6 Tips for Turning Your NaNoWriMo Draft Into a Submission

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Now that November has ridden off into the sunset, you may be considering your submitting your NaNo novel for publication. Today, Samar Hammam, agent and Director of Rocking Chair Books Literary Agency, shares her thoughts on how to turn your novel draft into a page-turner ready for publication:

You might have heard the expression that writing is rewriting. Unfortunately, that means the main thing you need to do with your novel is a four-letter word: edit! However, the almighty Editing Process can be easier said than done. Here are some tips on how to prepare your novel for submission. 

1. Think like a reader.

If you’re among 99% of writers, things will still be all over the place: fragments of narratives that you dropped, characters who don’t need to be in there, or characters who have yet to appear. Just because it’s still rough doesn’t mean you’re not a writer—but what will help you at this stage is to think like a reader. 

Read your draft from beginning to end without touching anything. It should help give you the big picture of how the book is working. You’ll learn whether the voice is strong or whether it’s still a bit flat, if the characters are compelling, or if the plot is captivating. One writer told me they’d read through their whole book thirty times from beginning to end before handing it to their editor.

2. Do your homework.

Submitting your manuscript involves finding the agents and agencies you’d like to send your work to. Looking in the “Acknowledgments” section of books similar to the one you are writing usually kicks up a few names; magazines and online searches will kick up a few more. If you’re in the UK, the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook also has a good inventory.

3. Read the criteria.

Each agency has their submissions criteria on their websites. Although they might vary, you typically need to have your pitch in the body of the email, along with a manuscript and a synopsis. Keep in mind that some agencies require submissions through the mail instead of online. 

4. Make it personal.

It’s also a good idea to personalize your message, as it’s the first indication that you believe your work is good enough to be taken seriously. Usually, when a ‘Dear Agents’ blast-out comes through, it’s a sign that the manuscript will also lack personality.  

5. Give your book spark.

The pitch is just one or two paragraphs in the email to catch the reader’s attention. I like to think of it as “back-of-the-book” copy.  Usually, when you’re at a bookstore, you’ll flip the book over and will decide whether you want to buy into this story or not; your pitch should aim to achieve that same effect. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but enough to give it that spark.

6. Grab your reader… and don’t let go.

Ultimately, however, the manuscript is the most important thing. I’d recommend focusing on the opening. Before I joined the industry, I thought agents read substantial portions of submissions—why wouldn’t they? But now I know that they can’t—not even the lovable agents—but there’s simply not enough time in the day to get through every page of every submission, let alone do the agent-ing part of the job.

The key here is to try and grab the reader from the outset.  For me, the first thing I’m looking for is the voice. If this grabs me, I’m slightly more patient to see if the characters kick in, then I’ll keep going if the plot is going places. Of course, this is just my methodology, so one size does not fit all!

It’s a courageous thing to do to write a book, any book, and very exciting to complete NaNoWriMo. If you’re compelled to continue with it, I hope that this blog is helpful, and please come and find me when you’re ready to submit!


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Samar founded Rocking Chair Books Literary Agency in 2013 after seven years as a Director at Toby Eady Associates. She is a primary agent, but works with other agencies to represent their rights in translation. Clients include Warsan Shire, Mike Medaglia, Brian Turner, and Amita Murray, among others. She is excited to work across all adult genres from commercial to literary fiction, narrative non-fiction, graphic novels, and gift books. She lives in London with her fella and two kids. Favorites: sunny days. playlists. reading. road trips. hiking. fireworks. the kids. discovery. recovery. the end of recovery. this job. the next bold move.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Dvortygirl on Flickr.