about my secretive nature and the editorial process

Katya de Becerra 2013*

I was supposed to write the second part to my ‘the nature of literary hype’ post, in particular about indie authors becoming popular enough (translation: skyrocketing book sales) to trigger a major publisher’s interest. However, it feels more urgent for me today to talk about what I’ve been dealing with lately in terms of my own writing process – namely, finally sending off the Work-In-Progress manuscript of my YA novel to test-readers, then hearing their feedback and starting on the editorial process.

Before I get to the key point of this blog, I’d like to take a little detour and talk about secretiveness and how, to some degree, one has to overcome their predilection to be secretive (that is, if they suffer from it like I do), if they want to progress towards their ultimate writing/publishing goals.

So, here is the detour… One of my traits that I’m most proud of is my secretive nature. While I find it extremely hard keeping my mouth shut at times when all I want to do is brag about things I’m on the verge of achieving, there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of having indeed achieved those goals and then share this information with those closest to you in a casual matter-of-factly manner. I also strongly dislike failure (we all see success and failure differently, and rightly so, since these are subjective notions, but for the sake of brevity here I will equate ‘failed goals’ to ‘failure’) and while bragging about soon-to-be-achieved-things may be nice, it could be utterly depressing to back-pedal when something doesn’t go according to plan.

Being secretive is also one of my traits that, at times, I’m least proud of. I wasn’t born secretive, and I didn’t become secretive overnight – it was a long process during which after a number of pseudo (or not?) co-occurrences in life I was led to believe that the less I talk about what I’m doing (particularly, in the personal aspirations sphere), the more likely I’m to achieve my goals. One of the first lessons, I learnt when I started writing fiction and after publishing my first novel (followed then by many more) became my desired endgame, is that I can be secretive no more.

I’ve read countless articles and blog posts about the writing craft and the publishing process. I can no longer recall the source, but somewhere I came across this great advice which echoes the ‘fake it till you make it’ mantra – call yourself an author way before you really become one. And that doesn’t just mean updating your Facebook occupation to ‘writer/author’. It means, in addition to actually writing, reading, querying, revising, writing and writing some more, you have to talk about yourself doing all those things. For me, it meant pushing the boundaries of my secretive nature, going deep into my discomfort zone and staying there. I started this uneasy process of coming out as a writer by confessing my writing aspiration to those closest to me, at first, then moving on to the inner circle of friends, then to shyly declaring myself a writer through various online outlets, on my blog, in every mini bio accompanying my journal submissions of short fiction.

Fast-forward a couple of years. After finishing my first YA novel in 2011, I have set it aside for various reasons and wrote another one. This second novel is the project I feel strongly about; strongly not only because I believe it has a high chance of success, but also as cliche as it sounds, I fell in love with the characters and the story and now I care too much about them not to continue writing Hayden's story. In the meantime, I had my first official fiction publications – a poem MelancholicAliens in dotdotdash – followed by The Fetch, my first short story, published in Dark Edifice. The novel that I have high hopes for is loosely based on The Fetch story, its sort-of prequel.

After babying my manuscript – let’s call it The Hayden Project here (damn my secretiveness, but I can’t share the real name of this WIP here just yet!) – for a while and going at it with a revision after revision, I have finally decided it had enough editing. For now. It was time for The Hayden Project to be seen by eyes other my own. Yes, the time has come for Hayden to meet her first readers.

I have turned to internet to research about ideal qualities possessed by test-reader and what should I ask of them. I’ve learnt that while it is better if your test-readers don’t know you personally, they all should be in the position to tell you the truth about your work (as opposed to something your mom or mom-like figure in your life would provide you with – my mom naturally thought that every poem I wrote starting from the age of five was the proof of my literary genius. Of course, most of those poems were, well, not that).

