Shelley Widhalm

Writing Conferences: Prepare, Pitch and Post

In Uncategorized on March 14, 2021 at 11:00 am

Northern Colorado Writers member Shelley Widhalm holds up her conference book from the NCW Conference in 2017, “Imagination: The Alchemy of Writing.”

Going to a writer’s conference is like getting a micro-MFA but cheaper and faster.

And it’s a way to rise up through the ranks, if just a little.

Conferences, as well as webinars that have gained popularity since the pandemic, give attendees an opportunity to meet with literary agents one-on-one and edge out of the slush pile.

Meeting agents often happens in pitch sessions. Attendees can make quick verbal or written pitches to agents, trying to essentially sell their work in five or 10 minutes or in a few paragraphs. If there is a request, they typically are asked to submit a query letter and/or synopsis and a certain number of pages or chapters.

The personal connection, even if it’s online, gives extra attention to the pitch above that of sending it anonymously. It’s the next best thing to a personal request from an agent or a recommendation from another writer.

Conferences also offer an educational component for writers to grow their craft. Presenters at a conference, whether in-person or virtual, offer trade secrets about writing, editing and publishing. They provide ideas for improving your writing, inspiration and motivation to do that writing, and tips on the ins and outs of self-, small and medium-size presses and of traditional publishing.

I’m particularly excited for the 2021 Northern Colorado Writers Conference that is a mix of a day of in-person workshops on April 24 and a virtual conference April 27 to May 4. There will be sessions catering to a variety of genres including fiction, nonfiction, poetry and screenwriting; networking events; and, my favorite, pitching opportunities to a lineup of six agents.

My attitude about conferences has changed since I attended my first NCW conference in 2014, long before the restrictions of the pandemic and when everything was in person. I sat in on a pitch session and was certain my YA was destined to be a best-seller, but when I didn’t get a little piece of paper inviting me to a second round of pitching, I headed to the bathroom. I went into a stall and cried, because I thought my dreams were over.

They weren’t, of course. I went to NCW’s conferences nearly every year since and continued to pitch, getting requests for partials and fulls. I did three rewrites and resubmits to one agent but eventually got a no. My takeaway is that I love writing and can’t give it up, even if I am not yet traditionally published—I want to be a debut author at a Big House and in the meantime self-published a small reference book in July 2020, “50 Tips for First-Time Authors: Learn the Secrets of Writing for Publication.”

Through my conference dedication, I picked up a few tips on being a conference attendee expert. My hot tips for being cool at the conference include:

  • Plan ahead on which sessions you want to attend; and don’t forget a notebook or laptop to take notes (both for virtual and in-person sessions).
  • Know which genre your work fits in; don’t just say fiction or nonfiction.
  • Prep for pitch sessions: research to find the best fit for your work and check the agent or editor’s websites, social media and other material online to identify what kind of books and writers they represent.
  • Prepare your pitch with a logline and synopsis. If you get a request, ask when and how you should submit your proposal or sample chapters and how best to contact the agent or editor.
  • If you learn that your work isn’t right for the agent or editor, don’t take it personally.
  • Follow up when you receive any kind of positive feedback from agents, writers and others.
  • If you’re attending the in-person session, take photos and post them. Tweet, blog, Facebook and engage in other types of social media to promote your writing and the conference.

Lastly, remember when you invest your money into a writer’s conference, you want to get a good ROI. You’ll get reenergized about the writing and editing processes and hopefully learn something new about you, the writer, and what keeps you going despite the temporary not-yets that you might hear.

Note 1: This blog appears in NCW’s March newsletter, “The Write Stuff.”

Note 2: I provide editing, writing and ghostwriting services and can help you perfect your project from an article or blog series to a short story or novel. I also offer consultations on writing and editing through #ShellsInk at shellsinkservices.com.

When is the Best Time to Hire an Editor?

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips on February 21, 2021 at 11:00 am

An editor can help writers find those missing plot points (think of a water spot in the midst of a frozen pond) and other structural and line errors in their work.

When are you ready to hire an editor? Should you even hire an editor? And what should you expect if you do?

These are important questions to ask once you’ve written your manuscript and are wondering if you should invest in having your novel professionally edited.

Most definitely if you plan to self-publish.

Maybe if you plan to go to the traditional route. Some literary agents and editors want to see manuscripts that have gone through a professional developmental edit but are not necessarily looking for that line level editing or final proofreading round. Others want to see that polish, but it also depends on your goals, skills and experience as a writer.

