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.
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.
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.
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.