Monthly Archives: December 2011

You’ve edited your 50,000 word novel–now what?

First off I would like to say Happy Holidays to the half-dozen people who read my blog. I hope it has been informative, or at least entertaining.

In my last blog I made suggestions for editing your novel once you’ve completed an initial draft. Assuming you’ve completed the editing process, you are now ready to begin submitting your manuscript to publishers and agents. This process can be almost as much work as writing a novel, and in this blog I wanted to give a few tips for navigating the process.

  • Take the time to learn about an agent or publisher before you submit to them. Our website says we do not accept paper submissions, yet we average two queries a week to the PO box. What do you suppose these queries say to us before we’ve even opened them? What they say is that you haven’t taken the time to learn anything about Divertir Publishing and you probably haven’t visited our website. What books has an agent recently represented or a publisher recently published? Does the agent or publisher even accept submissions in your genre? Have there been any complaints about the agent or publisher on sites like Writers Beware? Targeting your queries to the agents or publishers that will most likely be interested in them will greatly increase your chances of getting published. Checking out agents and publishers before submitting will also help you avoid scams.
  • Follow the submissions guidelines. Just as an author sending a query to the PO box tells us something, so does a query from an author who has obviously read the website but not followed the submissions guidelines. Does a query that does not follow the guidelines tell us you will be easy to work with, or does it suggest you think you are a “special snowflake”? Our submission guidelines are set up to allow us to review several queries in a short period of time. If nothing else, failing to follow the guidelines (for example, sending a complete manuscript and stating you feel we really should read the whole thing) tells us you think your time is more valuable than ours. It’s not.
  • Networking is just as important in publishing as it is for a job search. During National Novel Writing Month in November I attended several write-ins and gave my business card to over one hundred aspiring authors. It may surprise you when I say this, but past experience suggests I will receive queries from only a few of them. There could be several reasons for this: perhaps the authors never finish the novels they told me about, or perhaps they have decided a small press is not the right home for their work. But one thing to consider is that most people, including agents and publishers, would prefer to work with people they’ve previously met because it removes an unknown. You should treat getting published in the same way you would treat looking for a job, and this includes asking your social network for assistance. You might be pleasantly surprised by the response. One word of caution, however: harassing busy people is not the same thing as asking for assistance, and you should make sure you’re not doing the former.

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You wrote 50,000 words in 30 days–now what?

National Novel Writing Month 2011 (NaNoWriMo) is now in the history books. Congratulations to everyone who ‘won’ (meaning they completed 50,000 word in 30 days). In case you’re curious I made it to 18,500 words, and when I have more time I’m planning on finishing my novel; I’m actually having a lot of fun with it.

Over the past few days I’ve had several people ask “So now what?” I guess that really depends on your goals as a writer, but I’m going to answer that question assuming your goal is to publish your work.

  1. Step away from the keyboard! You’ve just written a large number of words in a short period of time, and those words are probably still bouncing around in your head like an echo. If you haven’t finished the manuscript you should, of course, finish it. But if you think it’s finished, you should put it aside for a few months. This will allow all of those short term memories about your novel to be replaced by thoughts about how you spent the holidays. By taking a break from the manuscript, when you do pick it up to work on it again you’ll be looking at it from a fresh perspective not encumbered by the memory of initially writing it. Should you completely stop writing for the next few months? No. Perhaps now is the time to start working on that other idea that popped into your head at 3 AM as you were frantically trying to get your word count up. Perhaps it’s time to write some short stories to help create a fan-base for your writing. If your goal is to be a writer, then you should spend a few hours a day writing, regardless of what you write.
  2. Create an outline. When you do decide to work on the manuscript, do not immediately start editing. Instead, sit down with a pad of paper and, as you read, write down a summary of each chapter. This will help with the editing process in several ways. First, it will allow you to see where there are holes in the plot that need to be filled. How did your characters get from the space station to the penal colony in M86 without a spaceship? Most publishers are looking for novels in the 80,000 word range (although this will vary by genre), so in fact you probably still have some writing to do. An outline will tell your where to focus that effort. Second, it will allow you to see places where you’ve added too much detail. Does your reader really want to see 40 pages of your curse-immortal-servant-of-the-Underworld thinking about biting the woman he kidnapped? Does an entire chapter of your manuscript really need to discuss the doilies in the living room? Third, this will allow you to see obvious errors regarding facts. How did the frat boys drive northeast from Gary, Indiana, and end up in Missouri City instead of the middle of Lake Michigan? Next, this will allow you to see the things that seemed to work when you were in an over-caffeinated sleep-deprived state but that do not, in fact, really work. Should your curse-immortal-servant-of-the-Underworld really sparkle in sunlight, or should it turn into a howling mass of flaming immortal goo? Is that chapter of Haiku really the best way to advance the plot and keep the reader engaged? Finally, a chapter outline will help when it’s time to write a synopsis.
  3. Edit. Once you have good outline to work from which highlights not just the plot but places where the manuscript needs work, now is the time to start making those changes. Now is also the time to start looking for those grammatical errors and places where word choice could be improved.
  4. Review and repeat. How many revisions you do before you let others read your work is really a personal matter, but at a minimum I would suggest you do one complete review and revision before sending it to others. Why? Because I know that personally I don’t like reading things with a lot of errors, and a large number of errors will make the manuscript less enjoyable for those who read it. Who should you ask to read it? This is where belonging to a supportive writing group, where you help review one another’s work, can be invaluable. I would ask reviewers to do the same type of outline you did and to include comments about things they didn’t like or didn’t follow. This will tell you whether a reader is seeing the same things you do when they read the manuscript and will tell you where you still have work to do. Once you have back the reviews, it’s back to editing.

How many drafts you do before you begin querying is again a matter of personal taste. One writer I know said she generally does four rounds of revisions before she starts sending out queries but that it does depend on the book. In my next blog I’ll talk about preparing your query material. And if you haven’t had enough of monthly writing challenges, National Novel Editing Month (http://www.nanoedmo.net/) is in March. Happy editing.

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