It’s December—the month after National Novel Writing Month. We blink our eyes and search around like the lights just came up in the bar. Or maybe our expressions are more like that look a cat gets when a kid puts a paper bag over it for a few minutes and then pops it off again. We gaze about in a bit of confusion and relief and wonder what the heck just happened. More importantly, we wonder what happens next.
First, if you made it to the 50k line, I say, “Congratulations! Woot! Woot!” Give yourself a pat on the back. Now get back to work on word 50,001. If you started writing but fell short of 50k because life is what happens when we’re making plans, I say, “Congratulations! Woot! Woot!” Give yourself a pat on the back. You’re further than you were. Now get back to work and finish your manuscript. If you started writing and fizzled out, I say, “Congratulations! Woot! Woot!” Pat yourself on the back. You tried. Now open up what you started and get back to work.
You notice that “get back to work” theme I’ve got going on here? That’s because “winning” Nanowrimo is not about reaching 50k. That’s quite an accomplishment, and I do offer a hearty salute to all who met that goal. But it is not the end. It is only the beginning.
Nanowrimo is not about word count. It’s about focusing our choices and behaviors long enough to develop new habits. Because the fact is that if you ask any professional author if they are doing Nanowrimo in November, they will tell you that every month is Nanowrimo. We “win” Nanowrimo when we use it as a tool to direct our energies and reach further goals.
So what are those further goals? To answer that, we have to know why we write. For a few of us, it’s because therapy is too expensive. For others, it’s to leave behind our stories for our children and grandchildren. For some, it is to become the next James Rollins, Tom Clancy, or Danielle Steel.
Whatever the reason we write, we need to be honest with ourselves about our goals in order to know what comes next.
For those who are writing for therapy or to leave their stories behind as a piece of history, the journey can continue at a leisurely pace, with or without editing, agents, publishers, or tackling the learning curve of self-publishing. I wish you deep fulfillment, and I commend you in your efforts to leave behind a message that could enlighten your future generations.
And then there are the rest of us—those of us who dream of book tours, movie deals, and big fat checks. For us, the temptation is great to stare at those Nanowrimo manuscripts and admire them. We want to coddle them and tweak them and offer them to all of our family and friends, as if we were showing off our baby. And was there ever a more beautiful baby?
Yes. There was. It was the baby that got edited, rewritten, edited, rewritten, proofread, edited, rewritten, sent to an agent, edited again, and sold. That was the more beautiful baby.
So the first thing to do after Nanowrimo is to get over the “baby” idea. Most of us don’t sell our babies on Amazon.
Hard, cold fact: writing may be an art, but publishing is a business. It’s a beautiful world when our art is in harmony with the demands of business. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t. How we adjust to that fact of life is where we each find our own way.
Regardless of how the art stars align with the earthy nature of business, the process of getting your novel ready for publication requires certain elements.
1. Let your work rest.
Unless we actually have an agent or editor chomping at the bit for the manuscript, we should let it sit a year while writing more books. At a bare minimum, we should wait two weeks.
It’s excruciating, but we all know we need to do it, and it always pays off. That’s because working on a manuscript is like driving across the country. If we don’t blink and change our focus from the road to the landscape at times, our minds zone out, and our vision gets blurry. When we stare at a manuscript too long, like the road, we stop seeing it.
And when I say let it sit, that includes making our friends, relatives, and beta readers wait until after the next step. I know. It’s agonizing, but trust me. You will thank me in the long run, and so will they.
2. Read the manuscript through again and edit it. It’s not right for us to ask others to read our work when we haven’t even read it through ourselves.
3. Time for the beta readers.
When we are confident that the manuscript is the best it can be without external input, it’s time to send it to beta readers. When the beta readers send it back, no matter what they say, the only appropriate response is to thank them for their time and efforts. Never argue about their comments. Remember that their purpose is not to give us strokes and affirmation, it’s to ferret out the holes in our plots and prose that readers on the open market will find with a vengeance.
4. Evaluate beta reader feedback with an open mind and weigh it carefully.
If we disagree with an isolated criticism, that’s fine. We move on. However, if more than one person says the same thing, it’s worth deeper consideration even if we do disagree. Ultimately, we are the masters of our own pages, but part of that mastery is subduing our egos for the sake of the task at hand.
5. Edit again based on beta reader feedback and polish the manuscript until the sun reflecting off of it could drive airplanes off course.
6. It’s time to call in the professionals.
If you plan to self-publish, find an excellent editor for a substantive edit and a line edit. The good ones cost, but they are often worth every penny, as their feedback is invaluable and usually applicable to future projects.
If you don’t have someone in mind, ask around. Don’t hire a personal friend unless that friend is a professional editor with an excellent reputation—someone willing to slaughter all of your little darlings and make your novel presentable to the public at large. Someone who shows no mercy. Friendship is friendship, and business is business.
If you plan to go traditional, I still recommend hiring an editor, even though an agent and many more editors will give you input during the journey to publication. No agent wants to read unedited work.
7. Rewrite the content of the manuscript again based on the recommendations of the professional editor.
8. Send the manuscript back for the final line edit.
Make sure the editor uses the Chicago Manual of Style or some other equally acceptable authority. Don’t let anyone convince you that it’s okay to punctuate from the heart. It’s not. A good line editor will cite the rule for every change they make.
9. Clean up the manuscript after the line edit.
10. Enter the publication channels.
If self-publishing, hire people to do the cover, the layout, the uploads, the marketing, etc., or learn to do it all or in part on your own. This is no small time investment, but the knowledge can be emancipating. If going traditional, send out those query letters.
See the previous Writers in the Storm article by popular ninja mystery writer Susan Spann on How to Find Your Agent Match. The only thing I would add to Susan’s excellent post is that you should not wait for an agent’s response before querying other agents. It is our right to query as many agents as we like. It’s up to them to give us a timely response. We would die staring at our mailboxes while waiting for some of them to reply, and many of them never will. Even if an agent has requested our full, unless they have specifically asked for an exclusive, and we have specifically agreed to it, we are under no obligation to give it. It is, however, professional courtesy to keep them updated if we should sign with someone else.
Next step? If you haven’t done it already, start another book. It can take a long time to land an agent, and publishers can be even slower. Don’t wait. Move on, because for every writer, ultimately, it is not about 50k in a month. It is not about whether we are published this week or ten years from now, or whether we self-publish or go traditional.
At the end of the day, it is only about ourselves and the page. That is the bond that keeps bringing us back. We may start writing in November, but we keep doing it every month, because it’s who we are.
Good luck to each of you, and may your muses be generous!
Do you have additional tips on how to keep going after NanoWriMo? What are you doing this month?
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Piper Bayard is an author, a recovering attorney, and the managing editor of the Social In Worldwide network. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE. You can find Piper at BayardandHolmes.com.