Ramona Richards

Ramona Richards started making stuff up at three, writing it down at seven, and selling it at eighteen. She’s been annoying editors ever since, which is probably why she became one. Twenty-five years later, she’s edited more than 350 publications, including novels, CD-ROMs, magazines, non-fiction, children’s books, Bibles, and study guides. Ramona has worked with such publishers as Thomas Nelson, Barbour, Howard, Harlequin, Ideals, and many others. The author of eight books, she’s now the fiction editor for Abingdon Press. An avid live music fan, Ramona loves living in the ongoing street party that is Nashville.

Track Changes


People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in
the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it
isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.
                                                                        -Harlan Ellison

This particular column is not an easy one to write. I’ve thought and prayed about it for several months because it addresses the delicate nature of professional relationships in a business in which emotions run high.

I am a writer. I am an editor, but I was a writer before I became an editor. I love both crafts with a passion that runs deep. I care. I care that the work is the best it can be. The words come first, and I care that writers are nurtured and allowed to grow in the ways that are best for them and their calling. I care that the nurturing comes not only from fellow writers but also from agents and editors who can help further writing careers.

Which is why I hate when relationships break down due to a lack of professionalism. Or worse, a lack of patience.

First, you should know that I have had moments of unprofessionalism myself. I know how it feels. When I misbehave, I am so ashamed that I usually compound the situation by hiding and going silent. This is a mistake, and I’m still paying for the last couple of incidents. I have a professional relationship, an extremely beneficial one, that’s still at risk because of my own behavior.

So I know it happens despite the best intentions.

But I’ve been in this business long enough to know that it also happens intentionally. I’ve seen writers almost destroy careers with their behavior. I’ve known folks who, despite repeated warnings from agents or fellow writers, have let their egos or their impatience or their dreams kill relationships with publishers who only want the best for them.

I know authors I hope I never have to work with.

The reasons for that statement are varied, and I need to insert a caveat here: I am not referring to any Abingdon author; rather this column comes about from not only my thirty years in the business but some recent conversations with several editors and agents about author behavior.

Yeah, if you haven’t figured this out yet, you should realize that editors and agents talk to one another—a lot.

Here are a few issues that come up:

Refusal to respond to editorial suggestions. Editors and agents don’t make changes or suggested changes for personal reasons. We know the manuscript is your baby. But our minds are on the readers and the book buyers, and our suggestions or requests are based on years of work with other manuscripts. Editorial suggestions are not made because we dislike your work; instead, our goal is to make it the best it can be. When an author ignores a change, especially a major one, without feedback, the editor begins to think the author has no interest in improving. This bespeaks an ego and stubbornness that can show up in other areas of the relationship. It’s a major red flag. If you don’t like the editing, start a conversation. Don’t just turn in a revision that ignores or stets them with no explanation.

Impatience. The publishing process is slow. As a writer you must know this. While this drives some authors to self-publish, the best way to build a long-term career is with a traditional publisher. This takes time … sometimes as much as eighteen months to launch a debut novel, with a delay on purchasing a second novel until sales are in on the first one. Authors who start pushing and making demands regarding that second book may find themselves without that second sale—or without their agents.

High maintenance. Folks ask all the time what I mean by this, and the answer is usually, “The same thing that makes someone high maintenance in the rest of her life.” It starts with the attitude that “I’m special, so I should have all your attention” and continues with “It’s my book; I know what’s best for it.”

As an editor, I am responsible for thirty-six to forty new books a year, plus the ones just published and the ones two to three years out. I receive more than three hundred submissions a year from agents. I’m making plans for conferences, and I’m hoping to start two new lines in the next two years. No one author is going to have all my attention. An agent with forty or more clients will be handling the same balancing act.

And if you know what’s best for you book, then I suggest you seriously consider self-publishing. Otherwise, trust that a publisher is in the business of getting as many books as possible into the hands of readers. They have a lot of experience in how that happens, and sometimes their experience will stand in opposition to what you want. Learn to trust.

Refusal to take career advice. This one is a bit of a corollary to “high maintenance,” but it goes a step farther, and I hear it more from agents than other editors. While launching a career is slow, for instance, your work will pick up increasing speed as time goes on. You’ll go from waiting several years for the first couple of books to having an editor wanting a book every three to six months. Life will become a minefield of deadlines, edits, marketing, traveling, and speaking. Skilled agents can guide you through this with wisdom … if you let them.

One of the best analogies I’ve heard recently (and apologies to the originator of this; I can't remember which of my friends said it!) is that the beginning of a writer’s publishing career is like college and graduate school. It involves years of work, learning, networking, writing, and waiting. Then more writing and waiting. Once the career is launched, however, life can change in a hurry.

And just as it would be with an MBA grad, a writer will be working with a series of professional colleagues. You may be in a home office in your pajamas, cat on your lap, writing on the book of your heart—but we will expect you to act with the same professionalism as our colleagues down the hall.

If you don’t, the difficult work of getting published on a regular basis will get a whole lot harder.