It's something a lot of us writers just really want. Plus there are perks. Click through the jump break and I'll direct you to some of them. Be sure to note that some of these perks are only free to Nanowrimo winners or require you to sign up by or before November 30th (during Nanowrimo), so check all links carefully.
Today I'll offer advice on where to go from here--no matter where your personal "here" might be. I'll advise those who did not reach the 50k word mark, those who just made it but don't have a full novel in those 50,000 or so words, and those who finished a complete novel (replete with a beginning, middle and end) but aren't sure what to do with it now that they've got it. Click through the jump break for Webbiegrrl tips on what to do next. Others may (certainly will ) have other tips. In fact, it's pretty much guaranteed that the #nanowrimo hashtag on Twitter will be flooded today with tips and tricks and advise and services--in between all the "woe is me, I didn't make it" and "hoo-rah! I won" tweets. These are just my tips. Use at your own risk.
Are We There Yet?
How do you even know if you've made it? Word counts are tricky and Microsoft Word keeps changing the file size and word count and ....yeah, Nano'ers seem to get really wound up over word counts at this time of the month (LOL). Good news. The nice people in the Office of Letters & Light (OLL) have had a set of instructions for how to scramble your novel and upload it for word count validation since...well, since before my first Nanowrimo in 2006. Check out the scrambling instructions here.
Now, suppose you're one of the Nanowrimo participants who didn't quite make it. You wanted to write 50,000 words this month but one thing after another kept you from it. You did write something, just not enough of it. That's okay. That's the first thing you should tell yourself. It's not an easy thing for some people and it's not a crime if you're one of those people. Accept it and move on--and never ever stop writing or trying to write more!
Even if you completed 50,000 or more words, you might find yourself in the situation where you know you don't yet have a completed novel--or maybe you know you only got 50,000 words by stuffing all kinds of crap and nonsense in there that you planned to later "edit" out again. Okay, that's fair (according to the Nanorules) but that means that you're not "done" just because you got 50,000 words stuffed into a file by November 30th.
Whether you need to write more words or edit the words you have, if you're in this first category of "not there yet," be sure you don't just stop because the calendar reads "December" now. Hopefully, over this past month, you started to learn about yourself, your writing habits, your moods and how they affect your writing (or vice a versa!) and you started to figure out where in your life you need to focus attention in order to open up "writing space" for yourself. Make the changes permanent. Establish a niche in your life for writing. Make this your "holiday gift" to yourself. Or make it a New Year's resolution if you're into those instead, just make the choice, no matter what you have to call it to do so.
Editing, A Horse of a Different Color
If you need to edit, and have never done so before, be sure to seek out help. You cannot edit your own work alone. Not unless or until you learn how to be an Editor. Being an Editor is a very different mindset than being an Author. In fact, I like to describe it thusly: writing is a creative process; editing is a destructive one.
They are not quite opposing activities but they do require entirely different mindsets. It's not that editing will destroy all the good in your fictional world. It's that Editors will murder your darlings and tighten your words into neat little passages that sear into a reader's mind. It's called the difference between a first draft and a polished work.
I've blogged about editing before but I'm going to put it more succinctly here today: There are two different activities that get clumped into this one word "editing" and they are not the same things at all. Proofreading tweaking word choices, doing sentence-level changes, correcting spelling, grammar and conjugation errors are all good things and what I call "wordsmithing." No matter what you call them, these activities are not editing.
It's confusing to new authors because publishers call those activities "copyediting" or "line-editing" (both of which terms contain the word "editing"); but in fact, "editing" is not attending to letter-level or word-level or even sentence-level issues. Actual editing addresses book-level issues, problems in the plotting or pacing or character development. Editing, not "line-editing," addresses the basic elements of a story that make it or break it as a book.
See below for more on the basic elements of storytelling.
If you're not already a member, join Goodreads (that link's to my Author Profile on GR and you can friend me if you'd like; I'll reciprocate all friend requests there). Then join some groups where people read and critique each other's work. Click "groups" and then use the search box to find some you'd like to join. Most are open to join without any pre-approval. Those that require approval are just trying to prevent spammers and bots from harvesting members' emails.
Although writing is a solitary activity, learning how to edit is usually best done as a group. In other words, you need to seek out others to help you get the hang of doing this activity. In fact, you'll learn more about writing and editing by helping to edit someone else's work than you ever could by editing your own. There are a lot of ways to get help. I suggest seeking out other writers, not readers, at least for the first pass of editing.
You never get a second chance at a first impression. Some reviewers are unforgiving. Some fellow writers are, too, but at least with them you can point out it's your book, and they can go write one of their own (I don't advise speaking that way in public, not even in a critiquing forum).
Once you're in a writer's group on Goodreads, you can create a thread where you ask for people to volunteer to help you. It's rare that anyone will want you to upload your book to the Goodreads site--so don't. Your book will remain on the Nanowrimo site until October of next year or until you take it down. Alternatively, you can upload the content to a site like Authonomy (run by the multi-national publishing conglomerate Harper-Collins). As a last resort, you can offer to send out a PDF to anyone who wants to help you by reading and critiquing your work. I don't advise sending your book to strangers in PDF form. You never know who these people are and while it's unlikely anyone's going to steal your book from Goodreads, Authonomy or Nanowrimo, it's not so safe if you send a completed PDF out via email.
