These are the rough notes that I prepared prior to my meeting at the DC Public Library with a group of Nanowrimo winners. They aren’t even in proper outline form, but they may be helpful to some new authors, Nanowrimo or no:
Congratulations on your participation–you’ve already done what most only talk about. I a bit in awe of your achievement.
My talk mostly assumes a professional publication trajectory, whether through traditional publishing or self-publishing. At any stage, you can say, “I’ve had enough” and self-publish what you’ve got at whatever level you’ve reached. If it’s not at a professional level, you’re unlikely to get large numbers of readers, but that’s a question of your ambition. My talk mostly focuses on traditional publishing, as that’s my own experience.
- Finish your draft.
50,000 is a lot of words, particularly in one month, but (in most genres) it’s not a novel.
You probably know better than anyone that your novel is incomplete (if it is complete, you have a novella–which may be fine in romance, for example).
Look at your genre for the optimal word count range (remember, some publishers still go by the 250 words/page count).
SF/F first novel 100K
You have a complete draft. Now the painful part (for some–I actually enjoy this). Revision.
But, beyond the obvious how do you know what needs more work?
- A Writer’s Group
You should get a critique circle, a writers group.
Who?–look around you (other nanowrimo winners).
But some limits. First, if you’re writing genre, you want a group that writes and knows that genre.
There are great online groups, but I prefer the in-person sort.
And you could attend a workshop. Many (but not all) are oriented toward short fiction. For SF/F, Clarions and Odyssey. I attended one of the Clarions.
Workshops are also helpful for the networking I’ll describe later.
- How to revise, and when are you done.
Revision includes putting your ms. into standard format.
Revisions at all levels. Storydoctor and line edits.
Anything nags you, but you tell yourself nothing you can do, and hope no one notices–they’ll notice.
A couple of ways to make you freshly engage with your ms.
- Read it aloud.
- review backwards chunks (as you can get tired of the beginning.
You’ll want a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style–answers many questions
1st three chapters particularly important (a typical query package size); opening very important; but whole thing important too.
As your first novel, I recommend a book that can stand alone with a slingshot ending.
- Start your next book.
After you finish your current book, what should you do before anything else? Begin your next book. For starters, it’ll probably be better.
Don’t make it a sequel.
Short stories are good too, if there’s a market for your genre in short fiction–good in themselves and as resume builders.
You should do this because the rest of what you do with your first book isn’t actually writing, and writers write.
- Self-publish versus Traditional Publish
Questions: again, what are your ambitions/goals?
What is your skill set (or what skills do you have the time and ability to learn)? Or do you have the money/connections etc. to get others to do certain things for you.
To self-publish at a professional level, you’re going to need to do for yourself (or have someone else do) all of the things a traditional publisher is supposed to:
- cover design and art
- copy edit and format for all e-versions
- get blurbs
- publicity–get your work noticed amidst the 100Ks of self-published books.
- Sales. Everyone I know in self-pub or small press is selling all the time.
You can skimp on these (depends on your ambitions/goals), but don’t fool yourself–people will notice.
TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING (aka, here comes the hard stuff)
- Find an agent
This is very difficult, but remember, a really bad agent is indeed worse than no agent at all
Money always flows to the author, so any agent who asks reading fees, or sends you to his for-pay editorial service, etc.–they are by definition a bad agent.
What can improve your odds of getting out of agent slush and getting a good agent?
- Research the agents
- Figure out who represents your style of work (and sells it).
- Who is taking queries?
- What they want in query package? Most are specific about what they want and you should follow directions, as this may be a threshold test.
B. Meet the agents
Venues different for each genre. Some opportunities free, some have the cost of attending a convention, some are higher priced “speed dating” sessions. For science fiction/fantasy writers, the SFWA industry reception in NYC is a great place to meet agents.
What does meeting an agent tell them? That you can at least present yourself as sane and socially competent, and that you may not be an instant nightmare to work with.
Meeting an agent will often get you out of the unsolicited slush pile into the requested material category, and typically you’re asked to send in more than the usual query.
C. Resume builders
D. The Dirty Secret (ask me in person)
Queries: How many do you send? Lots and lots. Authors tend to send them out in waves. First, because you might succeed with your favored choices. Second, you may figure out you’re doing something wrong in your query.
An agent may then request a full ms. (Some may do that from get-go, because of electronic ease.)
They may then offer representation or reject. Some may give you reasons for rejection, but unless they offer to look at a revised ms. (or unless what they’re saying is objectively an improvement) you probably shouldn’t revise (authors should revise their final ms. only in response to money/editorial demand).
Agents can take a while, but the good ones will get back to you in some reasonable timeframe.
- Find a Publisher
Why can’t you just skip to the publisher step?
- Many houses no longer take unagented/unsolicited manuscripts. You could take the approach with editors that I advised with agents, but for the reasons below, that doesn’t really save time, and to really get results, it takes a lot of contact with the editor.
- Publishers want no simultaneous subs from the unagented.
- Despite no simultaneous subs, publishers take forever to response to the unagented.
- Once you’ve tried an editor, you’re done with them with that ms., and that means you’re reducing the opportunities for an agent to succeed for you. An agent isn’t going to like this muddying of the waters.
I have other thoughts for further on in the process if you get this far.