Now That You’ve Survived NaNoWriMo

Today’s guest post is by Victor Salinas:

If you participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), you’ve spent the last month grueling over your new manuscript. For thirty days you’ve slaved away at your keyboard, madly typing, and at last, you’ve got it!

A new story is born. But it still has a long way to go.

What else does your story need to mature into its finished form?

For those you that didn’t participate in National Novel Writing Month, these same steps will help you finish any manuscript before submitting it to an agent or publisher for publication.

Step One: The First (and Sobering) Review

For some, December 1 is a lot like a hangover. It’s the day after a long binge of gut-wrenching indulgence. It’s the first respite after a month-long marathon of clacking keys and gallons of coffee.

Buried within your computer files or under that stack of hand-scrawled notebooks is your baby. It’s your pride and joy. Your gem. But I’m going to be frank with you—it ain’t pretty. Your baby is most likely a hideous mess. And I mean that in as kind a way as possible.

How can I be so cruel? Well, sometimes the truth hurts. But don’t worry—we can work with ugly. We can make your manuscript beautiful.

The first thing you’ll need to do with your new NaNoWriMo creation is actually read it. Some folks loathe the idea of reading over their own work, but it’s a necessity. You, the author, have to be the primary critic and editor of your own work. If your manuscript took a month to write, it should take no more than a week to read over. Print out your manuscript or make a photocopy of your original handwritten draft and sit down with it and a red pen. Read over your writing and mark it up, noting any errors: grammatical, spelling, and, most importantly, in plot and continuity.

After your first review, your manuscript should look like it’s covered in blood. And in a sense, that will be true. You’ll have torn your manuscript apart with your red pen, leaving it gouged and wounded. After your first seething read-through, it will be time to rebuild your baby with new flesh.

Step Two: Beta Readers

After you’ve read through and corrected your first draft, update a computer file of your manuscript and print it out. If you’re anal retentive (like me), you’ll read over it yet another time before moving on and make any last corrections in the file.

Now it comes time to share your work with others. It’s time to expose your innocent baby to the harsh elements of the world—or, at least, a small part of it.

When selecting people to read over your first rendition, make sure they are trustworthy. And by that I mean make sure that they are people that will tell you the cold, hard truth no matter how much it hurts. Your beta readers should be people that have some level of experience with the kind of manuscript you’ve written, and people who have a reputation for being highly critical. Trust me, these people aren’t hard to find!

I’ve found it highly useful to use beta readers that I don’t personally know. I ask my friends if they know anyone that reads the type of story I write. And I have these friends of friends act as my beta readers. This way the beta readers will not mix in their feelings, good or bad (let’s face it, mostly bad) about me into their assessment of the manuscript. It keeps them impartial.

Let them each read over your work separately and give you their comments. Always give them written instructions, along with the printed-out or electronic file of your manuscript, about the kind of feedback you’d like.

Better yet, in those same instructions, encourage them to write all over your manuscript as they read it. If they return a printed draft to you marked up with their own comments, you have a record of their feedback at precisely the point in the story where their comments are most relevant.

Once you have the printouts and comments returned to you, it’s time to put them to good use.

Step Three: Some Fixes

Now that you’ve gathered feedback from some of your readers, you’ll use it to improve your manuscript.

Gather your readers’ comments and see if there are any visible patterns. Are they getting bored at certain points? Are they confused by particular plot devices? Are there some characters they like or don’t like?

While not all criticism is useful (“Shouldn’t your protagonist’s scarf be pastel red? I mean, really, who wears crimson anymore? I hate this character!”), take to heart any critical commonalities from your beta readers and strongly consider changing those problem areas.

Focus especially on comments your beta readers make about the flow of the plot, characterization, and dialogue. But above all else, make sure they’re not getting bored while reading your story.

Reading is a form of entertainment. Your readers want to enjoy what they read, and if they don’t, they’ll stop reading. And if they don’t finish your work, they won’t recommend it to someone else. And if they don’t recommend it to someone else, you’ll have one fewer sale.

And so the vicious cycle will continue. Or rather—the virtuous cycle of read-and-tell will never start.

While it’s true that this is your story and it should ultimately reflect your vision, it’s equally true that this is something (you hope) that others will read. And the customer is always right; try your hardest to make them enjoy it!

Take your beta readers’ feedback and use it to hammer your manuscript into much better shape than you ever thought possible. Your story might shed a few pounds in a few places and build up some solid power in other areas. It will be forced into a new configuration that is in part your own creation and the creation of your readers’ preferences.

