Q. Can I afford to use a professional editor?
A. Chris: First, thanks for working with me. You made a good point when you wrote “I fear that I’m caught between being unable to afford this and being unable to afford not to.” People who want to sell their house face the same dilemma. First, you need to decide how serious you are about your writing and about learning the craft of writing fiction. If you’re serious about it, then you really can’t afford to shun the reality of having your work professionally evaluated, and you have to understand that you are engaged in a pursuit that has a long learning curve. One way or another, you have to learn how to do your job. You may choose to educate yourself through extensive reading, by acquiring formal schooling, or by working with a writing coach. All these choices require an investment of time and money, like any other form of education. You will need to give all of this some careful thought so that you can become “unstuck” and go on to do what you really want to do. I can’t make decisions for you, but I can tell you this: I don’t want to work with writers who aren’t serious about the craft.
Q. Why can’t I use omniscient narration in my novel?
A. First, let emphasize this point: My advice to new writers is generally a strict interpretation of the conventions of fiction. By maintaining rigid guidelines I hope to keep you out of trouble and to help you produce a novel that has the most commercial potential in a highly competitive marketplace. I know that you can open any number of published novels and find at least some pure omniscient narration. I won’t tell you that this is either “right” or “wrong,” but I will say that using the pure omniscient narrative form, especially long passages of it, is the kind of writing that is the least likely to engage readers, because it creates the most distance (technically called “psychic distance”) between writer and reader. Reading lengthy sections of exposition is like listening to a college professor droning on and on, which tends to inspire drowsiness in most students. That’s because such writing connects with only the analytic, thinking part of the brain and leaves the feeling parts disconnected. You want to do just the opposite in fiction; you want to engage your readers’ emotions. The only way to do that is to write scenes that depict characters in action, which produces drama and taps into the emotions of your audience.
Q. How long do I have to wait before my book is published?
A. I know it’s hard for new writers to rein themselves in once they’ve finished a book and sent out queries. We all want instant gratification, but things don’t work that way in publishing. You could easily spend a year or more finding an agent. Then the agent may spend a long time looking for a publisher, unless he/she gets lucky. More weeks will pass while you wait for the editor to send you a contract. Then more hard work begins. Publishing schedules have tightened, so what once took nine months to get a book into print has contracted to four or five months. During that time you and your editor have to go full steam ahead to get all the revisions done. The whole process can take quite a while, so you will have to settle in for the long haul. Finish your book first. Take your time with your work, try to enjoy the process, and be patient. If the work of writing and rewriting isn’t any fun, then you should stop beating yourself up and do something else.
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