A Writer’s Life: Why You Need A Good Editor
In today’s world has everywhere been written about? I’ve read novels set in North Korea and among ancient tribes. What about the modern state of how we live now in the UK, our relationships and confusions, and the way in which ‘career portfolios’ replace traditional jobs? US novelists write state-of-the-nation books very well, but we don’t seem to be interested.
Five years ago I was looking to write a thriller and had a good idea for the way it started, but I couldn’t make the dynamic of the book work until, thanks to a push from my agent, I changed something fundamental. This had the effect of not just making it very modern, but unprecedented. The danger with originality is that it’s generally not what thriller readers want (although Lee Child has been consistently original by playing with the genre).
One of the hardest things for an author is to stay fresh. Traditionally your agent can help in this area. Now, though, we have the rise of the star editor. It was always part of the agent’s job to turn down work s/he feels isn’t up to snuff, but now that challenge is being taken up by sharp editors at publishing houses who can make names for themselves by helping to shape an author’s work, turning it from merely interesting to something essential.
Before, writers fretted about finding a good agent. Now they need to find an agent with good contacts who can match the right editor to the author. An editor may ask for much more than just minor changes and even demand a complete reworking of material. I can see a future where writers must be prepared to think very differently about books. The work won’t stop with the delivery of the manuscript. That’s where it will start to get interesting.
I for one can’t wait. Writers work alone, get no feedback and often go off-track. If there’s trust, an editor can collaborate with the writer to ensure that the book stays focussed and sharp – and become something unique.