QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Did you NaNo? Welcome to the "Now What?" Months

As Jane mentioned at the end of November, November isn't the time to query your NaNo novel. And, despite the glory of starting your year of by sending out batches of queries, that isn't the best idea, either. After all, traditional advice for revision includes waiting (at least) a month between your first draft and your first re-read, so you can look at the story with fresh eyes.

So, using the official NaNoWriMo etymology, January and February are the "Now What?" months. This, however, is where the official site falls short. Per their page on revisions, they recommend the same kind of "anything goes" approach to revisions as they do to writing.

While I (and most others) are all for first drafts in which anything goes and nothing matters but the words on the page, revisions should be approached more carefully. There are many moving parts in a novel that need to be in perfect alignment if you want the smoothest, most enthralling story for your readers. You need to have characters that are well-developed and (usually) follow a character arc, a plot that hits the major plot points, and a theme that comes organically out of the characters and plots.

It can be overwhelming to think about everything your novel needs when you first sit down to re-read what you've written. The most important thing you can do is realize what you have accomplished. Think about the strengths in your story. Consciously dwell on the pieces you're most proud of--whether it's a specific line, or a plot twist, or a fascinating character you just love. You've already done more than most people ever will: you've written a novel!

There are lots of successful writers who use intuition in revision, but if it's your first go of it, or you like a little more structure, I recommend finding a revision process that works for you. I use the detailed revisions process laid out by Susan Dennard as a jumping off point, which has evolved over time to suit me.

A Google search for "Revising your novel" leads to a lot of x-step guides to a finished novel. Holly Lisle, for instance, says she edits a full novel in one to two weeks and if you're taking more than a few months you're probably doing it wrong. I disagree with her, especially if writing isn't your full-time job. Many of us, myself included, simply don't have the time to devote 6- to 8-hour days to working through our manuscript. Take the time you need to take. That said, she offers excellent advice (set a realistic deadline for yourself; write the best book you can now, without worrying about the best book you can write next year) and some great questions to ask as you re-read. Despite the title, Anne Lyle's Revising Your Novel in 10 Easy Steps doesn't overly simplify the process, but gives you a great place to start and concrete steps toward making your book the best it can be.

If you either enjoy consciously plotting story structure or don't understand much about it, K.M. Weiland's website, Helping Writers Become Authors, is my go-to website for learning about structure. There are series on structuring the whole of a book, structuring scenes, and structuring character arcs, as well as a database of examples and a plethora of other things. If you don't know what to look for when it comes to making sure your story holds together, her website is an excellent source.

However you choose to go about revision, there are a few things to remember:

  • Always revise big picture first and details last. If you have to add a new scene, treat it like a new first draft, making sure the right things happen before making sure dialogue is perfect before making sure typos are absent.
  • There comes a time when you will need to show your work to critique partners and betas. This is absolutely necessary before sending to agents or out for self-publishing. For me, this step is after my second draft, when I've done my revision for the big picture and tackled much, but not all, of the smaller issues. For you, it might be after the first draft, so your critique partner can work as a sounding board for how to change things. It could be as you write, chapter by chapter. It might be after your fifth draft. What matters isn't the timing, it's making sure you get someone else's opinion.
  • Revise again after you receive feedback. Probably set it aside for a few weeks and revise another time after that. Revise until you're not sure you like the story anymore. Then stop, trust yourself, and head over to QueryTracker to start querying. That's when you'll be ready.
Rochelle Deans is an editor and author who prefers perfecting words to writing them. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two young children. Her bad habits include mispronouncing words, correcting grammar, and spending far too much time on the Internet.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A poignant story of love and self discovery that you've already forgotten

My family watches MST3K's Santa Claus Conquers The Martians every Christmas. It's our personal wacky tradition, and often I surprise myself by catching a new reference even though I've seen it twenty times.

This year, I caught Tom Servo whispering under his breath. Joel has managed to get ahold of some classic Christmas films, and then at the end he's down to a few low-budget films from the bottom of the bag.

