Guest Post: On Seeing It Through

by Gabrielle Harbowy

Sometimes, writers submit their works to a publisher for consideration, and then withdraw them.
Usually, they’re withdrawing them because they’ve been picked up elsewhere. When that happens, I’m very happy for them.
Sometimes, though, writers withdraw a manuscript because at some point since hitting “send” on their submission, they’ve reconsidered and made the decision to self-publish instead. And that just disappoints me.
Not that I have anything against self-publishing as a valid lifestyle choice. I think there are times when it is a reasonable option. But, not when you have your book already out for consideration. If you’re going to say, “Okay, I’ll see if this place likes it, and if they don’t, I’ll do it myself,” at least see it through. Don’t lose patience—or confidence.
It’s like saying “You can’t fire me, I quit!” …at the end of the job interview.
The process is slow and nerve-wracking, yes. But the wait after you submit your manuscript isn’t intended to be cruel. It’s not fraternity-house hazing, it’s “patience aptitude training.” Because the process only gets slower and more stressful from there. Wait till you’re on pins and needles to announce your sale, but you can’t until the contract’s signed. Wait till you’re kept on the edge of your seat for months, waiting to see whether the cover artist captured the spirit of your manuscript, and then not even being able to talk about the art or show it to anyone once you get it.
The “waiting for the decision” part is the one aspect of the process that isn’t based in talent or luck or skill or training or any of those things that someone who really wants to write may just not have within them. You could have all those things, and if you lack the basic self-confidence and patience to see it through, all the talent and potential in the world won’t help.
Often, it turns out that the people who don’t think they can make it through the critical stages of the process are the ones who have the most to learn from editorial critique and proofreaderly polishing. There’s a reason that they’re not confident, and it’s that they know deep down that they’re not ready, and they don’t want to hear it. But without hearing it, and learning from it, there’s no way to strengthen those skills and earn that confidence.
You can’t quit the corporate world and become self-employed because you don’t want a boss. When you’re self-employed, every client becomes your boss. There’s no critique-free path. It’s the same with publishing. Even if you decide to just do your own thing and promote yourself without the “gatekeeper,” you’ll still have to face judgment. It’ll be more constant judgment, actually, and it’ll be by the thousands and millions of shoppers browsing Amazon.com, not just by a single editor or agent.
Gaining public recognition, fame and fortune through your work isn’t easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it and restaurants in NY and LA would be barren of waiters. There are parts of the process that are uncomfortable, parts that require stretching our boundaries past where we think we might break, and parts that are just plain unpleasant.
Now, that’s not to say that I think people should “just get over” their boundaries. Sometimes these things just aren’t negotiable, and sometimes someone’s insides do come between them and what they’ve always wanted. When that happens, it’s good to discover it early in the game.
(Considering that I am not currently a professional symphonic percussionist, I know of what I speak, here.)
It just always makes me wonder what really makes the writer pull the manuscript, and if the boundary really was as unyielding as all that. It saddens me because if they did have it within themselves to wait, after all—if all they needed was to push themselves a little harder, a little longer—they’ve now deprived themselves of the knowledge that they can see it through; that they can submit work like the pros do, and go through the process, and come out the other end of it.
Stick with it. Submit your work with confidence and stand by your submission and your confidence that you have the ability to break into that market, even if this particular submission isn’t the one that gets you there.
Because that experience of withdrawing, the act of validating that self-perception that you can’t hack it, will hurt you—your writing career and your sense of personal ambition and your internal measure of what you are capable of achieving—far, far more than a single “no thanks” from a publisher ever would have.


GABRIELLE HARBOWY (www.gabrielle-edits.com; @gabrielle_h) is a San Francisco-based editor and writer of fantasy and science fiction. She copyedits for Pyr and Seven Realms Publishing, and is Associate Publisher and acquisitions editor at Dragon Moon Press. She has worked with New York Times Bestsellers and Hugo Award winners, and has acquired books that have gone on to become finalists and winners of ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year and the Bram Stoker Award. As a writer, her short fiction appears in print and podcast anthologies. Her anthology “When the Hero Comes Home,” co-edited with Ed Greenwood, is available from Dragon Moon Press.

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  • You’ve got to have something else fun to do while you’re waiting, and I don’t just mean painting your nails with cherry flavoured polish so they taste better when you chew them to a nubbin. Get out there and indulge in your hobbies, read something good, start a new story… don’t spend the time actually waiting!

  • Anonymous

    I am not against self-publishing, but I think writers need to realize that one thing it does is to greatly expand the pool of people who can reject their work. Instead of saying “Do you want to read this?” to selected editors and agents, you are saying that to every customer on Amazon or other sites. You have to be prepared for them to say no.