As a newcomer to the world of writing, I sought feedback for my first draft of Regression from a variety of sources. With time being a limiting factor, most of my interactions were through online communities for aspiring authors instead of real life writer’s groups. Authonomy, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition, and others offered the opportunity to connect and consult with people who were both readers and writers. I learned quite a bit from those interactions, but the main lesson was to believe in myself and not be afraid to say ‘No, I don’t think I can do that.’
I solicited advice from those who took in-depth, critical looks at the work being posted for review on the writer’s communities, and also carefully read the critiques of other author’s work. At first, I frantically made changes to my worked based on the comments of my readers, trying desperately to make every potential reader happy. What I found was that there were as many different opinions about writing techniques and styles as there were authors offering opinions, and what one person wanted me to change or remove, another wanted me to expand upon or develop. I finally ended up explaining to one especially opinionated critic that as much as I appreciated her suggestions and efforts to provide feedback on my novel, the style she was attempting to lead me toward was a style she herself appreciated but one I could never see myself fitting into. I want to write like Kathy Bell, not Jane Austen. I Write Like I Live.
This was most clearly exemplified during my attempts to secure a traditional publishing contract. I submitted my manuscript to multiple publishing houses, and two of them expressed serious interest in my work. But, both of them had a list of changes they wanted to see happen before they would offer a contract. Imagine my chagrin when Publishing House A wanted me to change the exact opposite to what Publishing House B wished to change! I have had many people state one should not change a manuscript until a contract is signed, but of course I didn’t hear that until after I worked for weeks trying to adjust my writing style and story to make the possible book deal(s) happen. Unfortunately, neither lead panned out but the juxtaposition of the editorial commentaries made me realize just how subjective reading is, and just how much guesswork goes into editorial choices. Editors must guestimate the likelihood any given manuscript is going to meet the interests of the widest audience, and yet their guess is likely as good as mine in the changing landscape of the reading consumer. With ebooks making such an incredible array of books available, the final choice really is in reader hands and now we writers can write for ourselves instead of trying to meet the demands of an editor.
There are obviously some aspects which should be acknowledged in making a solid science fiction novel. Ensuring that action scenes are ‘experienced’ and not ‘told’, having continuity and validity, especially in your scientific concepts, making the entire thing make sense. But, these are generally objective aspects for the most part, not subjective. Even so, the objective facets of writing are malleable to a degree.
Now when I read through Regression, my first novel, I see a lot of elements I do not like. Compared to the first draft, the narrative is drastically different, and not always in a way that I think reflects who I am or can be as a writer. I changed it to meet the expectations of others. The retail version of Regression is about the eightieth draft! But, Evolussion is the complete opposite. I think it very truly reflects where I want to be as a writer, and (hmm, should I admit this in public?) is quite literally the second version of the story…much of the manuscript remains unchanged from the moment I put fingers to keyboard. I hope that the positive responses to the tale continue, because then I know that my own instincts about how to write a gripping, moving story were reasonably accurate.