If you’ve been trying to crack this nut called fiction for long, you’ve probably encountered your fair share of ups and downs. Maybe you pushed through a character problem and finally made it to The End. Perhaps you’ve won contests, gotten a full request from an agent, or even published your first book. But then, there were the seeming failures—low sales, rejections, not placing, getting tangled in plot points. If you’re like most people including myself, I linger on the lows more than I celebrate the highs. The problem is, that’s the exact wrong thing to do. If you want to succeed as a writer, you’ll have to get past your fiction fails.
Don’t Let Fiction Fails End in a Shame Spiral
According to the experts, failing can easily become a shame spiral that sends people into a loser vortex—not to worry you, lol. Apparently winning pumps us full of endorphins and testosterone, priming us for more winning. Losing does…the opposite. How do we deal, then, when rejection is a part of a writer’s life?
Don’t dwell on it. Accept the rejection and move on. I’ve had two manuscripts pitched by my agent to all the big publishers with high expectations. Twice, they’ve passed. I’m not going to lie—it hurt at the time, and it would be great to be raking in royalty checks right now. However, I’ve been holding onto a piece of advice that’s stuck with me ever since the very talented, best-selling author shared it: it’s better to be unpublished than published badly. I’ve chosen to see each new manuscript as a chance to get my strongest work out there for my debut. Positive thinking—it’s the best cure.
Reframe Expectations by Marking Progress
Remember the part about staying positive? Sometimes that’s easier said than done. How are you supposed to bounce back from a form rejection, a bad review, or dismissal sales? First, reframe expectations. So things didn’t go perfectly. So what? This is all a learning experience—as long as you make it one. If you keep doing the same thing again and again, receiving the same response, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your approach. What are concrete steps you can take to improve your results next time? This is a subjective business—sometimes the issue is just a matter of taste. Other times, you can learn and do better. Could you get a critique of your query letter to make it as catchy as possible? Could you take an online class about self-publishing? Can you reach out to other book reviewers who vibe with your work? Then, mark your progress. Write it down. What have you done to improve and how has it changed your results? You’d be amazed how this exercise can make you feel more confident.
Writing is a hobby until you’re published. Even when you do (and should!) take it seriously, unpaid work comes after paid work, housework, childcare, spouse care, and self-care. We’re doing this in our nonexistent spare time, people! Let’s give ourselves grace. So we didn’t write a flawless bestseller the first time we put pen to paper. I wouldn’t call that a fail. Let’s instead name what it is: a learning experience. So the first story you upload doesn’t hit. So what? Write another. So the first thirty agents tell you no. Big deal. Query another thirty. So your first draft is a disaster. So what? Get a second opinion and rewrite it. The quickest path to failure is quitting. Stay persistent. Keep trying. Keep at it. You’re a writer, after all—it’s what you do.