Crippling Self-Doubt. I’m Good at Crippling Self-Doubt.

Well, I’ve been trying lately to spread the word about MEDOUSA. Thus far, I’ve sold about five books, possibly six, since publication. As I sit and try to think of what I can do to spread the word about my book (without the time or resources to buy lots of copies for free distribution, or time (cos of my day job) to go do readings and signings at local indie bookshops), I continue to edit.

I remember being encouraged by a friend to publish while I was still in that editing phase. I remember being unsure if it was time to publish, and I was just fiddling around, or if I genuinely needed to continue my editorial efforts. And while it did feel good to see my work in actual book form, instead of mere MS form, I do wonder.

How does a writer know when it’s time to stop fiddling around with a manuscript, and just publish? I had wanted to make sure everything was absolutely perfect, and yet I was also afraid of ruining the book by picking it to death line by line.

When I had the manuscript in more or less final form, I invested in a professional book editing service for a good manuscript critique. I also went over the book line by line in my best copy editor’s mode. And of course, now that the book has been published, well, now I’m seeing minor errors in the text here and there. To me, they stand out very obviously, though they don’t necessarily detract from the story. Still; it’s enough that I am already re-editing in anticipation of a second edition.

And still, should I even bother? I know it’s only been out for a couple of weeks by now, and I certainly did not expect a best seller; but I had thought it might sell a little more ‘regularly’ than it is at the moment. At least enough that I’d have to report it on my taxes next year.

I still get rejection notices straggling in from publishing houses and agencies that I had queried long ago. I have easily a hundred rejections or more– one of the reasons I decided to go ahead and publish on my own. But of course, as I think about these rejections, and keep going over my book, I have to wonder; Maybe they were right. Maybe my book really isn’t good enough to sell, and I’ve just engaged in an extremely expensive vanity project.

I had been encouraged by the editors that critiqued my MS last year. From the critique:

Dear Michael,

Congratulations on MEDOUSA! I very much enjoyed your imaginative and compelling take on Greek myth which, in its depiction of one young woman’s struggle to command her own fate, becomes an examination of that which makes us all too human. I found myself impressed by your facility with language and clear authorial vision for this retelling, and it was a pleasure to immerse myself in your storytelling.

I know that one of your primary concerns with MEDOUSA is its length. While I’m not sure what your plans are in terms of publishing this novel, I will say that I strongly think that you needn’t be concerned about word count here. While you might consider splitting up the sections to self­publish online in novella form (often an effective way indie authors build their audience), I don’t think traditional publishers or agents would necessarily be put off by a 150,000 word manuscript. As the success of novels like THE GOLDFINCH has proved, readers are willing to commit to longer works, and I think that Medousa’s story feels most compelling when you give it space to breathe. I worry that splitting it into two or more sections will dilute some of its power. 

For instance, when Medousa is raped by Poseidon, she is still a young girl, and until that tragic point, most of her struggles follow a historical coming­ of ­age narrative. Still, if readers of historical or imaginative literary fiction were to read only those first few sections that don’t delve quite as deeply into your main themes of guilt, loss, and family, they might be tempted to view MEDOUSA as a young adult novel, and not feel compelled to read on. I don’t sense that you intend to position this book as YA—while that genre can certainly be as emotionally riveting and serious as any other, you don’t seem to be directing your narrative towards that audience. 

Whatever your comp titles for MEDOUSA end up being, I think there is certainly an adult audience who will be interested by its themes—you may even choose to submit to university presses that also publish fiction, as I can see an academic market finding your historical focus compelling. For these reasons, wherever you decide to pursue publication, I would suggest leaving your manuscript as­is in terms of it’s overall structure. We can certainly discuss this further during our phone call and, of course, the final decision will be up to you!

As an editor, I see it as my job to help you make your story the strongest it can be, and you’ll see that most of my notes are comprised of suggestions and questions to lead you in that direction. I attempted to draw your attention to points that may seem clear to you as the author, but caused me some befuddlement, which slowed my read. You want your ideal reader to be positively flipping the pages of this book! While some may seem like mere matters of clarification, I tried to embody a wide range of readers and imagine the queries they might have that could keep them from falling fully in love with your story and characters….

Again, congratulations on a very enjoyable manuscript which is as thoughtful as it is entertaining. I look forward to seeing what you decide to do next.

So, it seemed that the professional editors found enough of merit in the book to be encouraging. Another question I keep asking myself is more about marketing.

For example, as I re-read my own book as I edit and prepare for a second edition, I am struck that what I have written is not exactly a re-telling of the myth of Medousa, but a straight up Fantasy novel that simply uses Medousa’s story as its idiom. Of course, maybe I’m being less than charitable toward my own work, but I am comparing my own story to some much better re-tellings– and .

Also, I had at least one person tell me to market my book as an LGBTG novel. I did not want to do this, because I don’t think I actually wrote a book that examines LGBTG issues.  It’s about the life and death of Medousa, from her own point of view (as opposed to the ‘lies’ told to us by Perseus and his friends).

As a matter of fact, when I was writing MEDOUSA, I had planned a rather conventional romantic subplot for the heroine. But then, as my early drafts developed, I realized that Cynisca was quite fond of Medousa. And as I continued, I realized that it wasn’t just ‘fondness.’ And that Medousa also felt the same way about her friend Cynisca.

While I am pleased/proud of that aspect of my novel, I really can’t call MEDOUSA an LGBTG novel. The fact that Medousa is a Lesbian is simply a part of who and what she is. No hat hung on it, no real attention drawn to it, except to note the general attitudes of the time and place to it. It’s simply who she was, and no one bats an eye at any of it, cos why would they?

Strong women, non-cis-normative heroine, and no need for “handsome Knight” rescuers.

But I am wondering if I should have tried to market my book a bit more cynically.


So, I guess after all that, my two questions are:

How do you know when it’s time to stop editing and simply publish?


How does an author go about marketing his/her book and target his/her audience?

Bonus Question: If all the agencies you query reject your manuscript, how do you know if you should listen to their advice and admit you’re unpublishable, or if you should go ahead and publish independently?

About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a high school ESOL teacher, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in Beijing's Dongcheng district
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