October 5 – 11: “What is the best change you ever received from an editor? The worst?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Some editors make big changes in a manuscript. This week ITW Members DiAnn Mills, Eric Beetner, Ellen Kirschman, Mick Sims and Len Maynard, Tom Avitable, and Kira Peikoff discuss the best changes they’ve ever received from an editor, as well as the worst.




deadlockDiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels to thrill readers. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall.


ConvalescenceMaynard & Sims are the authors of fifteen novels with more scheduled, as well as numerous novellas and stories. They have won awards for screenplays, have been editors, essayists, publishers and reviewers. They are currently working on new novels, novellas, stories and screenplays.



backlistEric Beetner writes hardboiled crime fiction. A lot of it, with more to come. Many folks have said nice things about his books. He’s won a few awards like the 2012 Stalker award for Most Criminally Underrated author. He lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts the Noir At The Bar reading series.



Right Wrong Thing high-resEllen Kirschman Ph.D is a clinical psychologist in independent practice. She is a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Society for the Study of Police and Criminal Psychology,  the American Psychological Association, and the International Association of Women in Law Enforcement. She is the recipient of the California Psychological Association’s 2014 award for distinguished contribution to psychology as well as the American Psychological Association’s 2010 award for outstanding contribution to the practice of police and public safety psychology. Ellen is the author of the award winning I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, I Love a Fire Fighter: What the Family Needs to Know, and lead author of Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know (2013). Her debut novel, Burying Ben: A Dot Meyerhoff Mystery (2013) is about police suicide told from the perspective of the psychologist. Ellen and her husband live in Redwood City, California.


give us this dayTom Avitabile, a Senior V.P./Creative Director at a New York advertising firm, is a writer, director, and producer with numerous film and television credits. His extensive background in computers and engineering led him to work with the House Committee on Science Space and Technology. Tom’s powerful imagination, fed from his experiences in Washington, allowed him to conjure up not only possible security threats, but also real life scenarios relating to how the government and individuals would respond to the high-tech assaults that are featured prominently in his three book “thrillogy.” These novels chronicle the exploits of Science Advisor to the President, “Wild” Bill Hiccock. The first techno-thriller of this series, The Eighth Day, became a Barnes and Noble #1 bestseller. In his next thriller, The Devil’s Quota, Avitabile departs from the high-tech genre and sheds daylight on an evil international syndicate, a story of sexual deviation, greed, human trafficking and corruption.


die againKira Peikoff’s previous novel was the acclaimed No Time to Die. As a journalist, Kira covered street crime for The Daily News, Capitol Hill for The Orange County Register in Washington, D.C., business and technology for Newsday, and researched feature stories for New York magazine. She freelances for a variety of major media outlets, and attends Columbia University’s Master of Science program in Bioethics. She lives in New York City with her husband and dog.



Latest posts by ITW (see all)
  1. We’re lucky in as much as we don’t get huge changes made once we’ve submitted a manuscript. As there are two of us we do one another’s proofing and any major editorial changes – moving scenes, adjusting character motivation – things like that we work on before submission.

    As we are UK writers and in the main sell to US publishers we are lucky that language changes are made by the editors. One of our editors in the US puts encouraging comments in their edits – good scene, great word for this – and that is really ego-boosting.

    When we worked as editors would include some of our worst editorial experiences – writers arguing about rejections in quite contentious terms, writers ‘pulling’ accepted stories when they got a better offer, even when we had sent the book to the printers.

  2. Change is a fact of life, and the writing world is no different. However some changes can deepen our story while others can destroy it.

    The best change I can remember is in my new release Deadlock. I had too many plot twists that I lost sight of what mattered most to my hero and heroine. When I listened to my editors explain their thoughts, I understood exactly what they meant. As a result the story is stronger and more focused.