I’m no stranger to and have come to love and even crave for, constructive criticism. If being on the last year of my PhD taught me anything is that there is nothing more valuable in the thinking and writing process of a young researcher than a supervisor’s critique. For someone constantly on the receiving end of such critique, it is essential to develop a very thick skin and pragmatic outlook on life – after all, any feedback is better than no feedback unless you prefer to live in blissful ignorance until the rejections start arriving from all those agents and publishers you’ve queried. .

It is with this desire for constructive criticism in mind, I have asked two friends of mine to read The Hayden Project and tell me honestly what they made of it. I knew that both of my prospective readers were familiar with the general genres of my choosing – Young Adult, paranormal, and urban fantasy. I also knew that my first readers would tell me how it really is.

So I have sent out The Hayden Project manuscript and waited. I haven’t heard back for a few weeks and presumed everyone’s been busy with other things. Then I got an email from one of my test readers quoting something from The Hayden Project and saying that was something she could relate to. I was thrilled just from the fact that apparently my manuscript was indeed being read (it is still a rather surreal feeling). So I held my breath and waited some more. I think I had the biggest exhale of relief when my second test-readers told me she finished reading The Hayden Project and… loved it! For the rest of that day I was euphoric and bumping corners as I moved in the haze in my tiny apartment.  

And then I finally had a chance to see both of my test-readers and to hear their thoughts on The Hayden Project. In my mild OCD fashion, I actually prepared a list of things I wanted to ask my readers about, which included questions about the ‘voice’, ‘pacing’ and ‘likability of characters’ among other things. Instead of utilizing my notes, I just sat there and listened in wonder as my readers talked about their experiencing reading my work.

Here’s what I learnt:

-  When it comes to the descriptions of spaces and places, more visualization props are very much welcome. My readers wanted to know more about how certain places looked and felt.   

-  Even though I tried to follow the old as dirt ‘show, not tell’ rule, I still didn’t completely avoid my presuming that the readers were on the same page with me on each step of Hayden’s journey, particularly during one of the biggish revelations happening early on in the story – the introduction of one of the central characters. Build-up in this case was deemed essential. It turns out, you can’t have a big revelation without a big build-upJ

- Contemplation is OK sometimes. You see, I’m a big fan of minimalistic prose and a true believer that one pointed and well-positioned sentence is really all you need to comprehend the level of drama raging behind your character’s calm façade. So, just like I was determined to live by the ‘show, not tell’ rule, I also utilized the ‘less is more’ tenet when it came to describing the protagonist’s feelings. In order to redeem myself, I have to note here that Hayden is by no means an emotionless robot – she feels things strongly and reacts to them, too – but in the attempt to avoid a too-angsty narrator, I dialed back on the ‘Emotion’ perhaps a bit too much. My test-readers wanted to know more about how Hayden felt, how she made her decisions… in other words – what was going on inside that pretty head of hers.

-  Finally, the dreaded plot holes. Oh, how I hate plot holes. I worked really hard to avoid plot holes in my work. That involved me sitting still for long stretches of time, staring at the list of issues I jotted down based on many readings of my manuscript and thinking how it all worked and fitted together. Since The Hayden Project is envisaged as a trilogy, I had to make sure that all my plot lines made sense and that I had enough to go on for two more books following The Hayden Project’s installment # 1. And still, there were plot holes!  This is something only test-readers can pick up on since I clearly had exhausted my ‘outsider’s eyes’ abilities by this point of time.

So, in summary, having my test-readers read The Hayden Project was the best thing that happened to me in my still very emerging writing career since I got my first official publications in. And in order to acquire the test-readers, I had to come out of the dark and shadowy obscurity and into the light as a writer, first by declaring myself one and then by actually talking about my work with others. What really helped me in getting to this next stage of my writing work was all the amazing advice available online from agents, publishers and bloggers, especially this post by Gemma from Bent on Books and many super-useful posts appearing at Pub Rants. By then again, nothing can compare with having your first readers actually read your book and tell you how it made them feel.

Keep on writing!

*  The Hayden Project logo was created by me with DESTROY font by Tupografky and Smoke Brush Pack by iAmManab


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