After this, you’ll start to feel prouder of your manuscript. It will shine a little more fully, make a little more sense, and, finally, just “fit.”

But we’re not done yet . . .

Step Four: The Professional Editing Process

Once you’ve read through and corrected the manuscript yourself, shown it to some beta readers, and made the necessary revisions, you’ve still got the editing process ahead of you. At this stage, it’s recommended to go over your manuscript once or twice more yourself and make any needed changes to spruce it up. Here’s where I might focus a lot more on things like grammar and spelling.

After those last revisions, you’ll send your manuscript off to a professional editor (or, often, editors, as each may handle a different stage of the editing process).

The professional editing process may look something like this:

Weeks one to four: structural editor looks over your work, hands over your heavily marked-up manuscript, bringing up questions and problems you never thought existed in your story, requests revisions.

Weeks four to eight: you revise your story as indicated by the editor, turn it back in for copyediting. Annoyance level 0.

Weeks nine to ten: copyeditor looks over your work, hands over your heavily marked-up manuscript indicating innumerable typos, spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, and alternate sentence structure; requests revisions.

Weeks eleven to twelve: you revise your story as indicated by the editor, turn in back in for the final polish. Annoyance level 2.

Weeks thirteen to sixteen: editor takes a final look at your work, all of sudden notices even more structural problems and grammatical errors that weren’t seen in the previous two edits, requests revisions.

Weeks seventeen to eighteen: you make the needed revisions while silently cursing the editor’s name.  Annoyance level 308.

After these steps are complete, your novel will finally be finished! (Unless, like some of us, it’s never complete, and you’re constantly tinkering with it.)

It’s a good idea to also have several people close at hand to go over any revisions you are making; you can bounce ideas off of these folks or ask if changes you’re making will work for your story. Some may even volunteer to read over recently altered material and give you their feedback.

Professional editing is much like the cutting and polishing of a diamond. The manuscript is a rough (and honestly ugly) raw material. The cutting and polishing bring out the diamond’s hidden shine for all the world to see.

It’s an exciting prospect to finish a manuscript. But it’s only one small step in the even longer road to publishing.

NaNoWriMo can be a great tool to push yourself over the edge and finally get some real work done. But even if you make it to the finish line with a completed draft, your work has just begun.

Don’t let the magnitude of the project bear down on you—take it one easy step at a time.

Remember, it’s supposed to be fun!

Happy writing.

Victor Salinas head shotVictor Salinas is author of the Grauwelt series and creator of Writers’ Realm creative writing tutorials. He lives in the Washington, DC area. While he’s not busy bringing the world of Grauwelt to life, Victor spends his time reading, exercising, and playing competitive Pokémon (want to battle?). He has spent much of his life working as a translator of English and Spanish.

Feature Photo Credit: orangetaki via Compfight cc

Writers, getting a professional critique is a great first step after NaNo. This is the best way to see if your story is opening well, your writing is well written and effective, and all your novel components are in place.

Hire me!

Consider getting a fifty-page critique first. Those opening chapters are the most critical, and getting 100+ comments and suggestions will help you assess just how much work you’re looking at to get the overall novel in shape.

For more information on my critique services, read this. You can upload your pages and pay here. Don’t guess at what’s working and what’s not.

A professional critique will save you hours—maybe even months—of your precious time.

An Edit-Your-Novel Bootcamp to Help You Polish Your Book!

Editing & rewriting a novel is hard. But possible. Two experienced novelists and teachers show you how in their Edit-Your-Novel Bootcamp this January. Check it out HERE!

In this intensive bootcamp course, you will read and edit your novel in four passes. (Yep, four!)

This bootcamp is for:

  • Beginning writers who have completed a genre novel and want the support of a group and guidance of a class structure while they edit their own book.
  • Experienced authors who need the rigor of structure to polish their books, so they can deliver it to an agent, editor, or their beta readers.

By the time you have completed this bootcamp, you will have an edited book that you can present to your critique pEDIT YOUR NOVEL-Beth Baranyartners, beta readers, or an agent or editor.

The instructors, Beth and Ezra Barany, get it. They have edited lots and lots of novels—each others’, their own, and many of their clients. Editing can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to.

They have been where you’ve been and found ways to make friends with the process, as well with all the feelings of doubt and confusion that arise. They will be with you every step of the way.

For all the information and to register, click here.


WHEN: Jan. 1-31, 2016

REGISTRATION DEADLINE: Monday, Dec. 28, 9pm Pacific

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