We all have that feeling now and then, don’t we? You know, the (usually loud) voice that says, “You’re a failure! Give this up!”
Or is it just me?
Because lord knows I’ve thought that many times.
I work in a fairly brutal industry. Publishing is just unforgiving when it comes to selling fiction to Traditional houses. I’m not talking about the self-publishing craze, but the way of producing books the old-fashioned way—where your manuscript sells to a publisher, who pays you an advance, undertakes all the costs, and then pays royalties.
You know, the way it once was exclusively done.
It’s always been exceedingly tough to sell to a Traditional publisher, and I’ve been blessed in that area. And with the digital revolution over the last decade and a half, it’s gotten even more incredibly difficult.
What once was a literal million-to-one shot is now more like 3-million-to-one.
It’s not difficult to feel like a failure here.
I bet your industry is tough as well. Many who read this are bloggers, trying to succeed in a huge market. The latest statistic I could find said that 6.7MM people publish blogs on blogging websites, and another 12MM write blogs using their social networks.
And that was from an article that listed 45 reasons to blog!
Still, that’s a lot of folks out there trying to get messages out.
And I’m not even sure I know what “successful blog” translates to.
Many, many professions are tough to succeed in. And that doesn’t even mean being at the top of the pyramid, but merely finding success in the middle.
We all begin starry-eyed. And none of us likes to fail.
But no matter what you aspire to, if you’re not failing, you’re not trying. Absolutely no one succeeds all the time.
But no matter what you aspire to, if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.
And if you’ve failed, you’re in good company.
Don’t you always love those stories about famous folks who failed a zillion times before they succeeded?
And aren’t their takes on it eye-openers?
I always loved that Thomas Edison quote, when asked if he felt like a failure after so many tries that didn’t work.
“Why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitely over 9,000 ways an electric lightbulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.” ~Edison
Okay, I have to admit, I haven’t tried anything 9,000 times.
And I’m fairly happy that Edison didn’t quit!
Or how about Walt Disney, who was fired by the editor in 1919 from his job at the Kansas City Star paper because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
When I wrote my first novel, of course I believed it was brilliant (all writers do!). And of course, I had a lot to learn. As one editor’s rejection read: “Your infelicitous word choices turned me off.”
Ouch! I can’t really think of a worse criticism for a writer.
And yep, I saved that one.
But, I got better and my third novel was published by a nice Traditional Literary press.
Famous rejections in publishing are legion. They are everywhere, but again, publishing is what I know.
1. Gone With the Wind was rejected 38 times before a publisher said yes. It sold 30 million copies.
2. One publisher said of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead: “Unsaleable and unpublishable.” Random House took a chance and it sold 7 million copies in the US alone.
3. Twenty-four literary agencies turned down Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. The 25th agency took him on, and a week later it sold for 1 million smackers.
4. When Louisa May Alcott was told to “stick to teaching,” she refused to give up on her dream. Little Women went on to sell millions of copies, and is still in print today.
I could go on and on and on and on with these. When I said these rejections—and perceived failures—were legion, that’s not even close to the reality!
They all make me laugh, all bolster my courage. One that tickles me on all levels is: “Nobody will want to read a book about a seagull.” Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull has sold over 44 million copies.
So, where were the real failures?
In all walks of life, we can cite these sorts of stories. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mary Kay Ash, Oprah Winfrey, Colonel Sanders, Henry Ford, Abraham Lincoln. Shoot, just to list all the famous failures would take all day.
It is often said that your greatest success is just one more step beyond failure. But we want to see that success, no? To realize it. Preferably now.
I love the teachings of Abraham Hicks, and one I grapple with often is that of living in the success of the thing you seek. That when the desire is launched, you’re already on the journey toward it.
The thing that holds you back is focusing on what isn’t there yet. And the point is, to focus on what you want.
It keeps me motivated. Keeps me striving for that brass ring. Keeps me writing.
So if you feel like a failure, so what? You’re in awfully good company.
And why do we know these stories? Because these folks didn’t quit.
As Michael Jordan famously said:
“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I have missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
What keeps you going after failure?
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.