What is failure? It's such a damning word. So brutal. It suggests an abrupt end of hope. A finality. And that's how it can feel, but it isn't how it is. Life goes on. Things continue to progress either with us or without us, perhaps not in the way we envisaged, but you can't stop things moving forward. So, if things keep moving then there is still hope. Failure isn't an ending.; it's a set back, a moment to pause, reflect and think again. It's part of our journey, not just as writers but as human beings.
Failure is defined as a lack of success or a failure to meet expecation. So let's look at suceess. Success is down to many factors and relies on a degree of serendipity. It is not within our control. We won't always be successful. And while that's painful, it's what makes success, when it does come, all the sweeter. If we were guarunteed successs, would that be satisfying? Would we be motivated to improve?
Now let's look at expectation, because expecation is something we can manage. A failure to meet an expectation is disappointing. It happens all the time in different asepcts of our lives and it can be painful. But where did that expectation come from in the first place and was it reasonable?
My first 2 book deal with a mainstream publisher was not renewed because they failed to sell my novels to supermarkets. Part of the problem was my name. Apparently “readers of commercial fiction do not buy novels by people with names they can’t pronounce”. I was already an established script writer in the North West and no-one here seemed to have a problem with my name. Back in the 70's at my South East London primary school, I was known as Sophia, the English version of my name, because that was more acceptable to the other kids and their parents. I was in my thirites when I finally had the courage to return to Zosia. And here I was again. 20 years later, being asked to modify myself to fit in. I did think about it. And then I sat down and wrote a letter to my publisher to try and explain the importance of my name. I made a polite stand. I was not prepared to apologise for my heritage again. They accepted my decision. Did my decision cost me valuable readers? Quite probably. But here's the important question: When I wrote my book, did I expect to see it in supermarkets? No. My first 2 novels were not commercial fiction but literary psychological thrillers that weren't quite right for the supermarket selection. A place on the supermarket shelf was not my expectation so it was not my failure.
Both novels sold well and got good reviews. That was my expectation and my success. But that was not the end of it.
I had another book planned. Not a thriller but something more ambitious. My publisher wasn't interested. Wouldn't even discuss something which was not a thriller. You could say I failed to persuade them. I would say they refused to listen so I decided to find a different route.
Lockdown gave me time to write the novel I wanted to write. I had nothing left to lose, no-one else I needed to please. I wanted to write something ambitious and playful, rooted in this magical landscape and steeped in my Polish heritage. I wasn’t worried about the number of sales, but focused instead on the quality of response. I wanted 5 star reviews from people who had stumbled across the book and fallen in love with it.
The result was Once Upon A Place which I self-published with the help of my husband, my brother (cover design) and Russell at Pixel Tweaks https://pixeltweakspublications.com. After the first flurry, I stopped promoting it and moved on. I continue to sell about a copy of month. The reviews and e-mails I receive from readers from all over the world are beautiful and that’s enough. It was such a straightforward and empowering process that I did it again with The Treehouse and may well do it again.
The writing and publishing of Once Upon A Place was a healing process. I could have given up after my mainstream publishing experience, but I didn’t, and neither should you. It’s the story that matters. I write because I have stories to tell which convey truths I need to share. The more I write the better I get. You never stop developing and improving as a writer. I will keep doing that. Some projects will be ‘successful’ in commercial terms and some won’t, but that’s about serendipity and not the quality of my work. Everything we write is progress. Keep on keeping on!