a particular level of accomplishment or successes in publishing, what I initially want in reading and discussing your work is to see if I can make a useful contribution. Also, I try to determine the nature and quality of the working relationship we would establish.

What about ongoing private tutorials?

With some writers, I have worked individually over long periods (in some instances ten years or more). I like this arrangement because I get to know the writer very well, we develop a language in common, and the work can proceed at the writer’s own pace, with intervals between sessions. The writer can take whatever time is necessary to assimilate and use the information from a session before coming back for another reading. Also, I work well by accumulating knowledge of a writer’s work, and the more I know the more help I can give.

Private tutorials work well for writers engaged in lengthy projects, writers interested in developing their writing per se, and writers who want to develop a relationship with a reliable, long-term editorial reader.

Fees are variable, but ordinarily I arrange a block of hours to be used over a variable period (with some limitations), at the writer’s discretion, and I take a retainer in advance. If you are interested in this alternative, please contact me for more information so that we can discuss your work.


Click here to Email me. It’s the quickest way to reach me.

Again, thanks for your interest and attention, and whether or not my services seem right for you, I wish you much success with your work.