Who Reads Your Novels First?

gentle reader cropFunny you should ask…
So this week, we’re talking about getting feedback. And I must say, that’s exactly my current question. I’m writing Book #2 (working title: The Boss) and I have no idea who will be reading my drafts, other than the editor who already bought it, of course. 
Several months ago, as I was working on the Book #2 outline, I was rejoicing. It was so refreshing to write when I knew exactly the tastes of the editor I needed to please. She and I went back and forth a few times, and she approved the outline. Both books are the first two in a series, so it can follow the template of UPTOWN THIEF. But now that I’m writing Book #2, I’m starting to freak out. Where is everybody?
My debut novel was read by 3 beta readers, 2 sex work consultants, 3 freelance editors, a ton of agents who turned me down, two agents who offered me representation, then re-edited by the agent I signed with and also read by her intern. So many people helped make it better. 
So I’m starting to brainstorm my  Book #2 dream team: I’m gonna need an exotic dancer and a sex worker organizer to make sure I get the industry and political details right (maybe the same person; maybe not). I also need someone to read with an eye for catching cliches. One of the dangers of follow-up commercial books is that the abbreviated time clock pressures the mind to take shortcuts, which can lead to played out tropes and predictable scenarios. I don’t expect my agent to read, but maybe one of her interns would be willing…

The whole process has me reflecting back on earlier decades in my writing life. When I was a young adult writer, my friends read my work. When I was an MFA student in my 30s, my teachers read my work. When I was fighting to break into the industry in my 40s, I often paid consultants to read my work. And now that I’m being published, I know that my editor at Kensington will be the final reader, but I have no idea who my first reader will be.


One of the biggest challenges of being a debut author is the multitasking. As a writermom, I’m already multitasking between paid work, parenting/domestic work, and writing. Now, I’m multitasking within my writer’s life: soon I’ll be copyediting one book while writing another and then getting ready to promote the first book, while also building the infrastructure for my writing career moving forward.

It’s challenging to operate in these different modes all at once. Particularly when–prior to getting a book deal–my entire writing life was sharpened to a laser-like focus on trying to get into the industry. Remembering the angst of those days, I feel like I’m just whining about my new high class problems. Yet, nowadays, I do feel like my life has a complexity it never had before.

And here’s the big difference: before, when I was trying to get in, I was afraid someone else would say no to me. Now, I worry that I’ll be the one who can’t hack it.

Thank goodness I have the women of the Debutante Ball to complain to as a sort of built in support group. Now, I just need that new first reader. I better add that to my never ending debut author to-do list.

Get readers for Book #2…


Author: Aya de Leon

Aya de Leon directs the Poetry for the People program in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley. Her work has appeared in Essence Magazine, xojane, Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Mutha Magazine, Movement Strategy Center, My Brown Baby, KQED Pop, Bitch Magazine, Racialicious, Fusion, and she has been a guest on HuffPostLive. She is the author of the children's picture book PUFFY: PEOPLE WHOSE HAIR DEFIES GRAVITY. Kensington Books will be publishing her debut feminist heist novel, UPTOWN THIEF, in 2016. For more info, go to ayadeleon.wordpress.com.

One Reply to “Who Reads Your Novels First?”

  1. Well, I’ll be a first reader for you, Aya! I actually love doing that, and have done it for several other writer friends. Not an expert on sex trafficking or sex worker organizing, but perfectly capable of drone-targeting cliches!

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