New World of Publishing: Failure is an Option. Quitting is Not.
The First of the “Goals and Dreams 2012 Series”
I’ll bet a few of you got very uneasy by me starting off a goals and dreams series of blogs with the words: “Failure is an Option.”
That’s right, you must fail, over and over to become an artist in this business and to just survive. And that’s normal and perfectly fine.
Let me say this clearly. The reason I am starting right here, talking about failure, is that until you understand failure in publishing, you don’t have a lot of chances at success and setting goals for success. Failure is very much an option in publishing in all levels. However, quitting is not. You quit, you are done. You go into the “whatever happened to…?” authors and after that the “blank look” authors when your name is even mentioned.
So first let me talk about failure. It’s going to take a minute, so hang on. I need to try to see if I can get everyone on the same page here.
When setting goals, everything about your goal must be in your control. Completely.
Let me give you a list of examples of “control.”
1a) Selling a book to a traditional publisher…NO CONTROL
1b) Mailing a submission package to a traditional editor. YOUR CONTROL.
2a) Wanting your book to sell 200 copies a month on Kindle…NO CONTROL
2b) Getting your book on Kindle with a great cover, good, active blurbs, and written well… YOUR CONTROL.
You get the idea I hope. So when some writer talks to me about a goal of selling a book to a traditional publisher by the end of the year, I just snort and they walk away insulted. I wasn’t laughing at their ability to write. Not at all. I was laughing at the goal they set and put a deadline on that was out of their control completely. Such goals are guaranteed to create disappointment.
In fact, to be clear, when I talk about an objective in the future that is out of your control, I will call it a “dream.”
An objective in the future that is totally in your control I will call a “goal.”
I will talk about setting dreams and using goals to work toward them at different places in this series of articles.
Plan Point #1…
Check through all your goals for 2012 and make sure they ONLY concern your work level that is in your control.
No action from another party can be involved, otherwise it is not realistic.
So if you are an indie writer and thinking you want to sell a thousand copies of all your books per month next year, that’s a dream. Retreat back to how many new projects you can write and indie publish. Set up how many you want to finish and publish. That’s a goal. Let the sales take care of themselves.
So do that now. Step one for next year. (I will have these basic step Plan Points through these columns. Start your list now.)
Now, back to failure.
To become a professional fiction writer, you must become a major risk-taker without fear of failure or a care in the world what anyone else thinks of you or your writing.
Now, saying that, all new writers have just turned away, convinced I am muttering stupidity. But alas, I am not.
Examples from writers of fear of failure:
Example One …
A manuscript must be perfect. The writer doesn’t dare let a “flawed” manuscript out for anyone to see.
The writers who have this major fear are constant rewriters, are major workshop people, are writers who write for their critique group instead of what they want.
Writers with this fear will take five people’s feedback and try to get it all into their manuscript turning their story into boring garbage written by a committee.
Writers with this fear spend huge sums of money on book doctors and other scams.
Writers with this fear are writers who let agents tell them to rewrite over and over. And so on.
Writers with this fear are replacing reality in publishing with their own fear. There are no perfect books in publishing. Never has been, never will.
Writers with this fear are often afraid of success, and certainly don’t trust their own art, because they willingly let many other people mess with it.
A personal note about this: Back when I was first getting serious, I was writing a story per week. I could not type much on my typewriter and certainly couldn’t spell anything. So I would write a new story, have my trusted first reader (Nina Kiriki Hoffman) read it and find the billion mistakes. I would fix the mistakes in spelling and typing. Then I made a copy to mail and copies to turn into the workshop. I would mail the story to an editor on the way to the weekly workshop. (I turned in the story to the local workshop to get audience reaction and see if I could learn something for writing the next story, not to “fix” the story I already had in the mail.) Stories the workshop beat up and said were worthless, I often sold. I never told them I hadn’t “fixed” the story. (If I had “fixed the story,” it never would have sold.)
Were those stories flawed and scarred? Yup, they were. Zero doubt about that. But they were my stories, my voice, my mistakes, done at the best skill level I could manage at the time, and that’s what helped them sell. I trusted my own art, even flawed.
