From Nanowrimo to Publication: A Guest Post by Jeff Cook

The below is a guest post from Jeff Cook:

First, Lyn, thank you very much for the opportunity to appear on your blog. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Now for the details. Here’s the things I’ve learned about the process of taking a Nanowrimo project to publication. Now, I’m not a best-selling author, but I have published two books, with two more coming out early next year (one self-published, one traditionally published.) I’ve also been accepted in a number of anthologies. I can’t tell you how to hit it big, land the high end agent, and retire… but I have learned a few things about putting out a book that will garner pretty good reviews from reviewers I’ve never met, getting past the gates of the publishing world (there’s a lot of them), self-publishing vs. trad-publishing, and putting out a book you can be proud of. I have a long way to go, and a lot to learn, but within a year of publishing, the books are at least helping make a significant dent in the bills. So take from this what you will.

First, other authors are NOT your competition. We’re in this together. Trying to bring down anyone else’s work does not benefit you. Most authors that I’ve met have become my biggest resources. We network, we help each other find places to submit short stories to build our readership, we work on projects together, and we give each other advice based on experience. A lot of people much further along in this process than me have been a tremendous amount of help. I belong to a group of authors who help share the costs of tables at street fairs, book events and conventions, and sometimes give each other bits of editing and critique help. I push other writers that I’ve worked with and come to respect every chance I get, and while it doesn’t go both ways every time, sometimes it does. (And when it does, you’d be amazed how much more impact recommendations from others have on making some sales, instead of people trusting the author. Of course the author says their book is great. But when one of their friends, or an author they like says it, they’re more prone to check the other book out.)

Second, Nanowrimo is fantastic. Writing is such a lonely thing, its great to have that community and people striving for the goal right along with you. However, remember that your Nanowrimo project is not a novel, even if you hit way more than 50k words. What you have is a first draft. The number of first drafts in the world that were truly ready for publication right off are very, very few. Jack Kerouac could do it. You are not Jack Kerouac.

If you really want to reach publication, take your book seriously and treat your ideas with the love they deserve. Edit them viciously. Trim the fat: get rid of things that don’t advance the story. Kill characters, or consider letting characters live after all if they still served a purpose. Revise and rewrite, then read aloud, and do it again. You’d be amazed what you’ll catch when you’re hearing your work. After you have the big chunks cut out, fix your grammar. Do multiple read-throughs for grammatical mistakes.

Ok, so you’ve done three or four editing passes and major rewrites. Now you have something you can show to an editor. Now, a few people can edit their own work. Two authors I know, James Baldwin and Kennedy J. Quinn are phenomenal at this. I wish I had their skill at it. I’m just not a good editor. My talents lie with putting lots and lots of words on a page quickly. I can revise and rewrite, and I can help pick out parts I’m not happy with, but I know I need help. I’ve found that the vast, vast majority of writers I’ve met either realize this same thing about themselves, or should. Be brutally honest, and get unbiased eyes on your story. This is for 3 reasons.

1. You HAVE missed things. You’re too close to your story.

2. Because you’re too close to the story, you may be too in love with it, and gloss over scenes without a purpose, or that don’t read the way you’re picturing in your head.

3. Because you’re too close to the story, you probably hate parts of it. A lot of people are their own worst critics. Get fresh eyes that you trust on it, or eyes that have experience at this stage, professional skill, and no attachment to the story, and let them find their favorite parts.

Next, please believe your editor, and eventually your beta readers. Too many people rush to publication with terrible material because they only let biased people read their work, or people who would just tell them what they want to hear. Find people who will be vicious, then at least take a serious look at what they’re talking about. This doesn’t mean change every single thing they say. Its still your story, but if you ask them to be rough on your story, don’t hate them when they are.

Additionally, tell them to also tell you the good things, aiming for about one positive for every 3-4 negatives. Nothing, and I mean nothing hurts more in edits than having people who read the beta draft later ask why you cut their favorite scene – and having to tell them that it was because they didn’t tell you it was their favorite scene, or you’d have not cut it to make other edits easier.

Finally, look at your cover art. Are you a professional level visual artist? If not, find someone who is, whether a friend, or someone you pay. Yes, the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” is popular, but most people do. At the very least, looking at a cover makes the first impression on a reader, answering the question “Does the author think enough of their work to produce a professional looking final product?”

I think I’ve run out of space here, but I hope this helps a few people in taking the immediate next steps once they have their draft done for the month. Good luck, everyone!

Thank you,
Jeffrey Cook

Jeffrey Cook is the author of Dawn of Steam: First Light (http://www.amazon.com/dp/149427650X/ ) and Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00N5D9BK4/) His third book, Mina Cortez: Boquets to Bullets (a YA science fiction novel) will be published through Fire & Ice Press in February, while the third and (for now) final book of the Dawn of Steam series will be out in April. He has also contributed to publications for Steampunk Trails Magazine, Free-Flowing Stories and Disaster Strikes anthologies, and Deep7 Games out of Seattle.

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