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Monday, April 15, 2013

5 Things Fiction Acquisition Editors NEVER Say with Ramona Richards

 Ramona Richards, fiction acquisitions editor for Abingdon Press, started making stuff up at 3, writing it down at 7, and selling it at 18. She’s been annoying editors ever since, which is probably why she became one. She’s edited more than 400 publications and has worked with such publishers as Thomas Nelson, Barbour, Howard, Harlequin, Ideals, and others. She’s the author of 9 books, including the recent Memory of Murder from Love Inspired. An avid live music fan, Ramona loves living in the ongoing street party that is Nashville. 

1-That’s such a pretty manuscript, I want to buy it.

I’m not in this business to pay typesetters to write novels. I don’t care how much experience you have with layout and design; keep your manuscript simple. There are several reasons for this. 

1) Special fonts are distracting; I just want to read a good story. If the story isn’t there, all the fancy layouts in the world aren’t going to make me want to buy it.

2) Special fonts, artwork, etc. take up space and are likely to trigger spam alerts.

Unless your receiving editor tells you something different, use Word. Double-spaced with one-inch margins. One document with one section. A running header with your last name, title, and page number is as elaborate as we need it.

2-Fiction is exactly like non-fiction; any good editor will do.

I’ve lost track of the people who’ve told me that their novel has been “professionally edited” by the copy editor at the local newspaper. Or their English professor. Or the non-fiction writer down the street.

Editing fiction is NOT like editing an article or a trade non-fiction book. I hire professional editors who have a successful background editing a specific genre of fiction. They have a very particular skill set that includes a knowledge and understanding of plot, character development, and the expectation of a particular genre. Not all romance editors make good suspense editors.

Save your money and join a good critique group of fiction authors. Or ask around. There are a number of good fiction editors out there.        

Just remember: No matter what you’ve done to it before it’s submitted, your manuscript will STILL be edited by the in-house team.

3-Fiction is exactly like non-fiction; no platform equals no sales.

A fiction author with a platform may be golden, but please remember one thing:


Type that out and pin it up next to your writing place. Abingdon publishes several successful authors who seldom do more than online blog interviews. Platform is far more important for non-fiction folks. A fabulous story can still find readers. A platform will HELP sell the book to readers, no doubt. A good platform makes an author more attractive. But I would never turn down a remarkable book just because the author is not “out there” yet. This is about trends. Would I like to find the next trend that will fly out of booksellers' doors? Of course! Do we publishing Amish books? Of course! Would I buy a badly written book just because I’m desperate to publish in a popular trend?


4-It's Amish, so I want it. 

Just because you’ve written an Amish or historical romance or whatever’s hot, that doesn’t mean I’m automatically interested. The craft, the story, the reader engagement still has to be on the page.

Remember: STORY IS KING. Yes, I said that above.
5-I’ve never seen a book like this before, so I’m not interested. Editors often get accused of looking for the same old, same old. In part, that’s true. My side of the desk is all about finding great stories that live up to reader expectations. And if readers are still buying and craving a particular genre, we’re going to keep publishing them. That doesn’t mean that the unique or “never before” story doesn’t get our attention. Unfortunately, most of the “never befores” I’ve received are poorly conceived and executed. But when one stands out, I’m game.

When I received the manuscript for The Dog That Talked to God, it was definitely something we hadn’t seen before. Likewise, the follow-up book The Cat That God Sent. But they were well written, engaging, and they both made me cry like a baby. They sold to me, and they sold to our readers. So far Dog is one of our best selling books.

Anytime someone gives you a “never” about what editors do or don’t, take it lightly. We get paid to track this strange sea-change business of publishing, and we know one thing: What’s true today may be different tomorrow. But the one thing I’ve not seen change in more than thirty years is almost every editor’s bottom line: Story is king.



Ane Mulligan said...

I adored The Dog That Talked to God and it's companion one The Cat That God Sent. They were engaging. And I'm so glad to hear what you said about non-ficiton. I've been telling writers that for ages. It feels nice to have an editor's confirmation. LOL

Joyce Magnin said...

Story is King! Story first, message later. Story is king!

Rick Barry said...

I'm saddened to see a number of want-to-be authors who spend inordinate amounts of time on peripherals: creating the perfect office for a writing environment, buying the very latest books about writing, dreaming up a catchy slogan for their business cards, worrying about their brand, tinkering with their website.... But when you ask about their current manuscript, they don't have one. Or perhaps they've been stuck on chapter one for a couple years. I agree--the story must be central. If a writer does not focus on the actual writing, all the rest becomes fluff.

Janice C Johnson said...

Good point, Rick. When I get even slightly stuck, those peripherals tempt me because they are plausible "procrastination tools." I'm trying not to be THAT guy.

sally apokedak said...

Loved this. I agree that story is king. I'm so glad to hear you say it.

Vonda Skelton said...

Great info, Ramona! Got to pass this on!

Ramona Richards said...

Thanks, Ane! I'm glad you enjoyed the books.

Ramona Richards said...

Absolutely. I'm a firm believer in the old film school adage: If you want to send a message, call Western Union.

Ramona Richards said...

I see that a lot, Rick. I believe it's one reason that editors only receive about 10-20 percent of the manuscripts they request. Too much prepping and not enough writing.

Ramona Richards said...

Thanks, Sally! And I'm glad we got a chance to talk at Mt. Hermon. I wish you all success as an agent.

Ramona Richards said...

Thanks, Vonda! I appreciate you spreading the word. See you at Blue Ridge!

Eva Marie Everson said...

I loved "DOG" too ... I almost screamed out loud at one point, which would not have been wise as I was on a plane. :)

Iola Goulton said...

Good advice, especially about simple formatting (I like to use the Heading style for chapter numbers to make it easier to navigate through a manuscript... but now I know authors should removed these before submitting).

I notice that DOG (and 74 other Abingdon titles) are on sale today at Amazon and Christian Book Distributors.

If authors want to understand what publishers buy (which relates to what readers buy), they could do worse than buying and reading a few of these titles.

Ramona Richards said...

I would have testified on your behalf!

Ramona Richards said...

Thanks, Iola. I'm glad you found the info useful!

Jenni Brummett said...

"A fabulous story can still find readers." My focus has been less on platform building and more on my story, and I'm learning that this is the best way to prioritize right now.

Thanks for the thick slathering of reality.

Charles Eckstein said...

thanks for the helpful tips Ramona

Connie Mann said...

Great post, Ramona! Thanks for the reminder that Story is King.

CLH said...

This is a great post and a great comment. As someone who often spends more time thinking about writing than actually getting to it, I needed to read this nice little kick-in-pants. Thanks.

Richard Mabry said...

Ramona, Thanks for excellent advice. When asked by would-be writers for my formula for success, I say I have none. But what I'd advise anyone starting out is learn the craft, practice the craft, lather, rinse, repeat.