If I had been afraid of mailing out anything but a “perfect” manuscript then or now, I would be done as a writer.
Another personal example. In 1973, in Palm Springs, CA, I finished up a pretty good professional golf tournament for me a few under. Not at all happy with the round, but it made me a buck or two. One of my friends at the time, another young professional out chasing, had just shot one of his best rounds ever. And won the tournament. When asked about his round, he was proud of it, but mentioned to the reporter a few places he had left shots on the course. And a wedge he had missed on #14.
That night instead of drinking, we were both hitting golf balls and practicing under the lights at the driving range. And he was working on hitting wedges. Luckily, he didn’t need a perfect golf game to put himself on the line. He just needed to keep working and trust the skill and art he had at that moment in time. And even though the next spring I quit golf and went back to college, he went on to do just fine in the world of golf. And trust me, you would recognize his last name.
Plan for 2012… If you have this fear that everything needs to be perfect, take drastic action to fix it, otherwise 2013 just won’t matter much.
Afraid to mail a story because of the rejection or afraid to put a story up indie published for fear of not having many sales.
I have never understood this fear, but I know it is real. For me, this fear is beyond silly. It’s like walking up to a golf course and then deciding not to play because your score might not be perfect.
This fear is one of the “quitters’ fears” as I call them. It is safer to not try than try and fail.
Nothing I can say or do to help you past this fear because, honestly, I just find it too silly. And sad. What do you think an editor will do to you? Come to your house and shoot you for not sending in a perfect story? Never once heard of that happening in the history of publishing. And if you put up a book on Kindle and no one buys it, WHO IS GOING TO NOTICE?? No one. Because no one bought it. Duh.
But interestingly, by not trying, you guarantee failure. Quitters never really understand that logic.
Afraid to write or finish a story you have been talking about for a while.
People respect others, especially artists of all stripes, who work hard in their art. There is no respect for those who claim they want to do something then never “get around to it” or as the laughing-stock phrase of all writers who are quitters, “I just can’t find the time.” Maybe for a month or six months or a year you won’t find the time as life beats on you with something special. But if you don’t really have this fear, you will come back to writing when life gets off your back and you will finish your work.
This fear is just an excuse to quit by never starting, never putting your skill and art on the line for anyone to read.
Remember, quitting is not an option. Failing is fine and you will do that a lot, but the moment you find a reason to quit and stay away, you and your art are finished. And if you can’t find the time, just keep telling yourself that, but please don’t write me with your excuses because I won’t care because you have quit by never starting. I want to help people who are not afraid of fighting for their art.
If you suffer from this fear and can’t just use logic to snap out of it, get professional help if you really want to be a writer at some point. Not kidding.
I think that’s enough examples of fear for now. We can talk about more if you want in the comments section. I’ve seen them all, actually.
… “It’s too hard” fear.
… “It’s going to take too long” fear. (Kids under thirty worry about this one the most.)
… “The system is rigged against me” fear.
… “I don’t have enough talent” fear.
… “Fear of success” fear. (This fear is deep and subtle and needs professional help to get past.)
… “I am so good, I don’t have to practice” fear. (Yes, this is a fear of admitting a need to keep learning. It is ego-based fear.)
… “Fear of public failure” fear.
And so on…
Summary of Fear and Quitting
You must be fearless in writing and at the publishing business. If a fear slows you down or causes you to quit, then you have lost your art and your fight. Stay aware of the fears as you set goals for next year. Trust me, over these articles, I will repeat a few points about fears and failure.
One way to find hidden fears is look back through Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series. You can find them all under the tab up at the top of the page.
But the very, very best way of getting rid of fears is just not worry about failure.
Failure is normal in publishing and writing and all art.
Kill the fear of failure and all those fears I listed will just vanish. (Except for fear of success, which more than likely will take professional help to deal with.)
Going Personal Again
Okay, as we start getting into goal-setting and dream-setting in this series, let me just get out onto the table the goals I sat last year right here in public.
