At age sixteen, I landed a great part-time job: showing old movies at a revival house built in a barn. Friday night, I’d crank up the projector and watch a classic movie I’d never seen. Saturday, I’d watch it again, focusing on how the movie told its story.

At the time I graduated from college, a fellow waiter at the restaurant where I worked invited me to test-read a novel he’d begun writing. We knew nothing about publishing but managed to get his book finished and sold, to a major trade house. The fact this took us on a multi-year trek made that first-ever book contract all the more satisfying.

In the meantime, I completed a masters in English and Comparative Lit, my focus of comparison being prose narration vs screen narration.

Next came ten years in boot camp, as a literary agent.

The first eight I spent at Curtis Brown, Ltd., one of the longest-established agencies in New York. From colleagues there, I learned a meticulous approach to every aspect of representing authors, from text preparation to deals to contracts to rights management. The agency instills in its trainees a strong code of ethics, one I still strive to live up to. We represented a lot of prize-winning and best-selling authors. A milestone for me was working with Peter Hedges—from early drafts to publication and through to the Oscar-nominated movie—on his first novel, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

Next, I worked at a newly founded agency, Endeavor, before it grew big and merged with William Morris. In Hollywood, I was a fish out of water but valued the opportunity to learn about movie and media production, from exceptionally talented colleagues and clients. My most memorable success during that Los Angeles run came in shepherding another first novel, Rex Pickett’s Sideways, on its way to publication and to adaptation as an Oscar-winning movie.

In my years as an agent, I got the greatest satisfaction assisting writers in the development of their work. The natural next step, to complete what amounted to a 20-plus-year apprenticeship, was making that my full-time occupation. While I was getting my business up and running, digital advances made it feasible for an editor to work anyplace there’s broadband access. Since moving to Brazil, I’ve expanded my range of projects to include works in Portuguese as well as in English.


Since the best vehicle for communicating just about anything to me is a story, I specialize in narrative projects. Ideally, a writer enlists an editor close to a project’s inception. Calling in fixes at the end of the road seldom proves effective, or even economical. We do better to start while a story—fiction or non-fiction—remains a work in progress, and still has flexibility. 

An all-in, concept-to-completion approach particularly serves an author going into the market for the first time. To be recognized as sale-worthy, a novel, script or nonfiction book by an as-yet-unknown writer doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to be complete enough to get its reader engaged—better yet, hooked. The market’s gatekeepers, strongly motivated to get on to the next thing in the stack, are the toughest readers out there.   

First up for our consideration are a story’s big-picture elements—plot, structure, pace, strategies for narration, voice, point of view. (This phase of work also helps us determine whether I’m on the right wavelength to serve the story and the author.) Once we have conceptual and structural elements firing on all cylinders, we’re set to pull closer in. Now we focus on the text itself, at the level of paragraphs, sentences, phrases and single words.

At milestones in the course of our efforts, it’s useful to take test runs with select readers versed in articulating their reactions. Though I no longer operate as an agent, I often assist with submissions, acquisitions, and the varied further work that comes with a project’s success. 


There’s no longer such a thing as “good enough.” 
The publishing and media markets are inundated with written material to consider. Given the exponential expansion in recent decades of the sheer number of projects on offer, only a tiny fraction of submissions to agents, publishers and producers gets more than a glance.

For me as an editor, that suggests just one standard: Make it the best it can be. 
Working with writers who share that view, I propose three structured phases of work.

Phase 1, aka “substantive editing,” emphasizes the big picture: story and structure. On reading a work for the first time, I draft a memo detailing my reactions. I aim to be clear, specific and frank—even if it means I’m not the nicest guy in the room. (At my most blunt, I’m a lot kinder and gentler than the buyers and the reading public.) Once the author has reviewed my thinking, we talk, to map out an editorial plan.

Work in Phase 2 is less programmed. Many writers set directly into revisions based on our big-picture discussions (often informed by a variety of readers’ responses along with mine). Others elect to engage an edit and annotation—full or partial—of the draft in hand. My new reading, whether it precedes a revision, follows, or rolls out in parallel, yields digital mark-up copy for the author’s review. Going over edit and annotation in installments, the author can give feedback as my edit moves forward. Ideally, the author reworks my edits as I go, and the exchange flows in both directions.

In Phase 3 my focus shifts to text edit and copy edit, to assist the author in giving the work a polish.

We make every effort to tackle each phase of work comprehensively, and minimize backtracking, re-dos and loops. Like a writer, an editor only has so many clear-eyed passes through a given text.

While our job descriptions differ, we work collaboratively, for the benefit of the work, its characters, and its readers. It’s to be expected that author and editor at times see things differently. The originator of the project, of course, has the final word.

Click here for a sample of digital editing and annotation.



