Failure is something that all creative types are familiar with, but how do you come back from the bottom of the roller-coaster and turn that failure into a success? I met Doc two years ago at BaltiCon, when I stepped in for Tee Morris as a panelist on the live recording of Doc's Shrinking Man podcast, which is a podcast that not only document's Doc's weight-loss journey but also encourages others to do the same. Doc is a fellow writer, voice actor, and podcaster, and like all of us, he is no stranger to failure.
But if you've ever seen the belt he wears to conventions--a belt that once barely buckled, but now wraps halfway again around his waist--it's clear he is also familiar with success.
Doc has kindly allowed me to share his thoughts on succeeding through failure with you today.
(Note* Font-size increases are my own.)
(Note* Font-size increases are my own.)
Does this exchange sound familiar to you?
“Well, I finished my story.”
“Oh, can I read it?”
“It’s not really good enough.”
“But you can fix it, right?”
“It’s probably not worth it. But the next story will be better. I’m sure it will.”
One of the worst judges of a given work is the author of that work. Either he will have an inflated opinion of the quality of the work, or more likely he will remain convinced that it will never be good enough. Many talented authors never manage to move their careers forward because they’re too afraid to show anyone their work. They’re so afraid of failing that they’re unwilling to take a chance at success.
No matter how bad you might think your work is, you should be willing to let people see it. A group of beta readers can be an author’s most valuable resource. We are too close to our stories. We know all the back story, all the details that never made it into the actual words. Beta readers come at a story cold. This is the test to see if you’ve managed to convey on paper (or paper analogue) just how awesome a scene was when you imagined it in your head. The beta reader’s job is to tell you what you’ve got right, and what doesn’t ring true to them. But they can’t do that job if they never get to read it.
Of course, just because a reader doesn’t like something doesn’t mean you should change it. You should consider their feedback and determine for yourself if their points are valid, or if your story really needs to be written the way you originally wrote it. Your readers let you polish your story for your eventual audience. Eventually you’ll have to find your way to put your story in front of your readers. That means either publishing your story yourself, or dealing with editors.
So now you’re looking to put your story in front of an audience, and you’re thinking about self-publishing. Scary stuff, right? Not really. The internet gives us plenty of tools that make it relatively easy to distribute your story in text or audio form. But you don’t know anything about marketing on the internet? Guess what? The big publishers don’t really know anything about it either! Try anyway. What is the worst that can happen? You fail?
Failure really isn’t that bad after all. Embrace failure. We learn much more from our failures than from studying and trying to reproduce past successes. Expect your first attempt to fail, but do it anyway, because you are going to learn a heck of a lot along the way! Sure, you will make mistakes, but you’ll learn from those and correct your course. Maybe that will be enough to save your venue and let you share your stories and build an audience, and maybe you’ll find that you’ve worked yourself into a corner and you’re not doing the kind of writing you want to. The process of finding all this out will take you time and effort, but knowing it will make your next project that much better.
But maybe you don’t want to deal with all the work of self-publishing, even on the internet. That means you’ve got to learn to deal with editors, whether you're submitting to an online publisher, such as Flying Island Press, or submitting to one of the big print on paper publishers. To do that you’ve got to find out their submission guidelines and follow them. Editors have a name for people who try to get noticed by not bothering to pay attention to submissions guidelines. They call them rejected.
OK. So you’ve found a venue that you think your story will fit into, they’re taking submissions, and you’ve followed their submission guidelines. You submit the story… and it still gets rejected. Now what?
If you don’t sell a particular story, that doesn’t mean that you’ll never sell a story. It doesn’t even mean that you’ll never sell that particular story. Every setback is an opportunity to learn. About yourself, about your audience, about your stories, and about publishing.
Just because one editor doesn’t like a story doesn’t mean the story is bad. The next editor may buy it. Or the one after that. But even if that particular story never finds a market, the experience of submitting a story tells you invaluable things. Each submission tells you more about presenting a story to an editor. Each rejection tells you more about that particular editor and that venue. The best editors will not only tell you that they won’t be using your story, they’ll tell you why, and that will help you better place your future works.
Each rejection is an opportunity to hone your work and improve your craft. Remember, somewhere out there are 17 or so editors who rejected the first Harry Potter book. Odds are your first sale probably won’t have as big a return as that particular book, but you won't find out if you never put it out there.
And with that, I leave you with some final thoughts on failure from one amazing author who, as Doc mentioned, has seen her share of rejection and failure.