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Fear of Failure

Anyone else get the sudden feeling that they aren't good enough, or that nobody will like their work, or that so many writers have already written great books in your genre, so nobody's going to want another one?

I know it sounds self-pitiful, so I apologise for that... but I was going through lists of agents, and instead of getting excited when I found they represented a well-known author in the genre, I simply thought: well, they won't want me, then 😂

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Replies (46)
  • Hard not to feel like this sometimes. We all do, I think, especially after knock backs and rejections. It's a hard thing, putting yourself out there, knowing you're more likely to get a rejection than an acceptance. I can't be the only one with WAY more noes than yeses under my belt.

    But.

    I love writing, I'm improving thanks to JW and fellow writers. And the successes I do have spur me on, tell me I may not be a genius at this writing thing, but I'm better than many. They give me hope.

    Have you had a lot of rejections or are you at the start of your subbing journey?

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    • Thank you Lynn! I'm at the very start of my subbing journey, so there's no cause for me to give up yet, but I'm finding it daunting, especially as I've spent years working on my book.
      I am so glad that I found JW, it seems to be a brilliant community and I'm sure it will help me cling onto some confidence!

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      • I know how you feel. I'm not that experienced in agent rejection compared to many - I've only had about a dozen rejections over two books so far. I have writer friends whose rejections run into the hundreds. All I can say is to make it easier on yourself, only send out when you're really ready. You'll think you're ready, then go polish your subbing package some more. I've sent out material that wasn't as good as it could be and it was, of course, rejected. With this latest novel I've rewritten and rewritten, been very careful about supporting material (cover letter, synopsis) and I've had two very positive, helpful rejections and a full request. Good luck with it all - you're in the right place to succeed.

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      • You are definitely not alone. I spent years daydreaming about being a writer because if I admitted out loud to anybody that I wanted to be published then I was opening myself up to fail. 

        I still haven't dared send anything to an agent yet but I am learning more all the time through Jericho Writers. On the one hand, the more I find out the more I realise how much work I need to do - why would an agent pick be as the 1 in a couple of thousand pitches? But on the other hand I am becoming more confident as a writer and realising that if I keep at it some of the stuff I produce is actually not completely crap! I still have lots of editing to do but I have an idea of how to do it now and of what direction I need to head in. And the journey will be long but it will be enjoyable.

        Keep writing and believing in yourself.

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        • My boss looked at me puzzled when I told her I'd fine on a writing course. She had a 'everyone knows how to write' attitude. People who don't do it, don't appreciate how much time these things take. 

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          • Me too - the last ten years. It's the first question that friends ask when we have a meal together. Not finished yet? Georges Simenon used to write one every two weeks.

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            • 😂 My friends stopped asking me whether I finished my book or not.

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            • Lucy, your fears and feelings in this matter are entirely understandable. But, more importantly, they are a sign of growth.

              When people start out, i any endeavour, they will most often imagine it is so easy. They ahve seen how others perform, what others create. It seems so effortless. And, thus, they believe their own efforts to be on par with others, worthy of the same recognition and success.

              It is only with maturity of skill - awareness of how much there still is to learn, how much effort the masters of the artform put into their creations - that one becomes aware that those initial creations may not be as good as we once thought them to be. Your fear is a sign that you are learning, that you have an awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of your own work, even if you can't articulate them.

              All I can say is push on. Keep learning. Master your craft. You will find, with time, that you pick up skills and techniques that never occured to you, and eventually, they will become a natural, unconscious part of your process. And your writing will be better for it.

              Of course, as Lynn mentioned, putting yourself out there, inviting the rejections, is a way to get feedback on how you are improving. Not all at once - you don't want to burn out your list - but when you feel you have something that is as good as you can make it, and have had feedback on it from other writers (and/or a JW assessment), then you should take the plunge.

              Then, while you're waiting, get stuck into the next thing you want to write.

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              • Who was it who said, "My overnight success took 20 years of hard work"?

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                • It wasn't me, honest. A famous businessman I read about years ago, said, 'Money doesn't buy happiness, but it certainly buys a better form of unhappiness (Smiley face).

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                  • I suspect most people's successful "debut" was far from the first thing they had written, just the first thing that got published. Big difference!

