Shelley Widhalm

Archive for 2021|Yearly archive page

A Handy Editing Cheat Sheet

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing on September 26, 2021 at 11:00 am

Once you’re ready to self-publish, rushing the editing process may lose readers and hurt author branding.

The book likely needs one more step, or your credibility might be called into question if it’s published too soon. To do that step takes time and several rounds solely and with group input from critique partners/groups and beta readers. At the very least, editing should be done at the developmental, copy editing and proofreading levels.

Developmental editing looks at the structure of your novel from the story arc to the characters, setting, dialog, theme, conflict, tension and pacing. It also looks at consistency in all the story elements of character, setting, plot and dialog.

Copy editing gives a close look at every line of text to check for story, style, transitions and repeats, as well as grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax and other mechanics of style.

Proofreading gives a final pass to catch the errors not caught in the first two rounds, since it’s impossible to see every single mistake in a solitary read. This requires a careful, slow review of each paragraph.

Through the editing process, there are several things to think about, which are compiled in a simple, straightforward cheat sheet.

Editing Cheat Sheet

  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the story along or confuse what you’re trying to say.
  • Vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object. Use varied sentence lengths and structures and mix in short and long paragraphs.
  • Look for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice. Avoid repeating words, facts and details.
  • Opt for the active voice over the passive voice. For example, say, “The child picked the tulips,” instead of “The tulips were picked by the child.”
  • Keep verb tenses the same, especially within a sentence.
  • Replace adjectives and adverbs with nouns and verbs.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can.
  • Get rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they demonstrate a lack of creativity.

Editing in Passes

Editing is best done through a few passes, since not every error can be caught in the first go-around with several things to pay attention to all at once. Editors are trained to find those flaws and oversights and to improve your writing and storytelling, so that your novel will have great structure and flow. That way readers won’t put it down out of frustration at too many errors or a story that doesn’t make sense or matter to them.

Note: 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.

Why Work with Other Readers, Writers First

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on August 1, 2021 at 7:00 am

Don’t spin in circles with your writing, but try to find other writers and readers to give your work an evaluation before hiring an editor.

By SHELLEY WIDHALM

For writers wanting to self-publish, hiring an editor is an investment, as is getting a great cover design and the correct formatting for an upload.

But writers can do some of the editing work themselves—they can self-edit, work with a critique group or partner, and send off their work to beta readers.

Start with Self-Editing

To do their own self-editing, writers can use a checklist to evaluate the issues of their work (novel, novella or short story collection). Often in question format, checklists go over each element of writing, including plot, character, dialog, setting, tension, conflict, pacing and themes. They can help with things like gaps in plot, inaccurate calendars if it’s June but winter, and blurred secondary characters that sound the same or serve roles that could be combined.

Writers also can revise the book as a first “reader,” looking for skipping of plot points, logistical misalignments and description inconsistencies, as well as areas where the book is boring or moves too quickly, glossing over essential story points.

I like to do this and then do a couple more rounds while still looking at pacing, identifying what doesn’t make sense and where there are gloss-overs in descriptions or dialog. Could things that are summarized be set into scene for instance?

Work with Others

Once the book has gone through at least two rounds of editing, ask for feedback—more than one evaluation is ideal for varied and more comprehensive comments. Evaluations are essential since writers miss things from being too close to their work and not having the ability to encounter it for the first time as new readers.

Feedback can come from beta readers or a critique partner or critique group. Beta readers are readers first, while critique or writing partners are readers who also are writers.

Find a Critique Partner

Critique partners (and groups) generally do an exchange of work to provide feedback, typically more general in nature as opposed to looking for grammar, spelling and punctuation issues.

They can point out where the writing gets muddy—descriptions might be unclear or assume reader knowledge about a specialized topic. They can check character identities to see if details of appearance are consistent throughout (brown eyes stay brown) and that characters are differentiated by their mannerisms, speaking styles and ways of approaching life.

