by Piper Bayard
It's December, which is known to writers as the month after National Novel Writing Month. The intensity of the push is over. We blink 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 seconds 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 won NaNoWriMo by making it to the 50k line, 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, congratulations! Yay! 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, congratulations! Pat yourself on the back. You tried. Now open up what you started and get back to work.
That’s because “winning” NaNoWriMo is not about reaching 50k. Though that’s quite an accomplishment, and it definitely earns the right to wear the t-shirt, it is not the end. It is only the beginning.
NaNoWriMo is not about word count. It is about focusing our choices and behaviors long enough to develop new habits. That's because if we ask any professional author if they are doing Nanowrimo in November, they will tell you that every month is NaNoWriMo. We win far more than the t-shirt and bragging rights when we use the discipline needed for NaNoWriMo as a tool to direct our energies toward reaching further goals.
To answer that question, we have to know why we write. For a few of us, it’s because therapy is too expensive. For others of us, it’s to leave behind our stories for our children and grandchildren. For some of us, it is to become the next James Rollins, J.K. Rowling, or Diana Gabaldon. Whatever the reason we write, we need to be honest with ourselves about our goals in order to know what comes next.
For those of us who are writing for therapy or to leave our stories behind as a piece of history, our journey can continue at a leisurely pace, with or without editing, agents, publishers, or tackling the learning curve of self-publishing. Such endeavors can come with deep fulfillment and leave messages that could enlighten our future generations.
For those of us who dream of book tours, movie deals, and big fat checks, our journey requires more discipline. Part of that is resisting the temptation to stare at those Nanowrimo manuscripts and admire them.
NaNo writers and/or new writers often want to coddle their manuscripts and possibly tweak them. Then offer them to all of our family and friends, as if we were showing off our baby.
We might think something like "was there ever a more beautiful baby?"
Well....yes. There was.
The most beautiful baby awards go to the baby that got edited, rewritten, edited, rewritten, proofread, edited, rewritten, sent to an agent, edited again, and sold. So the first thing we must do after NaNoWriMo is get over the “baby” idea. Most of us don’t sell our babies on Amazon.
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 our novels ready for publication requires certain elements.
Unless we actually have an agent or editor chomping at the bit for the manuscript, we should let our NaNoWriMo baby sit for a bit while we write more books. At a bare minimum, we should wait two weeks.
It’s excruciating but so necessary. 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. So we need to change focus, and that includes making our friends, relatives, and beta readers wait until after the next step. It’s agonizing, but it pays off in the long run.
It’s not right to ask others to read our work when we haven’t even read it through ourselves. And done a thorough spelling and grammar check.
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 is to ferret out the holes in our plots and prose that readers on the open market will find with a vengeance.
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 disagree.
Ultimately, we are the masters of our own pages, but part of that mastery is subduing our egos for the sake of creating a great story.
Edit again based on beta reader feedback and polish the manuscript until the sun reflecting off of it could drive airplanes off course.
At this point, we need to call in the professionals. For self-publishing or indie publishing, we need 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.
One good way to find someone is to ask around. However, we shouldn't hire a personal friend unless that friend is a professional editor with an excellent reputation—someone willing to slaughter all of our little darlings and make our novel presentable to the public at large. Someone who shows no mercy. Friendship is friendship, and business is business.
For traditional publishing, it's still a good idea to hire an editor, even though an agent and many more editors will give their input during the journey to publication. No agent wants to read unedited work.
Make sure the editor uses the Chicago Manual of Style or some other equally acceptable authority. A good line editor will cite the rule for every change they make. It's tempting to punctuate from the heart, but it's not good practice.
If self-publishing, we need people to do the cover, the layout, the uploads, the marketing, etc., or learn to do it all or in part on our own. This is no small time investment, but the knowledge can be emancipating.
If going traditional, we must send out those query letters. That's letters, plural. 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.
Get back to work. Write 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 take all ten steps on your own road to publication? Do you add in other steps, or leave some out? We'd love to hear those answers down in the comments!
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Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney with a college degree or two. She is also a belly dancer and a former hospice volunteer. She has been working daily with her good friend Jay Holmes for the past decade, learning about foreign affairs, espionage history, and field techniques for the purpose of writing fiction and nonfiction. She currently pens espionage nonfiction and international spy thrillers with Jay Holmes, as well as post-apocalyptic fiction of her own.
Jay Holmes is a forty-five-year veteran of field espionage operations with experience spanning from the Cold War fight against the Soviets, the East Germans, and the various terrorist organizations they sponsored to the present Global War on Terror. He is unwilling to admit to much more than that. Piper is the public face of their partnership.
In Spycraft: Essentials, Bayard & Holmes share information on espionage history, organizations, firearms of spycraft, tradecraft techniques, honey pots, sleeper agents, the most common foibles of spy fiction, and the personalities and personal challenges of the men and women behind the myths.
Though crafted with advice and specific tips for writers, Spycraft: Essentials is for anyone who wants to learn more about the inner workings of the Shadow World.
Note: All photos used are owned by Writers In the Storm (Depositphotos) and Bayard & Holmes (Canstock).
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