It’s the home stretch of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a writing marathon where writers dig deep and try to hammer out a full book (or at least 50,000 words) in 30 days.
After months of planning, plotting, and preparation—the three p’s for surviving NaNoWriMo—and weeks of mad writing, frustration, and jubilation, the end is in sight. You can almost taste it.
But with the taste of victory (whatever it looks like for you), there’s a somewhat bitter note creeping in. What is it?
Oh, that’s just doubt and uncertainty, mixed with a heady brew of hope and dreams. A dangerous concoction. If it hasn’t happened yet, when you reach 11:50 p.m. on November 30 and lean back with a sigh of satisfaction, that doubt and uncertainty will creep in.
What’s next? a voice will whisper. You’re all done with this part…but what do you do with it?
Finish that draft!
The challenge of NaNoWriMo isn’t necessarily to write a complete first draft, but to write 50,000 words. Some authors and writers opt to continue working on existing projects. Others use this as an opportunity to lunge into an entirely new book. But depending on what you’re writing—and how far you’ve gotten with it—you might find that 50,000 words isn’t quite enough, or even close. So rather than pushing away from your computer at 12:01 a.m. on December 1 and taking a few weeks or months off, consider instead continuing on at the same pace (provided it’s sustainable, which may not be the case if you’re holding down full-time work, have one or more kids, etc.).
Finish that first draft of your manuscript before you do anything else, especially if you’re on a roll. Just because the challenge is over doesn’t mean your book is ready for the next step.
Flirt with social media a bit
Normally we save this advice until authors are interested in marketing and advertising. The truth, however, is that far too many authors don’t think about social media or its impact on visibility, book sales, and self-promotion until…well, it’s time for their book to be published. If you have any intentions of publishing your book in the next six months—whether through self/indie publishing or a traditional publisher—you should already be firing up your social media profiles and engaging with readers and other authors. Don’t wait until your book is ready. Get started now so that you are not only a seasoned pro by launch but look less like an opportunistic jerk who’s just there to sell books.
Not sure what’s involved with getting your social media sorted out? Check out our post “The WC Guide to Creating a Social Media Platform: PART I” for tips on getting started.
Break up with your manuscript…for now
Once you have completed that critical first draft, have a firm talk with it. Remind your book that you love it and that you are so grateful it is in the world. And then take a break from it. Mess around with another book, or maybe just focus on a little “you” time (or spend some time with your family if they haven’t seen you for a while).
Don’t read your draft. Don’t obsess over it. Just take a deep breath in and enjoy a brief separation for at least a month or two.
Taking some time away from your manuscript will give you an opportunity to look at your writing with fresh eyes, allowing you to find plot holes, clear out sloppy passages, and give you some better perspective on what your book needs, what should be cut, and how to make it a better, more engaging read.
Begin the oh-so-fun task of revisions
There are some authors and writers who believe they don’t need to revise their work. In our experience, it is always best to assume that your work needs some polishing, whether that’s a substantive structural edit or just cleaning up your prose. Chances are, you have an idea of what parts of your manuscript need to be reworked. Maybe you weren’t happy with a particular passage, or maybe your “breakup” period gave you a chance to reconsider certain plot devices that you weren’t sure about.
This is the time to turn your rough first draft into a smoother revision. Just remember that it is possible to obsess too much over particular passages or sentences, and that you can seriously drive yourself into meltdown territory if you don’t trust your own instincts and your writing.
PRO TIP: Save various versions of your book, depending on what stage of revision you’re in. And if you’re editing enormous chunks (or chapters) of prose, keep them handy! What doesn’t work in one chapter may work beautifully in another.
Decide how you want to publish your novel
At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what your goals are for this manuscript. Whether it’s self-publishing, seeking an agent, or querying publishers, think carefully about what you hope to achieve with your book (beyond the usual dreams of fame and fortune, obviously).
If you’re self-publishing: This is when you’ll want to come up with a release date for your book. Remember that most major book review publications will only accept your book for review three to six months before your release date.
If you’re querying agents/publishers: Start researching to see which editors/agents are accepting submissions for books like yours and what their requirements are.
Hire a good, reputable editor
Once your manuscript is in the best possible shape you can make it, it’s time to bring in a professional.
Hiring a good editor is one of the best ways to ensure that your book is readable, error-free, and cohesive in terms of plot and structure. But not all editors are created equal. For one, there is a big (huge, really) difference between a developmental edit (sometimes called a structural or collaborative edit) and a copyedit.
A developmental edit looks at the book as a whole. It’s the macro view. How does it read? Does it have a strong structure? What are its weaknesses/plot holes? Are the characters well developed? Is the dialogue realistic? How is the pacing? Does it drag in spots or gloss over important details? A good developmental editor will help you shape your book into a smoother and more professional story.
A copyedit is your micro view. Copyeditors work at the sentence level to clean up your writing by fixing grammar, spelling, continuity errors, hyphenation, capitalization, repetition, and more to ensure your prose sparkles.
How do you find a good editor? Check out our guide to “Shopping for an Editor” to find out more.
Find yourself a nice beta or four
Beta readers can provide some wonderful insight into what is working in your book and what isn’t. Some authors have a small army of beta readers who are eager to read their book and report back. For first-time authors, however, finding objective parties to give you quality critical feedback can be a challenge.
Start by looking at your circle of friends and family. Who do you know that loves reading and is familiar with your genre? Who is capable of being honest with you instead of telling you what you want to hear? And who has the time to read your book and report back to you with notes? The truth is that finding a good beta reader is going to be a challenge when your loved ones want to encourage you but may also fear upsetting you.
When you receive your beta reader feedback, be prepared to feel hurt and angry. Unless you have the toughened skin of an old rhino, hearing critical feedback is going to sting. Try to embrace it. Don’t respond to the feedback or even take it into account. Ideally, sleep on it, and look at it with fresh eyes the next morning or even a few days later. Then, ask yourself to honestly consider the feedback.
Do you have to make changes? Absolutely not. But you should at least consider them—especially if more than one person points out the same issue(s).
Celebrate your completed manuscript!
This is a good time to treat yourself to something special, whether it’s dinner from your favorite restaurant, a bottle of bubbly, or a late-night dance party to all your favorite never-publicly-admit-you-like-them songs.
You’re written a book. It’s edited. It’s as polished as it could possibly be.
Now your book is ready to begin its publishing journey, however that looks. But most importantly, you finished it.
And that, my fellow writers, deserves some serious celebration.
The next step is up to you. What will it be?
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.