Books in progress have a way of turning themselves into great white whales, and provoke the anguish Ishmael voices as he flails away at Moby-Dick: “O! Time, Strength, Cash & Patience!” The best way to maintain strength and patience is to manage cash and time.

To keep things simple with respect to cash, I work on the basis of two standard fees and a moderate share of revenues. My revenue share pays out only once the author has fully recouped the fees paid to me.


Phase 1

Initial reading, reactions, discussion and proposed editorial plan:


Phases 2 and 3
Annotation, story and structure; text edit, copy edit:

Contingent Compensation
Once an author and I have revisions and editing underway, and confirmed the viability of the methods we’ve tailored to the project, we agree on a fair share to be assigned to me of the project’s revenues. We take into account various factors, chiefly how hands-on the editorial engagement is and the extent to which we expect it will impact content. Having a stake in the work’s future lets me keep my up-front fees affordable to most individual authors. Equally important, it gives me a shared commitment to the work’s success in the market. My financial participation (on most books, in the range of 5-7.5%—so, a third to a half of the commission assigned to an agent) comes into effect only once the work’s income is sufficient that the author has recouped fees paid to me and a reasonable sum for overhead and contingency. 


The time we spend varies widely from project to project. With a manuscript of 100,000 to 150,000 words, my work in the second and third phases of editing generally runs between 50 and 75 hours.

Deadlines help; detailed timetables serve a project better. Before the author commits to the plan we map out for our work, we define its stages, addressing story and structure, then text edit. We mark a succession of goals toward the project’s completion, and budget sufficient blocks of time, in days or weeks as well as in hours. The tasks and stages remain flexible, and we almost always make mid-course corrections.

When an author decides to go beyond Phase 1, we put together a written agreement, which it’s advisable to have vetted by an attorney or agent. Ordinarily a short deal memo, the agreement confirms the schedule for deliverables and payments. Additional terms establish the author’s sole ownership of the work and my contingent compensation.

Unless a project entails travel, additional expenses generally come to zero. Authors and I confer via email, phone, instant message and voice-over-internet applications (Skype, Google chat, Facetime, Whatsapp), so we rarely run up a communications tab. I incur reimbursable expenses only with the client’s approval.


Henry Alford
Henry Alfordauthor/magazine writer/investigative humorist
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It can be surprisingly difficult to find a reader or editor who can see both the big picture and the small one. Jess is a terrific guide whether you're staring down the barrel of a single sentence or an entire book. He's both a particle AND a wave. Also, he's funny.

And Then We Danced (Simon & Schuster, 2018)​​ Would it Kill You to Stop Doing That? (Twelve, 2012) How to Live (Twelve, 2009) Big Kiss (Random House, 2000) Municipal Bondage (Random House, 1993)
Cyrus Copeland
Cyrus Copelandauthor/editor
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The time I most appreciate you is when I've been drained by the process and need someone to jumpstart my own smarts again. And excitement. Because you get the possibility and potential inherent in any good idea and know instinctively how to bring it to fruition - not just artistically, but also practically. I think you already know exactly how your clients use and value you - the guy who gets the bigger idea and can help you stay focused on it, even when you lose track of it. But you also have an amazing ability to do what a screenplay does, which is zoom in and out of something - fix the nuts and bolts of it, while keeping track of how it fits into a contextually larger picture. That is your brilliance. (Well, that and the sustained highly amusing commentary that comes with all your missives. We all might get yelled at. But working with you is just fun.) The other thing that you do particularly well is adapt. To date, you've helped me tailor a book of eulogies, a pitch for same, and a nonfiction proposal, all of which landed with major trade houses. Even when you don't know the genre it seems to matter little, you're still full of pointed commentary

Off the Radar (Blue Rider/Penguin USA, 2015) Farewell, Godspeed (Random House, 2004 A Wonderful Life (Algonquin, 2006)
Leslie Dunton-Downer
Leslie Dunton-Downer​writer, playwright, librettist, writer-creator for French television
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I knew I had great material for my next non-fiction book. But the trick was how to get it to be a fun read without sacrificing crucial nuts-and-bolts stuff that would make the argument solid. Jess came up with the perfect game plan. And he helped me execute it every step of the way. On top of this, his editorial wizardry and engagement in the material made the writing process a joy.

The English is Coming! (Touchstone, 2010) co-authored with Alan Riding: Essential Shakespeare Handbook (Dorling Kindersley, 2004) Opera (Eyewitness Companion Series, Dorling Kindersley, 2006)
Tess Masters
Tess Mastersauthor & lifestyle personality
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Jess is a jewel among paste and cut-glass editors. He's a storyteller. Whether it be finding the right word to make a sentence sing, restructuring paragraphs for greater clarity, or making cuts for pace and flow, Jess's magnifying glass, brush, sponge, scalpel, chisel, hammer, and sticks of dynamite are on hand, and calibrated for my voice and world. With the perfect blend of intellect, wit, humor, laser focus, and a relentless commitment to excellence, Jess helps me craft the concepts in my mind and words on the page into a compelling story.

