I am finally on the verge of submitting my first manuscript to agents after three years of drafting and editing, it’s satisfying to finally reach this milestone.

It’s also terrifyingBecause a question is starting to haunt me: What if I don’t get picked?

What if not a single agent wants my manuscript? After all the time and effort I’ve poured into it, giving up is not an option. Even though submission is still a ways off, I’ve identified three options to consider if every agent I query turns me down:

1. Go back to the editing board.

If no one wants my manuscript, I could hire an editor to help me figure out why. Then, when enough elbow grease has been applied, I could resubmit to more agents.

Getting input from an editor is a great opportunity to learn from an expert. If it works and your revamped manuscript gets a publisher, you gain the respect from industry outsiders that comes with traditional publication and the personal satisfaction of reaching a goal you set for yourself.

But hiring an editor is also a financial investment you can’t know if you'll recoup. It likely also means at least another year wrestling with the same story all over again instead creating of a new one, making it a gamble on your time investment, too.

2. Publish DIY-style.

Or, I could forget about agents altogether and self-publish my novel. After all, even if the traditional publishing lot doesn’t want my story, that doesn’t mean there aren’t readers out there who will.

Depending who you ask you could potentially make more money by e-releasing your novel on Amazon yourself than you could through a big five publisher.

Self publishing could offer immediate (or at least much faster) gratification for all the effort you’ve put in. It would also give you total control over production, layout, cover, and promotions, so I wouldn’t have to worry about a publisher wrapping my brainchild in god-awful marketing crap (one does hear horror stories).

On the other hand, that control can also be a major burden and a time suck. And to publish at high quality, you’d need to hire an editor and a cover designer—another financial gamble.

3. Find your own path.

This is, after all, the digital age; I could make my own rules if I wanted to. Self-publishing via ebook is the most popular, but not the only, option in this category. Why not, say, release a book as a serial, revealing a new chapter each week to an email list? I mean, Tolstoy did it. Why shouldn't you?

Depending on what you chose to do, this approach could greatly reduce the financial investment and time burden. And it could be a fun creative project in itself.

However, doing something new means taking on greater risk. You could end up barely a blip on the vast digital radar. And you could pour a ton of effort into something that ends up being nothing… effort that could go toward crafting a new story.

So which of these options would you ultimately choose? I’m really not sure, and trying not to think too far ahead of myself.

We’re lucky to live in a time when the industry is in flux and there are many different right answers to the question of how to share our creative work. Even if I do opt for the traditional route, it’s comforting—exciting, even—to know I’ve got so many good options in my back pocket.

What about you? Which option would you choose if agents reject your book?


What options would you consider as ways to share your creative writing? Write down the pros and cons, and then share with us in the comments.

By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.

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