~It’s harder than you thought.
~You know less about good grammar, spelling, and punctuation than you imagined.
~You realized that plot and structure apply to you as well, even if you don’t want them to.
~Even if you want to break the rules you still have to understand the rules to break them properly.
~It’s necessary to show up every day and put fingers to keys in order to achieve your goals.
Those are all good starting points and NOT reasons to give up.
What do you do now? Save your magnum opus in a computer file and shake your head because who would want to read that? Put it away because you can’t look at it again after working on it for 30 days straight? Or open it to page one today and realize that what you have in your hands is a FIRST DRAFT. It’s not supposed to be perfect.
Oh wait. Did you think it was perfect? *gigglesnort* I refer you to Tymber Dalton’s advice: Go take your meds. Do yourself a favor and go read her own blog post “You Are Not A Special Snowflake”
You may be getting pressure from well meaning friends asking when they can read this creative work of genius they’ve seen you posting progress for on Facebook all month. You may be getting lots of advice about what to do with your masterpiece. All I can say about that is to check the quality of the fruit of the person giving you advice. If they are where you really want to be then by all means skip the rest of this post and do that.
If not, then let me bend your ear (or monopolize your eyes) for a few more moments…
“What do I do with this thing, Heather?”
Many of you are seriously considering self-publishing your NaNo novel. You want to make a successful career out of the writer gig. Awesome. But for the love of all that is inspiring, beautiful, and magical about storytelling…
DO NOT RUSH TO PUBLISH!
You were not “finished” with your book at midnight on November 30th.
Yes, you typed those wonderful words—“The End”—but you were by no means done. This is where the real work begins.
It’s not time to start looking at graphic designers, stock photo sites, or cover artists. That’s one of the last things you need to do.
Revisions. Right now, it’s time to comb through that manuscript and find all those areas of inconsistency in your story. Weed out the content that doesn’t move your story forward. Fine tune your character development.
Are your characters relatable, likable? They don’t have to be perfect but they DO have to be characters your readers will want to root for. Can your readers suspend disbelief to enter your world? Is there a compelling story to keep them in that world?
Correct your typos, grammar, tenses, and punctuation. Yes, a copy editor will also perform this service but don’t think it’s not part of your job, too.
Your readers may be able to suspend disbelief for your world building but if their experience is repeatedly interrupted because you don’t know the difference between there, their, and they’re, or because you’re head-hopping faster than they can keep up, or your heroine’s eyes just changed from blue to green then all that awesome world building isn’t going to carry you.
- If an editor asked you to tell them about your book in two sentences or less, could you do it?
- Do you know the rules for the genre you wrote your story in? Do you even know what genre your story is? If it’s supposed to be an erotic romance but you spent more time on the comedy than the love scenes, you might want to dial back on the giggles so your readers can feel the heat.
Perhaps you’re from a creative background and you already have some skills, but if you’re a first timer maybe you’ve drawn another conclusion:
IF I WANT TO MAKE MONEY AT THIS GIG MAYBE I’D BETTER BECOME A STUDENT
During a lull in writing last summer, I read a number of self-published romances, both erotic and not-so-erotic. I’d been getting recommendations from Amazon based on other books I’d been reading, and I’d also had some reader recommendations. What the heck, right?
I learned quickly to always choose samples instead of investing the full price. The reason? While the $2.99 price tag may be tempting, MANY of those books were a waste, not only of my money, but of my time, because of issues that were fixable if they had just taken the time to either fix them or get the advice of a professional.
- Typos, bad grammar, errors in tense and point of view, head-hopping, improper or missing punctuation. Poor sentence mechanics and structure. Lack of basic description or too much description. Narrative that goes on for pages and pages. Repetition. Choppy, chit-chatty, boring dialogue. All those are bad enough.
- What’s worse? Unlikable characters. Storylines that were more contorted and convoluted than they needed to be. Inconsistencies within the stories. Lack of showing versus telling. Missed opportunities. Poor timing, especially in love scenes.
I’ve painted a pretty dismal picture, I know, but that was my experience as a reader. I don’t want to start any wars here but I’ll happily pay ten dollars for a well-written, well-edited story that will satisfy me, whether it was published in New York, or by an indie publisher, or self-published.