The Perfect Blend (Ten Speed Press, 2016) The Blender Girl Smoothies app (Random House, 2014) The Blender Girl Smoothies (Ten Speed Press, 2015) The Blender Girl (Ten Speed Press, 2014)
Nancy Stout
Nancy Stoutauthor
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Jess is a specialist at being a good partner just when you need him: a taskmaster when the book is being written and a strategist while it is being published. Through the whole process Jess is equally comfortable minding the details-- he seems to be endowed with a prodigious memory-- and yet is always leading you toward the overall story, is mindful of the bigger picture. Always frank, often enthusiastic, he delivers a kind of levelheaded criticism.

One Day in December (Monthly Review Press, 2013)
Gregg Hurwitz
Gregg HurwitzNew York Times bestselling novelist and comic-book writer; screenwriter Orphan X (Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press, 2016) The Book of Henry (Focus Features, 2016)
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In a profession constituted of tired readers and failed writers, Jess Taylor stands alone as a true soup-to-nuts editor. He can edit comprehensively, from major thematic commentary right down to tweaking word order to make a sentence pop. I worked with Jess for over a year on my first novel and without his input and dedication I'm certain it would not have reached a level of quality to make it attractive to publishers. Through my first nine published novels, he was my most dedicated — and most demanding – reader. Success for us both was reaching the point where there was no longer a need for such meticulous pre-editing editing.

Trust No One (St. Martin's, 2009) The Crime Writer (Viking, 2007) Last Shot (Wm Morrow, 2006) Troubleshooter (Wm Morrow, 2005) The Kill Clause (Wm Morrow, 2003) and others
Will Staeger
Will Staegernovelist, TV executive
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I see you as the Mad Scientist.

Public Enemy (Wm Morrow, 2006) Painkiller (Wm Morrow, 2005)
Nicole Galland
Nicole Gallandnovelist
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When I can't see the forest for the trees (which is nearly all the time) I know you can see not only the forest (AND the trees) but the topography of the entire surrounding countryside, and your sense of direction is unerring. Writing can be terrifyingly lonely, and it's so much easier to go into that space knowing you're there as backup - even (perhaps especially) when we end up bickering like we're in a cheap cop-buddy-flick. You are a sort of midwife/godfather to my creations, and a smart-ass, tough-love Prometheus to me. (I don't know if that metaphor actually holds up but doesn't it sound GREAT?) It's SO rare for me to trust people's judgments and critical comments, but you're so damn good at what you do that I look FORWARD to it from you. Who else can make me giggle with delight while insulting me? You make criticism not only profitable but FUN. It's hard to voice how deeply I value your investment in my projects - you throw yourself into the worlds I create, never trying to wrest control from me, but determined to understand it all as deeply as I do. It's such a treat, such a luxury, that frankly it's a little addictive - to wit: I haven't even written an outline of my next novel but I've already decided you're coming along on the research trip with me!

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. (with Neal Stephenson; Wm Morrow, 2017)​​ Crossed (Wm Morrow, 2008) Revenge of the Rose (Wm Morrow, 2005) The Fool's Tale (Wm Morrow, 2004
Jeff Garigliano
Jeff Gariglianonovelist and magazine editor
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Jess is relentless - in the good way - about getting you to turn your material into a STORY. He takes lumpy, shapeless prose and points out all the ways you've gone wrong, and at the end of the process you'll have something that gets readers (and agents, and editors) to want to keep turning the pages.

Dogface (MacAdam Cage, 2008)
Rex Pickett
Rex Pickettnovelist/screenwriter recounting in Premiere his novel’s progress from first draft to Oscar-winning movie directed by Alexander Payne
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Jess (is) different….a throwback to the time of Max Perkins, when editors and agents collaborated closely with their clients to shape their manuscripts… Evidently, unbeknownst to us, the manuscript that Jess had pitched to (Alexander) Payne's agent months earlier had reached the summit of his reading pile…. With one phonecall I had gone from acutely suicidal to deliriously hopeful. Reflecting on the last six years, my first thoughts went to Jess Taylor… who took me on when nobody wanted anything to do with me…. Without his coming out to LA and risking his sanity, the likelihood of my manuscript wending its way to Payne would have been remote.

Sideways (St. Martin's, 2003)


(since 1999)

Endeavor – literary and talent agency – Beverly Hills/New York

Curtis Brown, Ltd. – literary agency – New York


Harvard University – AB – 1983 – English & American Literature
Columbia University – MA – 1987 – English & Comparative Literature 


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