So, I’ve made it, and I hope that most of you who have also been noveling this November have also made it or will shortly! Often I’m asked by people I get chatting with over Nanowrimo, what I do with my novel afterwards. I have a pretty set path for how I deal with it, actually.
1) Let the novel sit.
This step for me is critical. I’ve spent an intense burst of energy over it. Now I need some detachment from it and letting it sit for anywhere from a few weeks to several months can help me get a fresh view on it. How long a book needs to rest between drafting and editing depends on the project, but even if I’m hot to get revising on it, I let it sit at least a week or two.
2) Reread the whole novel and take notes.
When approaching revisions, it’s good to get a sense of the whole picture, the big book issues, what got missed or needs changing, and so I reread the draft at a quick pace, looking for these bigger issues. From my notes on it, I create a revision outline.
Once my revision outline is complete, I attack the novel for a first revision. My goal is at the end to have a novel that a person can read from beginning to end and enjoy, without any of those [name the city later] type notes in it.
4) Get critiques on the novel.
No matter how good I feel the book is, getting outside feedback is essential. Even with time letting the book sit, I’m too close to my work to be able to be the sole editor. Every novel should get not just one, but several outside opinions. In my mind, the more the better.
There’s several good ways to get a novel critiqued. Unfortunately, the first two popular ones are the worst ways: asking friends or relatives and sending the book to agents/editors. Friends and relatives often don’t share your same interests, tastes, and can be unreliable getting back to you on the novel. Bugging them stresses your relationships and you may not get a helpful or honest opinion either.
Agents and editors involve long waits and often brief form rejections. When they do give feedback it’s often quite useful, but after only one revision a book is not ready for that and it’s a waste of everyone’s time.
In my mind, the best people to read and critique your novel are other writers in the same genre. I believe this for some very good reasons.
–as they are writers, they will share your same passion and drive about writing and making stories better
–as they are in your genre they will be interested in your novel and most helpful
–when all of you finally reach publication you have ready-made contacts within the industry
I’ve used critique groups for years and there’s a wide variety of ways they work. Here’s some basic categories and their pros and cons:
Real life Critique Groups
These are groups who meet periodically in real life. People either send each other the manuscripts ahead of time, or some of them take turns reading it aloud while meeting.
Pros: There’s high accountability, you’re meeting these people in real life, you’d better get your part done. There’s also high energy, something very invigorating about connecting with people in person and a group can get wonderful brainstorms through talking about your work.
Cons: It can be difficult to fit everyone’s schedules in such a way that you can all meet. Sometimes the number of local writers is small or most of the people you can find who are interested aren’t in your genre. The word count of how much you can submit each round is also limited.
Email Critique Groups
These function the same as a real life group, but are all done in email. Usually there’s a site that orchestrates making the groups by genre or interest, and then everyone is sent everyone else’s email. They all run slightly different, either one person takes a turn getting critiqued each week, or perhaps everyone submits a chapter or short selection that everyone else crits within the group’s period.
Pros: You can do crits on your own time without worrying about meeting up with people. It’s easier to get a group in your particular genre.
Cons: It can take many months to get through a whole novel chapter by chapter with the word count limits most groups require to keep everyone’s work load down. You don’t get the real time energy that meeting up in person can create.
Whole Novel Exchanges by Email
This is a more unstructured way of doing things. You connect with some writers online and each mail the other person your novel in exchange for theirs. I usually do this with people I’ve known for a while on forums or in chat rooms, but sometimes may exchange with someone I just met if they’re asking for partners.
Pros: Someone reads your entire novel in one go, getting a larger, whole book perspective. You can work at your own pace and time to do your critiquing back.
Cons: It can take a long time with no checks to keep everyone on track. Sometimes people forget to get back to you or life takes over. It’s more critique intensive to read someone’s novel back. You only get one opinion, not a group perspective. Some of them cost a fee to join.
Forum based Critique Workshops
These usually have an accountability system set in place. Either your story must wait in line until it rises to the top of the week’s/month’s selection, or some are point based, where you gather critique points by commenting on other people’s stories/chapters that allow you to post your own.
Pros: A larger selection of people and genres/novels to critique or read from. Often there’s a format to submit chapters one by one, and you can collect a fairly large group of readers, I’ve had 10-20 people following me on larger critique sites. You get a wide range of opinions.
Cons: It can take a long while to put a whole novel through. Some people may critique inconsistently or only part of your novel. Some of the sites require fees to join or have full use of the site. Some require consistent participation to stay a member.
Paid Creative Writing Classes/Workshops
These usually cost money to do, so I’ve never tried one. But I can imagine that you do get what you pay for, both group critiques and an instructor who helps you with your novel. There’s some online as well, and I know some people are very happy with the instruction and interaction. I’ve found the free systems have worked well enough for me so far, but if you have the money and interest, there’s no reason this couldn’t be quite beneficial. I met someone who took a writing/revising series of classes and went on to get an agent and become a NYT best seller. She credits the class for getting her there.
Whichever for of critique you chose, I have personally found the process of giving and receiving critiques invaluable.