Joel: This one is The Christmas That Totally Ruled. It's about a curmudgeonly old man who learns the true meaning of Christmas.
Servo: Fresh idea!

The meta-irony here, of course, is that I found something fresh in a movie I've seen at least twenty-five times, but for now, just keep it in mind that every genre has its cliches.

On January 1st, I got a multi-book ad in my inbox, and one of the books was this:

"A poignant story of love and self-discovery." Doesn't that make you want to run right out and plunk twenty dollars on the counter at Barnes and Noble? "I heard someone talking about this book," you might say. "It was really intriguing, and I just can't get the concept out of my mind."

Or, as Servo would say, "Fresh idea!"

Would I be correct in assuming that fifty percent of the books published in the past hundred years involve love or self-discovery? And that many involve both? This particular book's genre is literary. Can you name a title in the literary genre that in no way deals with self-discovery? Some characters may resist self-discovery, but I think in most literary fiction, discovering things about oneself drives the character development.

What makes literary love and self-discovery so precious to the reader are the circumstances under which they take place. The love takes place across enemy lines at wartime. The self-discovery occurs at great personal price in a woman wondering why she consistently sacrifices for people who don't value her at all.

Queriers, take heed. Anyone who takes part in a Twitter pitch event like #PitMad, take even more heed. Don't do this to your story.

Do not pitch your romance as "A couple meets and falls in love, but they face many obstacles to happiness." Yes, that's a given. Tell me that he's an animal rights activist and she's a slaughterhouse owner, and now we've got something more memorable.

Similarly, don't query your fantasy as "In a world where magic is commonplace, one amulet may hold the key to power."

(I can do this all day. "In order to succeed, Chris will have to overcome many hurdles, but the stakes have never been higher!")

Avoid having your future agent to open your query and mutter, "Fresh idea!" just before deleting it.

  1. Read widely in your genre so you'll know the standard tropes.
  2. Go beyond those tropes when pitching your story. You can do that by including setting, timeframe, or other details that set your book apart.
  3. Keep touch with those tropes, though, so your story feels comfortably within its genre. 
The last point means you need to take your trope and leave it unsaid while simultaneously dancing all around it. 

Take your curmudgeonly old man learning the true meaning of Christmas. Don't say curmudgeonly, but tell us he's hated Christmas ever since his wife died four years ago on Christmas Eve. Don't say he learns the true meaning of Christmas, but give us a bit of his situation (maybe he volunteers to take a 24-hour shift at a local animal shelter so everyone else can have the day with their kids.) And then give us the situation that challenges our MC's steady state. He finds a runaway boy huddling among the dog crates for warmth, and now they're going to spend Christmas together.

We don't need to hear "finds the true meaning of Christmas" but by that point in the pitch, your brain has anticipated the trope, and now we want to know about the kid, about the man, about the puppy we're sure the kid is going to bond with during the holiday, and maybe about the turkey sandwich they split because all the takeout places are closed and it's the only food in the building.

Maybe you want to read it now. Maybe I do too.

I suspect the poor book in the ad above is a complicated and intriguing novel that a beleaguered marketing intern on a deadline had no idea how to pitch, and that's why it ended up as "love and self-discovery."

But for your own complicated and intriguing novel, see how much you can add with only a little work. Try adding in a timeframe: "A story of love and self-discovery during the Black Plague." Or a location: "A story of love and self-discovery at a hot dog cart in Times Square." Or character: "An anarchist descendant of Alexander Hamilton engages in a journey of love and self-discovery."

Take the hobbles off your story so the thing can stretch out and run. And then, when it catches your future agent's eye, she'll say, "Fresh idea!" and really mean it.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

An Insider’s Look at the Querying Process, Part I

It’s a brand new year, aspiring authors! Perhaps 2017 will be the year you land an agent or a book deal, or both. Now that the holiday doldrums are over, the querying trenches await. Full of hope, and filled with more than a little anxiety, we polish up our query letters and make sure our manuscript is revised, edited, and ready to go out into the treacherous waters of an agent’s query inbox, which bears the unfortunate appellation of slush pile.

