So You Won NaNoWriMo - What Next?
It's the last day of November. If you don't have your 50k words done by tomorrow, you failed.
What if you succeeded, though? Maybe you're content to sit on that achievement. Or maybe you realized hey, I can do this. I can write a novel.
Does that mean I can publish a novel? If you want to turn your stack of NaNoWriMo words into a real novel, you're going to have to do a few things first. Obviously, you might want to wait until January or February, though...
The NaNoWriMo finish line is 50,000 words. Unfortunately, although that's technically a novel, it's not currently a marketable one unless you are writing for children.
Publishers generally expect to see the following lengths:
60-80k for YA (Young Adult)
80-100k for adult fiction
100-120k for adult epic or heroic fantasy
(Yes, fantasy is expected to be longer because fantasy readers like it that way, and to allow space for extra explanation of the world).
So, if you hit 50k, you are going to need to keep writing. Maybe not at the NaNo speed, but many publishers and agents won't even look at an adult novel that comes in at less than 80k words. If that hurts, then there are other alternatives for what to do with your manuscript. I'll come back to that.
Repeat after me:
First drafts suck.
Unless you use the Koontz method - which is the anathema of NaNoWriMo - what you have right now is a first draft. It sucks. Fortunately, there's an answer to that.
NaNoEdMo. National Novel *Editing* Month. It's in March. That gives you plenty of time to get the length up if you need to then just put the novel in a drawer (metaphorical or literal) until March.
What? Put it in a drawer?
Absolutely. Editing is a lot easier if you take a break from the novel between the writing and editing phases. This allows you to approach the novel with new, fresh eyes and trust me, you will spot far more mistakes that way.
Your novel is fantastic. It's the best thing ever written. Even your mother says so.
Brakes on now. Your novel may actually be fantastic, but you are not the person to judge that. Your mother is even more not the person to judge that (ironically, mine is always telling me my work sucks, I think in an attempt to get me to practice more).
What you need are beta readers. How do you find them? You find them in writer's groups, and the work is done the same way you scratch backs.
Beta readers read your novel and then tell you everything good and bad about it. If your heroine is 21 on page 7 and 19 on page 54, a beta reader has a good chance of spotting that. They don't edit your novel. They don't rewrite it. Their job is to find all the things readers will notice and help you improve the work.
If all your beta reader can say is 'I loved it' or 'I hated it' - fire them. There needs to be a why in there. And although cheering sections can really improve your motivation, they can't fix your writing.
Research The Industry
I can't say this enough times. If you are serious about mainstream publication, you need to understand how the industry works. Join an online writer's group - there are quite a few good ones out there. Read the Writers Beware blog, which is produced by the SFWA and always good for highlighting scams. Look through Preditors & Editors and familiarize yourself with all of the ways in which people exploit writers.
Also, learn how publishing works. Accept that if you get an agent, you still might not get a book deal. If you get a book deal, you still probably won't end up rich and famous. Mainstream publishing takes eighteen months to two years from acceptance to publication, with possible adjustments to release the book on a good day for that particular book.
You will be edited. That does mean you should not edit yourself. You WILL be edited. It is also highly unlikely that the title you give your book is the one it will be published under. Publishers love to change titles.
Everyone you are working with, though, has the same goal - to sell as many books as possible.
Alternatives to the Mainstream
It can take years to find an agent and a publisher, if you ever do. Are their alternatives?
First, there is the indie press. There are many small publishers out there. They may pay a small advance or none, but they will edit your work, they will help with promotion and some of them are truly great people to work with. You don't need an agent to submit and, at least in some cases, they can get your book out faster.
Or, you can do it yourself. I have two hubs up on self publishing that explain the costs and the pitfalls.
Some small publishers will take books the big names won't - ones that are extremely weird, the 'wrong' length, whatever. Or you can try the mainstream route first and if it doesn't work out, start targeting the small press.
No, you are not likely to get rich this way (Eragon is the common story cited, but it was not a true self-published book - it was a small press book that was labeled self-published because the publisher was the author's parents). But very few writers get rich anyway.
Or, of course, you could just use your free CreateSpace ticket and make a few copies to hand out to family and friends. After all, nobody has to work towards publication...it's just a bonus you might want to consider.