Today I’m interviewing Alicia J. Novo, an Inked Voices member whose debut young adult (YA) fantasy book, Unwritten, is coming out May 8, 2021. Alicia was super excited to speak with me about her journey to publication, and we are too!
Tell me about your background and where you got the idea for Unwritten:
Alicia: Unwritten arose from my need to know what happens to a book’s characters once the story ends. When I was about eight or nine, I remember sitting with characters, having coffee with them, and telling them my secrets. In my mind, every character would be released and able to do whatever they wanted with their lives and interact with each other.
Nice! How did your imagination help with writing a series?
Alicia: Unwritten is a planned series following Beatrix Alba and has a series plot arc. But the world of Zweeshen lends itself to a comic book universe style too, where the arc can go beyond a particular character/characters. I can imagine telling one of Beatrix’s friend’s stories in their own standalone/series. Or an unrelated character that happens to be connected to the Zweeshen. This world allows for different genres because any bookworld could be explored and a novel set there. The freedom in these almost infinite possibilities is one of the things that makes me excited about this world. Everything we read, every book has a place there.
When did you start writing Unwritten?
Alicia: In total, I probably spent seven years on this book. Life is not a straight line. I had a full-time job as a vice president of a technology company, then a start-up. I had a child and moved between countries. However, this book was something I kept working on.
Book Details – Unwritten
Beatrix Alba is immersed in a secret world called Zweeshen, a realm where all tales live, and her dream of meeting her favorite characters comes true. A character, though, is burning book worlds in pursuit of a weapon to rule both stories and storytellers. To succeed, he needs a riddle in Beatrix’s keeping, and he’s hunting her down.
Published by: Intense Publications.
Agent: Cyle Young.
Tell me about finding an agent.
Alicia: I queried and got some “good” rejections at first. A lot of people liked the premise but didn’t think it was quite ready. So, I went through that phase for about six months. Things got real when I took time off three years ago and went to a writing conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. While there, I had 15 minutes in front of an agent and pitched the book. I saw five agents total, and all of them asked for a full manuscript without even reading anything.
How cool! That’s the magic of a great premise! What happened then?
Alicia: Then it got stressful. I shipped the fulls and heard almost immediately from an agent with an offer. I reached out to the others and bit my nails while I waited. Two rejected, one didn’t respond, and the other asked for more time to run it by colleagues. Ultimately, I signed with Cyle Young, whom I connected with the most personality-wise. Style, approach, and hitting it off mattered to me. I wanted to feel comfortable with my agent because this process is long, painful, and I wanted to feel I had an advocate on my side with whom I could be myself.
Question: As a member of Inked Voices (IV), what sort of impact did a writing group have on your success?
Alicia: Unfortunately, I didn’t find IV until after I had an agent. Although, earlier this year, Brooke organized a YA group, and we did an exchange that was very helpful because it came when I was revising my final edits.
How do you feel about getting feedback on your work?
Alicia: Feedback is manna. It is water to the parched. I started Book One of Unwritten without a group, and it was very lonely and hard. Self-doubt is not a good judge for editing, and I made choices that I ended up undoing. Now that I have more fellow writers to rely on, it makes for a more efficient process and emotionally less taxing. So I never take feedback or help for granted.
Also, I’ve learned to bring in different critique partners throughout the project. I love to debate and brainstorm. Plus, I’m a huge fan of that back and forth, which creates energy and encouragement. Sometimes just explaining things as I work through a plot hole helps me find a solution. I have two partners for that stage because it requires a lot of imagination, and they know me well enough to fill in the blanks. I then tend to go dark to write a first draft and edit it to something passable.
What kind of critique groups do you prefer – big or small, few or many?
Alicia: A larger critique group is super helpful because I like to hear overlaps – the same comment being repeated points to a problem. And also, very disparate opinions tell me something. I might be hitting enough of the spectrum of experience where there is no issue. Hearing people interpret what I’ve written is crucial because they see so many blind spots. For Unwritten, I also ran the almost-final draft (pre-submission to my editor) by a pop-up group with two experienced published authors. Their comments were perfect for last-minute adjustments.
Any advice for novice writers looking to publish a book?
Alicia: If feedback doesn’t make you feel encouraged – if it makes you feel in any way like you want to take a step back, it’s not good feedback. In my experience, the way it’s presented should make you feel excited. When I got my editorial letter, everyone said to take a deep breath and not get discouraged. I read that letter and was excited to make edits. When people give you reasons why something isn’t working, that to me is good feedback. The more logic critique partners can provide a writer, the better you can understand where the mechanics aren’t working. I’m super open to feedback, but sometimes I’d end up changing things without knowing why I was doing so.
Any highs and lows during the writing process?
Alicia: One of the hardest parts is what I call the black box syndrome, which is this feeling of writing in a vacuum where you don’t know what’s working and what’s not. It’s all part of the journey, though. You get rejections. There’s hurt. You bare your soul and hope people don’t laugh at your work.
Speaking of the writing process, what’s yours like?
Alicia: I’m a plotter, and I start with a character in a world. That’s what I see initially, and the rest moves a lot. Also, I like to write from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. If I need to make edits, I can do so in the evenings. I also believe there is a rhythm to things. If I know I want to put a word in a sentence but don’t know what it is, rather than get stuck. I type x’s. So, the very first draft I write has lots of x’s throughout the manuscript! Sometimes it may be entire sentences because I get a feel for what the paragraph’s cadence needs to be. So my thing is to put down the idea. The next day, I start by fixing the x’s, and the work comes.
How many drafts did you go through while writing Unwritten?
Alicia: Lots! But since I got my agent – I went through two drafts.
About the Author
Bridgette Springer is a freelance digital content writer who has written for a variety of industries, including banking, engineering, healthcare, manufacturing, life science, technology, and telecommunications. One of her favorite projects is writing advertorials for magazines such as Forbes, Fortune, and Entrepreneur magazines. She gets to interview clients and showcase their stories on a national platform. Bridgette has also published more than two dozen articles in Parenting New Hampshire magazine and regional newspapers. A middle grade storyteller, Bridgette is a member of Inked Voices and SCBWI. She has her B.A. in communication, and graduated from the Institute for Children’s literature.