If you completed Nanowrimo this year, you most likely not only needed a good rest, but also a break from your story so you could figure out what to do next with your Nano book. If your Nano manuscripts are anything like mine, they're a hot mess!
Facing those edits can be daunting, so I'd like to offer a few tips to help you whip your manuscript into publishable shape in the new year:
One of the best things about Nanowrimo is that usually you're pretty tired at the end of it, and your family and friends want to see you again after a month of you ignoring them, which forces you away from your book. This rest time is essential because it gives you time to switch from creative right-brained thinking to analytical left-brained editing mode.
The holiday season also gives you time away from your book so you can gain distance and perspective, which will enable you to make hard choices about what to re-write or delete. So forget about your book until the new year - for the sake of your story!
When you sit down again at your laptop in January, the first thing you want to do is re-read your entire manuscript (in one go, if you can) with an eye on the story structure and character arcs. Do your characters grow and change? Does the story have rising action, a climax, and a resolution?
My next suggestion is that you write a synopsis for your story, if you haven't already done so. Now that you know the story and characters intimately, create a condensed version of your book that will help you identify any weak spots, and help you as you start to edit. Check out my post on creating an effective synopsis for how to use the synopsis as a plotting tool.
Once you've read through the manuscript, you can start with developmental edits. These are big picture edits: character development, fixing plot holes, deleting entire scenes that aren't adding value. This is why you need distance from your manuscript. It can be heart-breaking to change scenes and delete characters you're still very attached to! Try to work on these edits a little every day, in the same way you write every day on Nano, so that the story stays fresh in your mind. Jami Gold has this blog post on developmental edits that's worth a read.
Only once you've done these developmental edits, and you're sure you have all the scenes you need, that the story makes sense and the characters behave consistently, I recommend taking another break of at least a couple of weeks from your book. This is tough to do if you're on a deadline, but trust me, time away from your book helps you see the book with fresh eyes.
Now you're ready to start copy editing. Your manuscript is already a strong story, but you still need to polish the actual writing. You are now going to slowly work your way through your novel, looking at each sentence individually. Have you used strong active verbs? Are your sentences Showing rather than Telling? In next week's post, I'll provide a comprehensive list of things you should look out for when copy editing.
Your next step is to (finally!) let someone else see your work. Find a beta reader or critique partner in your genre to give feedback.
Once you have worked through the feedback you've received from your trusted reader, making changes where needed, or discarding what doesn't work for you, you should now be ready to start submitting to publishing houses. Read through your entire manuscript one more time, polish up that synopsis, write your query letter, and send your baby out into the big, wide world. If you're self-publishing your books, this is now the time to send your manuscript to the professional editor you've hopefully hired.
By this point, you'll probably already be heartily sick of your novel - and it's still not over yet! You'll still have at least one or two rounds of edits with an editor, and will need to do a final proofread for typos and formatting issues before this book is publishable. And you thought writing your Nano novel was the toughest part of writing a book?!