by Rob the Slob
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as getting an email from your editor telling you that your latest draft is a job well done. Especially when you knew in your gut that the first draft was quite possibly a disaster.
After doing this for a few years now, I can tell you with great certainty that the difference between the success and failure of a book (from a writerly POV) can often come down to your relationship with your editor.
As some of you may know, I’m with a new publisher (Dutton) and am working with the brilliant young editor (Ben Sevier), who first acquired my debut novel Kiss Her Goodbye over at St. Martin’s years ago, shortly before he left there.
I was mightily bummed when he left SMP, and I tried to tell myself that all would be good—and for the most part it was—but now that I’m working with Ben again, I realize how different things might have been if he’d stuck around.
You see, Ben is an exceptionally good editor. He has a keen eye for story and character, and a lot of great ideas, but he also has a way of challenging you, helping you to really dig deep until you find your best work.
The book we’re working on right now (I’m in the midst of a polish) has without a doubt been the toughest book I’ve ever had to write—partly because I’m in territory I’ve never fully explored before, but also because Ben has not spared me. When he thinks I can do better, he pushes for it.
And that, my friends, is what you want in an editor.
After four books, I was at the point where I was starting to have trouble getting excited about writing. I had no intention of quitting, mind you—and I think those four books are pretty good (although I also think there’s always room for improvement)—but I can’t tell you how nice it was to work with someone who was not only a cheerleader, but wasn’t afraid to give me that slap in the face that I needed to wake me the hell up.
I think it’s important that, no matter what we do for a living, we find a way to shake it up once in a while. Look for ways to challenge ourselves. Go places with our thinking and our creativity that we’ve never gone before, because there are discoveries to be made.
After turning in a less than perfect first draft of this book and hearing Ben tell me, in the kindest possible way, that I could do better, I have to say that I was spurred on to work harder than I’ve ever worked before. And I think the results show.
Believe me, when I turned in the revised draft, I was sweating bullets. Was it as successful as I thought it was? I spent my entire vacation in Hawaii waiting for that phone to ring or that email that said, “Dude, this is a screaming piece of shit.” (Not that Ben would ever say anything like that. But my imagination tends to run wild when I’m anxious.)
Fortunately, the response was just the opposite, and I was both relieved and overjoyed that all of my back-breaking work had paid off.
And it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have a terrific editor.
Every writer should be so lucky.
Today’s discussion: Do you ever feel as if you’re just going through the motions? Have you ever had someone really challenge you and found yourself digging deeper and working harder because of it? If so, tell us about it.
Or if you’ve ever lost an editor in the middle of a deal, how did that work out for you?