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The Professional Edit


You’ve spent months, years, cramming stolen hours into your manuscript. You’ve floated around at work, down the shopping aisle, at long-overdue family reunions, glassy-eyed and dreaming of the day your novel hits the best seller lists (even though you tell everyone you wrote it only for the love of writing).

Finally, you send your manuscript off to that perfect publisher, the one you know is your match, they published that other book that’s similar to yours but nowhere near as exciting. You wait eagerly for weeks, unable to think of anything else and, finally, a response arrives rejecting your manuscript on the basis that ‘whilst strong in plot and imagery, is not quite up to the professional standard necessary for publication.’

It’s not an easy thing, handing our pride and joy over to someone we barely know only to have it handed back smeared in squiggly, red lines and crosses. After all, ‘Asking a writer what he thinks about criticism is like asking a lamp-post what it feels about dogs’ (John Osborne). Yet as we writers know, criticism is part of the job.

So – it’s time. I need an outside point of view. Some professional guidance. I’ve exhausted my family enough. My turn at writer’s group is weeks away and, even then, I can’t submit the mountain of pages I need help with.

But what kind of edit do I need? The SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) provide a helpful explanation of the different types of editing services available on their website.

Here’s a section from their page:

  • Manuscript assessment or critique. A broad overall assessment of your manuscript, pinpointing strengths and weaknesses. Specific problem areas may be flagged, and general suggestions for improvement may be made, but a critique won’t usually provide scene-by-scene advice on revision.
  • Content editing (also known as developmental or substantive editing) focuses on structure, style, and content. The editor flags specific problems–structural difficulties, poor pacing, plot or thematic inconsistencies, stiff dialogue, undeveloped characters, stylistic troubles, flabby writing. The editor him/herself may rewrite the ms. to fix these problems, or may provide notations and detailed advice so the author can address them.
  • Line editing. Editing at the sentence level, focusing on paragraph and sentence structure, word use, dialogue rhythms, etc., with the aim of creating a smooth prose flow.
  • Copy editing. Correction of common errors (grammar, spelling, punctuation), incorrect usages, logic lapses, and continuity problems.
  • Proofreading. Checking for typos, spelling/punctuation errors, formatting mistakes, and other minor mechanical problems.

It’s important to have a clear understanding of what you want from a professional edit. If you already have an experienced mentor you may need a simple copy-edit or proofread. If, like me, you’re in need of that extra professional opinion, you want to improve pace, structure and identify character weaknesses, you may need to pay for the full content edit.

Jane Friedman claims in her article, Should You Hire A Professional Editor? ‘Most writers don’t clearly understand how an editor might improve their work (or to what extent). Writers must have a level of sophistication and knowledge about their work (or themselves!) to know where their weaknesses are, and how a professional might assist them. When writers ask me if they should hire a professional editor, it’s usually out of a vague fear their work isn’t good enough—and they think it can be “fixed.” There are many different types or levels of editing, and if you don’t know what they are—or what kind you need—then you’re not ready for a professional editor.’ 

She goes on to say, Writers may sincerely seek professional help, but very few are willing to pay for it. You probably will not receive a quality review on your entire manuscript—that will actually affect your chances of publication—for less than $1,000 USD —unless it’s line editing (copyediting, proofreading).’  To read the whole article, click here.

So, it appears, I may need to apply for a third job.

I’ll need to find an editor I respect. They’ll need experience in my genre – and with my target audience. They’ll need excellent references and testimonials from clients. They’ll need to offer the service I require. I may even ask them for a sample edit to see if they’re a good match. It’s a lot of money, so I may as well do the research to make sure I get the service I want. The Editorial Services section of 2013 Writer’s Market lists over 500 entries, many of which provide some kind of critique service.

I know they can’t perform miracles – that part is up to me. But I need that other set of eyes, those ones with years of experience in the publishing industry to help me make this novel the best it can be. $1,000 USD is a little on the steep side, so I may need to find a compromise.

What are your views on the professional edit/critique? Have you ever hired an editing service for your manuscript? Did you find it helpful?



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Filed under Editing, Getting Published, Uncategorized, WritingTips

A Simple Request

Yes it’s me again! IMG_0719

It appears, having swapped to self-hosting, I have lost all of my followers and I would so like to keep you!

If you could just take a minute to visit the new site and subscribe via email it would make me very happy 🙂

Hope to see you soon,

Gemma Hawdon (Rolleman)


Filed under Getting Published, Uncategorized, WritingTips

Changes To Site

Hello and – yes it is still me!

I have made a few changes to the site including swapping to self-hosting and reverting back to my maiden name for writing only.

Other than that, things will carry on as usual and I hope you’ll keep visiting!

All the best,

Gemma Hawdon (Rolleman)

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How True Are Your Characters?

