So You’re Participating In NaNoWriMo

This is a re-post, slightly updated.

***

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which is all about getting creative writers motivated to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, is ending today. If you’ve been participating in this, awesome. Go you.

NaNoWriMo

Seriously, good for you. Whether you’re doing this for the first time just for the fun of it or you’ve always wanted to take a serious crack at becoming a novelist — via traditional or self-publishing — and you’re using NaNoWriMo to light a fire under your ass and finally get it done, I hope you find it an exciting and rewarding experience.

Now comes the “however” part…

I’ve known a few people who did in fact attempt to parlay their NaNoWriMo product into a published novel and failed hard, and what I’ve gleaned from their efforts is they made a critical mistake of thinking that once the novel is completed, all they have to do is run spellcheck once and that’s it — their novel is finished.

No. No no no. Your work has only just begun.

First of all, 50,000 words is not necessarily a proper novel; depending on your genre, that might only be a novella — which isn’t a bad thing, but if you plan to seek an agent or traditional publisher for your work, you might want to think about going beyond 50,000 words (and, honestly, 50,000 is a great goal to aim for, but I’d advise you not to hamper yourself by insisting that you fit the story you’re trying to tell into a 50,000-word box if it’s meant to be longer).

This piece by Chuck Sambuchino is a great reference for typical novel lengths, and you’ll see that once you start writing for any adult market, 50,000 words isn’t going to cut it as a “novel.”

Conversely, you shouldn’t pad out what you have just to meet a word count benchmark. Chances are you’ll edit that out anyway as superfluous fluff (more on that in a minute). Tell the story and don’t worry so much about the word count. Just be aware it will affect how you market the book, whether to an agent or publisher or, if you go the indie author route, to readers.

If November is National Novel Writing Month, December should be National Novel Revising Month. This is when you take your finished first draft, read through it, and recoil in horror at how truly not finished it is. You’re going to find spelling errors, grammatical errors, punctuation errors, continuity gaps, plot holes, inconsistent characterization, clunky dialog — all manner of major and minor screw-ups. Suddenly, the literary masterpiece you think you wrote will turn into a steaming pile of crap that will make you doubt your talents as a writer.

Welcome to the world of writing.

First drafts aren’t about producing a finished work; it’s about getting the ideas out of your head and onto the screen. Second drafts are about replacing or scrapping entirely everything that’s wrong with the story and strengthening everything that does work. Since you’ve given yourself a month to do this, take your time. Go through the manuscript a few times and keep fine-tuning it.

No, you’re not done yet, because January is National Novel Test-Reading Month. This is when you send your manuscript to some trusted friends to look it over and tell you what you think. Four to six people is a good number of beta readers, but make sure you choose people who will be brutally honest with you. You don’t want their praise, you want their criticism. You want them to tell you what still isn’t working so you can fix it in February, which is National Novel Revising Month – The Sequel.

Don’t undersell the importance of this step. By now you’ve gotten a little too familiar with your novel and aren’t seeing a lot of flaws anymore. Outside eyes will catch the problems you’re no longer seeing. And don’t dismiss this as “art by committee.” Just because your readers make suggestions, you’re not obligated to heed them (though you’d be foolish to ignore them out of hand. Think about their critiques long and hard before you make a decision one way or the other).

While the book is out with test-readers, you can consider whether you want to try and pursue a traditional publishing avenue or go the indie author route. Each approach has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, so consider what you need, want, and hope to get out of putting your book out there, and see which path fits better. Personally, even if you decide to go with self publishing, going through the process of preparing your book for submission to agents and publishers is a good experience. It’ll help get you in a professional mindset, you’ll learn how to concisely describe your book and pitch it to a prospective reader — something you’ll have to do a lot as an indie author — and who knows? Maybe you’ll get picked up.

You can find an extensive list of publishers and agents in the Writer’s Digest market guide, along with many helpful hints for putting a submission package together. I’d also advise checking out the SFWA Writer Beware page, especially if you go looking at small presses.