Working with partners is way to figure out what’s not working in the story and to get suggestions for making improvements.

Add Beta Readers

Beta readers may not enjoy writing but do love reading. They should have a basic knowledge of what makes for good writing, as well as an understanding of the elements of the craft. They also should read in the book’s genre.

Beta readers provide feedback based on their skills, knowledge and experience of writing. Like with writing partners, they point out what they think isn’t working in the manuscript and offer ideas for improvement without changing the writer’s voice. They point out areas that don’t make sense and ask questions, providing clarity on how the reader experiences the work.

Make the Hire

Once the book has had a critical audience, then it’s time to hire an editor, either at the developmental or copy editing level.

An editor will give that professional overall or line-by-line view of the work, not skipping over things because personal life gets in the way or they’re learning about the craft or the genre. They are paid to pay attention to every aspect of the work, identifying areas to fix and asking targeted questions for a rewrite, or simply polishing it up to make it ready to publish.

Note: 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.

What’s With All the Editing Terms?

In Copyediting, Developmental Editing, Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Proofreading on July 19, 2021 at 11:00 am

A clean dog is like a clean manuscript–both want you to pick them up for either petting or reading.

By SHELLEY WIDHALM

Do you read a Big 5 published book and see a few grammatical errors that make you flip to the acknowledgements page and ask, “Is there even an editor on the team?”

The last book I read, “Just Between Us,” omitted almost every “and” between independent clauses and randomly used the Oxford comma (the comma before the last item in a series). It’s a suspense, so I got into the story, but the first 50 pages were a bit tedious, especially with the info dump of back story and the only action a bruised wrist and four characters wondering about it.

My current read, “The Lost,” overdoes “says” when action beats will suffice and has a few grammatical and logistical errors despite three editors on board.

Of course, there is a 5% miss rate with any editing job.

But what exactly is editing that makes sure readers get to read without the annoyance of errors? There are many terms for editing, but it can be broken down into three levels from an overall view down to the final polish. There is content and developmental editing, copy and line editing, and proofreading.

Content/Developmental Editing

Content and developmental editing looks at the structure of your novel or how your story is put together from beginning to end. It’s a review of plot and character arcs and the development of the main and secondary characters, as well as setting, dialog, theme, pacing, and conflict and tension. There’s also the consideration of logistics, such as the timeline and space continuum, so that Monday happens after Sunday, and consistency of character, setting and other descriptions.

Here are some questions an editor may consider: How is the story told? How is it organized? How does it flow through the plot and character arcs? Are there any gaps or places lacking a transition? Are characters flat or dimensional? How about the pacing? At what points do readers get excited by the story line and at what points should there be time for reflection?

The result: readers don’t see words but pictures, as if the writing becomes cinematic. The story entices and excites readers. And it makes them pause at your voice and style, use of language and amazing descriptions.

Copy/Line Editing

Copy or line editing goes deeper by looking at the story word for word. It’s not just a matter of looking for errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics and syntax. Depending on what’s needed, it also can involve checking for consistency in style, identifying areas where voice is lost, looking for word echoes (words that repeat in paragraphs or sentences), cutting what’s overstated, fixing plot points that end up getting repeated, and identifying misses—is there more that needs to be added or something to remove?

The editor might ask: How are commas being used as a stylistic choice (Oxford? No comma before the final “too” in a sentence?)? Are facts accurate and consistently used? Are metaphors and other writing devices carried throughout the story? Are there too many of them that end up being confusing? Are historical facts accurate? Are any scientific and other concepts explained in a way that makes sense?

The result: Good writing results in pages free of those little errors that take readers out of the story and cause them to edit in their heads.

Proofreading

Proofing a book is a matter of reviewing the language, such as a check of grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics and syntax (just like with copy editing), plus any typos and missed errors from previous editing rounds.

Reading the proof, especially if it is nonfiction, also involves flagging locations of art and graphics, checking page breaks and aligning chapters and indexes.

So when do you need which type of editor?

