I just finished the rewrite of my third novel. Now it goes to the first editor: my wife. Her qualifications are exactly what I’m looking for in a first editor. She is not an English major or a writer. She doesn’t know about style or technique, and she’s not an avid reader and doesn’t particularly like mysteries. Perfect.
When I finally get a publisher, their editor will tell me if I made any mistakes in grammar or spelling. What I need right now, before any agent or publisher rejects it, is someone to judge whether the story is good. I have always believed the basis for any story should be a good story. Okay, wipe all those looks off your faces questioning my intelligence and/or sobriety for stating what should be obvious, but I have read numerous books where the author gets so caught up in style, symbolism, dialogue mechanics, stream of consciousness and long, flowing, descriptive phrases that the story just sits there spinning in circles. I try to put those things in my novels, too, but the story has to come first.
I know my wife would never tell me my story stinks. She doesn’t have to. I can tell by her reaction when she reads it. She reads about a chapter a night before she goes to bed, even if she’s reading something from a bestselling author. If my book can keep her interested enough to read two or maybe three chapters, I know I have something. When she read my first book, In The Sticks, she kept asking me, “Who is this character supposed to be?” As if I had modeled the character after someone in real life. At that point I knew my characters had believability. She also kept guessing who the murderer was, which told me I had done a good job of concealing the identity of the bad guy. The first five chapters of the book, she read slowly. She commented that one of the scenes was pretty gross, so I toned it down. (My wife knows gross; she’s seen me naked.) After the first five chapters, she started reading two chapters a night. When she told me she stayed up late to finish the last four chapters, I knew I had a good ending. One of the most frequent comments I have gotten in reviews of the book is: The last chapters pull you along. I knew that before anyone else had read it.
My second book, Graves of His Personal Liking, my wife read quickly from the beginning. She kept guessing on what was going to happen next. As I’ve said before, she said the ending reminded her of the movie Pretty Woman, and I still don’t remember the gunfight.
Now she is reading my third book. She keeps a notebook handy, and if she finds some mistake in spelling, some part she that isn’t clear or especially if she finds some part that drags along, she’ll jot down the page number. Her main job though is to see if the story is good. She’s my first editor and probably my most important editor.