Don’t bother with sending your novel around for beta readers to chew on, editors to edit and proofers to proof. You’ve got 50,000 golden words, right? THEY MUST BE SEEN AND PUBLISHED, TOMORROW, and you’ve already told the dealership to order a black BMW because the advance will be huge.
Forget sending queries to literary agents. Call them on the telephones, right now, or get their cell number and try dinner time, because they’ll be home.
If your novel is truly great, bypass those gatekeepers and fly to the Isle of Manhattan to hail a cab for the offices of Random House with the only copy of your manuscript in your locked briefcase. Make sure there are copyright notices all over the thing and a confidentiality agreement drafted by your attorney before anybody gets a peek, lest they steal it.
Do you have your plane ticket yet? Go get one, right now.
Okay, those folks should be busy on Travelocity while literary agents and editors are hiring a team of former Special Forces soldiers to greet them in the bowels of JFK’s parking garage.
Everybody else, let’s talk turkey, post-Turkey Day.
You may have 50,000 words and a spiffy badge, 34,000 words and a feeling of failure, 13,000 words and a newfound hatred of literature or 3,923 words and a pile of index cards that say things like, “The scene where Emily discovers that she hates her husband and wants to become a nun. Then he makes her ham and eggs. The eggs are soggy but the ham is delicious.”
So what’s next? Six smart steps, that’s what:
1) Put your novel in a drawer.
Yeah, I know it’s probably a Word doc. Stick that thing in a virtual drawer. Don’t touch it, not even to fix that scene where Emily is at work and the serial killer is in the copier room, expertly printing his manifesto on both sides and making the machine staple that sucker in the upper left corner before he kills the CFO with an industrial three-hole punch.
Now go read five great books in your genre. Paperbacks. Popular stuff, nothing a professor would assign for a term paper. Not sure what genre your novel is? Find out. Want a shortcut? Read this: Everything they taught us about stories was WRONG
Writing a romance or a thriller? Read these: Why every man MUST read a romance – and every woman a thriller and Out of fairness, I destroy my favorite genre: thrillers
2) Take the first page of those five great books in your genre and study them. Just the first page.
Now take your manuscript (mss if you’re a hipster) and print the first page. Only the first page.
Compare them all. Different authors have different styles, sure, but you shouldn’t be writing in second person, or first person plural, if all five of the bestsellers in your chosen genre of memoirs are say, first person. Just a guess. For giggles: Top 9 reasons to write in first-person plural
If you want a quick look at taking a red pen to the first pages of famous novels to rip them up, in a good way, check out these:
- The Red Pen of Doom impales FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
- The Red Pen of Doom guts THE NOTEBOOK
- The Red Pen of Doom murders THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand
3) Step back from the writing of scenes and chapters and boil your story down.
Can you explain it to a random stranger at Starbucks in four sentences? How about one sentence?
Get it down to four words. Yeah, I’m serious. Writers, we are doing it BACKWARDS and Writers: can you do it in FOUR WORDS? and Writing secret: Light as air, strong as whiskey, cheap as dirt
4) Get your novel edited, and not by your mom, husband or best friend.
Because I truly believe this: The evil secret to ALL WRITING – editing is everything
Tempted to join a traditional critique group instead? Don’t. Not the kind where you meet once a month, or once a week, and everybody reads a chapter. I’m serious: Why critique groups MUST DIE
5) Read up. A lot.
Read about the business of books, whether it’s traditional publishing, indie or zipping your manuscript to servers at Amazon to start selling it tomorrow.
Read great fiction in all sorts of genres while your manuscript simmers in the oven of that drawer. Learn about writing a query and synopsis, a little marketing and public relations and social media.
A few quick starters before you hit Barnes and Noble for hefty, book-like substances:
- The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books
- Top 10 evil tips for authors, actors and artists
- The Mother of All Query Letters
- The Greatest Synopsis that Ever Lived
6) After a month, go back and crack open that NaNaWriMo manuscript again.
Listen to your editors. Use what you’ve learned about storytelling and from reading great books in your genre. Fix the ending. Fix the beginning. Kill off every character you can and combine their roles.
Keep on working on it while you dream up the next novel, which should not be a sequel. Different characters, different setting.
Does the new idea feel like work, or would you happily burn a day off to crank out chapters? Toss ideas that feel like drudgery and hold fast to concepts that make you excited. Because this should not feel like punching a clock in a Ford factory or going to meetings in a cubicle farm about your TPS reports.
Writing it should make your heart beat faster while you smile. You may even cackle the evil cackle of glee. All those are Good Things, and should be encouraged.
Also: The thing about writers and editors is this: they’re friendly, and as long as you’re not a jerk, they’ll chat with you on Twitter and help you out a little. Great people. I LOVES THEM.
Also-also: If you want to know anything, check out The Writer’s Knowledge Base for a massive collection of articles and posts on every topic a writer could want. It’s like a mega-powered and secret google for writers and editors. Plus it’s free. This thing is a public service. Use it, and tell the folks who run it thanks. Send them tips when you spot great posts or stories and some good karma.
Because there’s a lot of good karma among the folks who love books. This isn’t a zero-sum game where somebody has to lose for somebody else to win. People who love books and writing also love fellow writers and editors. We’re brothers and sisters in arms, battling word counts and deadlines and plot bunnies. It shouldn’t be stressful. Because this is fun stuff, the making up of stories to entertain each other.