If and when you decide to pursue indie authorship, this is a good time to start hunting down editors and cover artists — two things you do not want to skimp on. You want someone with a professional eye to review your finished manuscript for any lingering errors and perhaps make final suggestions for tweaking this or that, and you want a real artist to put together an eye-catching cover that will attract readers’ attention.

Services such as Kindle Direct Publishing can help you put together a prefab cover that looks decent, and for little to no money, but if this what you choose to do, tread carefully, and never assume your skills as a graphic artist are sufficient to the task. Chances are, they’re not.

An aside: yes, these people will cost you money. It’s worth the investment. If you can’t pay for them out of pocket, crowdfunding may be your salvation — but again, do your research to find out what makes a successful crowdfunding campaign or you’ll hit a brick wall pretty fast.

Assuming you’ve managed to stay on-schedule so far, dedicate March to preparing everything while your editor does his/her thing. Get your submissions list ready — or, if you’re self publishing, make sure you’ve familiarized yourself with your chosen platforms, because preparing a novel for publishing is a major undertaking in and of itself. Prepare your cover/query letter, synopsis, and any other required submission materials. If you need to, go back into your manuscript and fix any lingering problems, even if it pushes your timeline back (unless you want to be embarrassed by putting out a novel that isn’t ready for public consumption).

Once all your ducks are in a row, once all the Is are dotted and Ts are crossed, it’s time to face the scariest part of the process: pulling the trigger and actually submitting the novel to agents/publishers or releasing it via your chosen self-publishing platform. Trust me, it’s terrifying, but take the leap. The worst you can do is fail, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

There’s a LOT more to do once the book is out there — marketing, promotions, publicity, etc. — but that’s a dissertation for another time. For now, it’s time for you to get back to work. Go write something!

A Writer’s Anti-Scam Checklist

I’m writing this as an indirect response to a Facebook scammer who made an appearance on one of the writers’ pages I follow. She (if she was indeed a she) asked people to PM her if they were interested in an easy writing job that promised big money in return.

I was instantly skeptical and smelled a scam in the making. My instinct was confirmed to my satisfaction when I visited the poster’s FB page and found it curiously empty. I posted a warning to fellow page members. This prompted a brief exchange between the OP and me, and soon thereafter the OP was banned from the page as a scammer — after at least two people took the bait, unfortunately.

Scammers like this prey on aspiring and novice writers and depend on their naivete and inexperience to score some free labor and maybe a quick buck or two before vanishing into the Internet aether. Fortunately, having encountered quite a few of them, they’ve shown themselves to be fairly obvious if you know what to look for, so as a service to my less experienced fellow writers out there, here are some key warning signs that someone might be a con artist.

1: They ask the mark for money.

Neil Gaiman has a simple rule when it comes to writing professionally: money flows toward the writer.  Someone offering a writing job should never ask you to cough up any kind of fee or to cover costs associated with the publication of the end product (your writing). If any part of a writing gig involves you paying them for anything and getting reimbursed later, it’s a scam.

Similarly, a legit publisher shouldn’t ask an author to cover the cost of anything, from editing and cover art to distribution costs and comp copies to — and I’ve seen this before, no kidding — office supplies allegedly used in the course of working with the writer. All those expenses are supposed to be recouped from the sale of the writer’s work, not from any up-front charges to the author.

2: They ask for personal information.

If someone posing as an employer says they need a Social Security number as part of an application process or a bank account number so they can pay you via direct deposit, cease all communications immediately. Give them nothing and, if it’s a conversation over social media, report them.

3: They are stingy with details.

The FB post I referred to in the opening read something like this: “Want to work from home, control your own schedule, and earn big money writing? Contact me privately!” When I asked for specifics about the job, the poster got rather pissy (more on that later) and refused to say anything about the jobs they were offering — not the nature of the job, what kind of pay they were offering, not the name of the company — nothing. Even when asked directly she refused to say anything. Well, almost…

4: They behave unprofessionally

When I asked for more information, the OP became immediately defensive. I was told to back off, berated for expressing my doubts about her legitimacy, and shamed for not letting the adults on the page “make their own decisions.” The OP even threw an implied threat at me that she would wield “the power of my pen” (actual quote) against me if I gave her any more grief.