To help start off the new year with some useful information direct from the source, I asked literary interns Lindsay Warren and Tia Mele of Talcott Notch Literary Services to provide the QT blog readers with some insight into how queries are evaluated, and to answer some questions I think all querying authors have asked themselves at one time or another.

QUESTION 1. Conventional wisdom is that "The hook, the book and the cook" is the best, tried and true, template for a query letter. Do you agree or disagree and why?

(For those unfamiliar with the phrase, it basically refers to a query format where you “hook” the agent or editor’s interest with an enticing line or two, then describe the book’s main character and conflict (i.e., the stakes) and then wrap up with your author bio, in a brisk, professional, cover letter)

Lindsay: “As an overall format for what goes where, this is a good starting point. I definitely agree with the book and cook as significant portions, but I'm not personally in need of a hook (by which I mean a pithy one-liner about what's going to happen in the story). If you look at jacket flap copy as an example, a well-done hook can be great, but I like to focus on the paragraphs delving into the characters, their inciting incident and stakes, and how tension is going to build throughout the story. Hooks can be great bonus points, but not every book is going to translate easily into one.”

Tia: “I think this is the perfect template for authors to follow when writing their queries! The book and the cook are the most important - tell me what your book is about and who the author is. As for the hook, if you can write a good one that makes sense, then definitely include it. But if a hook is something you struggle with, leave it out. Let your book description speak for itself!  Following this hook, book, cook template also helps weed out the extra information authors sometimes include with their queries. More on that in question two!”

QUESTION 2. What are the most common mistakes people make in their queries an opening pages?

Lindsay: “For queries, there are a lot of basics that authors miss (addressing the query to a specific agent, including genre and word count, including sample pages when the agency website requests them). Unless an agency specifies otherwise, I highly recommend pasting pages into the body of the query e-mail--many of us aren't fans of unsolicited attachments.

As far as content rather than formatting, it's really important to keep the query focused on the most important and/or unique aspects of the story. Who is the main character (or who are the main characters)? What makes this person a unique-enough protagonist? What obstacles are they going to face and what tools do they have to try to push through? A large part of the trick is finding ways to show the agent these things rather than spell them out. One thing that can happen is that the querying author never quite gets to the "point" of the story: sometimes they focus on describing things about the story world that aren't needed, or just offering too many details in general, or they editorialize and/or include reader or editor feedback on their work, or they put more words into the "cook" portion than the "book."

In short, the query should be a miniature story that's coherent in its own right. An author is never going to hit all the nuances of what makes their book great, but it's good to point to what an agent would find should they request more.”

Tia: “The biggest mistake I find in queries is either giving too much or not enough information. I want to have a relatively good idea of what the book is about after I have read the query. But I don't really need to know that the author's great uncle's cat has the same name as the main character. Relevant information is important - what is this book about? But authors can get a little carried away with their queries and add in a ton of extra information, drop names that have no meaning, or try to flatter the agent with "personal" references, and that's not necessary. Make us want to read your book because of your book, not because you know people and you copied and pasted a couple of sentences from the agent's bio!

For opening pages, typos and grammatical errors are deal breakers! It's hard to catch every little thing, but it's important that authors read and reread to make sure there are no blatant mistakes. The first thing that catches my eye when I'm reading first pages is a typo or a word used incorrectly or in the wrong form and I have trouble continuing after that point!

Also watch out for pacing. If ten pages in the main character is still sipping her coffee and petting her cat Whiskers, I'm going to be bored and I probably won't request any additional pages. If in the first ten pages, the main character has already been in twelve fights, lost an arm, and rescued Whiskers from a tree, I probably won't want any more pages either. Too much too quickly is as much of a turn off as not enough going on. There has to be a balance and that balance is what makes me want to continue reading to find out what comes next!”

QUESTION 3. What makes the difference between a request for additional pages and a pass?

