John Ramsey Miller

Just to get everybody up to speed, I’m going through my process as I rewrite and move to publish my latest novel. At this point I am thinking I will probably self-publish as an eBook. That said, I won’t rule out a paperback deal if my agent wants to shop it and a publisher wants to put it out.

So two weeks ago I said I hired an editor who’d left a major house to go with her husband and kids to Ohio. I’ve finally read through her notes, and frankly she has nailed the weaknesses I painstakingly installed in BURNING BRIDGES from its inception. I can see it all clearly now. And (as always) I’m embarrassed for my agent who sent this to the editors, and for myself because my name is on the MS. What was I not thinking? I know that if I can’t fix all of the flaws, I can certainly make different ones to replace them. This is the point in the process where I feel like I’m at my desk in a classroom wearing BVDs.


Editors always start editorial letters with something like, “I really enjoyed my read of (Name of the novel goes here). There’s a lot to like in the book as well some things I have trouble with.” Translation: Holy Mother of God, what is this steaming pile of crap you sent me?”

Okay, that’s the old insecurity shining through like the warming rays of a neutron bomb.

The editor I am utilizing is as good as any editor I’ve ever worked with and I have worked with the best. Another plus is that her sense of humor is pitch perfect. An example of editorial humor would be a circled sentence with this penciled into the margin… “Please read this over carefully and tell me that this is in English.”

My process is akin to what a blind and starving wolverine that’s been thrown into a henhouse might go through in those first few moments when the wolverine senses the meat, and the chickens become aware of their situation and reach critical mass freak out in a confined space.

I must also say that I am not gifted with organization skills beyond lining up Skittles in neat lines by color and eating them one hue at a time.

First I read the ten-page editorial letter several times to get a general picture of the depth of the stacked-word catastrophe. Next I cleared off my dining table and placed on it my laptop, laser printer, index cards, legal pads, ink and roller ball pens, sharpened Black Warrior pencils, red erasable pen, stick-on notes in yellow, those peel off arrows in six colors, Snickers bars, and roll in my Herman Miller Aeron in Author Black that I bought years back.

The next day my table was a huge disaster, and I was juggling the edited MS, a blank document for rewriting, killing, or combining chapters, and creating new ones from scratch. And there’s the construction document where I will assemble the refined mess. Then I will print that and go back and edit myself before having the editor hit it again to see if I was successful. All of this will take a month to six weeks. And each day when I sit down I have no idea what the session will bring to the pages.

I think initial confusion and wading through the piles is how a pretty good effort sometimes goes on to become a very, very good book. That is what keeps me going at this point. More to follow…



  1. I understand this swimmy-headed feeling. I, and probably every other author reading this, feel the same way somewhere in the process…if not at every point in the process.
    Thank you for sharing. It may not help you though the water brain, but it makes us authors who aren’t NYTimes best-sellers feel like we aren’t quite so different.

  2. Hilarious post, John, mostly because I can acutely feel your pain and loved the words you used to describe it. I can identify with your process, and that makes me feel better.
    The translation sentence was my favorite.

    What was it about BURNING BRIDGES that made you decide to hire a freelance editor?

  3. I do that with Reese’s Pieces. Mr. Miller, you’ve made me brave enough to confess. 😎

    BK Jackson

  4. BURNING BRIDGES is the first novel I’ve written since my seven with Bantam Dell. Since it wasn’t written under contract, I no longer had an editor for free. I understand that I need a heavy handed editor to make my books non-gibberistic. I tend to let my imagination run more than most, and it takes a steady hand to keep Zombies on Hell hounds out of my Thrillers.

  5. I agree with Kathryn. Every writer needs an editor. Even working with a critique group, you don’t get an objective viewpoint of the whole story without another set of critical eyes. And even though the work might seem insurmountable at first, you’ll get it done. It’s what we do.

  6. I feel the pain John. Of course I can only compare to the self-pubbing bit, since I have yet to manage to break through Fortress Big (not for lack of attack, just lack of timing I guess). My stuff did eventually make it into a small press and two are on Audible with a third coming next spring. But the only way it happened was by hiring editors to help me discover what I was blind to. One of these days I’ll learn the secret handshake to hit the big (or even middling money)…or maybe not.

    this reply would’a come sooner but Saturday morning I was sitting in the woods in ten degrees below freezing Seward Alaska with a bunch of Boy Scouts trying to make sure one of them didn’t toss the whole jug of lighter fluid into the fire to see what would happen.

  7. Thanks for sharing this look inside your writing life, as it gives the rest of us little comfort knowing what the professionals go through.

    I love that your editor asked you to read the circled bit over again to determine if it was, in fact, in English.

    Looking forward to hearing more about your journey!

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