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                  • Well, I can totally relate.  I've racked up a total of 23 rejections so far over two novels.  17 were simple silence rejections at that.  Of the six actual responses, the only feedback I received was a) my first and only snail mail query received a rejection on fancy letterhead and contained a typo and b) an agent telling me that, at 193k words, my novel was too long, that I wasn't Stephen King (since the novel is in the horror genre).  I feel the bitter fear of failure a lot since I've started this process.  However, that fear has forced me to make a choice: either give up or start breaking out of my mold and reach out.  I chose the latter (for the first time in my life!) and found myself looking into online resources.  I found a few blogs, a few forums, things that helped shape my attitude toward the process.  It helped show me that failure in this business is normal.  It also showed me that I wasn't alone in feeling the way I do.  Just seeing that helped boost me up.  I struggle now not with my writing, which I've been working on for a long time, but with this horrible bugaboo called querying.  The perfect art of failure.  Continuing to find failure here led me to this site after months of struggling to find help.  So far, I see encouragement and helpfulness all around.  I couldn't find it at other sites that purport to offer support.  Here, I've got a much better vibe going.  Lean on the community here.  I'm finding support all over the place.  And, as for your fears?  Without fears, you have no reason to find your courage.  Be strong.  Those agents may have represented successful writers already but that just shows they're looking for the next big thing.  Why shouldn't it be you?

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                    • Thanks Stephen, and you're absolutely right, there's no reason why it shouldn't be me - or you! It's great to hear about other people's journeys.

                      I'm so glad I've found JW - just the fact that I've had helpful and sympathetic responses to my panicky post earlier shows what a support this community is. I am looking forward to improving my writing and learning new tips on how to cope with querying. 😊

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                    • Hi Lucy.

                      I think most, if not all of us, feel the same way at some point or another. It's part of being creative - whether we're writers, artists, actors, musicians, dancers... everyone who digs deep inside themselves for something truthful or vulnerable or difficult or precious or painful and then, rather than hiding it away, displays it to the world and asks if it has value (not necessarily monetary).

                      It's a terribly exposing thing to do. And rejection always hurts. But I think we have to teach ourselves not to take it personally (harder to do than to say!). And, when all is said and done, although it's wonderful when someone else likes our offerings, the only people we should really be trying so hard to please are perhaps our worst critics of all... ourselves. 😄 

                      Write what you like, when you like, as often as you like... just to please yourself. Read lots, always remembering that even those writers whose work you love have had their self-doubts and bleak moments, not to mention rejections, and try not to comapre yourself to them. Those moments when you want to throw it all away always pass. And there'll be another story to tell tomorrow.

                      And if not, there's usually a sympathetic shoulder or two here! 😊 

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                      • Really well said, Jon. And Stephen, don't forget about the online business. More money is being made there than Trad. Even if it is not about the money, if your book is half decent, and your blurb and ads are good, people will read your book. However, if it is good and sales in numbers follow, you have the world start to open up for you. It may be that agents come to your door. Queries to agents is a depressing exercise for the best writers. Their judgement is irrelevant online. Your structures may not be perfect and other things may not be, but it is the story that counts and as long as it hums along and is easy to read you will get sales. Take control of your own destiny. Sure, send it to agents, but keep writing. When you have had a gut full of rejections, without any reasons of substance, see it for what it is and do your own thing. Don't forget, 12 or so of these experts knocked back Harry Potter. Do not let their rejections hurt you.

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                        • Thank you Jon! Wise words which I will certainly take on board. 😊
                          I think this thread will be one I will keep coming back to every time things look bleak!

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                          • Well said Robert. I love your encouraging comments.

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                          • I think I fear success more than I fear failure. Failure?... bah, I'm used to it.

                            Success on the other hand would be hard to get used to. Imagine how hard it would be, to earn 250K a day like J K Rolling??? I would be permanently scared of mismanaging all that money, having to rely on experts to do it for me, loosing my independence, sleepless nights, being taken advange of by my finance managers and staff, distrusting everybody, and... being ambushed on the street on my way to the shops to buy ice-cream. I probably would have to buy a big mansion, with a high perimeter fence, video cameras and muscular security guys patrolling around the clock. SAD... If I succeed in writing a good enough book, I think I'll probably give the publishing rights away to chariy so I won't have to deal with all that. Ever...

                            There are worse things than fear of failure. Fear of dying, or maybe not so much the fear of dying, but the fear of what might be killing you slowly. I've been there. It's real. Failure is not real. It's just a state of mind.

                            Happy writing! (You are supposed to enjoy it. Don't torture yourself.)