A developmental editor helps organize a story so that it meets genre demands and fits with reader expectations. It’s needed if writers get stuck in a story or receive several no’s from literary agents.

Line editing and proofreading give a final polish to writing that literary agents appreciate and readers of self-published authors demand—who wants to be caught up in errors when the idea is to read for story, plot and character and the desire to turn the page?

Lucky 7 is Almost Here

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2021 at 7:00 am

Writers can get quick tips on writing and editing with “50 Tips for First-Time Authors.” Pull up a chair, get your favorite beverage and dive right in to learn writing, editing and publishing tips.

By SHELLEY WIDHALM

Seven is a lucky number that represents perfection and completion, both physical and spiritual.

There also are seven days of the week, seven continents and seven brides for seven brothers. Seven has a lot of mathematical play with repetition and multiplication*. And it is the number of objects you can hold in your head when they are placed on a table. After that, counting is needed.

I counted 50 of my best writing, editing and publishing tips in my book, 50 Tips for First-Time Authors, which I published in print and e-book formats on 7/7 in 2020 (a year some consider not so lucky with the worldwide pandemic, social isolation and mask-wearing and other mandates).

The Lucky 7

This year on Lucky 7, or July 7, I will have my e-book at a lucky discounted rate, so that you can get a quick jumpstart into the writing life.

Leading up to that day, I will have other discounts, the first of which is for 7 days June 21-28. Through a Kindle Countdown Deal, the e-book will sell for $0.99 June 21-24, then for $1.99 June 24-28. It will return to the regular price of $2.99 at midnight PDT.

In my book, I assembled the best tips I’ve gathered during my 20 years of writing novels and four years of professional editing to help writers get their books publication ready.

The Tips Simplified

I want to let writers know that though writing is hard, it also can be fun. It doesn’t have to be some overwhelming, daunting task but can be broken down into chunks, such as writing for an hour a week or setting a page or word count goal—basically, just get out the rough draft and worry about editing later.

I also want to inspire writers to start but also to maintain writing, so that it becomes a hobby or even a job. Writing is a craft that can be learned through reading, webinars and classes, but then the writer brings in their magic through their style, voice and use of words. That’s where the fun can come in.

I also give tips on the writing and revision processes, plus offer a few ideas for overcoming writer’s block. I explain the differences among writing in the fiction, nonfiction and poetry genres. And I touch on methods for writing concisely without repetitions and things like word echoes.

If you want to get lucky (in writing, that is), check out the best 50 tips.

* Note that my Lucky 7 blog is posted on 7/21, or a multiple of 3, and that the date of 21 has the numbers 2 and 1, or 2 + 1 = 3. So nerdy, right!

What are the Top 3 Lessons You Can Learn from Other Authors?

In Critique Groups, Critique Partners, Writing Advice, Writing Groups, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on May 31, 2021 at 11:00 am

Writers often work in solitude, but there are those times when community is great, just like for duckling families. Critique partners and group offer invaluable benefits for the mostly lone writer.

Writers work in solitude even if they do write-ins, because once they enter the story, the world falls away.

But they also likely need community—that can come from those write-ins where you meet for coffee or the like, chat a bit and start writing, as well as writing groups to critique each other’s work and writing conferences to learn about the craft.

I’ve been involved in all three and learned three important lessons from being around other writers.

First is Vision

I cannot work in a bubble.

I need others to point out where my writing gets muddy, my characters fall flat, my plot goes sideways or my pacing is s-l-o-w. I can revise and revise again, but there are things I miss because I’m too close to my work.

For that reason, I like working with a critique partner, where we trade work, or a writing group to get feedback on what’s not working in my manuscript. A partner or group can offer suggestions on how to fix the issues and ideas for making the story or characters even better—things I didn’t consider as I drafted my story.

I then like hiring an editor, either at the developmental or copy editing level, to get that professional line-by-line view of my work—editors are paid to pay attention to every nuance of a manuscript to help get it polished and ready for publication.

