What to Do with Your NaNoWriMo Novel Before Sending It Out…
Professional Secrets from the Author of 75 Books
Okay, you finished the entire thing. That’s wonderful! Of course, there are a few steps necessary before you self-publish or try to get it professionally published.
Smoothing it out: First, read it over from start to finish. This may need multiple reads and certainly will take a few sittings. Of course, check for grammar and readability. But you’ll also find plot inconsistencies, places you changed your mind, characters who changed names, or certainly have clearer personalities at the story’s end than at the beginning. Basically, this is the time for you to apply the lessons you learned about your plot and characters and setting by the time you’d reached the end of the novel. Put them into your beginning scenes to make them stronger. To check for readability and overused words, reading it aloud, even in a mumbled monotone, is an old creative writing trick.
Grammar and style edit: When you have the novel content the way you want it, it’s time to grammar and style check it. One option is to hire a good line editor. Heck, you could find a story editor too if the story part didn’t work out as you wanted. Another option is computer checkers. Microsoft Word’s built-in grammar and spellcheck is excellent. So is Grammarly.com. My preference is prowritingaid.com. It’s free with registration, and checks style as well as common errors. This means it will alert you to overused words, too many of the top hundred words, long sentences, lack of transitions, etc. Clean it up until it’s basically error-free.
Critique: Now show it to you friends, family, anyone you can persuade to read it. Of course, they’ll appreciate it if you’ve already done a grammar check, and they can help you by catching the last little bits. The main goal of human critiquers, however, is for a different job than the previous two. You need a human outside your head to let you know what makes sense. My young students are often surprised when I tell them that I can’t see anything in their scene except the single chair they’ve mentioned. Other students tell me a scene has symbolic significance to them, but haven’t added enough information for readers to discern it. Ground rules for the critique group are recommended—the biggest traditional rule is that the writer should listen silently to the critique and only ask clarifying questions after. This stops you from spending all your time arguing about what you intended and defending your choices—the critiquer’s comments are valid, since he or she is saying what a reader outside your head found unclear or awkward. For that matter, asking acquaintances can be better than friends and family, not just because they’ll be more exacting. People close to you will hear the story in your voice and understand your jokes. But will strangers? It’s worth making the test. You don’t have to make all the changes they say, but it’s worth knowing what they observed. Certainly, listening to critiques, however kindly meant, can be tough and you may need a thick skin (or to set additional ground rules) but it’s worth it.
For other options, Meetup.com may list local critique groups you might join where you can trade book critiques. I also have used critters.org, which matches people up with fellow writers to trade critiques.
After getting a bunch of critiques, it’s back to step one. No, really. Look over your friends’ comments (do write them down), and fix up your story to remedy them. And then, yes, look over the story as in step one to make sure that, with all the changes, it still hangs together. When your story is polished and perfect (or when you find yourself making changes then changing things back), it’s ready to publish.
Valerie Estelle Frankel is the author of Free Guide to Self-Publishing and Book Promotion: Inside Secrets from an Author Whose Self-Published Books Sold in Thousands, available free from Smashwords.com