Lindsay: “Sample-page wise, there are a ton of things to consider, mostly revolving around the choices an author has made, and some things depend on the genre. Does the story open with an actual scene, as opposed to description or internal monologue that doesn't advance the plot? Is the setting reasonable for what the query says the story is going to do? Are the characters believable? Is the dialogue authentic? Is there intrigue or tension that makes me want to keep reading? Is the writing good? Good writing can definitely be subjective, but I'm always looking for a clear voice that offers the right amount of details and balance between internal and external considerations.

All of these craft elements go into what I'll call "confident writing." The author needs to convince me they know who their characters are and what their story is, both on the page and in the things that happen "behind the scenes" of the words--in all the little character interactions and meaningful pauses, etc. Publishing people can help an author make their story even better, but they can't tell an author what the story *is*. Show you know what's happening in what you write (or don't write), and the hope is that the people who are meant to be your readers will pick up what you're putting down.

Aside from the very long craft answer above, the short version would be curiosity to follow the characters and see how their plot unfolds, as well as trust in the author to pull it off. Have I seen enough promise in the first pages to make me excited for 100-400 more?”

Tia:  “A good, strong voice and a well written story will get an immediate request from me. Passes can be because of the reasons I included for question two, or if the writing just isn't up to par. For example, if there is more "telling than showing" in the opening pages or the beginning is just an info-dump that doesn't move the plot forward, I will probably pass.

The plot outlined in the query is a big determinant as well. If the plot seems interesting and I want to read more after the first ten pages, I'll request more. If the plot does not seem interesting or I worry about the execution, then I will usually pass.”

Okay kids, next month there will be more questions, including the one we’ve all asked ourselves: “Hey, does the agent even see my query?”

Stay tuned.

Kim English - is the author of the Coriander Jones series and the award winning picture book 'A Home for Kayla.' Her latest picture book, 'Rolly and Mac' will be released in 2017. Her website is Kim-English.com. She is represented by Gina Panettieri.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Day I Got Tired Of Failure

Back in 2004, I decided I was tired of being a failed writer.

I didn't really know how to turn it around, but for years I'd been a has-been writer, one novel published when I was a wee bairn and then a few scattered short stories since then. Editor-orphaned. Still writing, but everything sitting in a drawer. I was attending a writing group, but I'd kind of gotten used to failure as a steady state.

In 2005, when the new year hit, I decided I was done with that. I'd gotten good at failure, but it didn't have any appeal. Yes, I was a mom with small kids and sure, it was understandable, and of course the market was tough blah blah blah. I was tired of making excuses. I was tired of failure. Time to change things.

So I set myself a goal, and I made sure it was possible to achive through sheer effort. Ready?

I had one year to make my goal. I had to get either 12 acceptances or 100 rejections.

That was it. Either I had to get twelve pieces accepted, and it didn't matter how or where, or I had to get enough rejections that I could accept that I was not and never would be a successful writer. Period. There was no middle ground, and the glory here was that if I worked hard enough, I was going to make either one or the other.

Do the math: if I submitted 111 times, one or the other condition had to be reached.

The grind of publishing is that you cannot force success. You have no idea if you're really writing at peak performance, and you can always do better. You can't control whether your work gets accepted. You can't control how well your work will sell. You can't control your reviews. You can't control whether an agent will request sample pages or whether an editor will send your book to the acquisitions committee.

You can control you.

You can control the number of words you write every week (within limits -- build in a cushion for things like illness and unexpected emergencies.)  You can control what kind of pieces you're working on. You can control how much you learn about the business. You can control how often you submit your work.

In my case, I decided that was the way to go. I knew my writing was good enough, and I knew just barely enough of the business to get started freelancing. (I read two books to learn more about it so I stood a chance of hitting the twelve rather than the hundred.)

My overall goal was to earn a living via novels. I knew that wouldn't happen right out of the gate, though. I'd already done fabulously with one novel, but that had been ages ago, and then nothing. It was more realistic to send out small pieces. So I started scanning calls for submission and looking at what I already had. I worked on short pieces. I looked at the guidelines for magazines I read on a regular basis. And I learned how to write an awesome query.

From a career point, it was probably laughable. I queried a novel to agents and another to editors while simultaneously pitching nonfiction articles, poems, satire, and how-to pieces. It was a flurry of literary activity with no discipline. That's not how you build a career. Careers require focus. They require intense knowledge of one area.

