The thing about looking at successful writers, or successful people in any field, is they rarely make the headlines or show up on your radar until they’ve made it. This makes them hard to relate to or compare yourself against.
Accepting failure before it happens doesn’t mean giving up or being pessimistic. You can prepare yourself for the silent audience, bad review or unsold book if you accept that at some point it will happen. Think of it as a lesson learnt and something to tick off your list.
The people you look up to, even the ones who aren’t famous but seem to have carved out a market for themselves and are making a success out of doing what they love; they rarely share posts or images of their failures.
I’ve read a few success stories where people just seem to have stumbled into becoming a popular Instagram poet, landing a publishing deal or whatever else. These are either the few exceptions, or they’re not telling you about the time they spent in obscurity and all the rejections they received before that. It gives everyone else an unrealistic image of what success looks like. “Overnight success” usually takes years to achieve.
I’m nowhere near being a successful anything, although I’ve had a few small successes and close calls; such as having a few books accepted by published, almost carving out a full-time career as a copywriter, an almost promising self-published book and a few shorter pieces accepted for paid publication. So, I’m going to share some of my failures and disappointments, to show you that all (or most) of us have them.
I had two books accepted for publications in a relatively short space of time. The first went horribly wrong. I was amongst the many authors who never received their royalties before the publisher shut down. The second publisher had better intentions, but is close to shutting its doors as I write this.
Making a living from writing
After trying to make a living for my books, I became a freelance copywriter. It wasn’t ideal, having to write to a set of criteria on subjects I wouldn’t have chosen myself, but I adapted to it. I was given a paid ghostwriter trial for a fiction book and some other freelance writing, and things were starting to build up. Then there was a pandemic and much of my work dried up. Of course the virus is extremely serious and has taken many lives, so I’m glad to be alive, but it doesn’t change the disappointment I felt at getting so close to the dream of making a full-time living as a writer, even if it wasn’t the type of writing I ideally wanted to do.
My years of self-publishing and my two failed publishers taught me a lot, so I used that knowledge to publish and promote my recent novel Ghost of Me. I had pre-orders and reviews (from advance reader copies) before the release date and it all looked promising. Sales dried up quickly when the virus spread and so my book was (understandably) forgotten as people had more important things to think about.
Where do I start? There have been so many. These include bad reviews, (some deserved and others from internet trolls and bullies) reading out work to an unresponsive audience (the poems were too subtle for them and they preferred something more direct – it happens, so move on) and trying to build up awareness of my books by running giveaways online. I’ve run a few competitions with few or no entrants. It can be a real awakening when you realise you can’t even give away copies of your own book.
Why do I keep going?
After re-reading that last part I’m asking myself the same question, but I’ve had some successes, however small. I had two publishers who thought my books were worth publishing. Okay, so one of them stole the royalties, but they must have thought they could get enough money from it to be worth their time and effort.
I’ve also had several pieces of writing published (and paid for) even before I started copywriting. I’ve also had some great feedback from the copywriting projects I’ve worked on. Last year, the magazine I created (which I’m sadly putting together the last issue for) was given a place performing poetry at The Festival of Manchester. I could probably mention a few more successes, but this blog post isn’t for me to brag. My point is you keep going by remembering the successes. They may happen less than the failures, but they also mean more when they do happen.