Thursday, September 13, 2012

On Realizing I Might Fail

About a month ago I had a really bad day.

After months of polishing my query letter and putting the finishing touches on my manuscript, I was finally ready to put myself out there. I sent off my first batch of query letters and entered my first contest since wrapping revisions.

Then the day came for the contest participants to be announced. I opened blogger, heart pounding and hands sweating, sure that I would be among the chosen few selected to participate in the multi-agent event.

I wasn't. My entry didn't even get an honorable mention.

I opened my email in an attempt to distract myself. My first two form rejections were sitting in my inbox, smiling thier evil smiles.

I told myself that it was just a stupid contest and only a few measly rejections. There would be plenty of opportunities, the business is subjective, I was earning my stripes, it only takes one yes, etc.  But something inside of me had shifted, because it was the first time I really considered the fact that I might fail.

Outside my window was a sea of grey - the fog had rolled in overnight, and San Francisco looked as bleak as I was starting to feel. It was July, but the temperature had dropped to the upper 50s. It was also Friday the 13th.

Pity Party, table for one.

Several weeks later I went for a walk with a friend and lamented about my struggles. I looked her in the eye and said the words that had repeated in my head since that gloomy Friday afternoon:  I might fail.

"Fail?" She said, eyebrows raising. "But you wrote a book.  You. Wrote. A. Book. How is that failing?"

I'd never really thought about it that way.

I wrote a book. I actually finished an entire manuscript. In the process of doing that, I learned a ton about the publishing industry, met some new and wonderful people, improved my craft, started a blog, read and edited other writers' manuscripts, received positive reviews from beta readers (even had several stay up late reading because they couldn't put my story down). So why was I so obsessed with the idea of failure, when I had accomplished so much?

It's simple: I developed such a finite view of what success looked like that I lost sight of everything else. I couldn't see the trees for the forest, so to speak.

There are artists with paintings that will never make it past the refrigerator door, dancers who will never make it off the recital stage, and bands that will never make it out of their garage.  But does that make them failures?

I would argue that the simple act of trying is a success in and of itself. How many people do you know that have actually attempted to make their dreams come true versus just talking and day dreaming about them?  My guess is not many, because there is safety in not knowing.

For those of you who are on this crazy path to publication, don't forget to celebrate your small successes along the way. And don't lose sight of the biggest success of all - you wrote a book. You were brave enough to put yourself out there.  You were brave enough to try. That alone deserves a little celebrating, no matter where your story ends up.

What have your recent successes been?


  1. Rejoicing in all your successes and accomplishments is SO important. My first experience with querying was similar to yours. I entered a contest and technically was rejected by 12 agents all in one swoop. It sucked. LOL. And I didn't want to send out those first queries after that but I did. And was rejected on all of them. ;0) But like you said. I did it. I finished a book and I pursued my dream. And then wrote another book. And queried that one. And landed an agent. So... keep writing. Keep having all those little successes.

    1. It's amazing how much you learn with that first manuscript. My writing has improved so much thanks to the great feedback I've received, as well as through what I learned by critiquing other manuscripts. So if it doesn't happen for this story I'm hopeful that I can take everything I've learn and put it into the next one. And it's always great hearing from others who succeeded. Congrats to you!

  2. I'm glad I found your blog and this post. I really needed to read this. I had my bit of rejection today, but there's been good come out of it. I received some good advice and will put it toward my next step. Thanks for some very great advice. This is one post I'll keep coming back to, anytime I feel in the dumps after a rejection. Thank you.

  3. So glad you found the post useful. It's a bumpy road we're on, but one day it will all be worth it. Best of luck to you and hope you get some good news very soon!