But you know? Along with the rejections, the acceptances started coming in. I even got a couple of checks out of it.

I went to a writer's conference and pitched a magazine editor, and instead of being nervous, I realized I didn't care if she rejected me because even if she rejected me, her rejection got me one step closer to my goal.  (She didn't like that, by the way. I think I was supposed to simper, and I was all out of the need to simper.)

Sometime in November, I hit my goal. I'd made contacts and had money coming in, and I had my first two pieces with a magazine that eventually would list me on their masthead, and I had short stories awaiting publication. Twelve acceptances. I don't remember now how many rejections. Maybe seventy? It didn't kill me.

So for 2017, set yourself a goal. Make it something you can reach without having to control anyone else. Don't worry about doing it wrong. If you need to get yourself started, do something that will get you started and correct your course later on, once you're in motion.

I was tired of being a failed writer, so I changed it. As the year draws to a close, what are you tired of? What can you do to change it?


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Great Holiday Query Dilemma

With the holidays soon upon us, many agents are taking the month off and closing to queries. Still others will remain open, but probably won’t be doing much reading. But some will stay open and active.

So, as a querying author, what do you do? 

Do you hold off querying until January when the agent’s inboxes are exploding? Or do you query in December and hope you’ll stand out in a (hopefully) diminished crowd?

What’s the answer? Sorry, I can’t help you much there. It’s a judgement call. But QueryTracker can provide you with a little helpful information. As we learn of agents closing for the holidays, we’ll add them to our update list at querytracker.net/updates.php#updates so at least you’ll know who not to query. 

What’s your Holiday Query Plan? Let me know in the comments below.

Patrick McDonald is the founder and creator of QueryTracker. Though maintaining QueryTracker keeps him too busy to write anymore, back when he did he tended to write in many different genres. Not because he was eclectic, but because he was still trying to find his niche. Though he never discovered his genre of choice, he did find his home at QueryTracker, a place where he could spend time in his two favorite worlds: writing and programming.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How to publish your NaNoWriMo novel

Don't! Not yet!

Okay, let's back up a step. If you've just completed National Novel Writing Month for the first time (http://nanowrimo.org) you're probably riding the crest of your success, thrilled with your book, and already thinking of what to wear at your first book signing.

I get it. Even though I'm a jaded old lady who knits socks on cold nights, I get it. Right now, you love your book. Love it with every last atom of your heart, and you want it in the hands of readers who will love it just as much as you do and sketch pictures of your favorite scenes to post on their tumblr pages where they tell all their friends to buy your book. You can't even think "my book" without thinking 💜my book💜. I've been there.

Do not try to publish it yet.

1) Your book needs time.

Let your book "rest" a bit so you have time to come down from the endorphin rush. You're in love. You're producing so much oxytocin that you could singlehandedly power a rocket to Neptune and then ride a gravity whip out to Pluto. That's not the time to make any kind of judgment about your book.

Go read someone else's book and force yourself not to look at your manuscript for a little while. Later you can come back to it and be a little more objective about the main character, the plot, the setting -- you know, the small details people tend to want to hang together in a story.

If you have a nagging concern in the back of your mind about one specific part of the story, it's probably correct. Even if you don't yet know how to fix it.

2) Your book needs feedback.

Find a few avid readers who aren't afraid of tears or screaming, and ask them if they'll read the first draft of your book. You might have to look online for what's known as a "beta-reader" but do find one, someone who will read through the story and be unafraid to voice all those repeating concerns you had in the back of your head. You know, about things like the main character, the plot, the setting...  It has to be someone who's not afraid to say things like, "I didn't care what happened to your main character" and "Why didn't he just get in his car and leave the house full of spiders?"

(Yes, even if neither of those things apply to 💜your book.💜 A beta-reader must be tactful but fearless.)

It doesn't feel good to get negative comments, but trust me, when the book is published, no one will hesitate to bestow them upon you by the crate-load. And if you're going to publish traditionally, agents and editors also won't worry about your feelings. If you get a negative response at all, it will be along the lines of, "Not for me." You'll need actual feedback.

