Advice is weird. There’s a lot of it floating around basically all the time. “Advice for aspiring writers” or “advice for debut authors” are terms I have, at times in my career, muted on twitter because none of it is ever absolute. Your mileage may vary in a very very big way. No advice is right for everyone and no advice will magically fix all your problems.
I’m going to tell you the story I always tell my mentees first thing when we start working together. Let’s hop into ye olde time machine and rewind to 2016.
I submitted to pitch wars in 2016 and had the good fortune to be selected by a mentor. I knew I was in for a big revision and a lot of work… but I had no idea how much. I got my mentor’s editorial notes and dove in. I did my best and rewrote huge chunks of the book, so when I sent my revision to my mentor, I thought I’d done a pretty good job! But then she told me I hadn’t nailed it. I didn’t get one of the major revision notes right and my draft fell super flat.
It would have been easy at that point to say “Well, I like it so too bad you’re wrong!” or simply just give up and decide I couldn’t do it but that wouldn’t get me closer to publication. It would turn this opportunity to try again into a dead end. That version of the book never would have seen the light of day because my mentor was right. Something was wrong with the book.
I’m forever grateful that my mentor didn’t mince words or let me get away with a half-assed job. She told me clearly what was wrong, and she gave me a second chance. I rewrote my entire book over the course of the next two and a half weeks, a challenge I don’t necessarily recommend for your general health and well-being, but totally recommend for improving your novel.
The fact of the matter is, when I got my first edit letter, I wasn’t a good enough writer or reviser to execute it to the degree my mentor expected. I needed to try and fail so I could learn what worked and what didn’t. It’s okay to fail, and it’s okay to fail again. And again. And again.
I had to rewrite my pitchwars book a total of eleven times from its first draft to its final published draft. Those first 10 drafts are, technically, failures. But they’re also stepping stones. Each of them brought me closer to publication, and each of them taught me something about writing, about revising, and about myself. Failure was, perhaps, the most important step in my success story and without it, I’d still be stuck fiddling with commas in that disaster of a first draft.
And the thing is, in publishing, failure is everywhere.
Sometimes it feels like publishing is a really shitty road with a bunch of potholes, no lanes, and one of those traffic lights that blinks but it’s a weird color and you just don’t remember what it’s supposed to mean. Everything is confusing and dangerous and it’s like you’ve been set up to fail. It’s easy to go the wrong direction or stumble into the ditch, especially when there are a dozen different traffic directors in orange vests all telling you to stop, go, turn left, turn right, turn into a bird and fly away… Honestly, who even is in charge??
Well, in this poorly conceived metaphor, you are. You’re in charge.
Because you’re the author of your book. You get to decide how to navigate your career, your book, your process. The terrain might be bumpy, but you’re still in the driver’s seat. This is a terrifying realization to have no matter when in your career you have it. It puts a huge weight on your shoulders and if you’re not careful, the pressure can absolutely crush you.
I promise I’m not trying to freak you out here, but the fact of the matter is that you get to decide how you want to navigate this really shitty road. You may not have any control over the way it’s paved or the bumps along the way, but you get to control how you react to it. I say this because it becomes so so easy to blame failure on external things like agents or the current market. Are those factors? Absolutely. Are they the reason you’re not published yet? Maybe… but blaming them and stubbornly forging on without adjusting your trajectory won’t help you. Individual tastes and trends are like the potholes in the road. You can’t get rid of them, but you can watch for them and adjust your driving.
There’s no failsafe way to completely avoid failure. No one spits out a perfect first draft that is universally appealing to agents, editors, and readers. And if you think you’re the exception, I’m not sure why you’re reading my blog, Anne Rice.
But failure isn’t inherently bad! Failure isn’t a dead end. Failure is just an obstacle. Failure means “not at this time, not in this way.” It doesn’t mean “never.”
Embracing failure has been one of the most important steps in my journey so far. It made me a better writer, a better reader, and a better author. But improvement will only happen if you make room for growth. You will fail, you will be rejected, but if you reframe failure as a step to success you will also try again and get closer to your goal.
So, if you don’t get chosen for pitchwars or if you do and you don’t nail your revision or if your dream agent rejects you or your book fails on submission to editors… that’s okay! Pick up your red pen, get back behind the wheel, and drive on… the worst that can happen is you learn something.