“Fearlessness may be a gift but perhaps more precious is the courage acquired through endeavour, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions.”
— Aung San Suu Kyi
No less than three times in as many days have I had a writer tell me:
1. She was afraid to submit her work because as soon as she did, she’d read a group of things she’d done wrong and wish she hadn’t and she couldn’t be sure she was ready.
2. He hadn’t submitted his work because he didn’t think he could stand getting back a rejection.
3. She submitted her work and then contacted the individual and pulled the submission.
If as a writer, you’re waiting for a time to come when you don’t see changes you need to make or ones you wish you’d made AFTER the submission, consider your experience an oddity. Epiphanies have a way of sneaking in and zapping us after the fact. Recognize that it’s normal and happens more often than not. Note it and when the opportunity arises, edit and incorporate.
As a writer, you continually seek to grow and master your craft. Because you do, you will encounter this challenge–and if you aren’t, you’re either very, very lucky or you’re not studying craft and continuing to grow. Warning: that leads to stagnation, and stagnant things die!
I’ve been in this business nineteen years and I don’t think I’ve ever been sure a project was ready to submit. Yes, I know I love them. Yes, I do allow them to cool to make sure what I think is conveyed on the page is conveyed on the page. Yes, I do strive to submit only my best work. And I have enjoyed many bubbles in the gut that shout, “oh, this is strong. This really works.” But to feel that there is nothing–not one word–that could be changed to make the work stronger?
If I ever get there, believe me, I’ll be broadcasting it, so you’ll know. So far, this has escaped me. Which is one of the best reasons to solicit outside readers. It’s true that many projects are submitted too soon–before they’re polished and splendidly shine. By having a couple others read the work and getting their reactions, you will get a cross-section of responses.
Vary these readers. One who loves to read this type book. One who is familiar with the subject matter in the book. One who is sharp on writing craft and construction and novel structure and characterization and mechanics. Barter. I’ll read and comment if you’ll read and comment (with another writer).
On rejection. Understand that if you’re a writer, you will be rejected. Not you, the person. Your work. Accept it and then press on. I know only two writers who haven’t received–and I mean all during their career no matter how high up on the career ladder they’ve gotten–rejections. And both have multiple readings and edits before their work is ever submitted. I know no one who has penned the perfect book.
This is why we create and then edit and edit and edit. We’re striving for the best we’re capable of producing at the time. Then we have others read and we shove (or smother) our egos, hear and listen to what they have to say. What we agree best serves the story, we incorporate. Only what we agree best serves the story do we incorporate.
Often agents ask for revisions. Then editors suggest revisions. Then copyeditors ask for more. Often more than once!
So do strive for perfection, but don’t expect that your perfection is perfect. Others will see things you miss. Know things you don’t know. Catch mistakes that save the book, save your backside, and sometimes they’ll save your hair–spare you from pulling it out by the roots in frustration.
Develop rhino hide, understand that revision recommendations are given for a single purpose: to strengthen the book. Everyone involved in the process (and no one more than the author) wants the strongest book possible.
Rejection might not be about the work, but about what best sells to the readers. Marketability. List balance. Suitability. House focus and/or direction. A million other things. The point: it’s not about you. And it might not be about the work. It might be connected to strengthening the salability of the book.
Writers get rejections. That’s what happens when they submit, stretch and grow and experiment and make all manner of effort. This is not a bad thing and it rarely has spit to do with the author so it should never be taken personally.
There are times and situations in which a writer pulls a submission. Shoot, there are times when an author contracts a book and then buys the book back. But this isn’t something you want to do or something you do without considering all aspects of it and the consequences. Tread lightly.
Remember, first impressions are just that. One-shot deals. You don’t get a second chance. So if you must pull a submission, make sure it’s for an excellent reason and that you don’t make a habit of it. And be wary of the second-guessing trap. It’s easy to talk yourself into thinking something is awful and unfit–especially if it’s a purpose-driven novel. If you must do this, be extremely judicious. And it goes without saying to do all you can to make sure you’re ready to submit before you do so initially.
It takes courage to put yourself out there. If you do so with a realistic view on potential, then you’re in a far better position to cope with the results. Understand what rejection is and isn’t. Understand that continued growth nearly promises you’ll have post-submission epiphanies. And understand that the best way to avoid having to pull a submission is by doing the necessary work and expending the effort before submitting.
©2008, Vicki Hinze