In the Ottawa County-Grand Rapids region for the National Novel Writing Month competition, several authors hit the 50,000-word mark by the middle of the month — i.e., after two weeks of writing. Others will struggle to hit 50k by the end of the month. Still others will probably make 50k(ish) but keep hammering away through December and beyond.

We’re bullish about NaNoWriMo, as a creative-writing exercise. It forces people to “just do it” and experiment with different genres and modes of writing. All of that effort is surely valuable. But very little of that work product is ready for production on December 1.

If you took to heart our September post about eight points to ponder for your NaNo prep, you’re probably already ahead of the curve. Regardless, if you think that this novel is the one you can shop around, consider:

  • A typical novel by a heretofore unpublished author typically runs around 85k words with the larger presses. A novel around 50k is very short. We’ve published one — A Broken Race — but it was a solid story by an experienced writer. Most 50k manuscripts just aren’t in the sweet spot for print publishing, because they’re on the thin side, leading to lower price points, which leads to lower per-unit margins.
  • Novels that defy easy genre classifications are almost surely not going to be picked up by a mainstream publisher. There’s just too much difficulty in placing fusion work before the right target audience. Some specialized smaller presses (or looser imprints of medium-sized presses) will sometimes pick up fusion work if it fits with their theme, but … that’s a big if.
  • Other people will need to read your work first. We at Caffeinated Press are still somewhat young as a publishing company, but we can already spot un-revised first drafts within the first 100 words. We recommend that you find several beta readers to give the story a complete stem-to-stern evaluation. They’ll help you find the most common structural errors in fiction writing, as well as the most obvious line errors that bedevil you. Almost no writer, including big-name authors popular in today’s market, write well enough on their own that they can write and self-edit and find it’s sufficient to get a contract. If you think you think you’re an exception to the rule, then look to your growing pile of rejection letters and un-answered queries and re-evaluate your assumption.
  • Despite our appreciation for beta readers as your first line of defense against inadvertent drafting errors, as a matter of pure pragmatism, you’ll probably need to hire a professional editor to give the manuscript a final review. A real book editor will find both substantive and syntactical problems and help you get a high polish on your project. Especially if you want to aim high and obtain an agent and a large press, it’s almost a given that you’ll need to pay a pro to give you a detailed edit. Them’s the breaks.

In other words: A NaNo novel that “wins” by Nov. 30 probably isn’t ready for shopping until the spring, after rounds of self-editing, beta reading and professional editing. Submissions that hit our Query form in December, then, are almost surely going to be rejected — the same as with other publishers.

Before You Shop That #NaNoWriMo Novel …
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