Book Editing & Point of View

Q: Can you tell me if editors (and even reviewers) specifically check or look out for consistency of viewpoint in a novel? I have been reading about being consistent with time and with how close you focus with one or many characters, and it seems a little confusing. Is this something I should take a class in? I was just wondering if many published authors keep these things in mind when writing a story.

A: Editors come in many forms. Some simply handle acquisitions for a publisher and do not edit at all, much less comment on viewpoint. Some editors edit for grammar, punctuation, and syntax and do not pay attention to viewpoint. Only an editor or book doctor who also analyzes the content will pay attention to, point out, or correct viewpoint flaws, which certainly should be addressed, because publishers want clear, consistent, and logical viewpoints in novels.

Viewpoint (also called point of view or POV) is a tricky matter. It refers to which character perceives that particular scene—in whose point of view the action takes place.

Consistency is important in that the point of view should be only one per scene (that is, never get into the head of more than one character per scene). You can get into another character’s point of view by starting a new scene.

Your best bet is to use only main characters as point-of-view characters, and the best novels have no more than three main characters. How the time per character is divvied up, though, does not matter. The choice is up to the author.

I think it’s easier to find a book on point of view than find a class that specifically addresses that issue, but no matter how you choose to educate yourself, if you want to write novels, you do need to know about point of view and how and when to use it to its best advantage.

Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com

Self-publishing Advice guest Post: Ask the Book Doctor

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Self-publishing Advice Guest Post: Ask the Book Doctor

Q: I’ve noticed that printed paperback mysteries range from 250 to 325 pages. Using double spacing, what should my manuscript page count be, then? I’m trying to determine how much background information I need to include without it looking like padding. Any ideas?

A: Rather than thinking in terms of page count, think in terms of word count. Most publishers prefer first novels to run between 50,000 and 100,000 words. In most word processing programs, you can go to Tools to get the word count of your file.

No matter what, avoid padding at all costs. If you have only 40,000 words, but they are tight and great and nothing more could enhance the story, stop writing! If, however, you have an idea for another plot-related scene or chapter that could flesh out the story, by all means add it and pump up the word count closer to 50,000 words.

Self-publishing Advice Guest Post: Ask the Book Doctor

Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at http://www.zebraeditor.com

Self-publishing Advice Guest Post: Ask the Book Doctor

Q: What’s the difference between narrative nonfiction and a memoir? I’m hearing that because of so many fake memoirs, editors are shy about taking memoirs. Could a memoir be pitched as narrative nonfiction?

A: All memoirs and biographies are considered narrative nonfiction, while how-to books are considered prescriptive nonfiction. In other words, call the book narrative nonfiction or memoir, but it’s the same thing. Agents and publishers won’t be fooled by the word choice.

The market for memoirs is still strong. Think of runaway bestseller Running with Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs, for example.

If you can attest to the accuracy of the details and the story is alluring and well-written, the manuscript has a fair chance. Well-written memoirs include vignettes or scenes with beginnings, middles, and ends and include action, dialogue, narrative, settings, and other elements of fiction to make readers feel as though they are watching the story unfold.

Self-publishing guest post: Ask the Book Doctor

Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at http://www.zebraeditor.com

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Self-publishing Guest Post: Ask the Book Doctor

Q: When I send my manuscript to readers or agents, should I put the copyright c in a circle on the title page, on every page, or anywhere at all? Should a date be there also?

A: I tend to trust people and therefore do not put a copyright mark on my manuscripts, because the laws of copyright protect us—that is, we own the rights to all our intellectual property the moment we create it. Also, agents and publishers who see a copyright mark may think the person who sent the manuscript is unknowledgeable or paranoid, because it is not necessary to officially register the copyright until the work is laid out and ready to be published in book form.

If, however, you feel more comfortable marking your manuscripts with a copyright mark, the traditional method for showing a copyright is to use the symbol c in a circle or write the word “Copyright.” Either form should then be followed by the year and your first and last name, all on one line. It should appear on the title page only, and because it is not standard to have a copyright mark on a manuscript, there is no standard for where on the title page to put it. I would probably put it two lines below the name of the author on the title page.

Do not, however, go to the trouble of registering the copyright with the government until the book is about to be published. The content will no doubt change between the time you write it and it gets published, so wait until the book is in its final form before paying to register the copyright.

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Q: I like English, and it has always been my best subject. I’m trying to find which area of writing I am most talented in. I feel that I can write punchy, short prose well. Do you have any tips for how I can find the type of writing that suits me? Would I be better taking lots of short learning courses? Reading books? Any help you could give would be very helpful.

A: I don’t know your age, but if you’re still in school, I’ll assume you are under thirty, and with that thought in mind, I can tell you what I did with my life and see if it works for you. I loved writing from the time I was young, so I took every creative writing class I had the opportunity to take, in high school, college, from arts institutes, or at continuing learning centers. I majored in journalism in college, because it was the only writing path available to me back in the 1960s, but I didn’t think I would be a journalist. I thought I would be great at writing advertising copy, so I wrote some spec ads to create a portfolio and took them to several ad agencies. To my surprise I garnered some freelance work, which led to my being able to build a strong portfolio of published works. Ad copy was fun to write, but I wanted more, so I volunteered to write articles for the newsletters and magazines that nonprofit organizations produced, and when those articles were published, I added them to my portfolio and went out to find assignments from trade magazines as well as consumer magazines. You get my drift; I never settled into one area.

Eventually I had tried out—and usually enjoyed—just about every kind of writing a person can do to make a living, including ad copy, press releases, brochure copy, business reports, proposals, news articles, personality profiles, magazine articles, radio commercials, resumes, business profiles, white papers, books, memoirs, personal experience essays, and you name it. With a motto of “I’ll write anything for money,” I launched a career in writing and editing that has carried me for more than four decades, and I am doing what I love and making a good living at it.

If I were you, then, I would try everything, and you will find what best suits you. If you find you can do it all, then why specialize? Write! Enjoy! Count your blessings that you’re able to do what you love and make money doing it.

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