Overcoming Failure: My Journey as an Author/Entrepreneur

Apr 25, 2017

Most success stories of self-published authors begin like this: an amateur author puts up a story on Amazon. To their utter disbelief, the book is a success. It sells thousands of copies, eventually catching the attention of major publishers and movie executives; and the rest is history.

My story is a bit different. I put up “The Divinity Bureau” on Amazon by the tenth rejection letter. I told myself, “Screw these people. I’m going to make it on my own.” I heard stories of famous people that had overcome rejection, from Albert Einstein to J.K. Rowling. I thought that if they could do it, then I could as well.

First week of sales: I sold five copies. I made $25.

The next week wasn’t much better. Eventually, sales just tapered off completely. It was a far cry from the overnight success that I once hoped for.

By the second month, I decided to take it down and pursue a traditional publisher. I blamed my lack of success on my lack of resources and thought that a traditional publisher could do it much better. I went to a writer’s conference, which is when I got hit with a dose of reality: “Most traditional publishers won’t take a book that’s been previously self-published.”

A string of thoughts went through my mind. Most of them begin with the letter “F.”

As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one. At the same conference, I was sitting next to a woman that had the same problem. She, like me, had spent years working on her book. And she, like me, hoped that a traditional publisher would take notice of the hard work she had put in and give her book new life.

The unfortunate reality is that it doesn’t quite work that way. In this day and age, it’s easy to publish a book. But it’s also easy to mess it up. And in this day and age, most publishers don’t have the time to consider giving books a second chance.

So, how do you cope with career failure? Here are a few things that I learned:

  • Embrace it. For me, this was easier said than done. I spent months in denial after the fact, telling myself that I’d eventually get a traditional publisher. And when I finally admitted to it, I was too scared to try anything new. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d be working a 9 to 5 for the rest of my life.
  • Learn from your mistakes. This is also easier said than done. I’d spent a long time blaming the industry for my failure; the reality is that I jumped too quickly into the industry without doing my research and planning things out. And when I decided to start Asset Creative House, that was the first thing I was sure to do. Eventually, I built my entire business model around strategizing and planning.
  • Know that success takes hard work. Sometimes, I’ll look back at the stories of Albert Einstein and J.K. Rowling. I always thought that they just managed to get their big break because they got lucky. I imagined some higher deity saying, “Okay, you’ve been dealt with enough hardship. Now, here’s your big break.” But it doesn’t work like that. Albert Einstein, J.K. Rowling, and the many other entrepreneurs that recovered from failure didn’t spend their time moping about it. They picked themselves back up and started working towards the paths that lead to their eventual success.

I remember those months after that conference. After my third consecutive week of no sales, I took down my book and cried. I had spent four years working on that book, and it felt like I’d thrown away a big part of my life for nothing.

I asked myself what I was going to do next. I’d always seen myself as a writer, but the market didn’t seem to have any room for any more writers. Yet I remember meeting various agents and publishers, and I remembered the way they’d talk to me. They were the gatekeepers of my career, and they knew it.

These were the thoughts that went through my head:

  • Who do these people think they are? I spent four years working on this book – not them!
  • I’m the one that invested in these writers workshops, critique groups, and books on marketing/writing -not them!
  • How dare these people talk to me like this! I’m a corporate manager, and I’d never talk to anyone with such blatant disrespect!
  • If only there was a publishing company that was more geared towards writers instead of screwing them over…

So, I created one. And that’s how Asset Creative House got started.

Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t easy. I was still traumatized from my last failure. And at first, I didn’t even know what kind of book that I wanted to put up.

Two months before I founded ACH, one of my many queries came back to me. It was the Senior Editor for a major publishing company, who said that she loved my book and that she wanted to move me into the acquisition stage. I eventually made it to the contract stage, right around the time that I was playing with the idea of starting my own publishing company.

And that’s when everything came full circle. I had a publisher, despite being told that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I would receive a small advance. By then, I’d been working towards this dream for close to a year. Everything that I’ve worked and waited for was right in front of me.

So, I did what every entrepreneur would do: I withdrew my submission. I decided that starting my own company would be the best thing. Somewhere in the course of that year, fixing a broken publishing system became more important. (Fortunately, I wasn’t far enough that this was still, legally, an option.)

I remember my friends telling me that I was crazy. “Why would you do that? What if you never get another chance like that?” But before I knew it, I had more pre-orders than I made throughout the original book’s entire run.

No regrets.

By the way, in case you’re wondering: ACH does take work that’s been previously self-published. Email if you’re interested!

  1. Jule Ward

    Tessa, I’m inspired but still mystified. So glad I’ll be chatting with you tonight.