A Cautionary Tale
There are money-launderers in China who pulled this scam with Nanonovels last year. They stole identities, posted stolen books on Amazon and Smashwords and other online bookseller sites, and collected money off the stolen works until they were caught--then they set up a new fake identity and sold the book again. All they had to do was change the name on the cover image which is as basic as it gets in Photoshop. Smashwords' founder, Mark Coker, discovered it last year when they went even further and set up fake affiliate accounts to collect affiliate fees on the stolen books "owned" by the faked/stolen identities! Three levels of theft! It nearly crashed the Smashwords site last January and February and it definitely caused a major hassle in the bookkeeping for a few months.
So don't volunteer to email PDFs right now. Maybe next summer (grin) Better to just share your content somewhere else. There aer other places you can upload your content free of charge to get critiqued, if you're willing to critique others in exchange. One I suggest is YouWriteOn which also runs a contest where winners get read by publishing house editors. Like Authonomy, no guarantees you get a publishing contract. Go to YouWriteOn for the feedback not the contest.
How Do I Know What Color Horse I've Got?
You've written your 50,000 words and think you have a completed novel, a salable book, a story that fulfills its Contract with the Reader. You are the only one who can decide what your story is or is not, so I'll just give you this set of rules of thumb, as it were. These are basic elements to a story--any story of any length in any genre. Yes, short stories, novels and everything in between all follow the same rules of thumb. I did not write this. The late great Marion Zimmer Bradley did in her incredibly supportive community for mentoring new writers in the SF/F genre. Her estate was directed to set up a web site under a trust to continue making these resources for writers available. She was a very successful author. Take a look around her site.
1. You have a Main Character (MC)
2. Your MC exists in a setting
3. Your MC has a goal or objective
4. There is an obstacle (or series of obstacles) between your MC and their objective
5. Through their own powers or abilities, the MC conquers the obstacle(s) and obtains the goal (triumph) or the obstacle overcomes the MC (tragedy)
6. Your MC is transformed by Step 5 either for the better or worse--point is they are changed from the journey they took from Steps 1 through 5
The one thing MZB did not harp on was that all stories must have a beginning, middle and end. I think she figured that was so abundantly obvious it would be silly to mention -- but publishers have rejected tens of thousands of books for one of those 3 things being missing, odd as it sounds. Many writers will start a story in the middle or skip from the beginning to the climax without any logical progression of the plot to get there. Or the worst, in my opinion, they get to The End and just keep writing. As a rambler myself I'm particularly sensitive to this flaw.
The Contract with the Reader is a concept I'll have to blog about some other day but in short, it says, in the beginning, here's the situation and then throughout the middle it takes the reader through logical steps (that do not rely on AuthorConvenient creations but rather, on the character's own powers of mind, body and soul) that bring about a resolution of the main conflict in The End. If The End is a resolution of a totally different conflict than was set up in the Beginning or if the middle never set up how you were getting from point A to B, then you have broken the Contract with the Reader. Your reader will not have what is called a Satisfying Reader Experience. This can happen for a number of reasons, but lack of a plausible plot or unsympathetic characters are the two most common reasons for it.
If your 50,000 words or more address all the basic elements of a story, you're good to go onto the next step: editing. Yep, even if you think you had all the right words in there, you should still do a bit of editing and get it critiqued by others before you sign off on it as "done." If you can't find the help you need on Goodreads or YouWriteOn, or if you'd rather just hire someone to take care of the hassle for you, there are a lot of Editors for hire on Goodreads as well.
Polishing Off the Rough Edges - Wordsmithing At Last!
After the real editing is done, now it's time do that wordsmithing so many writers seem to love to do. All of the sentence-level or word-level choices, all of the punctuation and grammatical issues and all of the spelling errors are going to be caught at this stage. Again, don't try to do this alone. Seek out help. This time, I suggest you solicit some "beta readers" or "first readers" or whatever you want to call them to read and as them to help you proofread your book. I suggest you use the word "proofread" and don't try to get fancy by calling it "copyediting" or "line-editing" or "wordsmithing" (grin). Just keep it simple--and never EVER argue with anyone. You can take their suggestions, say thank you (because they spent time and effort regardless of what you think of the results) and then you get to decide whether or not you want to do anything with that information.
You find "beta readers" on Goodreads the same way you did for writer's groups. Go to the search box and find groups that like to read the kind of stuff you write. If you're looking for mystery/suspense readers, then type that into the search box. You can go to other sites, like Shelfari, but I like Goodreads the best. Go wherever you can--go to them all!--and solicit readers the same way, by targetting people who already say they are interested in raeding what you write.
Join those groups and offer an "Advance Review Copy (ARC)" FREE and tell them you'll mention them in the Acknowledgements in exchange for their help proofreading your book. If you're offering a free book--even if it's in exchange for a service and it's not a final version of your book--you'll probably get a lot of takers. If you don't, you might not be pitching or describing your book well. That's helpful information to know, too, isn't it?
