~ Delilah S. Dawson ~
So You Won NaNoWriMo. Now What?
Congratulations on winning NaNoWriMo!
The good news is that YOU HAVE WRITTEN A BOOK. It’s an amazing accomplishment, and I hope you’re celebrating properly. For my first few books, I demanded Mexican food, margaritas, and cake. For the rest of your life, you will smile benignly at people who say, “I think there’s a book in me,” and think WELL, I KNOW I HAVE ONE IN ME, SO NEENER NEENER NEENER.
The bad news is that… well, to be frank, first drafts are often the easy part of writing. Especially when you’re working as fast as NaNo demands, you’re going to make mistakes. And not just easy little typos. Here are some things to consider as you finish your victory lap.
The first rule of post-NaNoWriMo is DO NOT QUERY YOUR FIRST DRAFT IN DECEMBER.
Seriously. Literary agents hate this. They will remember. Any query that contains the words, “I just finished my first fiction novel for NaNoWriMo” will be burned and dumped in a toilet. Your book needs work, and the best way to prove to an agent that you’re worth an investment of their time is to show them that you’re professional and understand the vital process of revisions.
- Know where you want to go.
Winning NaNoWriMo is a victory, but it’s also a time to consider what your endgame is. Did you just want to prove you could do it? Was this book just for practice before you attack your real idea? Do you want to try self-publishing? Or do you want to see your book on the shelves of the bookstore? If you want to be traditionally published, I wrote this quick-and-dirty-article on the topic. The thing is, if you want to see your book on the shelf at B&N, you will have to follow certain rules about genre, word count, point of view, voice, topic, and book length. If you want to self-publish, those rules are more lenient. But if you’re going for the pie in the sky dream, start out knowing what you want and working toward that goal.
If you really want to improve your book, put it away for a month. Try to forget about it.
Right when you finish a book, it’s still your precious baby. It’s on your mind and in your heart, and you’re full of pride, because writing a book is really hard. And that means that if you work on it now, you’re tired, sick of it, and too close to it emotionally to truly see its strengths and faults. Save your draft under a new name (I add _v2 to mine), then close out all the docs and try to forget about it. Make notes in a notebook, if you suddenly remember something vital, but for the most part, you need DISTANCE.
Also: Don’t show it to anyone at this point. Don’t let your significant other or mom or college prof read it. You don’t want to poison your book with dreamkillers, nor do you want constant reassurance that it is THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER. Just… ignore it. For real.
- When you pick it up, be ready for deep cuts.
Did you let it marinate? Did you spend that time taking good care of yourself, recuperating from NaNoWriMo? Did you read great books, drink fabulous coffee, and laugh with friends? Excellent. Now open your v2, have a notebook by your side, and pretend that it is your worst enemy’s magnum opus. Read it critically. Make note of what works and what doesn’t, when you’re bored, when you need more info, when something isn’t clear… and then change it. If you’re bored writing or reading it, agents and editors will get bored reading it.
Remember: You still have that v1 draft saved, so you can always find something you’ve deleted or changed. This v2 is the time to shape the book fearlessly. And since most novels (Young Adult and Adult) are 70,000 words or more, you’ll want to add 20,000 words or more to your NaNo baby—but make every word count. Do not go off into Purple Proseville or wax on endlessly about the color of the sky or give us a three-page monologue about when the heroine saw an egret at dawn and thought about death.
- Do at least 2 drafts, looking at big-picture edits and typos/small mistakes.
When you finish your _v2, resave the doc as _v3 and start over. I recommend printing the book out in a different font and hunting for mistakes with a traditional red pen. You’ll see different things on paper than you do on the screen. I like to print my pages 2-up, front and back to save paper and make it look more like a real book.
