Fortune Cookie for Authors

fortune cookie

A local Chinese restaurant was one of the few places open last night. I found this note in my fortune cookie: “In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.”

Writers often have extraordinary ideas and make extraordinary efforts.

Authors shouldn’t be content with failure. They should work hard to succeed.

But they shouldn’t fear failure. Focus on perfecting the book. Completing the attempt itself is a success and reward of its own.

I had several book ideas beginning in the late 1980’s. I wrote some books. Started other books. Drew thousands of illustrations on the computer. Typed up worksheets. But didn’t publish my first book until 2008.

The idea that finally motivated me to publish was an introduction to the fourth dimension. I put much time, effort, and energy into my book on the fourth dimension for a couple of intense years, then explored my publishing options. Not content with my traditional publishing options, I looked into CreateSpace, and wound up publishing my extensive backlist over the next few years with them.

My book on the fourth dimension1 was my top seller for several months, but is no longer one of my top ten in sales. It had peaked with a sales rank of about 5,000 (it’s a paperback) for a couple of weeks in 2009, but is presently in the hundred thousands.

I had familiarity with publishing, formatting, and editing from several articles that I had published in Physical Review, and I had previously prepared 100-page master’s and doctoral dissertations, which are highly technical books with precise formatting criteria. Even then, formatting, editing, and publishing a book with hundreds of figures plus tables and equations proved to be a monumental task.

It’s not perfect. If I were formatting this book today, I would use a different design and font choice, plus I now know about things like widows, orphans, tricks to perfect vertical spacing, and foliation.

But I remember how much time, thought, and effort went into that book. From that, I would count this book as a success even if it hadn’t sold, and even though I could make it better with what I know now. I can appreciate the attempt itself.

For artists, isn’t the attempt itself what matters most? Make an extraordinary attempt. Do your best to perfect your art. Then no matter what, it’s a success.

I’ve been fortunate to have many publishing successes. The first six months seemed like a disaster, things started out very slowly, and there have been many trials and tribulations along the way. But I persisted.

I could have failed. For six months, it seemed like I had. But I didn’t fear failure. I gave it my best shot. It paid off in the long run. But even if it hadn’t, I’d still have my book on my shelf in my office, and consider the attempt an accomplishment.

Really, there is nothing to lose. If you finish your book and feel that you have perfected it, you’ve already won before you even sell one copy.

Many authors have extraordinary ideas and make valiant attempts. But not every author feels successful. Part of this has to do with perspective: Polishing and publishing a book is quite an accomplishment. Part of this has to do with expectations and patience. And part of it has to do with the book’s marketability.

Don’t undervalue the attempt itself. That’s the art. It can have much value and its value may be independent of sales or praise.

Don’t lose hope and patience. I know firsthand that things can improve considerably even if they start out very slowly. There is no guarantee that things will improve, but they can, so there is hope. All you can do is your best with the things you can control, and if you succeed at that, that’s an accomplishment of its own.

May you see improvement in 2014. 🙂

Perfecting Your Book

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Chris McMullen

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1. My original book on the fourth dimension is The Visual Guide to Extra Dimensions, Vol. 1 (paperback)

2. My newer book on the fourth dimension is available in Kindle or paperback, and appears in color: A Visual Introduction to the Fourth Dimension

5 comments on “Fortune Cookie for Authors

  1. I really get a lot out of the articles you write, Chris, you always give excellent advice and wonderful encouragement. You are so right. Beginning a book is quite a leap, but finishing one is a bigger, tougher journey than many realize when they decided to write the book in the first place. Far fewer finish than start out, and fewer again realize the prize is right there.

    It is very easy to lose hope, particularly when it comes to sales, even more so for an author newly through the publishing door.

    I always tell myself it’s early days as yet and I always remind myself that I am now living my dream, from the work perspective at least. I get up, I write, I have a deadline to meet, then another one after that. I love it. The sales are gradually building, more and more readers are waiting for the next book in the series (those eager readers are an extra joy – I actually see my success in them), and what money may be will look after itself.

    I hope your holidays are going wonderfully well. Seasons Greetings, and all that, to you and yours.

    Cheers! 😀

      • Totally – I had no idea how important they would be to me until it began happening. “Expressing interest” is putting it mildly – I have a small band of them all but sitting on my doorstep, “foot-tapping”, looking over my shoulder and offering a steady, “Are you done yet?” – I love them more than anything else, not only for the motivation they give me, but for that very level of success you wrote about. They’ve told me more clearly than anything else can that I have “made it” now, no matter how well the book does in the marketplace.


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