From the Other Side


So I missed out on last week’s #IWSG first Wednesday of the month post, but I’m posting it now and that’s just going to have to be okay. I might be kicked out of the group, but I still think it’s a great idea. (If you aren’t familiar, it’s the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I’d like to be a confident writer, but everyone’s got insecurities. It’s great to go on a little blog tour and read about others who are in similar boats and encourage one another).

Pack your bags! We’re going on a guilt trip! (Actually, the lovely Flushing Ferry in Falmouth)

As any unagented writer can attest, querying brings insecurities out of the woodwork. Just thinking about it makes my stomach turn. Yesterday I began a month-long work placement at a book publisher in Edinburgh, and it was a fantastic first day. It was awesome to be on the other side, and as this particular publisher receives submissions for fiction and non-fiction across the spectrum as they’re opening their gates to a variety of genres, I got to wade into a submissions pile for my first time ever.

Boy, was it eye-opening.

I felt incredibly guilty writing NO on any of the submissions I read. I longed to just sit there and correct grammar and spelling, suggest structure changes, word replacements, etc. and return them to the authors to encourage them to make some tweaks. Unfortunately, that’s not part of the job. I wish it was!

Out of the 12 I read, I think there were 2 I wanted to see more of. The pacing, voice, ideas, and character fell together with excellent writing. That was it. They weren’t in my favourite genre or about immensely likeable characters (well, one wasn’t; it had a Silence of the Lambs feel to it about a lorry-driving serial killer), but they were just well-written and hooked me right away.

Then there was a mixture of Nos and Maybes. The Maybes didn’t grab me, but they seemed to be well-written; perhaps just slow to ignite. If I’d had more than 3 chapters to read, maybe I’d fall in love, but likely not. But not a definite no as they had promise.

The Nos reminded me of one of my insecurities. Querying is painful, and I realise, different than writing directly to a publisher, which I have not done. I’d prefer to be agented, to find someone willing to work with me. Knowing what it’s like to work hard on your dream and then send it off to a complete stranger, one who might likely be an intern like me who scribbles notes on the page and then sticks it in one of three piles, it made me very sympathetic. That’s the harsh reality.

It also simply emphasised how you really need to shape up those first three chapters (well, the whole thing, really, but…) to zing the person who’ll be reading it, whether it’s an agent, a slushpile-reading intern, or a publishing assistant. It needs to smack them in the face and go, “You can relate to this, or you find this idea exciting, or this character interesting.”

I think that might be one of the three things that does it. Either you relate to the situation or emotions, you’re drawn to a character, or the idea itself (or the way it’s presented) is intriguing. Preferably all three, but if you get one of those right, I’m likely to read on.

It’s not rocket science, the notion of what gets you past the slushpile, I think (this is all speculation; obviously I’m no expert having had ONE measly day so far). It’s just finding the way to hit at least one of those three targets.

Anyhow, yesterday’s experience made me a little less insecure, like I can approach my work with even more dedication now, knowing how it looks from the other side. The stories that did hook me had one thing in common (besides good grammar and spelling): they had excellent pacing. It made me see what I’m up against, the range of talent and ideas and execution from blah to fantastic. And somehow this has encouraged me, though you’d think it would just as easily discourage me. I’m glad it didn’t 🙂

Have you had an experience that helps you understand your writing insecurities, or at least gives you perspective on them?




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