Some of you may be in the lovely, warm, glowy position of having “won” your NaNoWriMo, i.e. having written 50,000 words for fun and/or profit over the course of November. You may have written only a few thousand words, but hey, that’s more words than you had at the beginning of the month. If you wrote all 50K and won NaNo, doubleplusgood, because now you have access to the array of delicious winner goodies that NaNo’s sponsors provide.
If you wrote 50,000 (or fewer) words for fun, awesome! Well done, you. It is possible that you may have no desire to touch your manuscript ever again, and that’s fine.
But if you want to turn your lovingly vomited word-pile into a fully-functional novel, let’s talk. You’re probably in one of two boats: you have an actually complete story, or you’re like me, and in 50,000 words have about 85% of your story and perhaps an outline for the rest.
If you finished your story, hooray! I have good news, and I have bad news.
The good news is that you’re ready to begin the soul-crushing process of revision! The bad news is the same as the good news! And also, sitting at 50K, you’re going to have to make a choice about form. Because 50K is not a full novel. Most commercial adult novels run between 70-115K. Here’s what agent Bree Ogden had to say about word counts on Litreactor.com:
Anything above 70k but less than 115k (science fiction and fantasy tend to run up around 100k-115k words). The sweet spot for adult is about 90k.
With fun, lighthearted, simple middle grade you’ll want to stay around the 20k-30k word count range. The average middle grade is 30k-40k.
Upper middle grade can hit in the 50k word count range (possibly longer, if it’s something really special).
Young adult fiction allows for a lot of flexibility in word count. And as you’ve probably guessed… it is sitting pretty right in between middle grade and adult.
YA manuscripts can have a word count anywhere from 55k to 90k.
Picture books are generally less than 1000 words. About 500-700 words is perfect.
Also remember (because there are a bunch of new novel imprints opening their doors), a novella is 40k or less.
Pro tip: Try not to completely tether yourself to word counts. Let your writing take you where you need to go.
But use good intuition and follow some of the rules.
Hopefully you are not filled with despair at this point, or if you are, it’s the good despair that gets you to do feats of might like write 11K words in a single day. (I saw it happen November 30th, and I was most impressed.) In general, though, if drafting is a sprint, editing is distance running. You’ve gotta pace yourself and go a loooong way.
But how, cries the novice novelist, how does one go about editing a whole huge novel?
- If you’re not done, finish a draft. The end of the year is a healthy-ish goal, unless you only wrote 10K last month and have an epic fantasy novel planned.
- Do not try to tailor what you’re writing to a particular market. If you’re not writing what you love to write, then an agent will be able to tell that really, really quickly. The only exception to this rule is erotica. Apparently you can make bank off that action, especially if you write really weird niche stuff like some hot girl-on-dinosaur action. (I really wish I was kidding.) So, assuming that this novel is not actually a get-rich-quick scheme, let’s continue.
- Re-read your draft. I’m a fan of reading though stuff multiple times, once without notes, once with lots of notes.
- Find some poor sap who’s also wrestling with a NaNo manuscript and do a manuscript exchange. At least lightly proofread your manuscript first so that your buddy can make it through successfully. A manuscript exchange will be more effective than trying to get relatives to read your work over the winter holidays unless you have some really cool and patient relatives. Remember, the NaNo forums can help you.
- When you have a complete second draft (having dealt with issues of content, style, and mechanics, which I’ll get to in a further post), send it out to all those friends who were like “so when do we get to read it?” upon hearing you were drafting a novel. They are your beta readers. Send it to enough to get a decent feedback sample, ’cause of the 20 or so folks I sent my Goddard thesis, only about three got back to me with any detail.
- Incorporate reader feedback (ignore your one friend whose ideas of what your novel should be have no resemblance to what you actually wrote), go through your editing checklist again, and proofread the living heck out of your manuscript.
- Rinse and repeat steps 3-6 until you are so sick of your novel that you could scream. Intersperse other writing and creative practice so that you don’t rage-quit the whole process and light your computer on fire in a dumpster.
- After all that, a) start querying agents and/or small publishers that accept direct submissions, or b) start on a track to self-publishing. But that is, as they say, another tale to be told another time.
If all of this seems overwhelming, well, it is. Sorry. That being said, you do not need to go down this weary path alone. Even them’s fancy early 20th century novelists we so like to idolize hung out with each other and talked about what they were writing.
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, particularly about what that whole “editing for content, style, and mechanics” bit was earlier, then consider hiring someone who has, say, an MFA and is really obsessed with story structure and loves working with larger manuscripts to talk it out and do an editorial consultation. Yes, I mean me.
Yes, I would love to talk to you about your NaNo! Yes, I would love to talk anything from “how does plot go” to “where can I sell this” to “how do you sentence.” Yes, you.
Yes, I will charge you money. I am a freelance wordsmith, and stuff like this is how I buy groceries. My NaNo Winner Special is $16.67 for a half-hour manuscript consultation, $33.33 for a one-hour manuscript consultation, and $166.70 if you want me to read your entire manuscript first (and then chat for an hour). That is stupidly cheap; even the editors at a print-on-demand service charge $200 or more to read through and give you basic editorial feedback. I’m happy to meet with you via chat or Skype (or in person if I know you and you’re local), whichever feels more comfy. I also offer proofreading services and line-editing. Even if money is an issue, contact me; let’s talk.
Email me: a (dot) g (dot) bean (at) gmail (dot) com, or use my contact form on the site.