Digging Deep

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?


12 thoughts on “Digging Deep

  1. Alafair Burke

    Amen to your editor, and Amen to you for appreciating his work. I've worked with the same editor, Jennifer Barth, since the beginning, following her to Harper so I could continue to work with her. Having someone who champions you enough to push, without asking you to be a different writer, is invaluable.

  2. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    First of all, my best editor is the one I'm married to, and I hope I don't lose her to another house in the middle of the deal.
    But my official editor, at Tor, is Eric Raab, and I love him. I don't have a contract yet for my third book, I might be writing it without a net, but I hope I get the chance to work with Eric again. He's all you said an editor should be.

  3. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Rob The Slob – erm, is that a family name?

    Losing an editor partway through a project is tough – and can spell the death knell to the project if whoever inherits it doesn't like it, or maybe quite likes the idea, but would have asked you to pursue it in a different way. You're very lucky to have lost and found such a good editor again!

    Editing isn't supposed to be fun, but it's a bit like exercise – worth it in the end … isn't it?

  4. JT Ellison

    The editor of my first five books, Linda McFall, just left, as I was turning in the 6th. You can imagine the panic – for a moment. There was another editor along the way who'd worked with us on my first 4 books, someone who knowa how anal I am, and how to deal with copyedits and ideas and marketing and all that jazz. His name is Adam Wilson, and I'm thrilled that he's taken over my books. Getting orphaned is scary, no doubt, but it taught me a lesson – always remember that you are the driving force behind the books. If you trust in yourself, another editor will trust in you as well. You can't have a good team relationship without that trust.

    Congrats on nailing the revision, Rob!

  5. Robert Gregory Browne

    Rob the Slob is indeed a family name and a fitting one at that, Zoe.

    Fortunately, after I lost Ben I was with an editor who I worked well with over at SMP, but when I had the opportunity to work with Ben again, especially at Dutton, I jumped at it.

    Sorry to hear you lost your editor, JT. But glad you landed well.

  6. Robert Gregory Browne

    Oh, by the way, I'm adding this comment merely so I don't look pathetic this week. Less than ten comments is a record, isn't it?

    I should learn to make my posts less compelling… 😉

  7. Catherine

    Rob I've found that my reaction to someone asking me to step up varies. If I think they're full of it, I'm less than inspired.I'll try, but it's harder. If I respect their work, and or values I will rummage around within myself to find that something extra.

    I've learnt in study and work to look for something that I can connect with, something that genuinely makes me care. I do this if I feel like I'm in danger of just going through the motions. I find this lifts whatever I produce to another level. Life is too short to give a half arsed effort. I do find it more of a challenge lifting my game through someone else's layer of bullshit though.

    Congratulations on having such a good working relationship with your editor.

  8. Jude Hardin

    Great post, Rob. I linked to you from Joe Konrath's blog.

    I had a similar experience with Pat Gussin at Oceanview. You just can't buy that level of commitment to a project.

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