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                            • There are worse things than fear of failure. Totally agree, Been there, and under constant repercussions of the experiences. 



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                              • And Rowling has also had abduction threats and is now involved in this trans controversy. I'd rather be less successful and not have to deal with all that!

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                                • Haha, that's brilliant! You're absolutely right! And I do enjoy writing, it's when I feel most like me.

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                                • Hi Lynn,

                                  I fully understand your feelings/frustrations. I don’t want to appear an Alan Sugar from the Apprentice. But everything is possible. As Donna has mentioned, there is a fear of being successful. Still, on the other hand, I firmly believe that everything is possible if one applies oneself. But, with writing, it has been difficult. This is despite many years, of working with people to encourage them to shape their futures and realise their dreams. You will see from my LinkedIn profile that I have a very diversified background. 

                                  I think it comes back to why we write. Mine is a passion. Success? Don’t know if that is essential. For those who have seen my first drafts, they’ve suggested serialising on the internet. Despite all the optimism, there are periods when I can really feel down. Am I being too ambitious, complicated story, ignoring the advice of the on-line courses? I think one has to follow one’s anima and raison d’etre for writing, Then if the measure of success is being published, fine. Otherwise, absorb the joy of having written something that has given (hopefully) so much enjoyment.  

                                  I am convinced that through enjoyment/passion/determination, one will eventually achieve the ambition of being published

                                  I hope this has not been too long-winded! The basic message is to believe in yourself. 

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                                  • And remember, despite everything, life is beautiful. And you have chosen something creative that can contribute to the enjoyment of others. Whatever your genre. 

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                                    • Thanks for this comment, Robert - you really highlight why we're all here; it's the passion for writing. I hadn't thought about my ideas of 'failure' in that way before. You're absolutely right in that if nobody ever publishes my work, that's fine - it will have kept me happy and entertained, which is all one can wish for in life. 

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                                    • I’m afraid of failure less than success. The balance must not go to either extreme, nor both at the same time. My mind must take the straight and narrow before I’m satisfied, so to speak. It’s like Jurassic park, I like the beginning, but not how it ends. It might sound selfish, but there always seems like something better to do, before I commit myself to the task of going any further than my imagination. I deal with the anecdotal failures of my own life, and try to project the outside world onto screen. I must realise my strengths, and analyse my weakness, much more, in my opinion. I think the key is not to get too excited. There are always two sides to every argument.

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                                      • Rejection is a part of life - not just writing. That sounds quite profound from me on a Monday afternoon, but there's some truth in there.

                                        How many times in life (especially when you were young) when you fancied a girl or a boy - or these days possibly both and neither at the same time and been knocked back - Yes Sarah Ainsworth I'm talking about you!!

                                         It knocks your confidence for a while but eventually you dust yourself down and get back out there.Or, alternatively, retire to a dusty cottage, collect cats and toby jugs and become eccentric.

                                        I also remember the times I'd performed incredibly well at a job interview only not to get asked back!! - That happened only last year, sometimes you'll never know why, perhaps unconscious bias in the interviewer or reviewer in the case of a book, or some other subtle nuance is at work and you'll maybe never find out what it was that turned them off. Just make sure it;s not your after-shave/perfume or these days both or neither.

                                        I forced myself (this weekend to finish a book) I won't name it - but it's sold over 2 million copies - it was awful. I only read it to the end to see if there was something I was missing. This is the second time this had happened to me in the last month - two monster books with hundreds of 5 star reviews but in my opinion YUCK with a capital Y.

                                        But, I realize that many people loved it - so I have to accept that this 450 page tome of spelling mistakes, dubious grammar and a story line full of inconsistencies and terrible dialogue was seen as brilliant by both a major publishing house and millions of readers.

                                        It fills me with both hope and despair at the same time, but also inspires me to carry on in it;s own way as surely I can do better than that!!

                                        So far, my rejection list across two attempts is somewhere north of 52, If I hit 100 hundred I'll probably go and do something else....My life is pretty good overall so I can't complain too much, there are many worse off than me.


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                                        • ...retire to a dusty cottage, collect cats and toby jugs and become eccentric. 

                                          I live in a bungalow, not a cottage! Otherwise, quite accurate! 😂 

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                                          • Danny, you're so right, there are oodles of books out there which I think are awful...! So there's hope for us all 😂 


                                            I hope you keep persevering, and don't give up writing altogether even if the list keeps growing. That really would be a sad thing, although can one ever be sad when surrounded by cats?

