When failing is success
My queer rom-com, Love Where You Work, is here! It’s 99 cents for the next three days, so get it now. If you wait, the price will go up to $4.99, which … is still pretty cheap actually. (The paperback is $14.99.)
As I launch my second indie book, I’ve been thinking a lot about failure and the struggles faced by creators.
If I was measuring my success as a writer based on traditional metrics (money, number of books sold, agents and publishers banging down my door, etc.), I would be a failure.
A short list of ways I’ve failed:
My first book, The Lesbian Sex Haiku Book (with Cats!), which was traditionally published, failed to earn out its advance. Meaning what they paid me in advance wasn’t made back in book sales.
After that, since almost all of my writing at that time was personal essays, I tried to write a memoir, with the encouragement of my editor at Flatiron.
My memoir proposal was rejected multiple times. Then that editor got a different job. Another agent also rejected my proposal, telling me, “You’re not Malala.” (Which, yeah. Sorry I didn’t get shot in the face by the Taliban.)
I then put the memoir idea aside and decided to focus on fiction. I wrote a novel, decided it wasn’t very good, and scrapped it.
I then wrote a second novel and sent it to a single publisher for the sole reason that I had seen it mentioned in a documentary about romance books, and liked the founder’s story.
That publisher accepted the novel, but wanted to pay me only $500 and to exclusively publish with them forever. I decided that wasn’t a great deal, and that I’d try to sell it elsewhere, reasoning that if one publisher wanted it, others surely would as well.
Nope! (It’s been two years now and still nothing has come of it.)
In the meantime, my father died. He was the one person who unequivocally believed in me and supported me, and his death was devastating.
My primary way of dealing with that devastation was to have a lot of inappropriate sex with people who didn’t like me very much. While I don’t recommend this as a writing (or life) strategy, it did lead me to create more than a dozen erotica stories, which I then turned into a collection and published myself. (Transgressions.)
Since I didn’t know what I was doing on the self-publishing front, (for instance, I didn’t know that Amazon won’t let you advertise erotica) I ended up spending about $1,500 on promotions to get the word out.
To date, that book has earned $391.57.
So then I wrote ANOTHER novel! (That’s Love Where You Work.) I thought maybe this would be my foray back into traditional publishing, so I danced the dance. I sent a bunch of query letters to agents. None were ultimately interested.
As the months passed, I became frustrated and disenchanted with the many gatekeepers in traditional publishing and how long the process takes in general. (It can take up to 4 years from finished draft to market, and that’s assuming everyone says yes the first time). So I decided to publish Love Where You Work myself.
Now it’s here! My fifth book (technically) and I can’t help but ponder all these pivots and turns and cliff-dives and how every obstacle and frustration and perseverance has brought me to this place.
I realized that it’s up to us to create our own visions of success. And it’s up to us to decide what we take away from experiences, opportunities, and setbacks.
This is especially important in the age of social media, where all we see are the glorious and happy triumphs that people share every day—the engagements and weddings, the new babies, the publishing deals, the finished artworks (or Bored Ape NFTs) sold for incredible fortunes, and even the amazing fucking danish someone had for breakfast.
We see these successes but we never see the thousands of hours, dollars, and stresses that went into making those beautiful weddings happen. We don’t see the agony of would-be parents struggling to conceive month after month. We don’t see the tedious years of practice someone spent perfecting their artwork, the years they went ignored, the posts no one read or liked or hearted. No one sees the amazing fucking danish that got burnt to a crisp.
This is my small attempt to remedy that discrepancy.
And while I am totally excited to share my new book with you, and I hope you buy it and read it and enjoy it, I also know it’s already a success.
Because it’s a good story. And I’m proud of it. And mimes are involved.
I want you to be entertained, I want you to laugh, I want queer characters to get happy endings, because I never saw that myself growing up and it created a lot of fear and anxiety about what kind of life I thought I might live.
(Tangentially, I just wrote a whole essay about this.)
I am thrilled to wake up each day and create stories from my weird imagination about queer people connecting with each other, loving each other, fucking each other, and all the ways we unintentionally make such connections harder on ourselves.
These are the metrics that give my life and my writing meaning, along with the encouragement I receive from people like you.
I’m grateful for every single person who has read, bought, or downloaded my words.
When someone sends me an email telling me my writing has touched them in some small way or made them feel less alone, it eases the rejections. It dulls the pain of tedious hours spent working and reworking a single sentence until it shines.
When someone says, Thanks for writing about queer love, or your hearing loss, or about being white-passing, or feeling not Native enough, it makes the failures worthwhile.
That’s how I know I’ve “made it.” The rest is just details.