The Business of Writing: The Editor (1)

Part of February’s month-long celebration of A Grave Talent, the Edgar-winning first novel about SFPD Inspector Kate Martinelli that started a writing career.


I wrote a few days ago about my beloved first agent, Linda Allen, the woman who got me started as a writer. The agent is the person who knows the industry, who knows what house might be looking for this kind of book, knows how much to ask and when to push for more. The agent is the writer’s primary cheering section—and only partly because they’re getting 15% of the royalties.

Not much money, for this first contract, but such pride!

But what about The Editor? The Editor is the person who buys a writer’s book, edits it, shepherds it through the publication process, fights for attention from Sales. The Editor is the primary reader, indispensable when it comes to improving the book. The Editor can be madly supportive, wildly enthusiastic, can bleed with failures and buy champagne for triumphs—even though, unlike the agent, The Editor is always and primarily an employee of the publishing house.

My first editor was Ruth Cavin, may untold blessings be heaped upon her. Ruth bought A Grave Talent, for the Thomas Dunne imprint at St. Martins Press, and when it was in production, asked me if I had anything else…and thus brought Russell & Holmes into the world. She and I started our relationship via the Post Office, graduating to faxes when I entered that exciting world a few years later—and then burst into email when our technological prowess had reached that advanced state.

Her faxed note with an email address.

Ruth left us a dozen years ago, but wherever you find gray-haired mystery writers, you find fellow admirers of Ruth.

As I  wrote, in  2011:

Yesterday morning, news reached me that the woman who had picked me from a pile of obscurity had died.  92 year-old Ruth Cavin, the legendary Ruth, who started her career at the age of sixty and overnight seized the heart of the publishing industry; whose eye went to the essence of a book’s strengths—and weaknesses; who held court at conferences by claiming a table at the bar, cigarette and drink to hand, while attendees came and paid homage; who made her writers feel loved even as her editorial pencil left them bleeding.

Ruth, publishing’s grandmother, the kind of woman you just knew had A History, the kind of woman who would toss off a remark that made you do a double take, because she looked far too innocent to have said that.  The kind of woman who could be a lady and have a wicked sense of humor.

The kind of woman we need more of, and now have one less of.

Blessings, Ruth.  I can just hear that great laugh of yours, when St. Peter grins at you from the pearly gates and says, “Of course you can smoke here, for God’s sake! Would you like a drink as well? And not to hurry you, but once you’re settled in, we’ve got all these great young writers…”


Read about A Grave Talent (with order links), see the other Martinellis,

or order a signed copy.


  1. Margaret Laing on February 27, 2023 at 7:31 pm

    Oh, that does sound like heaven, to have writers brought to me as an editor or to be brought to one as a writer. Whichever’s in the Plan. After all, heaven seems a good place for Shepherds.

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