I seem to remember two challenges to myself besides my normal writing. I wanted to write 100 short stories in one year and post them all here when finished. I also wanted to lose a bunch more weight and run in a marathon in the fall.
I did not run a marathon, lost only some weight, and wrote thirty-some short stories. So when looked at in the cold light of last December’s writing, all three goals were all a complete failure.
But nothing is ever a complete failure.
Challenge #1: I was on track to hit my mark fine for one hundred stories in one year. Then what Kris and I called “A life roll” hit with my friend’s death and I am just getting back. Not an excuse, a fact.
So failure? Nope, not in the slightest. I had a blast writing the 32 short stories for the challenge and the other three for traditional markets, stories I might not have written without the challenge. I wrote over 140,000 word of short fiction last year, my best short fiction year in more than a decade.
I had so much fun, I am extending the challenge to now just be 100 stories. Stay tuned, more stories coming.
Challenge #2: Weight and Running. Again I was on track to run the marathon, or better put, run/walk the marathon in September and “Life Roll” moved me down. So here in December, looking back, complete failure? Nope, not in the slightest.
I dropped 14 pounds total in 2011. I still have thirty more to go, but I am not unhappy with dropping and keeping off 14 pounds. (By the way, when I run the marathon, I will get pictures and I have a great “before” picture you will believe that was taken when I started this drop in weight four years ago. I was what my friend Jim calls, “A big boy.”)
As far as the running went, I got up to some pretty good milage which shouldn’t take me too long to get back to. Not great, but not bad. That’s all positive as well.
Attitude is Everything
It says that on my iced tea mug. And it is true.
I am not afraid of failure, and my attitude is to look at what did get done from a goal or challenge and see the success.
So this year, part of helping some of you set goals in your writing and publishing for the new year is to help you look at your “failure” positives.
Going Personal Again.
A number of blogs back, while talking about the rudeness of a young, traditional editor, I laid out a challenge a friend and I did two years ago at this time. Read it here. I made up, wrote the first three chapters, a synopsis, a cover letter and sent off 13 novels in 13 weeks. I had a blast. Was that a horrid failure? Nine of the books I sent to five editors each. No one in the comments much mentioned how frighteningly successful that challenge was for me. I SOLD TWO BOOKS and almost sold a third series.
In essence I laid out the secret to selling books quickly to traditional publishing and not one person mentioned that.
So, when looked at that challenge from one side, I got at least 50 no-response or rejections from editors. Horrid failure. Right?
Other side, I got two acceptances of what I wrote and I ended up writing both books. And I got a phone call from another editor who wanted to buy a third book called “Subway Martians: A Romance” but it was too weird for her sales force. (I really got to get around to writing that book some day.) Failure? Not in the slightest.
50 rejections against 2 acceptances. Wow, that has to be a complete failure. Right?
Of course not.
Summary: Failure must be an option.
When you are setting new goals for 2012, you must expect failure at all levels in your plans.
And you must not allow the worry about failure, or a bad attitude about failure, to bury the success you are having.
Plan Point #2…
Check in with yourself and figure out where your writing fears are.
If you have none, you are more than likely just deluding yourself. I’ve never met a writer (or any artist) who doesn’t have strings of fears, some small, some crippling. I was no exception.
List the fears. Write them down! Keep them to yourself.
Then figure out which ones you can climb over without any problem every time and which ones twist your stomach even harder when you think about them. Can you mail a manuscript after only fixing typos your first reader found? If not, you have perfection fear. You get the idea. Figure out the ones that are your problems and give them so thought.
Then stay tuned for the second article in this series.
Going Personal Again: By the way, with my “failed” short story challenge, a rough guess on the amount of money I will make from the stories in the challenge is $3,500.00 in 2011.
And I will make more than that in 2012 from those same stories at their rates of sale, not counting the new stories I add to the challenge.
And in theory, in three years I will be past $10,000 in income from those 32 stories that I had a blast writing. And that income will just keep on coming in.
Yup, that’s failure.
I love this new world.
Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith
Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime
This chapter is now part of my inventory in my Magic Bakery. I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.
If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.
If you cant afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.
And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!