I say to do all this after the real editing is done and I hope it's obvious why. If not, let me explain. Anytime you touch the text, you introduce an opportunity for new typos to appear. Also, note I did not suggest soliciting reviews with your ARCs, just help proofreading. There's a good reason for this.
Reviews will come from those who really loved your book. They won't be able to contain themselves, trust me on this. Those who don't like your book, won't be eager to gush about it and since all you asked for was help proofreading it, they are free to not like it--and not obligated to tell anyone. I know you hear how so many people get bad reviews and it must seem that hateful readers are out there eagerly waiting for the chance to put your book down, but that's simply not true. Most people don't like having to write a review for a book they didn't like. They'd rather just forget they even read it.
If you're not getting useful responses from your readers (they write "It's fine." or "I'd buy the book." or other things that are subjective opinions and have nothing to do with proofreading) then I'd suggest you delineate actual tasks you want them to complete. For example, in a cover email, state explicitly that you want them to note corrections by telling you something like:
Typo - "The brwon fox jumped..." should be "The brown fox jumped..."
This is the standard protocol publishers use for review of a galley proof by an author when it is sent back to the copyeditor (proofreader). Appalling, isn't it, that the publishers have the authors do their own proofreading?
Okay, let's say your book is complete, has a beginning, middle and end, has been edited and gone through all the polishing your beta readers can stand. Now you're just trying to figure out how to get it out there now so people can read it. Great news. There are two fabulous methods of distributing your Nanonovel! Read on, McDuff!
Smashwords - The Free ePath to Distribution
If you want to get a free eBook version of your Nanonovel produced and distributed, Smashwords will help you. They have a special Nanowrimo Catalog that'll get separate distribution and extra-special promotion during the month of December. You need to do this TODAY (before November 30th) so don't delay if you want to be included.
If you sign up for Smashwords today and upload your book to get it into the Nanowrimo Catalog, be sure to use their special links and pages. Don't use the regular "publish" or "distribution" links. Those won't work the same way. By uploading your book to Smashwords (a) you still own all of the rights and (b) you can control where it gets sent--or not. You also get the option to choose which formats you have the Smashwords conversion script (called "the Meatgrinder") produce for you. It's capable of spitting out all of the most popular formats but you don't have to tick all those boxes. You control what happens to your book. That's the beauty of Smashwords.
Because it's a Nanonovel, its price will be set to FREE. If you want to charge for your book, you cannot get the special, free promotion as part of the Nanowrimo Catalog. You should use regular distribution channels and you can charge whatever you like--but you'll have to do your own promotion effort :-)
Amazon's Not-Quite-Free Paperback Option
Back in 2008, Amazon's CreateSpace outbid Lulu.com on the right to make a "special offer to all Nanowrimo winners" to produce their books. You might be wondering why Lulu or Amazon would "compete" or "bid" on the right to offer to give you a copy of your book free of charge. It's not quite free, that's why. Plus they are super slick and sneaky about selling you services you can probably do for yourself (or do without). I'm not trying to talk you out of using the "free offer" from CreateSpace to get a paperback copy of your book into your hot little hands. I'm just trying to caution you, it's not really FREE. Almost, but not quite.
There's good news though: starting this year, CreateSpace will produce five (5) copies of your book as a paperback "free" (not quite). In fact, what they will do is take whatever you give them (which may or may not be correct) and they will not check it for you. They will take the file(s) you give them "as is" and do whatever you tell them to do with it (which may or may not be correct to get the results you want) and they will produce a "proof copy" (which you have to pay for and pay to have shipped to you). Then you have to approve the "proof copy" and that is when they'll send you five (5) free copies--except you also have to pay the shipping costs on those five copies, so it's not free then either.
It's still super cheap (just shipping costs!) and if you know what you're doing and have it all edited, proofread and formatted just perfectly for a print production, you can get five copies of it in a paperback format. So that's pretty kewel. Just be careful. There are wonderful content experts in the Amazon forums who'll answer your questions so ask before you submit anything. You have until June of 2012 so there's no rush to do this in December. Take it slowly. Check it carefully. Twice. Three times. Join a group on Goodreads and ask for opinions about your cover art. Get the templates CreateSpace offers (actually free!) and then ask in the CreateSpace forums when you're not sure what to do with them. It's not easy and I've done this stuff before!
Some people prefer to just hire CreateSpace to create their cover--even if they had a cover design in a JPG already created. It's not expensive and it's a lot easier. I don't know if I'd advise using the CreateSpace staff to do your editing but you can even hire them to do that if you want to streamline your process and money is no object. Then again, if money is not an object, why are you going for the not-quite-free offer? :-)
I wasn't planning on serializing my SciFi novel on the Webbiegrrl blog but I'm thinking about sharing some more of the scene I snippeted last weekend. I haven't gotten much more done yet, between blogging here and working the day job, but by Friday, I should have a bit more ready to share. Let's see what happens.