It’s December and NaNoWriMo has finished. Now that the deadline has passed, it’s time for authors to decide what to do with their works. A lot of writers are looking to publish their novels, and others are just happy to finally get their story out. If you’re one of those who has decided to publish, you have more work to do than you could possibly imagine.
Publishing may seem daunting. If you’ve decided not to publish it’s not the end of the road. That’s because the best thing that writers get out of the writing experience is practice. Learning a style and learning how to write an engaging story takes a lot of practice, just like anything else takes repetition to get good at. John Cleese has an amazing quote about how ideas that he writes down as soon as he has them are never as good they will be the next day when he remembers them. Your story doesn’t disappear because the experience and the ideas that it has made will make your next story better.
Besides, not every project is destined for sale. I am a broken record on this, or at least I should be a broken record on this if I am not already a broken record on this. There are loads of great options for your story even if it shouldn’t be sold. Fact of the matter is that writing as a hobby gives you freedom and it is fun, so I encourage releasing it in parts in a writing community instead. Also, don’t forget that Public Domain is an extremely noble cause. And probably most important, your story could be a free product. Other finished works are never really finished because they always need promoted, and what better way than to give this year’s novel out for free?
So how do you know if this is the right project to publish? I have a simple guideline that helps me. “If you don’t love your project enough to smother it, then it’s the wrong project.” What I mean by this is that people who truly love their projects don’t want them to see the light of day until they are perfect. Every single thought of sharing it is scary because it just might not be done yet. It needs more polish, and a perfect cover, and there just might be a better first sentence. And that title, it’s a working title anyway.
The beauty in this is that projects can start out small and continue to become better and better as more love is poured into it. This is what we call iterations in software. Make it work, then make it better. Rinse and repeat until it gets released.
I am working with a friend over at Indie+ on a project that is going through the stages of smothering love. Every release is reluctant and met with a nervous desire to make it perfect. As a result of this, the show improves with every episode. The project is good, if not silly, but the effort to polish it until shiny as a wet toad’s eyeball is what makes it so great!
If this is how you feel about your story, then perhaps traditional publishing is right for you. A manuscript has to be smothered with love to near perfection before being submitted to a literary agent. It needs to be edited, revised, copy edited, and the first chapter should be rewritten at least once. This is significantly way more work and money than you put into writing the first draft during NaNoWriMo. And you will most likely give up on this path if your manuscript is not like your baby.
This can be bitter sweet, because in reality, everything goes through “refiners fire.” People, ideas, and projects. In order to make your manuscript sellable, it will be scorched, melted, skimmed of slag, and refired in the furnace until it’s something different than what you first imagined. Even after all this, you still have to love it through this process.
It’s not likes self publishing is too much different. The advantages are that the ending comes quicker, and the refiners fire is easier because you’re the one firing it. You just need to know when to let go and when to keep refining. You could release too early or you could hold onto it forever. This is a big risk of this choice, especially in types, industries, or genres that have to be released quick enough to stay relevant.
My advice, however, is not the end all be all of advice on the subject. That’s because many projects spawn from unexpected places. A wildly successful project in my area is Pittsburgh Dad. A couple of film makers were working on indy projects. They took a break to make it as an inside joke for the family, but suddenly the video went viral. None of their original babies took of, but this one did because it was a great idea. They simply had to grow to love it.
I think that this marks the difference between full-time writers and part-time writers. No matter what you love, if you want to make money, you have to work with material that you hate. You will contribute to other people’s babies. You will look for odd projects to get your name on them. Like any hobby turned into a job, you’ll perform duties, like payroll and taxes, that nobody wants to do just to be allowed to achieve your real goals. And when you finally get back to your baby, you have a deadline and it simply can’t be loved long enough.
So this advice is by no way a means to make money, it is a means to be motivated to make your projects great. If you don’t love your story like a baby, and if you are not embarrassed for it to see the light of day, then something is not right.