Spotlight: Mandy Ballard

  • Aug 11, 2019
  • 9 minute read

Welcome to the Salt and Sage Books Spotlight series! We believe that by honoring each other’s voices, we’re able to turn creativity into community, and change the world through story.

In this spotlight series, we welcome you into our creative community by inviting you to meet our editors and expert readers, and to hear a little of their own story, in their own words.

Mandy Ballard

Mandy Ballard

Mandy (she/her) is a skilled developmental, line editor, and book coach who has worked with both traditional and indie bestsellers, taught at multiple writing conferences, and has a soft spot for beginning writers. Her cozy approach comes through in every edit; if you’re looking for an editor who is 100% on your team, Mandy is the editor for you!

What drew you to Salt and Sage?

I was drawn to Salt and Sage because I love stories! Nothing sounds more fun and fulfilling to me than helping authors make their work the best, most beautiful, it can be! Salt and Sage strives to do that in such an accessible, kind, and professional way, I was eager to be part of it!

What do you do with Salt and Sage?

In addition to developmental and line editing, I offer a couple of larger-scale services including book coaching and story development coaching. I am really excited about these services as it allows me to be part of the author’s process from the get-go! I love story development because so much of the magic happens before words are on the page. First chapter critiques and query consults really show that I love every step of this process!

What do you love about editing?

I really really love nurturing a good story. That can come in the form of developmental editing and line editing which I immensely enjoy. But my heart truly belongs in story development. Give me a character (even if it’s a shadow of one), and I can help you discover their story. I LOVE watching stories come to life.

What’s your favorite resource for editing?

With all the amazing resources out there, I feel a little silly saying so, but often it’s my homeschool teaching resources I turn to first!

Where did you grow up?

I spent the first twelve years of my life in Fort Worth, Texas, and have great memories of hot, muggy summers with cousins in my grandparents’ backyard. However, I consider myself an Arizona native since my family relocated to Gilbert, AZ, before my middle school years, and my family roots are strong in that area. So, along with my ancestors, I can attest that, yes, you can fry an egg on the sidewalk or bake bread in the trunk of your car.

Where do you live?

I live in Cedar City, Utah, and I love every single thing about it except the wind. I’m told it’s what keeps our air so clean, but that doesn’t stop me from shaking a figurative (and sometimes literal) fist at it every time it starts up (see: every day).

Other than that, I’m head over heels in love with the small-town feel with university-town perks, the high elevation, beautiful weather, national parks on all sides, arts community, the baby sheep dotting the field every spring, and my own little budding homestead property.

Where do you wish you could live?

Right here. I’m obnoxiously fond of my southern Utah home.

Tell me about your average Thursday. How does writing and editing fit into your life?

My alarm goes off at 4:50am, and I’m not joking in the least when I say I spring out of bed. I love what I do that much. By the time the clock strikes five, I’ve got whatever project I’m currently editing pulled up on my laptop. Whether it’s a piece for Salt and Sage or for a critique partner, I get lost in my work while my cat begs for breakfast at my feet. (I ignore him; he can wait)

Fast forward a few hours and I’ve moved through getting two of my kids off to school, homeschooling the third, a yoga session, some gardening, and, hopefully, a shower. After dropping my homeschooler off at the public school for her math and orchestra classes, I quickly do enough housework to make me feel like a viable human and settle in for my own writing time. I typically end up with close to two hours which I treasure!

Once I’ve got my kids (ages 12, 13, and 14) home again, we have a snack and a chat after which we move through rotations of homework/reading, household responsibilities (including care for a cat, two dogs, and thirty-one chickens), and music lessons/practice. Yes, I’m that crazy person who teachers her own kids piano lessons. They also, collectively, play pretty much every string instrument, so you can imagine the cacophony of sounds that occur in my house throughout the late afternoon. I make dinner (Thursdays are Mexican/Southwest-themed if you care to know) in time for my husband to get home from his work with the Utah Division of Wildlife.

After dinner, we aim for family reading and study but always wrap up in time for my weekly video chat with my critique partners. I’m kind of a stickler for getting enough sleep, but if there’s ever a time I push my limits, it’s Thursday nights. I love that time sharing and trouble-shooting with Erin and Sammie. My work benefits, my knowledge increases, and I get a backstage pass to some great stories in the making. When I finally fall into bed, Thursday always feels well spent!

Tell me what you love about one of your favorite books.

Though my reading now leans into the speculative more often than not, the favorite book of my childhood was Anne of Green Gables. The glittering imagery, the energetic spunk, and the beautiful use of language still makes me giddy any time I break into the pages.

What was the first moment you wanted to be a writer?

I remember practicing descriptive writing when I was ten or so, scribbling down the best details I could come up with to describe everyday objects around my room. Through my teen years, I lived for English class poetry units and penned song lyrics in my spare time. But I never thought about writing as a career until a few years ago when I came out of the fog of raising babies and realized I had stories to tell. Since then, I’ve learned everything I could from conferences, writing groups, and books and blogs on craft. Writing is now something I crave and find joy in daily!

What scares you about writing?

I’m honestly pretty fearless in my writing journey because I’m just so stinking grateful to be on it at all. I’m a firm believer that if I learn all I can and put the work in, all will happen as it should. Sometimes I worry about missing an opportunity or taking a misstep professionally, but I mostly hold to the idea that paying attention and working hard will lead me and my work where we need to go!

What do you love about writing?

I love discovering new characters and finding their stories, finding just the right way to piece words together to grant the reader a striking image or idea, and I love addressing themes of the human experience in fiction. Also, kissing scenes.

What’s your writing process like?

I am a hardcore plotter. I’ve got a tried and true method of (rather extended) plotting that lets me discover what each story is meant to be and have it making sense before I start drafting. Having a solid starting point really frees me up for the drafting process. Though I will also say that I have recently tried my hand at pantsing. It feels like a bit of a freefall, but I think I’d someday like to try discovery writing a whole novel just to have the experience!

You’ve got a writing/editing deadline. What are your strategies, rituals, playlists…?

I work pretty hard to have my life somewhat self-sustaining when it needs to be, so I can sort of bow out into the background when my work requires it. That being said, I kind of like my life and staying engaged in it! So, if I’m being honest, I usually just stay up later and get up earlier in order to meet the deadline if it’s just for a few days.

What thing about writing do you not want to have to say to someone, but that you feel people need to know?

There’s no short cut. You must be willing to put in the work, let time pass, listen to those whose input you can put stock in (not just those who tell you what you want to hear), put in more work, let more time pass, etc. There’s not a one-size-fits-all process, but there IS a process. If we try to be an exception to that rule, our work will suffer for it. Your work is worth the patience required.

What do you hope is the next big change or awesome trend in the writing/ editing/ publishing industry?

Representation of all people for a worldwide readership. The end.

What would you love to do to make that awesome change happen?

In reference to my answer about representation, what I’m currently trying to do is seek out opportunities to learn more about marginalized communities and how to support others in having a voice.

What change or trend are you enjoying or disliking?

On a lighter note, I’m bummed that love triangles in fiction have gotten a bad rap. Because, when well-written, I kind of love ‘em.

What are you passionate about, that you wish more people knew about?

Choice. We have so much more say in our own lives than we tend to believe. And I’m not talking about visualizing the future to bring something to pass. I’m talking about here. Now. Today. We need to stop blaming the world around us for so much and be honest with ourselves about how much power we really do have.

Also, connection to the earth is good for us as living beings. Go outside. Take off your shoes. Dig in the soil. Plant some food. Eat it. Be well. It makes a world of difference.