As a writer who hopes to one day get her novel published, I find myself fantasizing about my first book signing. I’ll be stationed at a table at one of the popular independent bookstores in town with a long line of avid readers clutching copies of my book as if they are precious cargo, awaiting my signature and some witty note I’ll include.
As my hand starts to cramp from signing my name 40, 50, 60 times, my publicist will pull me aside to tell me it’s time to head to my next event 45 miles down the road where more of my readers are waiting. In this fantasy, I’m at the beginning of my author tour, which will last a year and include not only cities along the Eastern Seaboard but major cities across the country.
But I don’t have to live in the fantasy to enjoy some measure of reality, in order to conduct a book signing or get the practice of doing a public reading. And neither do you. All you need is to have one story published in one publication online or in print to become a celebrated writer.
Recently The Hair Kingdom, the salon in the Roxbury section of Boston where I’m a client, hosted a Saturday afternoon brunch featuring several female entrepreneurs, an up-and-coming professional singer, and me. While we dined on wine, cheese, and some hearty chicken soup served right out of a slow cooker, to tie in with the title of the anthology I’m published in—Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game, I read an excerpt from my essay, “Short Distance Romance.” Then I did a signing. Despite the fact that I have one story in an anthology and not an entire book, the guests at the brunch were excited to meet me and thrilled to spend the afternoon with an author. I made a point to tuck a post card with my blog address into every book I signed. The event was a great way to build an audience and encourage me to keep writing.
“Ready to write a novel? You’ve come to the right place.” So says the website for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo WriMo, as it is affectionately called. NaNo WriMo challenges people to write 50,000 words of a novel during the 30 days of November. But if you’re a novice writer and think that you’ll come up with 50,000 words of publishable prose, you’ll be in for a big disappointment.
I was sitting in my Query Lab class at Grub Street Writing Center in Boston a few months ago, getting instruction from a top New York literary agent on how to fine tune the query letter I had written in my effort to get some attention for my manuscript, when, with a weary look on her face, the agent said, “I dread getting NaNo WriMo manuscripts.”
Started 16 years ago, NaNo WriMo is said to empower diverse voices in the quest for creativity and publishing success. It also makes literary agents, like the one teaching my class, cringe. At the end of November into December, agents know your manuscripts are coming. They’re already bracing themselves for slap dash work full of clichés, thin plots and plastic characters.
Studies show that NaNo WriMo writers often ignore the website’s official advice about revising work before submitting it to an editor or agent. NaNo WriMo writers take VERY rough drafts and submit them expecting a favorable response.
The reality is that getting the attention of an agent or editor is hard enough after a writer has gotten extensive feedback from readers, instructors, and other writers and has repeatedly revised the manuscript until it is polished.
I’ve heard very few success stories coming out of NaNo WriMo. Very few of these “writers” end up getting the NaNo WriMo version of a manuscript published.
So see NaNo WriMo for what it is: a way for aspiring writers to develop a routine and build a community with other writers., not a way to get published.