Despite what our recent presidential election might lead some to believe, responding to simple questions with belligerence is not mature or professional; it’s a warning sign that this person is offering nothing and knows it and didn’t expect resistance, so now he’s doing what teenagers trying to buy cigarettes at a convenience store do when asked for ID: they feign indignity to try and scare and intimidate the cashier into giving them what they want.

5: They have no distinct identity.

I checked out the OP’s Facebook profile and it immediately smacked of a fake account. There was no personal info, the profile pic was a stock photo (“professional woman with laptop”), she had all of 15 friends from several highly disparate geographical locations, and the page was only two weeks old, indicating that it had been set up very recently. Scammers regularly set up fake profiles for the express purpose of pulling a hit-and-run scheme, so if you’re suspicious about someone, look for telltale signs that a profile page might be bogus.

Added FYI: if someone’s profile photo looks a little too slick and professional, try using Google’s image search feature. Just right-click over the photo and choose “Search Google for image.” If a stock photo comes up, you know you’re being duped.

6: The company has no online fingerprint.

Someone might claim to represent a company, but far more often than not this is a Vandelay Industries type of thing. Run a Google search and see if the alleged business has full website rather than just a Facebook page or a Twitter account, which are much easier to set up for a quick con. If it doesn’t have a full-fledged website or any kind of serious online presence, be suspicious.

7: It has an online presence, but not the good kind.

I regularly advise neophyte writers looking for job opportunities, agents, or publishers to Google their prospects with the terms “writer beware” or “water cooler” attached, which will bring them to the Writer Beware and Absolute Write websites, which are great resources for ferreting out scammers and less-than-reputable businesses. Scammers either don’t realize writers talk to one another, or they hope that their current target is too naive to think of conducting a due diligence check.

So You’re Participating In NaNoWriMo

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which is all about getting creative writers motivated to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. If you’re participating in this, awesome. Go you. Pound on your keyboard until it begs for mercy.

NaNoWriMo

Seriously, good for you. Whether you’re doing this for the first time just for the fun of it or you’ve always wanted to take a serious crack at becoming a novelist — via traditional or self-publishing — and you’re using NaNoWriMo to light a fire under your ass and finally get it done, I hope you find it an exciting and rewarding experience.

Now comes the “however” part…

I’ve known a few people who did in fact attempt to parlay their NaNoWriMo product into a published novel and failed hard, and what I’ve gleaned from their efforts is they made a critical mistake of thinking that once the novel is completed, all they have to do is run spellcheck once and that’s it — their novel is finished.

No. No no no. Your work has only just begun.

First of all, 50,000 words is actually not necessarily a novel; depending on your genre, that might only be a novella — which isn’t a bad thing, but if you plan to seek an agent or traditional publisher for your work, you might want to think about going beyond 50,000 words (and, honestly, 50,000 is a great goal to aim for, but I’d advise you not to hamper yourself by insisting that you fit the story you’re trying to tell into a 50,000 word box if it’s meant to be longer).

This piece by Chuck Sambuchino is a great reference for typical novel lengths, and you’ll see that once you start writing for any adult market, 50,000 words isn’t going to cut it as a “novel.”

Conversely, you shouldn’t pad out what you have just to meet a word count benchmark. Chances are you’ll edit that out anyway as superfluous fluff (more on that in a minute). Tell the story and don’t worry so much about the word count. Just be aware it will affect how you market the book, whether to an agent or publisher or, if you go the indie author route, to readers.

