Or How to make those 50,000 words really count

#NaNoWriMo, or the National Novel Writing Month (although these days, it should probably rebrand to the International Novel Writing Month), is one of our favorite times of the year. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world get together via a simple, yet powerful hashtag with one common goal: to spur one another to push through that mulling novel idea that’s been waiting to be put down in words.

The result is amazing: every year, almost 20% of the writers reach their 50,000 word count goal within the 30 day limit. That’s tens of thousands of new, interesting stories waiting to be read, retold and listened to. For 2018, we’re looking at a possible 70,000 of them.

There’s only one challenge: most of them won’t ever be read by more than a handful people, if even that.

Not to say that that’s a mark of failure, but the hard truth is that less than a promille of submissions to agents and publishers get accepted and eventually published. In these times of easy self-publishing, that might not make or break your story, but without being able to tap into the editing, proofing and marketing muscle of the agents and publishers, it’s tough for a new author to make it out there. Real tough. Even the lucky few who get selected only have a 50% chance of success in the market, and if your book isn’t a success (i.e. makes the publisher, and hopefully you, as well, a decent amount of money), you won’t be offered a contract for another book.

So, what can you do?

The one thing you need to do, no matter if you swing traditionally or self-publishy (is that a word?), is to make sure that you sit on a really great story. I mean a really, really great one, one that resonates with people, that helps them grow. That makes them hesitate to read all the way to the end, because it will mean that they have used up their one chance to read it for the first time, but they still do it because they need to.

That’s the first element of success. If you have a great, unique story, you will be able to push through anything, even if you’ll still have to push hard.

But how do do I know if my story resonates with readers?

There’s only one way to know: ask them. Or rather, watch them read it. My suggestion is to start by gathering a team of twenty readers. Try your story on them, watch their reactions and poll them. Ask them what they thought, if they would recommend it to friends, and if so, to whom. Then, share it with the new readers, and ask them what they thought, if they would recommend it. Check for their reactions. Do they read it in the way you expect them to? Revise and repeat until you’re satisfied.

Sharing your story with people you don’t know might seem scary at first, but in the end, that’s what you’re after as an author, right? And doing so will help you understand not only if your story has market potential (if that’s what your aiming for), but also how people who don’t know you will read your book.

Plus, it comes with a very nice side effect for a debuting author: you build up your own, personal team of ambassadors. Our experience is that readers who enjoyed a story they got to read privately on BetaReader will want to buy the hardcopy when it hits the stores. And they won’t buy just one copy: they will get one for themselves, and one or more as gifts.

So don’t stop working when #NaNoWriMo ends. Put it on BetaReader instead, and start building up your private reader team.

If you have a great story and a solid group of ambassadors, you can have your first edition sold out already when you go to the publisher. Way to upend the odds!

Jonas

BetaReader.io is a reader and feedback management platform for authors and publishers. Use it to find out what your readers really think about your story, not just what they say that they think.

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