Rejection and failure make you think of quitting? Be like Thomas Edison instead.
by Ruth Harris
Rejection can make us want to cry and/or break things but rejection is almost never personal and often has nothing to do with your book, either. The sting of rejection can be bullied into submission with a can-do, eff-you spirit or maybe chocolate or a few glasses of wine—sometimes consumed together.
Rejection is temporary, a passing storm that helps writers develop the necessary thick skin and confident attitude, but it’s a sense of failure—often intertwined with fear—that can make us want to give up and quit.
Frazzled, Frustrated, and Fed up. (Notice all the f-words in this post?)
I’ve been hearing a lot of negativity recently from writers who want to give up. They question their talent—and their sanity. They’ve tried everything—free books and promos and newsletter and ads and the latest, hottest genre—and “nothing” works. When they look around they see what looks like the ashes of the ebook boom: declining sales, unpredictable algo changes, and the indie stars from a few years ago who have left the scene.
As a long-time editor, publisher and writer, my experience has been that we (and our books) fail much more than we succeed. Knopf editor Robert Gottlieb in his book Avid Reader: A Life, talks about the successes and the famous writers but about the failures—the books remaindered, languishing in warehouses, the authors fallen into obscurity—not so much. Understandably, because, after all, who wants to read about (or write about) flops, failures and the forgotten? Doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, though.
I’ve experienced failure from both sides of the desk and want to take a deep dive into the subject since set-backs are an inescapable part of the business we’re in. To start with a bit of perspective: It’s not just us. Most businesses fail. Period.
I live in New York where new restaurants open every week and even more close. Ditto clothing boutiques, hair salons, and dog groomers. Malls across the country sit empty and iconic retailers like Sears and Kmart, RadioShack and J.C. Penney are shutting stores.
With that larger perspective, use your creative abilities to consider ways to reframe failure before you act on your impulse to give up.
Failure as Foundation.
In her June 2008 speech at Harvard graduation J.K. Rowling, currently the richest writer in the world, explored “the benefits of failure.” She described her own failures—she was divorced, jobless, a single parent and as poor as one could be without being homeless—and said that “rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Struggling to meet ends and so depressed she considered suicide, she reached out for help and returned to Harry Potter, an idea she had begun years earlier but abandoned. For J.K. Rowling, failure was not final but the beginning of a new ending.
Should you, like J.K. Rowling, return to an old idea or an abandoned draft? Has the time come to review and reconsider?
Award-winning writer Holly Lisle offers a detailed guide to revising a book.
Maybe the book that fizzled needs the sizzle of a new idea or a new shot of energy. Gloria Kopp, a web content writer, shares seven ways for writers to generate new ideas and includes a clickable list of online writing and idea generating tools and resources.
Failure as Part of the Job.
Olympic figure skaters miss their jumps, world-class gymnasts don’t always stick the landing and medal-winning divers splash the entry. Famous golfers miss their putts, Roger Federer loses sometimes, and even Ted Williams struck out.
Failure is part of their career and even those at the top continue to practice their serve, their swing, their fastball and curve. They spend time in the batting cage, in the rink, on the apparatus. They reach out for help and seek mentors and coaches, learn from their competitors, and from those who came before them.
Ballerinas take class or do barre everyday. Singers practice their scales and I recall reading that, as a young singer wanting to improve, Frank Sinatra paid a retired opera singer to teach him a series of vocal exercises which he added to and practiced throughout his life.
For a writer, editing, revising and rewriting are invaluable forms of practice. Editors, beta readers, and crit groups can take the place of tennis coaches and batting gurus. The book that flopped or was never finished (Harry Potter anyone?) can get a second or third chance because dialogue, grammar, descriptions, info dumps, and go-nowhere scenes can all be reworked and improved.
Course Correction or Radical Reinvention?
When your career is stalled and “nothing” is working for you, you have the advantage of being invisible. Because no one is paying attention to you, you can take big risks. A pen name can be liberating as you venture out to try something new and different.
If you’ve been on your own, what about collaborating with another writer or even several writers?
- Lindsey Buroker did it.
- So did Stephen King and Peter Straub.
- Joe Konrath did it, too. More than once.
- So did Anne and Catherine Ryan Hyde.
Writing for the Market
Lots of controversy about “writing to market,” but if you feel you are getting nowhere, why not consider it? As a young editor, I started out writing magazine articles but wanted to try writing something longer. A book!
