Friday, November 15, 2013

NaNo No-No

To all you valiant NaNoWriMo scribes out their toiling away, I bring you news from the publishing front. You know that novel you plan to complete between November 1 and November 30? Literary agents do NOT want to see it. At least, not yet.

How do I know this? My own recent agent search has brought me into contact with various blogs and Tweets in which agent after agent expresses dismay over the NaNoWriMo phenomenon.

These folks are quaking in their boots, battening down the hatches, stringing virtual strands of garlic around their inboxes to ward off the annual deluge of half-baked manuscripts heading their way in December.

Trust me, everybody and his dog, Shep, and his Great Aunt Queenie, is getting ready to ship off their newly-minted masterpiece, hot off the keyboard, come December 1st. It's going to get crowded (not to mention ugly) out there in cyberspace, but there are ways to help your opus stand out from the throng. Come November 30, as you gaze in awe at what you've wrought, take a moment to consider these points:

1) What you've written is not a novel. If you've managed to cobble together 50,000 words in 30 days, congratulations! You've achieved major awesomeness, but you have not yet achieved a novel. To do that, you'll have to bump it up to the accepted length of 80,000 words or more.

So far, you've written a novella, and unless you just want it to go out on Kindle (for which you probably don't need an agent), or your name is Stephen King, chances are an agent can't sell it.

2) What you've written is a first draft. You may feel that it has sprung fully formed out of your brain, like the goddess Athena, that it couldn't possibly be any more perfect. But guess what: it can. You may think if you overwork it, you'll destroy the freshness, but there's a vast and critical gulf between "fresh" and "unripe."

The first draft is a major milestone in the writer's life, but it's only one lap, not the whole race. There's still polishing, editing, and revising (yes, work) to do, which any industry professional will realize the minute they see it, because, hey, they're funny that way. Nothing screams "Amateur!" louder to an agent than sending out a first draft masquerading as a novel.

3) What's missing? After all the blood sweat and tears, not to mention heart and soul and oceans of Denny's coffee you've already poured into your magnum opus, what more can it possibly need? The one essential ingredient: time. A finished novel takes time; it has to marinate in your brain for awhile after the first passionate flush of actual writing.

Cut the cord and put it away for at least a couple of weeks, or at best, a couple of months. When you take it out again, you'll be amazed at how much perspective you've gained, how much work there is yet to be done, and (if you're like me), how many bonehead typos there are that you missed the first time around.

NaNoWriMo is an effective way to jump-start that idea that's been germinating in your psyche forever, but it's no substitute for the plain, hard work of writing a novel. You've already come this far; now give that masterpiece the extra time and thought it deserves.

At the very least, don't send it out until after the New Year!


  1. LOL - after the New Year it will still be a gigantic mess that no one should see. I'll be working on it long afterwards. Good advice, Lisa.

  2. Thanks, Robyn!

    Remember, kids, it's not supposed to be easy; it's supposed to be good!