For those of you reading who have crushed your NaNoWriMo goals—congratulations! While I’ve never completed a proper November NaNo challenge, my first manuscript was assembled in a 30 day/50k marathon. I still remember the moment I finished: I was sitting at my dining room table in the head chair on a late August afternoon. I saw that word count cross 50,000 and immediately started crying. I couldn’t remember another moment where I’d felt so proud about something I’d accomplished.
If you’re reading this after 30 days of later nights, earlier mornings, and forgone social engagements—I cannot applaud you enough. YOU DID IT. And I hope you got your moment.
But, for the love of all that is good on this planet, don’t you dare query your fresh NaNo project tomorrow.
There are SO many reasons for not to query your NaNo immediately (the obvious one being that December being a traditionally busy month, both for those who celebrate Christmas and those who need to get a lot of work done before the end of the year)—but I’ve narrowed it down to what are, in my opinion, three of the most logical reasons not to shoot yourself in the foot by querying on December 1st:
- It’s too short.
50,000 words is not a lot.
It is a lot to write in 30 days—that’s valid. But it does not mean your manuscript is a book.
As a writer and future author, it’s critical to know the typical lengths of books for the audience you are writing for. This post by Chuck Sambuchino lays it out really well. Exceptions do happen, but they’re rare—and after busting your butt for 30 days, you don’t want to approach querying from so narrow an angle as “maybe I’ll get lucky?”.
When agents see word counts that are egregiously low (or high) for their age group, it’s an automatic red flag. Search #querytip on Twitter and you’ll see tweets from a lot of frustrated agents getting books that radically deviate from standard word counts.
Learn all you can about your genre and target age group (and yes, they are different things). Go to the library and check out every book on publishing, even ones that don’t relate directly to what you’re working on (the more you can learn about the industry, the better). Get to know the ballpark word counts, and make sure yours fits. Don’t blow your chance with a dream agent by turning them off with word count.
(You’ll notice that in Chuck’s post, he says 50k is healthy for a MG book,—but you still shouldn’t query for reasons 2 and 3 below)
- It’s a mess.
A lot of writers I see participating in NaNo know this already, but it’s worth discussing.
If J.K. Rowling wrote 50k in 30 days, she wouldn’t send it to her editor the next day. If [insert your favorite author here] wrote 50k in 30 days, they wouldn’t send it to their editor the next day. No way.
I promise you, I promise I’m not saying that because the writing is bad—but it’s probably not your best.
When you write so quickly and never look back, you miss things. You will call a character’s brother “Chad” in one chapter and “Charlie” in another. You’ll write a character walked out of a room, only to magically be back in the room a paragraph later. And how long was Aunt Martha’s hair in Chapter 2? Which side was the hot guy’s dimple on again? You may not remember—and that’s okay! Inconsistencies add up when you are not allowing yourself time to revise. I had more than a fair share of characters reappearing in rooms when I went to revise my NaNo project.
Be patient with yourself and with your work, and give it the time it deserves. This may mean 3 more drafts; maybe 10. You only get one shot to query—make sure your work is edited, revised, and polished to perfection before you ever hit “send”.
- You need more than a manuscript to query.
But I wrote the darn thing! Yes, you wrote the darn thing. I will say once more that that accomplishment is big, special, and worth celebrating. You are worth celebrating.
However, you’ll need more than a manuscript to query.
Before you hit “send”, you should have an arsenal of materials at the ready, and then those materials should be formatted to the guidelines that apply to each agency. These guidelines are not the same for all agencies, so take your time to review the agency’s website and make sure what you’re sending them is what they want (and nothing else. If they want more, they will ask).
Things you should have at the ready:
I also recommend having chunks of your MS saved—Chapters 1-3, the first 50 pages, etc.—as docs, so that you can more quickly assemble your emails to agents. Don’t forget to properly title your files with your book’s name as well as your own, lest your work be in a swamp of docs called “NaNoWriMo2017_FINALFINALIdidit.docx”.
That’s all for now! Whether you hit your NaNo goal or not, I’m proud of you. Every day that you get in a chair and write out the story of your heart is a victory, and victories should be celebrated (just don’t celebrate with querying too fast)