3) Your book needs detailed critique and an editor.

Once you've gotten through some beta readers, you want a critique partner to go over the book with you on a much more detailed level. Ideally this should be another writer, that way the two of you can chew on different solutions to complex problems. A beta reader might know the plot is confusing but a critique partner will be the one to point out that these three characters could be combined into one character without any damage to the plot, or that the main character's stakes should be raised in Act III (and then make a suggestion on how to do it.)

4) Your book needs a sharp query and an interesting synopsis

Get both of those ready before you start pitching to agents. Make sure you know exactly how querying works and what to expect when you approach agents. Learn what agents do. If you're going to approach small publishers, you'll need to know what they do too, and the kinds of things they want to see. Get other eyes on your query to make sure it's a tantalizing sales letter for your book.

5) Your book needs not to fall prey to scammers.

The larger NaNoWriMo gets, the more predators are going to try making money off it. Before you even consider publishing your book, you need to learn how publishing works, both traditional and independent. The QueryTracker blog is a good start (this site, if you got here by googling "publishing my nanowrimo novel") but you should also find guidance in writing groups. Double check that any service you use is not a scam.

Traditional agents do not charge money to read or represent your manuscript. Traditional publishers do not charge money to publish your manuscript. You should not be bound by contract to purchase a certain number of your own books. You should not have to earn back the publisher's net expenses before receiving royalties. You should be the owner of your own copyright. You should not be forced to sign a non-compete clause. You should have a lawyer review any contract you sign and be prepared that every sentence of any contract will be leveled against you in the worst possible way. If you can't abide by the strictest interpretation of the document, don't sign the contract.

Many writers are desperate to get their stories out there, but if you try too soon, you will undercut your book's success. Your story...I mean, 💜your story💜 deserves the best you can give it. That means time, editing, and honest business practices.

You finished! Congratulations! Now give 💜your book💜 a huggle and tuck it in to rest for a little while.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

NaNoWriMo for the rest of us...

The QueryTracker Blog Crew are busy getting ready for this week's holiday. In the spirit of the real Reason for the Season--by which I mean NaNoWriMo--I'm sharing a past article on my own NaNo misadventures. Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving to all to celebrate! ~*~ Cheers, Ash

I have a confession to make: I’ve NaNo’d. And I’ve NaNo’d badly.

I know the rules for National Novel Writing Month. It’s all about the word count. The aim is to bar all excuses and get that first draft down. Goal is 50,000 words in the thirty days of November, during which you mark your progress in your NaNo profile.

For the past three years, I’ve used NaNo to plump up the word counts of my side projects while working on my Demimonde series. But I’ve never hit my 50k goal. Not once.

The biggest obstacle to getting my first draft down isn’t writer’s block or inspiration or ambition. Plain and simple, it’s time. I work full-time outside the home (as well as inside the home, thanks to my wonderfully over-active family life). My writing time is at a premium: solitary mornings between school bus and work, waiting time while kids are at judo, a few hours on my days off.

I’m willing to try any system that forces me to sit down and write. This summer, I participated in a Fast Draft with a group of writers, during which we wrote in sprints with support from each other. I had a major deadline to meet and the week-long event fueled my drive to meet it. (For more on my experience with Fast Draft, read this.)

The annual NaNo is another tool I try to use, but I always feel like I join in with a handicap.

Think thirty days is too short a time to write a novel draft? Try ten. That’s all the time I have to participate. I suppose if I could write 5k a day on each of those ten days, I’d have it made. Although I have never actually managed that, it does provide me with a theoretically plausible goal. That’s why I NaNo each year—there’s always hope.

NaNo: The Winners

I envy those writers who win their NaNo. I see their proclamations and their nifty I WON badges all over the place and I invariably end up scolding myself for not trying harder. But I don’t scold very hard or very long because, while I was never a definitive winner, I usually got good work done.

