Success Stories: 8 NaNoWriMo Books That Made It Big

For one month every year, writers around the world unite in a common goal: write a novel… in a single month. This gruelling creative challenge is called National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo for short, and believe it or not, it works. NaNoWriMo books grace the shelves of book lovers across the globe.

What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo is a creative endeavor taken to the extreme. During the month of November, writers from all over challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in only 30 days. Writers can participate in online community forums and look for NaNoWriMo events in their communities, including things like kick-off parties and write-ins—an opportunity for writers to gather in a space such as a coffee shop and just write!

The NaNoWriMo Experience

Back in November 2006, I overcame my procrastination tendencies and penned my first novel. It was an exhilarating experience that taught me to keep writing even when struggling with my own insecurities or uncertainties. At times, I thought I would never complete it, but with the encouragement of my fellow NaNoWriMo participants, I finished it on November 30, 2006 in the Denny’s restaurant on 104 Street. Trust me, there is NO feeling quite like writing the words “The End!”

So, if you’ve ever thought: I’d love to write a novel but… how do I start? Or: I have the beginning figured out, but what comes next? Or even: I have a GREAT character, but what do I write about? Then I encourage you to embark on the whirlwind novel-writing adventure that is National Novel Writing Month. Who knows? You might write the next great NaNoWriMo novel!

NaNoWriMo Winners

Since the event is truly about the process, success is measured by setting—and meeting—a word count goal. NaNoWriMo winners are those writers who’ve managed to complete an entire novel during the month. Past winners have earned publishing deals and climbed the bestseller list. Some have even made it to the big screen! Whether you need some inspiration or you’re simply looking for a good read with a cool backstory, check out these NaNoWriMo winners from the Edmonton Public Library’s collection. For a complete list of published winners—both traditionally and self-published—check out NaNoWriMo’s Published Wrimos page.

1. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Jacob and Marlena meet while working in a circus and come together because of their care and compassion for a special elephant. The two fall in love, but Marlena’s husband stands in their way.

Sara Gruen started Water for Elephants as a NaNoWriMo novel, though she fell short of the 50,000 word count needed to win. She has continued to participate in NaNoWriMo every time November comes around and she needs to write a book. Water for Elephants was a New York Times bestselling book in 2006 and went on to become a popular film.

Water for Elephants is available from the Edmonton Public Library as a book, eBook, audiobook, downloadable audiobook, DAISY accessible audiobook and large print format. There's also a movie version on DVD and a book club kit

2. Zero Repeat Forever by G.S. Prendergast

Set in Alberta, 16-year-old Raven is at summer camp when an alien race called the Nahx invade.

Vancouver author and screenwriter G.S. Prendergast wrote the first draft of Zero Repeat Forever during NaNoWriMo 2011, completed the second draft in 2014 and received a publishing deal in 2015.

Zero Repeat Forever is available from the Edmonton Public Library as an eBook

3. Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Diagnosed with leukemia, 16-year-old Alice is determined to spend her final months righting the perceived wrongs she has committed in her life. However, when she goes into remission, she must deal with the consequences of everything she’s said and done.

Julie Murphy finished this debut novel during NaNoWrimo 2011 and has since participated in the summer challenge, Camp NaNoWrimo. She considers NaNoWriMo the “Ironman Triathlon of writing” and thrives when writing on a deadline.

Side Effects May Vary is available from the Edmonton Public Library as a book, audiobook, downloadable audiobook and streaming audiobook

4. The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough

The Darwin Elevator is set in futuristic Darwin, Australia where Skyler Luiken has developed an immunity to a deadly alien plague that turns humans into zombie-like creatures. The Darwin Elevator is humanity’s only hope—a remnant of alien technology that suppresses the spread of the plague. But when the elevator starts to malfunction, Skyler must solve the mystery of the failing alien technology in order to save humanity.

The Darwin Elevator is Hough’s second NaNoWriMo novel, written in 2008.Though his first NaNoWriMo in 2007 attempt did not produce a usable draft, Hough loved the experience of writing every day and became hooked on the craft. The Darwin Elevator is the first book in his Dire Earth Cycle series.

The Darwin Elevator is available from the Edmonton Public Library as a book, eBook and downloadable audiobook

5. The Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven

Amparo and Beverly are Filipino immigrants who have come to the U.S. to make a new life. Amparo seeks the American Dream, but Beverly has failed to thrive in the new country as a mail-order bride. The Mango Bride is a dramatic tale that brings to light issues of immigration and social standing in both the U.S. and the Philippines.

Marivi Solven began The Mango Bride during NaNoWriMo 2008. It was published in 2013, after which she embarked on a tour across North America and the Philippines to publicize her novel. Negotiations for the movie rights are in the works.

The Mango Bride is available from the Edmonton Public Library as a book.

6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The amazing Cirque des Rêves is open only at night and is a wonder to behold. But behind the scenes, Celia and Marco—two young magicians who provide the magic that produce the extraordinary sights—are embroiled in a competition created by their instructors. However, as the competition increases, producing ever more fantastic tricks and illusions, so does the love between them.

Morgenstern accidentally started The Night Circus during NaNoWriMo 2005. She grew bored with the draft she was writing and sent her characters to a circus, thus germinating the idea for the book. She finished the first draft during NaNoWriMo 2006 and 2007, and since then The Night Circus has been a critical and commercial success.

The Night Circus is available from the Edmonton Public Library as a book, eBook, audiobook and downloadable audiobook. There is also a book club kit and discussion companion guide

7. Born of Illusion by Teri Brown

In 1920s New York, gifted illusionist, and possible illegitimate daughter of Harry Houdini, Anna assists her faux-psychic mother in her stage show and séances. A young man named Cole moves into the flat below them and introduces Anna to a secret society that studies people with her gift for magic.

Teri Brown participated in NaNoWriMo first in 2002, producing a novel that she deemed terrible. Thankfully, she participated again in 2010, this time getting more involved in the online and writing community, and producing the first draft of Born of Illusion. Since then, she has written two sequels—Born of Corruption and Born of Deception—and says that the break-neck writing pace of NaNoWriMo prepared her to meet the deadlines set by her publisher.

Born of Illusion is available from the Edmonton Public Library as a book and eBook.

8. Wool by Hugh Howey

In this futuristic dystopia, people live in a giant silo underground in a society full of rules and expectations. Sheriff Holston, long-time upholder of these rules, breaks the greatest rule of all: he wishes to go outside.

Hugh Howley is a three-time NaNoWriMo winner. Now with multiple publications under his belt, the film rights to Wool have been optioned for a movie by director Ridley Scott.

Wool is available from the Edmonton Public Library as a book and eBook.

Find these—and other great published NaNoWriMo novels—in our catalogue. 

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