Second is Mission

I cannot work without motivation.

Writing is hard work, and it takes discipline. If I didn’t have a writing community to encourage me to keep going, I may take longer timeouts from disappointments. If I have to self-talk to pick myself back up, my thoughts might go circular, whereas a friend will tell me, “Don’t give up. I know you don’t want to. You’re a writer.”

For instance, wanting to be traditionally published means I face rejections from literary agents who immediately say no, or they ask for a partial or the full manuscript, then say no.

Being able to share that rejection conundrum and find that I’m not alone helps me keep going.

Third is Story

I cannot work without inspiration.

I find the successes of other writers who self-publish or get traditionally published a push for me to keep working toward my own successes: if they can do it, so can I.

With time, persistence and patience, writers can achieve their goals. If they don’t right away, they keep trying—failing is giving up, but stopping something and moving to something else is not failing.

Many times I’ve wanted to give up, but then, as a friend asked, how would you feel without writing? I can’t answer that question, because I’d feel empty.

Writing is what inspires me. It’s my mission statement. It’s my vision for being CEO of Writing, while Zoey, my miniature dachshund, is the CEO of Cuteness.

After Writing, What’s Next? Yep, Editing!

In Critique Groups, Critique Partners, Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on May 2, 2021 at 11:00 am


After putting your heart into your manuscript, it’s time to edit to catch those errors that, as a writer, are easy to miss! (Chalkboard drawing by Shelley Widhalm)

Writing a book takes hundreds of hours of investment, but does that mean it’s ready to send off to an agent or load up on a self-publishing platform?

For most writers, there’s one more step that makes books more appealing before handing it over to two types of readers: the agent who will say yes, or the audience who will want to purchase your book.

That step is editing the revised manuscript, which writers typically do solo, then with others. Editing offers professional expertise on the big picture of story development and the small level of grammar, mechanics and punctuation.

Developmental vs. Copy Editing

Developmental editors help with the structure of your novel. That includes many facets, such as plot and character arcs, main and secondary characters, setting, dialog, theme, pacing, conflict and tension, logistics and consistency in things like character and setting.

The second type of editor is a copy or line editor who gives a close look at every line of your text to check for grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax and other mechanics of style. Proofreading is another step of editing and is a final edit of proofs before they are sent to the printer.

Before hiring either type of editor, go through a few drafts to get your manuscript in the best shape you can (this will save you on costs). Write the first draft fast and furious to get it out, forgetting about the internal editor that will slow you down and waste your time, unless, of course, you find a big problem in your story and need to go back to plotting or the other elements of writing.

Next, revise the manuscript on your own for at least one round, then work with partners, such as a critique partner or group, to identify issues with plot and character arc, conflict and tension that paces the story, and scene development

If you need help along the way at developing the story, hire a developmental editor to help shape it. Or if you’re ready to send it off to agents, hire a line editor to give it that final polish.

Why Hire an Editor?

The advantages of hiring an editor are many, including:

  • An editor will spend more time on it than a critique partner, since they are evaluating every line of text, checking for any errors in grammar, as well as things like logistics and action beats (a character does an action instead of “said” to carry along the scene).
  • An editor is trained in and regularly studies grammar and knows about the different style guides, such as Chicago Manual and Associated Press.
  • An editor is proficient in the nuances of comma usage, which is widely misunderstood, while also realizing there is individual style in punctuation that is part of voice, style and tone.
  • An editor cross examines your text for consistency in character traits, clothing and eye color, plus makes sure the setting and logistics are consistent from the start to the finish of a scene.

Lastly, editing varies from editor to editor. Writers are individualized in their styles and approaches to writing and revising. Editors, too, will bring different approaches, backgrounds and experiences to your project.

For instance, I’m good at noticing things like commas, word echoes and logistical problems. I also am a writer, so I understand what it’s like to be in both worlds, that of the writer and that of the editor.

Note: 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.

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.