The Other Side

Cartoon of people with books, an increasing pile of books, and a rainbow over a book, with the title “The Other Side.”

I’ve spent some time querying, so when I started with Literary Wanderlust as an intern I was not prepared for how subjective the experience was going to be on the other side. I vividly remember the first few queries addressed to me with an absolute thrill that someone wanted me to look after their work. I read through them carefully, and there were brilliant stories there.

But some of them weren’t for me. And I loathe that expression.

“It’s just not for me.”

I love all stories.

There are very few books I just DNF (do not finish), and its because stories are an amazing journey. Fantasy, scifi, paranormal and horror are my home ground. I love these magical worlds that stretch the imagination to their limit.

They are no less or greater than the stories of home. Contemporary tales of the heart. Literary pieces about the human condition. They teach you about other people, how they feel, and what they experience.

As someone on the autism spectrum I’m always enraptured at these tales. I get to learn about other people and how they think, and the author does it such a way I can understand. My bookshelf is wide and varied and my writing is too because of it.

But that’s who I am as a reader.

So no, you won’t find many stories that aren’t for me as a reader. I will generally only stop if the writing needs a lot of work and there are a lot of inconsistencies. It’s why I review books honestly because being honest about that part of a writer’s work is sometimes the only way they get feedback.

Feedback is valuable to a writer, it builds their toolbox of skills when the time comes to write more. The way to learn to be a better writer is from this feedback, and it comes in many varied forms that requires more and more work.

With work like beta reading, you spend the time reading as a reader, but intuitively aware you’re there to ensure it is smooth. To not change much at all, maybe point out the odd typo, or that a character has something they didn’t have a scene ago. All of it just smoothing edges.

Before this, the script would have been with a CP, (critique partner), who will go over it much more thoroughly. Point out telling scenes and info dumping, make sure the story arc is natural and characters develop along with the plot.

A developmental editor may ask for much more beyond these things; moving whole scenes, redirecting story arcs, rewriting endings and overhauling characteristics. Getting beyond the text of the story to the nature of what is truly being written about. What you envisaged rather than what twenty six letters containing your imagination.

All of which is work. A lot of work.

I have spent months editing other people’s work. It’s taken six months of editing almost nonstop to get a book of my own up to scratch and I’m still tweaking it. And this is something I do outside of my day job. It takes time away from what I love most; writing.

I am always grateful to people who want to work on my stories because their love of what I’m doing isn’t just confined to wanting to work with me, its also about loving the story enough to commit to that level of work. Sometimes that’s what it takes to say yes; to be prepared for that level of commitment to a story that isn’t your own.

I think for some writers it takes a long time to write the story, but for me, the editing process is twice, three, four times as long. Perhaps the fault lies within me as I write quickly and need to edit a lot more later. Maybe you’ve experienced it the other way around depending on how meticulous you’ve been.

But stories that you want to go on to be published still require that work. There are still things that need doing from plot restructure to copy edits and punctuation. There is so much more detail that goes into polishing a book for publication than you’d ever know unless you’ve done it. More than once.

Which is why I can now appreciate what agents and editors experience with hundreds of queries coming in; they have to pick the stories that resonate with them. When you walk into a bookstore you don’t buy the entire stock, you buy the book you couldn’t put down, that reminded you why you read. It doesn’t mean you hated all the other books; they just weren’t the ones for the you right now. Or maybe never will be.

You can’t dictate what they do and do not accept anymore than you can force someone to fall in love.

Maybe that means not every book finds “the one.” Maybe that means some novels get trunked (saved in a filed to be forgotten). Maybe it means the heart wrenching process of letting go of your dream story. Maybe it means going back to the drawing board and starting again. That hurts.

But I never see these works as wasted. I see them as not right now. I see them as a possibility I’ve saved for later, because every novel you finish is the one you as a writer were ready and meant to finish. Every book has its place, and sometimes its not about where the book ends up, but who you are when you finish it.

Love that book, keep loving it, and write on.

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