Embracing Failure

Stop Sign by Derek K. Miller from FlickrOne of the hardest things I’ve come across to discuss on here is, ironically, one of the areas where I have the most experience: marketing books.

I’ve tried countless methods and advertising campaigns and tours and to promote book sales; I should, in theory, have plenty of blog posts about all this stuff to share with hopeful authors out there.

The problem is it’s incredibly hard for me to share any of this stuff because none of it has worked. I am not an author with a successfully sustainable line of books. Yet. None of the methods I’ve tried have caused me to blow up, wherein “blowing up” is a good thing, as in the number of readers I have increases drastically.

The key to all this is the one word sentence I added to that last paragraph after much debate. The word, “Yet.” That word implies that finding my audience will happen in the future, and what I’m doing now is working towards that success.

It’s a very important word.

Take away that word and I am not working towards a goal, I’m wasting time in a meaningless effort.

And, more on topic, the presence or absence of that word changes everything I know from either helpful data about what is not effective in the marketing of books, or a bunch of useless failures that a dreamer who will never make it has accumulated.

One word, lots of implication.

This whole experiment, this whole direction I’ve taken over a million of my written words in, this is all based on the fact that there is a better way for authors to find their audiences than the current methods. And that this way is far more basic, less prone to the whims of luck, and not at all based on your average notion of, “Oh well if the book is good then the audience will automatically appear.”

Is this idea right?

Beats me. It depends on who you ask. There are plenty of people more than happy to believe that “good” books make it, and that’s that. If your audience doesn’t explode right away then you’re obviously never going to find an audience.

But that’s…that’s just so wrong. Every bit of information just screams that such a notion makes no sense.

Look, if every book that was going to be a success automatically became one, then the authors of those books would have no problems finding publishers. But that, in no story I have ever heard, has been the case. Every best-selling, “Duh, of course this will be a hit,” book that has come along was rejected by countless publishers. Most of them were rejected an absurd amount. Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October was finally, after tons of rejection, picked up by a small publisher that dealt solely in naval books.

At the beginning of the path for every well known book out there, there was nothing but rejection and struggle. Granted, some tap into an audience freakishly fast, but I still think that there’s something that happens before that self-sustaining runaway reaction that isn’t given enough credit.

There is also the notion that these runaway hits aren’t actually quality books. That a “quality” book will be recognized by real readers, like reviewers, and pushed by those readers, despite what’s going on in the pop world.

But then there’s F. Scott Fitzgerald. He went to his grave labeled a nice little short story writer but an utter failure as a novelist. It took decades for The Great Gatsby to find it’s audience and be recognized.

I think about that a lot. The Great Gatsby has become possibly my favorite book ever. I always wonder if I even would have read it if I had been living when it was published. Odds are? No. It’s not like anyone else was.


It’s a big word and one that deserves a lot of thought.

One the one hand there are the naysayers who believe that if it doesn’t happen quick and fast then success will never come.

And then there are hundreds of people who I actually respect. Those who built foundations slowly in the companies they created, or who patiently worked away in labs to revolutionize the world, or who quietly chipped away at problems until great cracks formed.

Edison always pops up in my head: “We did not fail 1,000 times. We eliminated 1,000 methods that did not work.”

(this is the popular paraphrasing, the actual quote is sort of technical)

I have, after a few years of self-marketing, not found a sustainable audience.

Am I a failure? Or have I just not hit upon the correct formula yet? Time will tell and I know plenty of opinions exist.

My overall point, though, is that I would like to use this site to discuss what does and doesn’t work. But I’ve been remiss to do that, since all I have right now is the “What does not work,” part.

But I would like to share more often, I just need to shake off that notion of failure.