An Agent’s Take on Nanowrimo

October 28, 2013

Every November writers at all levels of proficiency join in a worldwide crazypants activity called National Novel Writing Month where they attempt to write a novel in 30 days. It’s insane and unattainable, right? But every year thousands of writers succeed and write at least 50,000 words to “win” the challenge. This is great in so many ways. Yet it does not necessarily mean your book is ready for the Big Five publishers in New York. Every December, literary agents get swarmed by Nanowrimo winners pitching their 50,000 word GAMs (Great American Novels).

Here are four things Nano participants should remember on December 1st:

1. First of all, celebrate. By virtue of finishing a novel, you now know that you can do it. Writing a book is in the top 10 of most people’s bucket lists. People talk about the book they want to write all the time when they find out I’m in publishing, but such a teensy number actually move from talking about it to writing it. So, congratulate yourself and check off that life box. I want you to realize, however, that this novel needs massive editing. If it were that easy to write a good book, or a great book, would we not do it every month and publish 12 books a year? Trust me, these Nanowrimo novels need a lot of editing. So polish and intensify your writing with meticulous editing and by the following summer you might have something worth submitting to an agent. Makes me wonder why no one has created Nanoeditmo in January. Maybe they have.

2. Now let’s talk about word length. 50,000 words might be great for middle grade children’s books, maybe even a short young adult novel, but today’s modern novel is 80,000-100,000+ words in length, so you’ve got a few more chapters to add onto your opus. Again, editing will help here. Dramatic intensity, character development, additional dialogue where it counts, and detailed scene setting can all add power to your prose.

3. You can’t edit what you haven’t written. That’s right. I heard that first from the most amazing romance novelist of our time, Nora Roberts. What she meant was, get the words down on the page, as quickly as you can, then spend a lot more time editing them. If you worry about editing in the same pass as writing, a lot of times you never finish the book. So go ahead and fling clichés, fill parentheses with instructions for later inclusion (insert description of their living room here), overlook typos, grammatical errors and repetition. You can edit what you’ve written where the opposite is not true.

4. Realize that there’s a reason many literary agents close their inboxes to submissions in December. Nanowrimo excitement leads to euphoric querying. Alas, it also leads to obligatory rejections, and neither party wants that. It’s a waste of your time and the agents’. So, celebrate your accomplishment, absolutely. It is a big deal. But put the book away for at least a couple of weeks if not longer. Enjoy the holiday season. Then start editing in January and resist the urge to pitch your rough draft to publishing professionals. This is a business and competition is fierce. Might I also suggest that you resist the urge to self-publish that Nanowrimo book? Like everything else on the Internet, it could haunt you later—especially if you decide a publishing career is something you want to pursue for real. I’m much more impressed with the query I receive in September that states the manuscript was forged in the fires of Nanowrimo the previous year and cautiously honed in the months that followed. That’s really impressive.

Let the Novel Writing Begin…well, on Friday that is.