And NaNo’ing isn’t just designed to give writers an exercise in endurance or inspiration to get those latent stories written. Our WriMo books aren’t always meant to hide away in drawers and on hard drives. I’ve read accounts where writers went on to finish the books and get them published. You can see the lists of books that NaNo participants have published, many by traditional houses.
Stuff like that is inspirational. More so, it's intimidating for the rest of us.

Sure, there are loads of NaNo winners, and heaps of success stories for the books that made it to the light of day. But I was never one of them. I’ve never hit 50k in a month. I’ve never ended up with a first draft by November 30th. That’s why I feel like a bad NaNo’er.

My project in 2011 fared pretty well, with just over 30K for the month. I might have actually written a little more, but I was doing final edits on the first Demimonde novel, which came out the following March. NaNo 2012 was completely abysmal by comparison; I simply wasn’t committed to the project because I was busy promoting the first Demimonde book while editing the second, which was due out in six months. I think I spent more time revamping my NaNo profile than I did writing.

This past November, my edits on the third Demimonde book had been submitted early and I was between projects. I had space to breathe and think about an unfinished project that had been brewing in the back of my head. Although I only spent six days on NaNo 2013, I managed 15k words, plus a synopsis. (I think the synopsis impressed me more than anything because books are easy, by comparison.)

Three years, three projects, and none of them “winners”.

The Rest Of Us

But I didn’t lose. Not by a long shot. Despite my shortcomings, I think there may be hope for me yet because I decided NaNoWriting doesn’t have to be limited to a single “Mo”.

The project from 2011 didn’t just evaporate in the ether. I pulled it out this past summer and read through the unfinished book. I still loved the idea of the story and decided those 30k words were too much to let languish. In August, I resurrected the file and enlisted the help of a professional reference/fellow author/good friend and began investigating the details of the psychology in the story. I went on to finish the first draft in early October and revised over the next two months. Bugged a few beta readers, entered a few contests, revised some more…and today it’s ready for the eyes of an editor.

It took two years, but my NaNo ’11 book got written, got edited, and got submitted. Hopefully, it’ll get published, too.

Two years to a complete first draft. Not thirty days. And I don’t feel bad about it.

The True Spirit of NaNoWriMo

In the meantime, I carry a bit of NaNo around in my writer’s soul every day. I look forward to the NaNo emails that arrive throughout the year.

Right now we are in the "I Wrote a Novel, Now What?" months. A recent email addressed helpful topics for all writers, including tips on editing, participation in writers’ communities, and an invitation to a program on the subject of self-publishing.

Writing a novel isn’t a dash. It’s more like a relay race, and your novel is the baton. The first leg of the race is the first draft. Then, you pass the baton on to the edits and revisions, which make several more laps. The race still doesn’t end there; you hand the baton off to critique partners or beta readers. Perhaps you’ll pass it to an agent or the editor of a small press. Then the edits and revisions do a few more laps before reaching the finish line, where your readers await.

Does it sound like a lot of running in circles? Sure it does.  But never for one moment think you aren’t going anywhere. Even a spring can be straightened into a straight line—and the length of it may surprise you.

Some writers can get the first lap done in thirty days, during NaNoWriMo. I’m not one of them. But I do encourage every writer to participate. Don’t miss out on a fabulous program just because you can’t write for thirty days or because you’re sure you can’t get that word count down. You may not make the 50k goal and you may not earn a Winner’s badge, but you’ll have a new reason to sit and write, a source of encouragement and support, and access to helpful resources throughout the year.

In the long run, you just might finish that book, and edit it, and publish it. To me, that’s a huge win.

Author's note: out of the four books I started during NaNo, two are now published. One is through The Wild Rose Press and has won several awards...the other became my indie-pubbed international best seller.

Do not underestimate the power of the work you do during NaNo. Start writing, keep writing, and don't slow down! Good luck, everyone.

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. She's the author of the urban fantasy trilogy The Books of the Demimonde as well as WORDS THAT BIND. She also writes for YA and NA audiences under the pen name AJ Krafton. THE HEARTBEAT THIEF, her Victorian dark fantasy inspired by Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” (and NaNo project), is now available.