So, as the proud owner of a newly completed manuscript, what do you take home from my experience?
- You need a professional editor for both content (storyline and character development) and copy editing. Hire a professional who edits in the genre you’ve written in and pay them. (If you ask them and they have no clue what to charge you, they are not a professional.) And don’t expect them to do the work for you. You’re the writer. They’re your edits to work through. The benefit is that way you will learn, by doing, what not to do.
- You need a professionally done cover. You’ve been on Amazon. You know what I’m talking about and I don’t need to say anything else, because…damn.
- Don’t set a release date and then kill yourself reaching it, only to discover that you have major screw-ups in a manuscript that is now accessible to millions. Your name is your brand and the last thing you want is for readers to feel cheated.
- Take your time and put only the best into your readers’ hands every time. No, that is not an unreasonable goal. I’m not talking about perfection. I’m talking about being a professional.
“Heather, I can’t afford to pay an editor, or have that kind of time! I have a day job and bills.”
That’s okay. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The more you write the more you hone your skills, provided you’re educating yourself in the process.
Keep writing. You could be another blockbuster author who writes for the sheer love of it and winds up with a big Rubbermaid tub of manuscripts or a cloud drive full of completed stories. If your goal is to become an awesome writer, one day your opportunity will present itself and you could wind up a millionaire with readers worldwide who adore you. It could happen. It has happened.
Keep honing your craft. Read everything you can on the craft of writing. Subscribe to writer’s and editor’s blogs. Most of what I’ve learned about craft I learned online by asking questions and doing Google searches. The answers are out there. Read bestselling books in the genre you want to write. Dissect them, outline them, (just don’t plagiarize them!) and discover what works about them…and what doesn’t.
Befriend authors online. Observe what works and what makes you come back to them. And learn what the turn-offs are and promise yourself to never air your dirty laundry, political or religious views, or rants over reviews online. Never. Just don’t.
Don’t go for promo gimmicks. Building a following that lasts is a time-consuming process. If you’re doing this to get rich quick, it’s highly likely you will be disappointed in the long-term results. And value the people in your life who will tell you what you need to hear, even if you have to pay them to do it.
The other benefit of taking your time is that it allows you to develop subsequent stories that can dovetail into previous ones. The fact that I’m able to do that in my series is borne completely from the fact that releasing a submitted book takes two months and in that time, story elements from future books can be woven in to previous ones (with care).
I apologize for popping your bubble if you wanted to get rich quick with your NaNo novel. The writing is the fun part. December 1st, the work will have only just begun.
- Make the investment in professional editing, formatting, and cover design.
- Do the work.
- Have it edited again.
Then worry about unleashing that masterpiece on the millions who will love it. That way, when your work stands out, it won’t be because it’s a train wreck, it’ll be because you are the cream rising to the surface in an industry that is increasingly difficult to be seen in.
This post was primarily geared toward those NaNoWriMo survivors who are considering self-publishing. It’s important that you get references for all professionals that you hire. And if someone approaches you wanting to publish your book “for you” if you’ll just pay them a fee, don’t walk, run the other way. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. Yes, if you want to self-publish you’ll have to pay your team of professionals for services at the time they’re rendered, but in publishing, the royalties should flow to the author not away from them, assuming you want to make money. 🙂
Note before anyone throws a fireball at my head: My thoughts about self-published books are based on my experience as a paying reader. And yes, there have been a few that have been worth the money I paid. My intent is not to denigrate self-published works, but merely to emphasize that self-published authors have to serve as their own gatekeepers.
My professional experience is as an author writing for an independent publisher. I don’t have to worry about paying an editor, a formatter, a cover artist, or a printer for paperbacks, and I don’t have to deal with distributors. They handle all that for me. That means I can do what I’m best at.
Rather than ask for comments about self-published train wrecks you may have read and regretted, or self-pubbed works that you thought were more than up to snuff, I want to open comments up to NaNoWriMo pre-published authors, and those who would encourage them.
Tell us in fifty words or less about your book.
Hook us. Make us salivate for your story. What were some of the challenges you experienced along the way? You’re welcome to comment whether you met the 50,000 word count goal or not. It’s about the journey.
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