This is a reprint of my post for @AnneRAllen on April 30.
Rejection and Failure: Don't Quit. Do Something Else Instead. Here Are A Few Ideas.
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.
The odds-against in TradPub are equally daunting. Writers hoping for an agent know the ego-mangling effects of being dissed and ignored, their manuscripts disappeared and their emails unanswered.
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?
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?