At the time, gothic romance was a hot genre. I read a handful of top-selling gothics, wrote an outline and a few chapters to prove to an editor (and myself) that I could do it. Eventually I wrote several gothics and, in doing so, began to learn how to write a book.
I did not find writing to market soul sucking. Perhaps because I viewed writing to market as a starting point, found it educational, and liked getting paid. If you feel stuck and decide to try writing to market, why not think of it as a stepping stone?
Here are a few how-to’s to help get you started:
•How to write your first romance novel.
•Chuck Wendig lists 25 things to know about writing horror.
•Susan Spann shares 25 tips for writing a mystery.
•Bestseller David Morrell’s 5 rules for writing a thriller.
•Six secrets to writing suspense.
•How to write action-adventure.
Failure—or fear of failure?
Are we talking failure? Or the fear of it?
Is fear of failure holding you back? Twenty-five noted women from Michelle Obama to Dolly Parton discuss the fear that might have paralyzed them and the steps they took to overcome it.
What if you’ve actually failed? Author Ray Williams talks about coping with failure from a psychological point of view.
Techniques for dealing with failure and moving on.
The book that failed. Or did it?
- That new book you were sure was going be your break-through sank without a trace.
- Those newsletters “everyone” said was a sure fire route to fans and sales landed in spam folders.
- The promo that worked so well last time fizzled this time.
- Those widely hyped Amazon and Facebook ads turned out to be expensive and time consuming to set up and maintain. They made a dent in your wallet but not your sales graph.
Maybe that book is languishing because it needs the right hook. Paula Balzer at Writer’s Digest goes into detail about how to write the hook that hooks.
How about a better blurb?
What if the promo that was great for “everyone,” did zilch for you? Bestselling author Cara Bristol gives 8 reasons why.
Before I Go (and you give up), Heed these Two “Failures.”
“Failure is success in progress.” —Albert Einstein
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” —Thomas Alva Edison
by Ruth Harris (@RuthHarrisBooks) April 30, 2017
What about you, scriveners? Have you ever felt like quitting the writing game? Did piling up rejections make you feel as if you couldn’t cut it? Have you felt like a failure? What helped you through that period?
If you’re wondering what Anne is up to this week, she’s got a new post over at her book blog. It’s entry #27 in her series, Poisoning People for Fun and Profit. This month she’s discussing the drug Warfarin. Did you know it was originally developed as a rat poison? It is deadly in large doses.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
The glittering capitals of Paris and New York, the champagne-fizzed, roaring 1920’s and a romance you will never forget.
THE LAST ROMANTICS (Park Avenue Series Book #5) is a passionate and sweeping love story set in the glittering capitals of Paris and New York in the 1920’s. If you loved MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and THE PARIS WIFE, you will love THE LAST ROMANTICS.
SALE! Only 99c!
Nathan Bransford’s Forums. This blog got its start when Anne landed a guest blog spot on Nathan’s blog. Now you can too. He often takes his favorite comments from the forums as guest posts. The forums are newly revamped and there’s lots going on. Check them out out!
BACOPA CONTEST $3 ENTRY FEE. Categories: poetry, flash story, creative nonfiction, literary fiction. $400 prize given in each genre. Flash limited to 750 words. Creative nonfiction limited to 3,300 words. Literary fiction limited 8,000 words. For poetry, no word limit. Deadline May 31, 2017.
Creative Nonfiction magazine seeks TRUE personal stories or profiles about people starting over after a failure or setback. Up to 4000 words. Paying market. $3 submission fee. Deadline June 19, 201
EMERALD THEATRE 10-MINUTE PLAY CONTEST $10 ENTRY FEE. Theme: “That’s so gay.” A character must say the words, “That’s so gay.” Two to four characters. No children’s shows or musicals. Ten pages (10 minutes) max. Will be staged in strict “black box” style. $300 prize Deadline June 30, 2017.
KINDLE STORYTELLER PRIZE £20,000 prize. (Yes, you read that right.) Open to any author who publishes a book through KDP between February 20 and May 19 2017. Any genre, including fiction, nonfiction and collections of short stories – so long as they are more than 5,000 words and previously unpublished. Deadline May 19, 2017.
Haven Writers’ Retreat. “Come find your voice in the woods of Montana with New York Times best-selling author, Laura Munson, and find out why over 400 people say that Haven Writing Retreats changed their lives. Offering special discounts for readers of this blog for both June retreats. June 7-11, and June 21-25