Developmental editing is for big picture issues that look at plot, character development, dialog, pacing and setting. Line level or copy editing is a line-by-line check of grammar, punctuation, spelling and mechanics, plus consistency, flow and repetitions. Proofreading is a final review for errors, as well as looking over format and layout.

If you’re considering hiring an editor at any one of these levels, there are a few steps you can take to make sure you’re ready for a final review.

Not One, But Many

Has the manuscript gone through multiple drafts?

If you’ve finished the first, or rough, draft, it’s too soon to hire an editor. First and early drafts can be a little messy, have lots of typos and often are an attempt to get the story on the page but one that isn’t fully fleshed out. A draft may have too much backstory or stage setting through figuring out the plot. There may be repeated elements of plot points or character thoughts. Or there may be holes in the development of the story, a lack of transitions, a middle that drags or an ending that’s too abrupt (often from the writer wanting to finish the project).

Many for the One

Have you worked with a critique group or critique partner and beta readers to get feedback and an outside perspective on your work?

A critique partnership involves regular trades of manuscripts where writers give feedback and commentary on each other’s work. They might do things like make suggestions on areas that need improvement, elements that are missing or concepts that seem to not make sense. Beta readers are nonprofessional test readers who also give feedback but from the perspective of an average reader.

Getting it Right

Does your work meet genre and word count expectations?

Each genre has certain structural or story elements that readers expect to be met, as well as an expected word count. Most adult novels fall in the 80,000- to 100,000-word range, while novellas are 20,000 to 50,000 words and young adult novels are 55,000 to 80,000.

Getting it ‘Wrong’

Have you sent off your work to literary agents and gotten a large number of rejections or requests for partials or fulls (the full manuscript), then gotten a no response?

Though not fun, getting a negative response could mean that the novel has areas that need improvement, such as in voice, pacing, character development or storytelling. If several agents are saying the same thing, they may be identifying something that makes the book not fit the current market or unsaleable to publishing houses.

Once you’ve gone through these steps and feel that you can’t do anything else with your manuscript, you may want to hire an editor for a final round of feedback and editing suggestions.

Research your options, ask questions, check experience and industry knowledge, and ask for samples and recommendations. That way you will find the right partner to get your work to its best before you self-publish or search out an agent or small press.

Fires and Masks: I Can’t Breathe

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2020 at 11:00 am

Multiple fires across the state darken the skies in downtown Loveland, Colo., making for an eerie atmosphere.

As ash falls out of the sky, I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop struggling to write my blog.

The sky is spooky, haunted and surreal as leaves shimmer gold against a smoke blanket. Ash coats sidewalks in small, blowing piles of destruction, and pieces of pinecones curl like oversized eyelashes.

It’s nine days before Halloween, and I feel anything but eidolic, only thinking about fun and candy.

Like everyone else, I’m trying to sort through the tragedies of 2020, how they all seem to focus on breath. First, the masks that cover our faces, then “I can’t breathe” leading to the BLM movement, followed by fires across the West that significantly lower our air quality.

Trifecta of Breathing

I can’t breathe as my heart breaks at how the sky literally feels like its falling, but in little white  and black pieces of life destroyed.

I can’t breathe as I run—I’ve moved inside and run in a gym, my mask in place.

I can’t breathe as I shame myself for my pivot from writing to editing. I’m not getting work fast enough. I might fail. And on it goes.

I started my writing and editing business nearly four years ago because I lost my reporting job at the local newspaper. When I got the pink slip at my journalism job, I gasped. Not me. I was told my position had been cut. I was laid off.

I couldn’t find a job. I started a business and gasped for breath as I tried to understand how to be a solopreneur. I read books. I met with consultants at the Loveland Business Development Center. And I called my brother, who owns a business, asking tons of questions.

After a couple of years, finally I felt grounded. My numbers were growing. It looked like I could quit my side gig job. And then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. I lost two-thirds of my business, and over the months, built it up to half of a loss.

As we got shut inside, I increased my hours at my essential services gig job (just by 4 to 24 a week). I became more engaged in writing and editing my novels. I got obsessed with Zoom webinars on writing and editing.

Fires Recolor the Sky

And then the fires came. I didn’t want to write. I stopped blogging, thinking it felt like a chore. And then I missed it, just like I miss Colorado’s blue skies I took for granted until two months ago.

Each day, I wonder what color the sky will be. I wonder how it will feel to breathe again without thinking of facial coverings and falling ash.

I wonder if I’ll cough, if my chest will feel tight.

I don’t wonder about love and passion. I love writing, and I love editing, my breath givers.

What are yours? What do you love that is helping you through these hard times? What are three of your passions? What are three of your skills? What are three ways that you can reach out to others?

What makes you feel like you can breathe again?