    The worst change was by a new editor who wanted to change all my dialogue tags to ask, questioned, query, snapped, exclaimed, promised etc. I use only “said” as a dialogue tag and only an occasional whisper. I believe the words spoken by the character, the mood of the scene, the character’s temperament, and the scene goal should show how words are being said. I requested not to have that editor in the future.

    1. I agree about only using ‘said’ with dialogue. And avoid that as often as I can – adding it to make sure the person speaking is easily identifiable.
      Often it is best for the dialogue to flow ‘unaided’ as it were, like in real life.

      I remember one of the first stories I had published was altered by an editor without reference back to me. I only found out about the changes once I saw the printed hardcover book. I was annoyed but the editor explained their rational and we have remained life long friends. It was a long time ago – 1976 – and nowadays of course with the Track Review and other methods for an editor to highlight what they want to change it is all so much more transparent.

  3. I’m in the same boat – lucky me – as Maynard and Sims. I work hard polishing my manuscripts. I re-read them aloud and send them to be professionally proof read. The result, I get very few substantial changes. The best suggestions, thus far, have come from my agent, who reads with an eagle eye. Her recommendations about solidifying the ending of one novel and reducing the role of a secondary character in my latest mystery, were both spot on. As DiAnn said, sometimes a writer has to push back. The few times I had to do this pertained to the book covers. I write both fiction and non-fiction. When I Love a Cop was first published, I had to tell my publisher to go back to the drawing board. The cover they had chosen featured a rent-a-cop, not a real working police officer. They were disappointed, but happy to oblige. The cover of my latest release, The Right Wrong Thing went through several iterations, until the editors and I were both happy, actually very happy, with the results. I’ve learned as a writer to be open to feedback from trusted sources, even when it stings. And I’m grateful to be working with an agent and editors who value my opinion as much as I value theirs.

  4. The best changes an editor suggested to me involved making my characters more nuanced and my plot less predictable. Since I’m writing thrillers, I’ve learned to hone the art of twists and turns, and not just writing a completely straightforward story. Yet the twists can’t come out of nowhere, or they risk seeming arbitrary and illogical. So with my editor’s input, I’ve worked on placing clues in plain sight and foreshadowing hints of what’s to come.

    The worst change an editor suggested to me was after I’d completely my first novel, Living Proof, which was the furthest genre from a murder mystery. It was a scientific/political thriller. He suggested I “throw in a murder” in the middle to ratchet up the action. But this would have had zero to do with the story whatsoever! Needless to say, I ignored the advice.

    1. Kira,

      I don’t know about throwing in a murder, but I have gotten notes like “put more action in the first act”
      Afterwards, I realized the editor was right, since I was writing “Entertainment” disquised as a thriller. I had gotten too “literary,” too plodding. I fell in love with my evolving character revelations… but the first act needed a jolt.

      1. What I love to read (and hope to write) are literary mysteries that combine nimble plotting with skillful language. In theory, I don’t think it needs to be either/or.

  5. “It needs two subplots.” Is the best thing my editor ever said to me. It was my first novel, The Eighth Day. I had the main plot down and polished. At the very beginning of my career, his suggestion was a real head-scratcher for me. Then he explained it would open up the story. I took it to mean relieve some of the pressure on the main plot and increase interest in reader. My editor, Lou Aronica, had done miracles with me up to that point. As a novice at writing a novel, he compelled me to write a better book without ever telling me what to write. So I followed his suggestion without question.

    I wrote a 75-page story outside the novel. It was a whole arc featuring a retired detective and a female FBI agent. They team up and thwart a major chemical attack on the industrial tanks along the Jersey turnpike that due to the prevailing winds would have killed millions of New Yorker’s as they slept. After the mini-story was done I weaved it into the novel by finding touch points and entry spots that seamlessly integrated it into the main plot.

    Two things happened. My retired detective, Dennis Mallory, generated the most emails and fan gush of anything in the book, people loved that guy. The second thing was that female FBI agent, whose name came to me as I was strolling down the beach in Puerto Rico, became an evolutionary character throughout the Bill Hiccock series. On Oct 20th, her own novel, Give Us This Day, releases in hardcover as the first in the Brooke Burrell series. Pretty good outcome for a suggestion.

