Sunday, November 29, 2015

NaNoWriMo -- the home stretch, or: Don't hit publish yet!

I wrote a lot of words this weekend. A lot of words. When I went to bed Wednesday night, my NaNoWriMo total was 43,800 words. Between cooking the Thanksgiving meal and visiting with family on Thursday, I managed to add just 200 words to the total. But by midnight Friday, I had comfortably crossed the 50,000-word threshold and validated this year's NaNo novel. And I kept writing Saturday to finish up the last chapter or so. So the final word count for Spider's Lifeline is either 55,756 (my count) or 56,095 (NaNo's count). I dunno where NaNo found the extra 300 words, but I wasn't inclined to argue with them since the difference was in my favor -- and I was over 50K either way.

(As most of you know, I think, my daughter Kitty is also doing NaNo this year. She blew past 50,000 words long ago, and won on the 20th, the first day validating was allowed. But her story wasn't done at 50,000 words, so she's still writing. And writing. Her goal is 150,000 words by midnight tomorrow. And she says her story won't be done even then.)

Some of you reading this may be doing NaNo for the first time -- or maybe you've done it before, but this is the first year you're going to win. Congratulations!

Now, I'd guess, your friends and loved ones are reacting in one of two ways:

  1. Wow, that's a lot of words. So can we resume Real Life now? You need to clean out the gutters before we put up the Christmas lights...
  2. OOOOOH! That's so cool! I want to read your book! Gimme gimme gimme!
As flattering as reaction #2 is, I'd recommend you tread even more carefully with this one than you would with reaction #1.

I'll be blunt: Writing 50,000 words in a month is a notable achievement -- but it doesn't mean you've written a publishable novel. At best, you have a first draft. More than likely, it's what my indie author friend Alexes Razevich calls a zero draft. It's the thing you need to have so you can start shaping it into a novel.

Our friends at NaNo will be posting a whole range of winner goodies on Tuesday. In the past, the prizes have included a free paperback of your book from CreateSpace; I think I heard that this year's prizes include a free hardcover from somewhere-or-other. Please, please, please resist the urge to order a copy before you have edited your book. If you publish it right away, there's a really good chance you'll re-read your book six months from now and say, "You know, really, this thing is a steaming pile of crap."

Or worse, someone else will tell you.

The NaNo folks know this to be true. On Tuesday, they'll have a bunch of suggestions for what to do with your book next. But I guarantee their number-one suggestion will be to leave it alone over the holidays. Close the file and set it aside until after New Year's. That will give you some distance from the work, and will give you a better chance to see its problems.

On January first, when you crack open your draft for the first time in a month, read it critically. Try not to get swept up in the story. Look for missing words and homonyms -- spellcheck and grammar check will not catch everything. Watch out for dangling plot threads; places where you've said the same thing two or three different ways when one way would suffice; characters you never properly introduce; characters you introduce too many times; and so on. 

Once you've been over your book a few times, find some beta readers. And I don't mean your mom. Look for people who will give you an honest opinion -- people who will tell you where the trouble spots are. Once you have their feedback, edit your novel again. The rule of thumb with beta readers is that if one person says something is a problem, it might just be them -- but if several people say something is a problem, it's a problem.

At this point, you might want to hire a professional editor. Lots of indies don't -- but lots of indies do. And don't hire your high school English teacher, unless he or she has professional editing experience. Novel editing requires a different skill set than term paper editing.

Then there's cover art. You might have mocked up something for NaNo, but compare your mockup to books in your genre at Amazon -- and be honest. If your cover looks amateurish, hire an artist to make you a better one.

Only after you've gone through all this will you be ready to publish your book.

But you don't have to worry about any of that until New Year's. For now, bask in the glory of your accomplishment. You wrote 50,000 words in a month! Tons of people have tried and failed -- but you've done it! Congratulations!

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These moments of congratulatory blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.
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