Check for the usual typos and grammatical mistakes. And then check that the character names stay the same, that you stick with the same point of view and tense. Make sure that everything you mention is there for a reason—a la Chekhov’s gun—which means that if you make a point of mentioning a gun early on, someone needs to shoot it in the third act. Make sure that by the end of the book, all the different plots and subplots are satisfactorily concluded and that the characters have an emotional arc. Figure out what your theme is and make sure it’s consistent. Basically, you’re brushing that show pony before you show it off.
- Get help.Another sad truth: We writers are mostly blind to our own faults. So once you feel good about your book, enlist beta readers that you trust to read and give you feedback. A good beta reader is someone who reads widely in your genre and in other genres, someone who cares about you enough to tell you the truth, but gently, and someone who’s not going to kill your dream or blow smoke up your butt. Good beta readers can be hard to find.
You might also consider hiring a freelance editor, if you have the cash. Beta readers read for free because they like you and books, but they don’t owe you anything. You will get entirely different results from someone being paid for their typo-hunting or developmental editing skills, someone who has no previous emotional connection to you and who can look at your book as a lump of clay instead of a finished vase.
Either way, make sure someone else has read it before you query.
- If you think you’re ready to query, be smart.
The #1 querying resource in the entire world is the Queryshark blog, which is run by literary agent Janet Reid. Until you have read the entire archive of queries critiqued in real time by a real literary agent, you have no business writing a query (in my humble, Queryshark-acolyte opinion). Once you’ve absorbed the sharkly goodness and written your own query, give it to someone who hasn’t read your book and knows absolutely nothing about it and see if the query makes sense and intrigues them. If not, rewrite it from scratch until the answer is YES and YES. You might also consider having your query critiqued by other writers online, in a writing group, or on a forum like Absolute Write. Then you simply find agents on AgentQuery and QueryTracker and GO FOR IT!
Truth? Everyone queries too soon. And that’s okay. That’s part of the process. The lessons you learn querying your first book will inform your next book and your next query.
Once you’ve started querying, start writing a new book so you won’t go insane.
Querying literary agents will drive you insane. The best thing you can do is start working on your next book. That way, whenever you get a rejection, WHICH YOU WILL, BECAUSE EVERYONE GETS REJECTED, you won’t feel like your entire life is sinking. Because you have another book in the hopper to obsess you.
The secret of being a writer is forward momentum. It’s not over until you stop writing.
Unless you send a query for your NaNo book on December 1, at which point IT IS SO OVER.
For all the resources I used to get published, check out this page of my blog.
You might also want to join my NaNoFixMo class with LitReactor, in which I’ll drill down and focus on how to specifically revise your NaNo book before querying.
NO ONE READS THE FINE PRINT.
The good news is that the USA is finally out of debt. The bad news is that we were bought out by Valor National Bank, and debtors are the new big game, thanks to a tricky little clause hidden deep in the fine print of a credit card application. Now, after a swift and silent takeover that leaves 9-1-1 calls going through to Valor voicemail, they’re unleashing a wave of anarchy across the country.
Patsy didn’t have much of a choice. When the suits showed up at her house threatening to kill her mother then and there for outstanding debt unless Patsy agreed to be an indentured assassin, what was she supposed to do? Let her own mother die?
Patsy is forced to take on a five-day mission to complete a hit list of ten names. Each name on Patsy’s list has only three choices: pay the debt on the spot, agree to work as a bounty hunter, or die. And Patsy has to kill them personally, or else her mom takes a bullet of her own.
Since yarn bombing is the only rebellion in Patsy’s past, she’s horrified and overwhelmed, especially as she realizes that most of the ten people on her list aren’t strangers. Things get even more complicated when a moment of mercy lands her with a sidekick: a hot rich kid named Wyatt whose brother is the last name on Patsy’s list. The two share an intense chemistry even as every tick of the clock draws them closer to an impossible choice.
Delilah S. Dawson offers an absorbing, frightening glimpse at a reality just steps away from ours—a taut, suspenseful thriller that absolutely mesmerizes from start to finish.
PRE-ORDER! COMING APRIL 14, 2015
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