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                                          • Lucy, this post is getting old now, but it has stuck with me for a reason I can't quite describe. I've thought back to times I felt the same, too many unfortunately, but they all pass and life goes on. What I wanted to say is this. You don't have to write a book that's a best seller, just love what you write and share it where you can. That alone will give you great pleasure because you've started your journey.

                                            That journey does not need to be 80000 words. The prose I remember since when I was twenty is this. 'In that book which is my memory, on the first page of the chapters that begins the day I met you, appear the words, ‘here begins a new life.’ 

                                            It would not matter if those were the only words Dante wrote; they are my love, my screaming desire, something I will always aspire to write. 29 words of power-packed passion that will forever be his. And yet, I would guess that 999 of every thousand people in this world have never heard them. But I did, and they changed my life.

                                            You will soon write something like that, and when you do you will know. If you can do it once, you can do it again. Listen and learn, ask questions, but never take critisism from anyone unless it is constructive. Never fear. A 'no thanks' is just two words. You have a life full of beautiful words ahead of you.

                                            So stick out your chest, tell everybody else to F off, and write 29 words of wonder, Lucy. Only 29 words. Rob.


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                                            • Rob, this is just magical. Thank you so much for adding your thoughts, they are so valuable. I will always remember 29 words of wonder.

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                                              • I'm impressed at you quoting Dante (and a marvellous 29 words it is). The only quote I remember from English lessons at school is a poem: "God made the little fly and then forgot to tell us why." Wish my memory behaved itself better! LOL!

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                                              • Only you and every other writer alive ha! 

                                                The thing that helps me is to remember why I write - I write because I love it, because of the feeling I get when something comes together and I just know, even as I'm writing it, that this is better than I can write - that I did't write this, that it just happened to me while I was typing.

                                                Of course we all want recognition, we all want to be published and to validate what it takes out of us, but ultimately, I think most of write because it's simply what we have to do. If someone told me tomorrow I would never, ever get published, I would still write. As often as I've wanted to stop (setback after setback), I've not yet been able to. 


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                                                • It’s quite normal, and if anyone tells you differently they’re lying! 

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                                                  • This is very common, I wrote a blog about this last year which some people have found useful

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                                                    • 'Does that mean a writer can buy they're way to publication by attending writing courses, having critiques and assessments done etc etc.' 

                                                      I don't believe so. Of course, a 'writer' can improve, but an innate talent is, for me, a prerequisite. Unless you're a celebrity - whatever that means.

                                                      Of course, a 'platform' in an interesting or unusual subject helps - e.g. brain surgeon, prisoner of war, circus clown, etc.

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                                                      • Thanks for your comment, Taj.

                                                        I agree that you don't need to spend huge sums to learn how to write well. What you need is time and hard study. I'm a self-taught writer and I think that I'm not doing badly, so far I've entered 3 writing competitions and I've been longlisted in 2 of them.

                                                        This is how I've taught myself the craft of writing:

                                                        To start, I read about a dozen different books about creative writing  to learn the basics such as differences between genres, POVs, plot, sub-plot, setting, characterization and character arcs, etc. I got most of them FREE from my public library, but have since bought a few to keep at home.

                                                        Then I reread some of the well-known classics and present day bestsellers to see how the previous elements I'd learnt were done. I often underline and take notes on the side of pages as I read and I revisit my books to check things when in doubt. Most of these books were bought at charity shops for pennies.

                                                        I did a few FREE courses with futurelearn.com and the University of Iowa FREE MOOCs. I joined two online writing platforms, Jericho Writers (under their previous name) and scribophile.com I also joined 4 writing groups in London but don't attend regularly. (One of them the Write Together). I made a list of people that could / would read my work and give me feedback.

                                                        I often do internet searches for stuff I'm trying to understand, but you need to know the difference between good info and bad, misleading info. Most authors have got blogs, some are very good. You can learn a lot on the internet.

                                                        Every time a new book wins a prize, I try to read it and find out why, what made that book so special. I read book reviews online to know what the experts are saying.  I read a lot both in my favourie genre and also in other genres. I often reread my favourite books, and each time I discover something new. I now read like a writer, observing the art & cratf that went into it.

                                                        So... as I said above, it's all free or nearly free. The only investment is time, a lot of time.

                                                        Hope this is helpful.

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                                                        • Donna, I'm worn out by just reading your response! What dedication.

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