Thursday, 28 November 2013
What's Next After Nanowrimo?
And is it possible to have fun with your new book?
Here is a suggested order of events for the post-Nanowrimo entrant:
1. Finish the novel, if you haven't already
Don't worry if this is going to take a while. The important thing is to keep the momentum going from November's daily word count. If you just set it aside and have a 'rest' before continuing, you will come back to it cold and creaking, and probably never finish it all. Keep writing. Get it done.
Most importantly, ENJOY yourself. Writing the story is actually the best part of a book. Selling it and then promoting it are much harder, trust me.
2. Put the finished manuscript aside for a few weeks
This stage is about getting some perspective on what you've just written. A freshly-written book is hard to assess. Step away, maybe plan out a new book, or do some research that you couldn't fit in during November.
3. Reread your novel
Set aside a full day to read your finished novel in one go, trying hard not to pause for anything except food and the bathroom. That way you'll get a good over-view. Avoid making notes except for major structural issues/errors.Try to get a feel for the story, see if it has light and shade.
Rewrite your novel according to any serious problems you spotted with the structure. Maybe you need to cut the Prologue or Epilogue, or start at Chapter Three. Don't worry about line edits at this stage. Just think structure, pace, characterisation, motivation, consequences ... all the big stuff. Again, try to enjoy this process.
5. Rewrite your novel: Phase Two, Clean Up Your Prose
This is the nitty-gritty dull stuff of self-editing - or the most exciting phase of novel-writing, depending on your temperament. Put commas in the right place, don't overuse semi-colons, and ALWAYS check if a word is hyphenated. You may be surprised. Don't just rely on spellcheck, it may not spot their/there mistakes and certainly won't pick up on clumsy writing.
You may not think it's worth the effort, but try to develop your prose style into something fit for purpose. Cut long sentences in half, remove endless strings of adjectives and adverbs, make your verbs work harder for you - stride, not walk; bellow, not shout - and think about balance, especially in your paragraphing. I actually LOVE this part. (Bit of a word geek, me.)
'Start a new paragraph for each new action' is a good simple rule, and that includes dialogue.
A synopsis is basically a short document, most usefully one page, maybe 2-3, in which you briefly describe your main characters and the chief action of your story. Leave out anyone and anything non-essential. It's not a blurb - i.e. cover copy - because that merely sets out a scenario without giving you the end result. In the synopsis you must tell the reader not only how it starts, but how it ends. And God help you if you don't actually know by now.
This could become a selling document, so write and present it professionally. Check your spelling and punctuation. Try to sound sane. This may be your one and only chance to showcase your writing skills to a busy literary agent.
Whatever you do, keep the synopsis easy to read and check that, even if the book is dark, it never feels depressing or dull. If you enjoyed writing your book, let it show in the synopsis. Let your story shine.
7. Send your synopsis (and three chapters) to a Literary Agent
These days only a very few publishers take manuscripts off the street. Most prefer to go through agents, which means you have to get an agent if you want anyone to read your novel. And getting an agent is TOUGH. Get a book like Writers and Artists Yearbook, and consult lists of agents there. Or look online. Find out who represents your genre and don't send science fiction to agents who say 'No science fiction' etc.
Check out their websites to see which named agent at that agency might be best for you, then address it by name - and spell their name right! Ring first to check they are still with that agency; agents move, it happens.
Present the synopsis and/or sample chapters exactly as required - some like snail mail, others email using a Word doc. - so you don't annoy them from the word go by failing to check their requirements. Sound professional in your covering letter, avoid exclamation marks, chatty small talk, and details about your life as a repo man. Be brief. Enclose a writing-specific CV, or just mention any publications or awards if these will be helpful.
You can approach several agencies at the same time. Just make sure you mention that politely in your letter, so they know what's what. And be happy and optimistic. Even if twenty agencies say no, you only need one to say yes.
Waiting can take a long while. Longer than it took you to write the damn thing in the first place. So don't waste your precious time staring at the empty mailbox. Start writing or planning your next book or Nanowrimo project while you wait.
And be prepared for rejection. It's all part of the game.
And keep smiling.