Mark Terry

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Successful People Fail

March 17, 2009
Successful people fail. They just keep coming back and trying again.

I could probably leave it at that, but hell, I might as well talk a bit longer. I was thinking about this this morning because I was doing the morning-talk-yourself-into-it about my Big Shiny New Project and I had this internal conversation:

What's the worst thing that could happen?

You become wildly successful?

And please note that the question mark after successful is intentional. I'm sure I could write at length about fear of success being almost as common as fear of failure, but I'll let you chew on that thought for a while.

In terms of writing, we all know if your book doesn't work out, persistence is key, turn around and write another one, market the hell out of it, yada, yada, yada. What is sometimes missing, I think, is looking at what did or did not work with the previous novel and trying to make sure you don't just repeat yourself. (Maybe I should follow my own advice).

But here's the thing. Example: bestselling author John Sandford, if you go on his website, has some mini-essays about some of his books. At least two of his published novels--I think it was "Eyes of Prey" and "Dead Watch" were turned into his editor who said, "well.... I didn't like it as much as I hoped to." Which was coded language to mean "it sucks, but you sell a lot of books so we'll do it if you insist on it." But Sandford didn't like the response, so he took the manuscripts back and totally reworked them.

I'm not going to hammer the lesson home there. If you don't get it, well, I can't help you.

There are just a couple other points I want to make.

First, in baseball, if you're batting .300--in other words, you're only hitting about a third of the time--you're having a fantastic career. Fantastic!

Second, the only clear statistic I've heard about freelance writers is that only about 1 in 12 query letters gets turned into a job assignment. I think that's about right and I work accordingly by making sure I'm always churning out queries.

Third, Bill Clinton lost an election as governor of Arkansas. Barack Obama lost an election as Illinois senator. James Lee Burke got a novel or two published then went 13 years without a book contract before coming back with his first Dave Robicheaux novel, "The Neon Rain."

Get it?

Mark Terry


Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Actually, The Lost Get-back Boogie broke Burke's thirteen year dry spell. :)

That stat about JLB always baffles me, because he's one of the most gifted writers we have. It makes me wonder how many literary geniuses out there never got published, despite lifetimes of persistence.

7:34 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I think it's a story that tells us an awful lot about the often baffling subjectivity of the publishing industry. And didn't The Lost Get-back Boogie get published by a small university press after about 100 rejections then get nominated for the Pulitzer? Or was it the National Book Award?

7:59 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

I think I'm afraid of more responsibility. I need more filling-up-the-cup in my life. I'm so tired of working all the freaking time, and yet I'm months behind. But if I work just a couple hours more a day, I'll be able to afford to have a family, hence more filling-the-cup.

I got a house cleaner to come once every two weeks, and I have to keep myself from hugging her and weeping on her shoulder for the help, LOL!

11:20 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Work hard. Play hard.

12:19 PM  
Blogger LurkerMonkey said...

Remember that commercial in which Michael Jordan lists off all the times he missed? "I missed 10,000 free throws, I missed the game winning shot 57 times, I missed 4,524 three-pointers ..." I always think about that now, because of course all we remember is the swish.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Linda Pendleton said...

And Abraham Lincoln lost elections...

11:05 PM  
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