Thursday, July 18, 2013

Don't Kill Your Editor

By Linwood Barclay

Thriller writers spend a lot of time thinking about killing people. But the people we imagine doing away with it are imaginary. So, whack ‘em. No harm done.

There’s one possible exception.

There are times when we think about killing our editors.

They put us through hell. I’ve had calls from editors that made me want to step in front of a bus. They tell us things we do not want to hear. We may know it’s coming. The book is not quite right, but we’re hoping our editor won’t notice. Maybe we’ll get away with it.

Fat chance.

The toughest part of the process for me is not waiting for inspiration, or starting that first sentence, or working through the plot, or dealing with readers who all email thinking they’re the first to notice the typo on page 23, or even reading those first reviews once the book is out.

The toughest part begins once I hit “send” and my manuscript lands in my editors’ inbox. Waiting for the verdict is a killer.

But here’s the thing. Every book I’ve written has been made better – sometimes, a LOT better – because of an editor. Good editors – and I have been lucky to have almost no poor ones – have saved my ass.

We’ve all heard this a thousand times, but it bears repeating. When you’ve spent months and months toiling away on a novel, you lose all perspective. You’re in no position to judge its merits. Not only are you unlikely to be able to see what’s wrong with it, it’s very likely you can’t even see what works.

I know there are novelists out there who believe every sentence they write is sacrosanct. Thou shalt not change a single word, they tell their publishers. If they’ve got more clout than I do, it’s very likely they can get away with this. Good for them. And their book may be pretty damn amazing. But I’ll bet it could have been better, even just a titch, if they’d been willing to take some advice from their editor.

It’s not easy, but you have to get past your ego in this business. I’ve gone into tailspins of depression after hearing from an editor who believes my latest delivery needs to be rewritten. It’s hard not to take personally, even though the editor is being strictly professional. You feel stupid. How did I screw it up so badly?

But the truth is, if you hadn’t created this book in the first place, there’d be nothing for that editor to judge. This was your idea. This was your concept. The editor is going to help you shape your creation into the best book it can be.

Be grateful. (Okay, maybe that’s pushing it).

With each book, I’m getting a little better at sucking it up and getting on with the job. I’ve come to expect it. As the audience for your books grows, you can’t afford to slip up. You can’t coast. Readers notice.  

Everyone, and forgive the pun, is on the same page here. Everyone wants the best book possible. Let an editor help you make that happen.

But, if it makes you feel better, think about killing them. No harm done, really. 

Author Bio:
Linwood Barclay, a former columnist for the Toronto Star, is the author of a dozen novels, including No Time for Goodbye, the soon-to-be-released A Tap on the Window,  and Trust Your Eyes, which is in development for a movie with Warner Bros. He lives near Toronto with his wife Neetha. They have two grown children. Connect with him at his website. 

Latest Book:  
A Tap on the Window, to be published by New American Library Aug. 6, asks the question: What if the hitchhiker you picked up wasn’t the same hitchhiker you dropped off? Private detective Cal Weaver’s decision to give a young girl a ride draws him into a deadly small town conspiracy.


Jodie Renner Editing said...

Well said, Linwood! And in an entertaining way! I've no doubt you're a talented writer, who only needs the odd tweak here and there by your editors. :)

As an independent editor who specializes in thrillers and other suspense fiction (and who has published about a dozen blog posts here on The Thrill Begins since March 2011), I really appreciate a bestselling author like you advising aspiring authors to seriously consider the advice they receive from professional editors. If you really don't like it, take a day or two to cool down, and then think about it again when you're less emotionally invested. If you still disagree, tell the editor why. I really like it when my clients explain their thinking.

And judging by their glowing testimonials and the praise for my work on their acknowledgments pages, I don't THINK too many of my clients would like to do me in! (Sure hope not!)

Thanks for an excellent post, Linwood!

Jodie Renner Editing said...

P.S. I enjoyed meeting you at Thrillerfest when I volunteered for your presentation. And by the way, we got a full house for the editors' panel I was on, with lots of great comments at the end.

Susan C. Philpott said...

Hi Linwood - thanks for this timely reminder. I am also a thriller writer, and just signed a two book deal with Simon and Schuster. Very exciting.

Handing in the first book for evaluation was a bit of a lark - I had no expectations and I'm sure they didn't either.

But, now that book two is heading off to the dreaded editor, I am assailed by self-doubts.

Don't get me wrong. I don't mind them telling me I have huge re-writes to deal with, the editing suggestions for the first book were invaluable - even if I did have to throw out the first third of the book.

No - my fear is that they will gasp in horror at the sheer ghastliness of it all, realize they've made a terrible mistake and revoke my contract.

Like you said - after staring at the same story for so many months, you lose all perspective. Is it good, or is it atrocious? Will it keep readers on the edge of their seats, or get snapped shut within the first few dreadful pages?

I really have no idea, and the thought of sending it off for judgment, especially now that so much is on the line, is a nail-biter, a cliff-hanger and a sphincter squeeze all rolled into one.

Still, I got this far, right? And, luckily, I have the same editor and she didn't freak out with the first book, so she'll probably be kind at the very least. Right?

Sheesh! Remind me again why we do this? : )