Failing Sucks, But It Might Be Good For You

If I just copy and paste one sentence from each...
I'm currently trying to write a book. No, scratch that. I have written a book, but I'm trying to rewrite it into a great book.

Earlier last year, I submitted a draft to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest, whose first prize is a publishing contract and a cash advance of $50,000 USD.
In hindsight it's clear that the book wasn't ready. But after working on the same project for several years, I was impatient to get it out there and move on to something else. Thus I ignored the plot holes, dialogue inconsistencies and grammatical errors and submitted my manuscript at 3am, two hours before the deadline.

In the month leading up to the announcement of first round finalists, I did not forget that I had entered. On the contrary, I counted down the days until the 'results are in' email appeared in my inbox. Seconds after that, I had logged on to the site to check if I'd made it.

Successful entrants had been listed first by novel genre and then alphabetically by author surname. I scanned the results and didn't see my name. I reread the list, slower. Still didn't see it. Had I perhaps been accidentally listed by my first name? Nope. And then, to be safe, I went through the list of finalists in each genre to make sure I hadn't simply been miscategorized. No.

I had to face it. I had failed to get through round one. I had been eliminated at the starting line.

I was extremely disappointed. How had they not recognized the early draft of my genius?

Hoping to find comfort in shared failure, I decided to read the comments people were making on the competition site forum. There were two main discussion threads. One was titled 'For those that didn't make it through this year' and the other 'Congratulations to the first round finalists!!!!' I clicked on the thread that had been titled sans punctuation.

Still no tan. What's the point of living???
I was immediately hit by a barrage of negativity. One person was complaining about the judges, another couldn't understand why her brilliant book had not made it. And then there were those who had clearly gone to a dark place, stating that they were talentless and all of their work was a waste. In between the negative remarks, there were wonderful, encouraging comments too. People saying 'don't give up!' And 'keep writing, your voice is needed!' But these comments were drowned out by the general sense of despair. There was even someone threatening that she would never write another word again (threatening who? The other sore losers, who would only rejoice at the news that their competition would shrink?). It was chaos. People were upset. People were melting down.

Intrigued, I flicked over to the 'Congratulations to the first round finalists!!!!' thread. There, I found a positive, excited and emotionally stable environment. The contrast between the two threads was so distinct it reminded me of the scenes from 'Titanic' after they first hit the iceberg. The fancy passengers on the upper deck continue enjoying delightful violin music, sipping whiskey and being ushered politely into their life jackets. While downstairs, the poor people are being slammed against the iron gates, screaming, panicked, trampling one another and going nowhere.

The whole scenario struck me as hilarious. The dramatic, catastrophic reactions to this single setback seemed ridiculously out of proportion.

Yes, I too felt as if I had failed. Because I had. But why is that a reason to quit?

In my unprofessional, unqualified and, as yet, unsuccessful opinion - failing isn't a bad thing. Until you fail, you don't know that you could, and should, strive to do better. And you have to fail in order to learn how to succeed.

Imagine if we'd given up on trying to walk because we fell down on our initial attempt? We'd be a society of grown adults crawling along the planet. Unsettling.

And yes, someone out there probably got it right and succeeded on their first try. (Damn those bastards!) But I didn't. And I might only get it right on my fifteenth try and that could take a while. And instead of dwelling on the thought that I may never get there, a better use of time is to just get started.

Aah, it totally can sink. My bad, everyone. Lesson learned. - Titanic Engineer 
As I've taken to advising my friends (without their asking), we should all be eager to start failing. Because the sooner we get the failing out of the way, the sooner we get to the succeeding.

I've since rewritten my book twice and I'm currently working on a fourth draft. It's not a masterpiece, but I know that it's a significant improvement on the version I sent it in to that competition. Maybe I'll enter again this year. Maybe I won't get through the first round. But I'll consider that another step toward eventual success, and I'll keep writing.

Having said all of that, if there is any way Amazon could remove contestants from the mailing list once we've been eliminated, that would be great. Whilst I have accepted my failure, I've no desire to be reminded of it via notifications each time other writers advance to the next round of competition.

It takes me back to the dark thread.


  1. Great post, Candice! I'm really sorry you didn't make it through, but no doubt you will eventually get published! I look forward to reading it when it does. :)
    -- Kerry-Ann


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