If November is National Novel Writing Month, December should be National Novel Revising Month. This is when you take your finished first draft, read through it, and recoil in horror at how truly not finished it is. You’re going to find spelling errors, grammatical errors, punctuation errors, continuity gaps, plot holes, inconsistent characterization, clunky dialog — all manner of major and minor screw-ups. Suddenly, the literary masterpiece you think you wrote will turn into a steaming pile of crap that will make you doubt your talents as a writer.

Welcome to the world of writing.

First drafts aren’t about producing a finished work; it’s about getting the ideas out of your head and onto the screen. Second drafts are about replacing or scrapping entirely everything that’s wrong with the story and strengthening everything that does work. Since you’ve given yourself a month to do this, take your time. Go through the manuscript a few times and keep fine-tuning it.

No, you’re not done yet, because January is National Novel Test-Reading Month. This is when you send your manuscript to some trusted friends to look it over and tell you what you think. Four to six people is a good number of beta testers, but make sure you choose people who will be brutally honest with you. You don’t want their praise, you want their criticism. You want them to tell you what still isn’t working so you can fix it in February, which is National Novel Revising Month – The Sequel.

Don’t undersell the importance of this step. By now you’ve gotten a little too familiar with your novel and aren’t seeing a lot of flaws anymore. Outside eyes will catch the problems you’re no longer seeing. And don’t dismiss this as “art by committee.” Just because your readers make suggestions, you’re not obligated to heed them (though you’d be foolish to ignore them out of hand. Think about their critiques long and hard before you make a decision one way or the other).

While the book is out with test-readers, you can consider whether you want to try and pursue a traditional publishing avenue or go the indie author route. Each approach has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, so consider what you need, want, and hope to get out of putting your book out there, and see which path fits better. Personally, even if you decide to go with self publishing, going through the process of preparing your book for submission to agents and publishers is a good experience. It’ll help get you in a professional mindset, you’ll learn how to concisely describe your book and pitch it to a prospective reader — something you’ll have to do a lot as an indie author — and who knows? Maybe you’ll get picked up.

You can find an extensive list of publishers and agents in the Writer’s Digest market guide, along with many helpful hints for putting a submission package together. I’d also advise checking out the SFWA Writer Beware page, especially if you go looking at small presses.

If and when you decide to pursue indie authorship, this is a good time to start hunting down editors and cover artists — two things you do not want to skimp on. You want someone with a professional eye to review your finished manuscript for any lingering errors and perhaps make final suggestions for tweaking this or that, and you want a real artist to put together an eye-catching cover that will attract readers’ attention.

Services such as CreateSpace can help you put together a prefab cover that looks decent, and for little to no money, but if this what you choose to do, tread carefully, and never assume your skills as a graphic artist are sufficient to the task. Go check out LousyBookCovers.com to see what happens when a cover misfires if you need further convincing that hiring a professional is the right call.

An aside: yes, these people will cost you money. It’s worth the investment. If you can’t pay for them out of pocket, crowdfunding may be your salvation — but again, do your research to find out what makes a successful crowdfunding campaign or you’ll hit a brick wall pretty fast.

Assuming you’ve managed to stay on-schedule so far, dedicate March to preparing everything while your editor does his/her thing. Get your submissions list ready — or, if you’re self publishing, make sure you’ve familiarized yourself with your chosen platforms, because preparing a novel for publishing is a major undertaking in and of itself. Prepare your cover/query letter, synopsis, and any other required submission materials. If you need to, go back into your manuscript and fix any lingering problems, even if it pushes your timeline back (unless you want to be embarrassed by putting out a novel that isn’t ready for public consumption).

Once all your ducks are in a row, once all the Is are dotted and Ts are crossed, it’s time to face the scariest part of the process: pulling the trigger and actually submitting the novel to agents/publishers or releasing it via your chosen self-publishing platform. Trust me, it’s terrifying, but take the leap. The worst you can do is fail, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

There’s a LOT more to do once the book is out there — marketing, promotions, publicity, etc. — but that’s a dissertation for another time. For now, it’s time for you to get back to work. Go write something!