On November 30th, sometime before three o’clock here on the west coast, I completed my first ever NaNoWriMo project. With the rest of the NaNo community, I breathed a collective sigh that felt well-deserved. A 51,400 word (and some change) novel was in the bag, a wild and wooly book that started out as one thing and, through a few twists and turns, became something else.
I am proud of the accomplishment. It wasn’t my first novel, however, I felt that participating in the challenge brought something out in me.
I’m looking forward to NaNoWriMo in 2024, let’s just say that much.
What am I going to do with my completed project? That is the question that, a couple of weeks later, I’ve found myself asking. This novel was not a part of my usual series. I have, for at least the last couple of months now, dreamt of adding another series to my author library.
Would this be a book in that series? Maybe. That prospect became quite enticing.
This all got me thinking. If I was asking the question of what to do with my completed NaNoWriMo project then there must be a lot of you running through the same questions.
After that well-deserved sigh of accomplished relief comes the natural question. What next?
I came up with some ideas for the writers out there, wondering what to do with their recent NaNoWriMo accomplishment. Everything from trash to treasure, here are some ideas for what you can do with that manuscript now taking up space in your drawer… or hard drive.
The Caveat Around NaNoWriMo
Before we talk about your publishing options, there is an important reality you need to consider: there is no way that, after getting 50,000 words down in thirty days, your book is finished.
Saying that is not to try and damper your enthusiasm though. It is, in fact, more about tempering those unnecessarily down expectations. If your novel feels rough, unpolished, imperfect, then there’s a very good reason for that.
It is. I hate to break this to you. You didn’t necessarily write a novel.
You wrote a first draft.
Every book, from amateur to expert, is re-written after the first draft. Stephen King does it. Danielle Steele does it. You name an author. I assure you, they rewrote their last book.
If your NaNoWriMo novel doesn’t feel ready for publication, and you feel ready to throw it out for that reason, reconsider it. You just need to remember the next step.
One To Grow On
Of course, all those down expectations may actually be a good perspective.
That novel? It may not be good enough.
This is OK though. I assure you. Every author, myself included, has written a few books that simply did not work. More of those books tend to come early in a career, when we’re still trying to figure out our craft. This is, unfortunately, the tender period when our confidence is still forming as well.
You may try and rewrite your book, only to discover that it just doesn’t work. The characters are off. Storylines don’t work well together. The hook never really sets.
I don’t know. There are a million reasons why a particular book might not work.
But let me tell you this. Just because your NaNoWriMo project didn’t turn out to be a masterpiece, doesn’t mean it was a failure. Absolutely not.
You can consider this book “one to grow on”. In fact, I think a savvy writer can learn a lot more from a book that “doesn’t work out” than one that comes together.
Using Your NaNoWriMo Project To Seek A Publisher
Once your NaNoWriMo project is finished, and by that I mean, re-written, edited, re-written again and finally polished, you may consider seeking a traditional publisher.
What do I mean by a traditional publisher?
This definition could take up a series of blogs on it’s one, but for the sake of brevity, a traditional publisher is any one of the large, mostly New York based, companies that publish books. I’m talking about Penguin/Random House, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, MacMillan and Simon & Schuster. These are the big boys. There are a myriad of other smaller publishers out there (where your chances may be better) but the point is, you’re seeking outside help publishing your book.
A traditional publisher, large or small, works with an author to put their book out. The company covers the costs of the cover, editor, editing and often pays an advance.
You can use your NaNoWriMo book in an attempt to get an agent and/or a traditional publishing deal. There are a number of books (Cinder by Marissa Meyer, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen) that have gone on to enormous commercial success after being born in the November crucible that is NaNoWriMo.
Can yours be one of those? Maybe.
What About Self-Publishing?
I’ve made no secret that I am a big proponent of self-publishing. It’s the wave of the future.
Perhaps more than any other outcome, I think NaNoWriMo books are self-published. Writers who take part in the challenge are, by and large, aspiring amateurs or early career novelists. Many more of those authors are joining the ranks of the self-published.
Self-publishing is a great option. I encourage everyone to consider it.
Self-published authors get their books out faster than do the ranks of the traditionally published. They also, by my observation, get more books out into the world.
In self-publishing, you’re not bound by as many rules. You can write a series of strictly novels. You can mix in novellas and short stories, it’s really up to you.
I think the benefit here, going forward, is that self-publishing gives you options. As long as you can find your audience (which is its own challenge) and keep them happy (yet another challenge, yes) then you can carve out a niche for yourself.
For those of you that think that self-publishing authors don’t make money, be careful with that limiting belief system. While studies show that most books don’t make more than $200 in their lifetimes, there is an equal amount of anecdotal evidence that says, with good marketing, careful planning and patience, self-publishing authors can make decent money. Also, the money traditionally published authors earn is entirely overrated. Our expectations of flame are inflated by the huge numbers we see a small number of authors making on their books.
I have become something of a proponent of following trends. You want to be where people are going, not necessarily where they’ve been. We know that the publishing world has been in New York in the big five houses. It’s not there now and, in twenty years, it will be even further away.
NaNoWriMo To Reach Your Audience
This option is kind of a middle ground, but it’s one I think is definitely worth your consideration. NaNoWriMo manuscripts, like the one you just finished, may be a great way to reach your audience.
Translation: you can give it away.
Now before you kick back at me like a mule, barking about how giving something away doesn’t make sense and you didn’t just write this book for nothing, ask yourself, what does success look like?
Is it selling a million books and getting rich?
If so, you’ve got your work cut out for you. I wish you luck moving forward.
But if your objective is more about reaching readers, connecting with an audience, and really experiencing what it’s like to have people revere your words, then maybe this option is for you.
There are many ways you can give your book away. You can put it up on your website. You can use it to build a mailing list (invaluable later in your career). You can use it as a proof of concept for what might become a series later on down the road. Every one of these methods builds engagement and, if you do it correctly, helps you build that fan base.
Having a strong fanbase, as a writer, is more valuable than money.
When I got started writing, I had a 30,000 word manuscript I didn’t quite know what to do with. Yes, it was part of what I envisioned my series to eventually become, but beyond that, I didn’t know how I was supposed to treat it. Instead of expanding it into a novel and pitching it, or releasing it as is on Amazon, I serialized the book and released it to new readers. It was a taste of what was still to come. Something to gauge interest. I didn’t make any money directly on that book, but there are readers – fans – I made through that story five years ago that buy my books to this day.
Is this the route for you? Maybe not. But the next time you pick up a free sample at the grocery store and end up buying the product, reflect on the power of the free bite.
The real lesson of NaNoWriMo is in the writing. It’s in accepting the challenge.
Can you write a novel in a month?
What too often happens, however, is that the challenge, met or not, often stands as the end of the road for some writers. That is OK, too. You may not need, or even want, to take your project anywhere else. Clicking that box on your life resume is a perfectly reasonable goal.
If you would like to use this accomplishment, however, as a stepping stone you have to take the time to consider your options carefully. Are you going to scrap it and use the experience as fuel? Or will you, after rewriting the book, use it as your introduction to the publishing world?
The choices are up to you.
Any thoughts on what to do when NaNoWriMo is over? Leave them in the comments.