Since I last wrote about ‘Secrets of Success’, I thought today would be a good day to talk about the F-word:  Failure.

So let’s say you’ve decided to be vulnerable, to start paying attention to the important things, break free of your perceived constraints and celebrate what is. Fabulous. I’m right there with you. But what happens when things don’t go as planned? What happens when, say, your beloved manuscript that you’ve worked on for nearly four years gets rejected by a publisher who had (previously) expressed interest?

A hypothetical example, of course.

How do you cope with a dream (temporarily, but resoundingly) deferred? From the front lines, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Remember to give yourself time.

Set aside time to cry, rage, scream…whatever you need to express, get it out. Giving yourself time also means:   not making any big decisions. Cocooning. Telling friends that you are not up for a night on the town. Using as many Kleenex as you need.

This is an important place to be. A full acknowledgment of what you’ve lost is essential. However, it’s also important not to stay there. In moving forward…

2. Remember who you are.

Do small things that connect you to yourself. Read your favorite books, watch your favorite movies, spend time with your favorite people. This may sound basic, but it’s tempting to move toward self-punishment when you feel as though you’ve failed. Self-care sends you the message that, though your project/proposal/interview may have tanked, YOU are not a failure.

Once you’ve done this, start to remember what you believe in, and why you took the risk of failing in the first place.

As my husband said, “Have you read your blog lately?” He was talking about my last post, and how we define success for ourselves, rather than letting others define it for us. I do believe this, despite the setback.

My husband also reminded me of why I wrote my book:  to tell the stories of the remarkable people at L’Arche, and how their lives have changed my life. (Also, because writing is what I love to do.) Do these reasons justify the risk? To my mind, absolutely.

Once you feel more in touch with who you are…

3. Remember what you know.

I once learned an important lesson from my former roommate, Julie. She was a biology major at Vassar, and during our senior year she spent a semester on a self-directed experiment whose primary hypothesis turned out to be…entirely inaccurate.

When I went to her presentation, the scientific terminology went over my head. But what stayed with me was the confident, calm way in which she said:  “A negative result is significant.”

As Julie learned, her experiment wasn’t a waste of time because the hypothesis proved incorrect. Likewise, in crafting my (failed) submission, I gained valuable skills. I taught myself how to write a formal book proposal, I took a calculated risk and I received some good feedback.

However, though a few of the editor’s criticisms were valid, some were off-base. Case in point:

“…you simply haven’t lived long enough [to write an effective ‘spiritual memoir’]. Also, you are writing about people and situations that most of us don’t want to really know about.”

What a one-two punch:  you’re too young to do justice to the story of your own life, and most of us don’t want to hear the stories of people with intellectual disabilities? (Would Anne Frank and Temple Grandin please stand up?!)

Once the hurt passed, I felt relieved. What do I know? That this editor is not a good match for me or my work.

4. Remember to reach out.

It has helped beyond words for me to visit Miguel* as he is in the hospital with a partial bowel obstruction. His condition is improving, but naturally, he wants to go home. And naturally, I want to be able to say, “Miguel! The book I wrote about you and your brother is going to be published!” Neither of us are getting what we want today. We both need to be patient. (And I need to put my loss in perspective. I don’t have a tube sucking gunk out of my bowels.)

Miguel is teaching me about bearing up gracefully. As I sit beside him, I am thinking of ways to make my manuscript better…because no way am I giving up. No way am I putting my dreams in a box.


*Names have been changed.

Share This:


  1. Anna Wallis February 21, 2011 at 10:23 PM - Reply

    try Bethany House publishers. I dont know much about them except that Ive read many books published by them and they might have the reader base that your book would reach. How about Woodbine House publishers too while Im at it…… I went to their website because I was looking for books on Down Syndrome. Hope this helps.

  2. cari313 February 21, 2011 at 11:23 PM - Reply

    hi Anna,
    Thank you! Suggestions greatly appreciated; I will definitely check out Bethany House and Woodbine House’s submission guidelines.
    Thanks again 🙂

  3. Denny Cumber February 22, 2011 at 1:05 AM - Reply

    That’s my girl!! And you were kind about that editor – she has all the sensitivity of a brillo pad!
    Hugs – and keep ’em comin’

  4. cari313 February 22, 2011 at 1:49 AM - Reply

    🙂 oh Denny, you are a delight. Thank you!

  5. Jen Gresham February 22, 2011 at 1:51 AM - Reply

    What a lovely post. I wish you luck with the publishing. Remember that John Grisham was rejected 26 times before he got his break. Passion will get you there!

  6. cari313 February 22, 2011 at 1:59 AM - Reply

    Jen, thank you so much — that’s exactly what my best friend would say. (Actually, it’s what she recently said — except that she used Madeleine L’Engle instead of John Grisham.) Wise women, both! 🙂

  7. Tiffany February 28, 2011 at 2:18 AM - Reply

    Very true. I love it.

    • cari313 February 28, 2011 at 2:21 AM - Reply

      Thank you. I’m still learning from it myself… 🙂

Related Posts