Facing my Fear
Written by
Colleen Haggerty
August 2014
Written by
Colleen Haggerty
August 2014

After I decided to publish with She Writes Press, one of my first tasks was to email other writers I know and ask them to endorse my book. At first I was delighted that ten people agreed to read my book for an endorsement. And then, when I realized I need to actually send them my manuscript and that they were going to read it, I felt completely naked. I pushed the Send button anyway, ten times over.

Within two weeks I received my first endorsement. It was supportive, encouraging and perfect. Phew! One down, nine to go.

And then I received an email from another potential endorser. She said she had read parts of my book, but she couldn’t finish it. Moreover, she would not be endorsing my book. She didn’t give me an explanation or a reason so I sent her an email inviting her to give me feedback—which she did. Extremely scathing feedback. I couldn’t even finish reading the email; I had to walk away. I wanted to throw up. In fact, I almost did. 

You know when you say, “I never want to (fill in the blank),” it’s like a magnet, drawing to you that which you don’t desire, like the more we resist, the more we attract something? Well, throughout the years of writing my book, I kept saying I didn’t want to sound like I was whiny and self-indulgent. But this woman’s feedback said that almost verbatim--that my book was just one long whine-fest. And that stung. Oh boy, did that sting. Like a nest full of angry hornets.

Reading that email, when I could finally get through the whole thing, was like opening a door and staring straight into a brick wall with a sign that said, STOP! I seriously considered giving up on publishing my book. I didn’t think I could withstand that kind of feedback from even one more person. When we publish we put ourselves out there for any kind of feedback. I didn’t think I could take it.

She Writes Press had just copyedited the manuscript, so we asked the copyeditor for her opinion. She was much more professional in her delivery, but she essentially said the same thing: the book isn’t well balanced between my challenges and my insights.

And then I remembered a passing thought I'd had before I sent my manuscript to the She Writes Press. It went something like, I finished this book two years ago. If I were to go through this book with a fine-tooth comb right now, I’d have a lot more to include about my insights. Oh well, this is what I wrote and I’m up against a deadline. So I pushed Send.

Note to self: Listen to my gut.

This situation rocked me to my core. It brought to light all of my insecurities, which are classically cliché, but incredibly painful and real. But I couldn’t wallow in them; I needed to move beyond them. I wanted to publish a book I could be proud of. 

I decided to revise my book. I worked with a superstar editor, Cami Ostman (for anyone who’s interested in a decidedly awesome developmental editor). She and I picked through this book like detectives scouring through a crime scene. Cami knows how to find and connect the dots of insight.

So, what was originally a painful email and a difficult realization about my book turned out to be the proverbial blessing in disguise. Cami and I finished the revisions, and I can honestly say that I am proud of what this book has become. More importantly, I found a way around the brick wall of my fear. 

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  • Colleen Haggerty

    Lois, I'm glad you're looking deeper for the lessons. I'm reading a self-published memoir right now and see the stark difference between telling a story that weaves the universal themes of (fill in the blanks) vs. a chronicle of a life lived.  When writing the former, we come to the table with the priority to share universal themes with the reader.  We just happen to do it through our own story. So finding those themes and weaving them throughout the story is a gift we give our readers.

  • Lois Heise

    Thank you. I am looking deeper in my revisions to reveal the insight about being the wife of a small business owner for the past 23 years. I want to make sure of its direction and core as it is not just about our relationship and my personal journey as wife/employee, but about the lessons of starting a business from the ground up.

  • Nancy Davis Kho

    I'm just about to push the SEND button on what I consider a completed MS, to a group of readers before I send on to SheWrites. I've worked with a couple of editors/coaches (including the wonderful Brooke Warner) throughout the writing process, so I feel pretty happy with the final product. But naked and throw-uppy seems like it could descend the minute I finally ask for endorsements. Thanks for sharing your story of how to handle tough feedback - I'll know where to come back and reread this fall.

  • Colleen Haggerty

    Thanks for the comments, kudos and support, Ladies.  The process of publishing my book reminds me of what it's like living with a toddler or a teenager.  As a parent, I've said to myself, "If I knew what parenthood was really going to be like, I don't know that I would have stepped into it."  The same is true for publishing my book.  Had I known how emotional this would be and how many buttons would be pushed, would I have said YES so enthusiastically?  I think not.  Ignorance may not be bliss, but it certainly moves us forward in life.  I certainly don't regret either decision - my children or publishing my book.

  • Jan Sedaka

    Ah, yes. A bitter pill is terribly difficult to swallow when we're feeling strong and healthy. I got my own jolt when I invited some respected filmmakers to screen a rough cut of my documentary film, "Together Alone." The film is about three couples experiencing the pain of infertility. At the end of the screening there was silence. "Where are the children?" someone asked. "Your premise is that a child is a talisman, a bringer of happiness. We need to see happy kids, happy parents to know what these couples are missing. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of thirty-somethings whining about missing their entitlements." I was stunned, but it took only hours for the eureka! to kick in and send me back to the editing table. Although this happened almost two decades ago, and I no longer make film or video, their show-me-or-else lesson is at the head of my checklist when I sit down to write. Like you, Colleen, I am grateful. Thanks for sharing your story.  

  • Carolyn Niethammer

    Thirty years ago I sold a western novel. The acquiring editor loved it, but she was fired while I was making her requested revisions. Everybody else at the house hated it and wrote me a scathing letter detailing my failings and declining to publish. That editor when on to a sterling career at a mystery house so could not rescue me. Over the years I kept coming back to the novel between nonfiction books that were being published. I also had to update it to newer computer systems. Whenever an agent or editor turned it down and gave a reason, I listened and rewrote. A couple of friends gave good advice and I rewrote. I took a class in writing sex scenes and although I didn't have any explicit sex scenes, it helped with the romanticism. Publishing changed with small independents taking over niches abandoned by the NY houses. Finally last year I found Oak Tree Press which has a western line (Wild Oak), it seemed perfect, it was and in early July I had my 10th book, but first novel. I now have to agree with the earlier readers; it wasn't as good as it could be although they either saw it as unsalvageable or just didn't want to deal with another editor's author.

  • Patricia Robertson

    So glad to hear you took the time to get a second opinion and make changes even though your book had already been copyedited. Well done!

  • Evette Davis

    Great post! Just had a similar experience with a small group of beta readers for my next novel. OUCH. The first time I tried to read the comments it was with one eye....and then I made myself read and re-read the comments, and then I sent them to my editor, and then we agreed that a few had merit and off we went to revise, and rewrite parts of the novel. It's painful, but your work will pay off. Writing is soooo bloody painful, and our hearts are indeed on our sleeves. Good for you for sharing this, I hope others will continue to seek out feedback. We all have to work through our fears to get to what we want. 

  • Mardith Louisell

    Brava to you, Colleen. What a great endorsement of your openness to a painful response, and a great endorsement of Cami Ostman. As I was reading, I thought you were going to end with publishing anyway,the critic be damned, despite your reservations. I liked the idea of not just trusting the reader but then asking for another opinion. I know that was hard because it's not fun to ask about things like that. Your post was full of suspense. I was tense as I read it. Congratulations on a great structure for a post and, of course, congratulations on the revisions.