Shelley Widhalm

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?

What’s up with Self-Improvement Month? (Think Writing/Editing!)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Self-Improvement Month, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on September 13, 2020 at 11:00 am

Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services works on a writing project of writing a short story for Self-Improvement Month. She plans to enter the story in an anthology contest.

It seems there’s a month or day for most everything, so it’s fitting to have a month dedicated just to self-improvement.

With September being Self-Improvement Month, do you have something you’d like to improve in your own life? Is there a hobby you’d like to pick up or a behavior you’d like to engage in to be healthier? Hobbies expand your skill set and teach you something new, while living a healthy lifestyle helps you function better mentally and physically, and exercise is shown to reverse the effects of aging.

Take Steps toward Change

Self-improvement takes change, which can be difficult to do, but staying stagnant can be boring or frustrating. Change is best done in steps, instead of all at once. That way over time, the new activity, behavior or approach becomes routine without requiring a lot of self-convincing to get started or going.

Like with New Year’s resolutions, taking on too much may result in goal dropping by February—gyms are busy in January, but then numbers go down a month later. To start, cut out what’s not working then pick your goal.

If you decide you’re goal is writing or editing (that’s my subject of expertise), here are a few things you can do to turn the goal into a habit (something you do automatically without a lot of forethought).

To start, maybe you need to change your approach to the task and not look at it as something to fear or a chore to dread. I used to dislike editing my own work, but now I see it as a fun project because I get to cut, move things around and flesh out what’s flat or boring. To get to that point, I had to set up my editing routine with a list of goals, timelines, due dates and progress check-ins.

Establish a Routine

To get into a writing (or editing) routine, you can:

  • Create a writing plan to prioritize a set of goals that keep you dedicated and focused. You could write 30 to 60 minutes a day or two times a week, but plan for the same time and day, so that it becomes part of your schedule (and be sure to put it in your planner). Get started writing even if you don’t feel inspired simply by describing something in the room or counting syllables to write a haiku (it’s 5, 7, 5).
  • Break writing into smaller tasks, so that it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Set up mini-deadlines and items that you can cross off your to-do list. (I like to start my new lists with recent accomplishments that get a big checkmark, so I can remember what I just finished and feel like I’m in the middle of things, not just starting.)
  • Go backward, figuring out a final due date or deadline for a project and coming up with a list of tasks to get there. Write in an estimated completion time for each item on the list. Then schedule the items out, leaving a couple extra leeway days in case of interruptions.

Self-Congratulate

Once you finish your first writing or editing project, have a reward in place, doing something you normally wouldn’t do. Maybe go out for an extra nice dinner or buy a gift for yourself (I tend to pick boxes of fancy chocolate).

If you get through September with your new goals turned into routines or even habits, you can get ready for the long months of winter when you might be stuck inside. I find the cold weather is a good time to buckle down and get serious about my writing projects—during the warmer months, I tend to want to be outside and play. That’s why I’m glad Self-Improvement Month happens in the fall.