    Oh, and The Eighth Day went on to become my first #1 best seller and Lou Aronica became my publisher.

  6. I appreciate a detailed edit and I don’t mind making cuts. On my novel Rumrunners we ended up cutting about 4500 words which was shocking to me at first until I realized the editor was doing everything in service of keeping things focused on the story. Gone were my little asides and, thankfully, attempts at humor. I’ve been called a funny writer, always black humor but still. When I started going over the things my editor wanted to cut I realized right away they were all superfluous and distracting from the narrative. Situations drove enough dark humor without me commenting on it with the heavy hand of the author.
    Side stories, little flashbacks and details not pertinent to the immediate story were also gone, and the book benefitted as a result. I tend to write shorter books anyway, in the 50k-75k range, and I like to keep the plots moving. Having the endorsement of an editor who also only wanted to see scenes that kept the story driving forward was a great validation to me. I didn’t have to keep reaching for added details or “literary” flares to pad my story. Keep it stripped to the bone and make those pages turn.
    An editor can definitely save a writer from their own worst instincts.

    1. Eric,
      In my experience, very few things suffer from editing. The objective perspective of “the next reader” is a precious commodity and is only experienced when someone who didn’t write the original work, reads it. To a certain extent we all overwrite. Or worse underwrite. An editor whom you trust is the perfect writing partner.

      Tom Avitabile

  7. Very true, Tom. I don’t have beta readers so an editor is often the first and only advance reader I get so I really count on them to tell me when I missed the mark on something.

  8. I heard when in doubt – find a body. But a good editor is more than suggesting a plot point, she feels story as much as the writer. When I met one of my editors, I was shocked! I thought she was a computer program. Her attention to detail and thinking creatively has always helped me to turn out one solid suspense novel after another.
    Maybe there should be a National Editor Month.

  9. Eric,
    Beta readers are especially useful if they have skills or depth in the area’s your book touches upon. I consider my beta readers my mastermind group. Cops, ex agents, forensic techs, plumbers, engineers, scientists, military, psychology and anything else I touch. They add insight, value and a dose of reality to subject matter. Of course I reserve the right not to have facts get in the way of telling a great story.

    1. Interesting point about fact and fiction. Do thrillers have to reflect reality or can they use fiction entirely? I guess the way Tom describes it works for me. Keep it as real as possible but the story remains the key element so don’t let precise factual issues get in the way.

      1. I’ve been a police psychologist for thirty years and have a team of cops, crime scene investigators, coroner’s etc. who are willing to read my manuscripts, give advice etc. They help keep things plausible if not entirely factual. I am a volunteer clinician at the First Responders Support Network (FRSN.ORG). The stories our clients tell are a constant source of ideas and inspiration.

      2. My handle is, “it’s only fiction ’til it happens.” In my books which are based on the president’s science advisor taking an pro active role in stopping things from going click in the night and harm America. So I rely heavily on what I call science fact – fictionalized. i.e. Science Faction? Or some other tortured symbolism. But in my stories, believable science and procedures are the points of departure from where the fiction takes over. So my “mastermind” group is essential. The editor then assess all the content and form.

        1. When I started writing fiction I was constantly self-editing, saying “This wouldn’t happen in the real world.” Then I realized that the real world can be boring. Lots of policing involves mind numbing computer searches. And therapy sessions have long, often excruciating, periods of silence. Real therapists who do what my fictional psychologist does would lose their license and face ethics charges. The trick for me, as I said in an earlier post, is to make things plausible, not factually accurate. Feedback from editors and beta readers is important, although what is plausible to some is implausible to others.

MATCH UP: In stores now!


ThrillerFest XVIII: Register Today!

One of the most successful anthologies in the history of publishing!