I was told by my teacher once (very nicely) that she found some of the dialogue in my novel unconvincing. She couldn’t imagine my central characters – ten and eleven years of age – saying the things they did. As I read back through the dialogue, I realised she was right.  Having a ten-year old son myself it should have been obvious, but I think I had been drawing from previous reading experiences rather than the world around me (I read too many Enid Blyton books in my youth). I had to tune back in and remind myself how children interact and behave in the modern world.  I began to stalk them, secretly studying my own kids as they argued, as they played. I hid behind their bedroom doors when they had friends over. I lurked around at the park  jotting down the words they used, the things they talked about, their tone etc. (No charges were laid).

Charles Dickens created some of the most memorable characters in fiction and most of them were based on real people. Dickens’ friend and biographer, John Forster, once said that Dickens made “characters real existences, not by describing them but by letting them describe themselves.” 

I have started again using my observations, working to create characters that feel alive, that kids can identify with  – there’s nothing more jarring in a novel than characters that don’t ring true.  This applies to the most imaginary characters  –  meaning you recognise their emotions and believe their actions. The concept of the film ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is far from believable, yet we go along with it because the relationship between the two characters is driven by a real affection – it doesn’t feel artificial.

A friend once gave me a useful piece of advice to read through your story separately for each character. That way, you can gain a better grasp for their reactions, mannerisms, dialogue – are they true to the character?

Other pieces of advice I have in my notebook – highlighted with bright yellow stars  – are:

–     Draw from people you know, the world around you

–     Understand what your character wants, what is stopping them, how they are going to get it

–     Create one character from a range of people if necessary: the way one person speaks, the way another walks etc.

–     Build your characters up both visually & verbally

–     Ask yourself, what are their relationships, beliefs, habits, activities, strengths, weaknesses, vices, pet peeves

–     Let your character grow naturally as you write

–     Get your characters to describe each other

The better we get to know our characters the more alive they will become.

Do you have any different or interesting techniques to develop your characters?  


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Self-Doubt Be Gone! You’re Killing My Novel!


“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”  Sylvia Plath

I’m having one of those days.  

It could be the bleak, grey clouds, or the stifling heat that has sent my hair to soggy mayhem. It could be my lack of sleep last night, or the neighbour’s dog that’s been left outside and insists on whining about it. It could be any one of these things that has hindered my writing today. But I don’t think so. I’ve not written one word of my novel and believe me it’s not through lack of trying. I’ve spent hours staring at the white, blank space beyond the last full stop. I’ve read and re-read the last paragraph, stretched my fingers, clamped my head between my hands and pleaded for the next scene to present itself.  Yet I’ve achieved nothing, zero, nada.

No. I’m certain it’s because I’ve reached the Grande Finale – and I’ve plummeted into profound, floundering doubt about whether I can pull it off or not.  For starters it involves a battle scene and I’m not exactly what you’d call an expert in this field.  I’ve never swung a sword or shot a gun.  I can’t even karate-kick.  I feel inexperienced, unfamiliar with my topic and unwittingly out of my depth.

Yet it’s also more than that.  Once I finish I’ll want to cast it out to the experts, a sardine to sharks.  I’ll need their honest feedback that will be brutal and cruel.  They’ll despise it.  Advise me to wipe it, burn it, forget the whole miserable idea and seek a different profession using my hands, not my head, perhaps in a sausage factory.

I have stared at that page til my sight turned fuzzy. Switched to Twitter, Facebook, a quick hunt through the fridge – the page remaining as blank as my mind. 

I turned to the experts for inspiration.

“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.”   Sigmund Freud.

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”  Vincent van Gogh

“I found my first novel difficult. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s any more difficult than driving a cab or going to any other job, but there are so many opportunities for self-doubt, that you just kind of need to soldier on.”  Anthony Doerr

As writers we know that self-doubt is part of the territory, we have to wade our way through those murky waters.  We need to focus on our strengths rather than our weaknesses when the doubts really kick in.  Be creative and find ways around it.

I’ve been scouring the Internet to find the best advice I can to deal with self-doubt.  I found an article by Author and fiction writer AJ Humpage very helpful.  She says, ‘Psychologists believe self-doubt is borne from our childhood, usually from parents, teachers and peers telling kids that they aren’t good enough, they’ll amount to nothing. Eventually the child will start to believe it, causing them to doubt their abilities. These doubts are then carried through to adulthood. Most of our cognitive development and reasoning about our abilities is laid down through childhood.’

She goes on to say‘The more work you send out, the better the understanding you gain from feedback. It helps you develop your skills, improve your writing and gain experience. Most of all enjoy the whole writing process. You don’t have to be great all of the time because in reality, you can’t. Confidence breeds assurance, so keep sending, keep learning, keep developing and become a better writer.’ 

Tonight I plan to snuggle up on the sofa and watch Braveheart.  Just my notebook and me.  I shall draw inspiration from the tried and tested.



Filed under Self-Doubt, Uncategorized