You Did NaNoWriMo. What Do You Do Next?

by Emma Cueto

50,000 words. That’s a lot. So if you are one of this year’s NaNoWriMo winners, go buy yourself some well-deserved cookies. You’ve earned it. Even if you didn’t “win” NaNo, you should still feel proud of yourself for however far you got. It takes a lot of guts to even try something like that — there are tons of people who get scared away at just the thought. Whatever your word count, be proud of it.

But the big question now is, what’s next? You have a novel (of sorts) so that means you immediately go on to fame and fortune or at the very least a book deal, right? Well, “immediately” might be a bit much. You’ve cleared the biggest hurdle, but this is still only the first step to becoming a published author. So before you start emailing agents, there are a few things you need to do first.

The first thing I would recommend is taking a break. This can be hard. You’ve spent 30 days with this project. Your creative energies are working. This novel is in your thoughts constantly. And that is precisely why you need a break. If you haven’t finished the story yet, then by all means keep writing. But if you’ve already typed up the final chapter, then it’s time to take a break. Let the story sit so that when you come back to it, you have fresh eyes. Whether you give it a week or few months is up to you, but at the very least, you need some recovery time. So take it.

Once you do go back to your novel the first thing to do is read it all the way through, no editing anything except maybe the spelling mistakes. Chances are it won’t be as awesome as you remember it, and that’s fine. You wrote this thing at breakneck speed, remember? Some days it was a monumental effort just to write one paragraph. It’s okay that it’s not perfect. You did an amazing thing just by making this novel; now comes the part where you make it awesome.

When it comes to actually editing, everybody is different. Some people like to work just on his or her computer, some people do better with a printed version. Some people like to make a plan or create a new outline or compile a bunch of note, some people like to dive in and just start messing with things. And if you’re like me and changed your mind about certain things halfway through but couldn’t be bothered to go back and fix it because NaNo; well, it might be easiest to just rewrite most of it. But don’t worry, first drafts are always the hardest.

Also, don’t resist the urge to make your novel longer, if that’s what happens naturally. 50,000 words is actually on the shorter side for novels. Most published novels fall somewhere between 75,000 and 95,000 words. And you thought you were done paying attention to word counts!

Once you’re done editing, set it aside again. Then go through it again. Maybe let other people read it and give you feedback, maybe just mess with it some more on your own. Don’t think that you can sort through problems once you have an editor or an agent to help. When it comes to first time authors editors and agents don’t want to wade through a bunch of problems. They’ll do that with proven authors, but if you haven’t been published before, you need to stand on the merits of your book, so make sure it’s good.

Once you think your book is as good as it can possibly be, then do your research. Look into agents that handle your genre and are accepting manuscripts. Check the submission guidelines for publishing houses. Write your cover letters and your queries, send your baby out into the world, and keep your fingers crossed. But no matter how it turns out, don’t worry. You have your whole life to be a writer and keep writing. You’ve already proven you can write a book. Every time you write another, you’ll just get better and better.