Combatting the Fear of Failure

I read something a while back on a forum where someone thought something was wrong with their book because Bookbub didn’t take their book for a promotion.  For anyone not aware of Bookbub, it’s a marketing service for authors who will take the book and send out an email blast to everyone who subscribes to receive daily notices of sales.  The best thing about it is that it pairs up the genre of the book with readers interested in that particular genre.  The ads can be expensive, but I hear it pays out in results.  Here’s the link in case anyone’s interested:

Well, I recently submitted a book in hopes of promoting it and was turned down.  I thought if I came out and publicly said my book wasn’t accepted, it would help someone who might be wondering if they are a failure because Bookbub didn’t take their book.

The truth is, Bookbub can’t take everyone who submits a book.  I can only imagine how many submissions they get a day. Considering its popularity, it’s a lot.  There’s no way they can take everyone’s book.  They have to make the hard decision on which book to take, and I bet a lot of books they receive are professionally done.

But the key is that they can only take the books they believe will have the best chance of satisfying their subscribers.  It’s not personal.  It’s business.  If Bookbub didn’t accept your book, please don’t take it as a reflection of your book.  This is not a failure on your part.

And this leads me to other things you shouldn’t take personally.  Don’t assume you’re a failure because you didn’t get an award, didn’t sell a certain number of books, or get on a USA or NYT Bestseller list.  You are not a failure just because you don’t get these things.  These things do not accurately reflect the quality of your book.

So how can you combat the fear of failure if it stars rearing its ugly head?  Here are some ideas:

Define What success Is For Yourself

I think one of the worst things we can do is let someone else define what “success” is for us.  The world has its own ideas on what makes a writer successful.  We have to make a conscious decision to tune this out.  I know it’s hard.  It’s why I often go offline or stick to a very small part of the Internet.  It helps me keep in touch with that part of me that started writing books to begin with.

Do Things You Enjoy

Also, we’re all different.  We aren’t all meant to hang out on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn.  We’re not all meant to blog or hang out on forums.  There’s no way we can do everything.    Life is too short to spend your time doing things that you hate.  For example, I hate selling books at a table.  I’m an introvert.  I would much rather be at home writing.  But I have a friend who loves selling books at fairs.  She is a people person and loves to engage them.  I’d much rather blog, and she doesn’t like blogging a lot.  What’s the point in me trying to convince her to do things my way or vice versa?

We have our own interests based on our comfort level and personalities.  Life would be very boring if we all did the exact same thing.  Pick what you enjoy, and do that.  And if someone tries to make you feel like you’re a failure because you aren’t doing something they want you to do, run away from that person as fast as you can.  They will only drain you.  Stick with people who are supportive.

Only Make Goals You Have Control Over

My favorite goal is, “I will write X number of books a year.” Then I go through and figure out how I can realistically make this happen.  Writing books is what I love doing most, and I can control it.  I can’t control if others like it or how many will sell.

Don’t make “I will sell X number of copies” a goal.  Instead, do something like, “I will contact X number of bloggers about my book to see if they’ll review it” or “I will submit a book to Bookbub to see if they’ll let me run an ad” or “I will put a link to my website at the end of my ebook” or “I will write a 1-3 sentence blurb about my other books at the end of my ebook to help advertise them” your goals.  These are concrete things you can do.

Goals that rely on other people to do things for you are bad goals because you can’t control what they do.  For example, “X number of people will tell Y number of people about my book” isn’t a good goal.

Recognize the Blessings When They Come

Not winning an award, not making it to the Top 100 on Amazon, not selling a certain number of books, or not reaching some other landmark you were aiming for can be a bummer.  It’s okay to be disappointed.  You’re only human.  You can’t be happy all the time.  But don’t stay in the funk.  Recognize the other things that are working in your favor.

Good things do come along, and sometimes they come in the most unexpected ways.  My suggestion is to make a list of the good things that come along.  Maybe you got an email from a reader who said they loved your book.  (I suggest printing it out.)   Maybe you found out someone said something positive about your book to someone else or on a blog or in a forum.  Maybe there was someone whose marriage is better off today because they read your books and took the time to thank you.  There are many things in this world we don’t control but do happen to make our days brighter.  If we take the time to appreciate them when they happen, it helps to combat the “I didn’t get X” feeling of despair.  I know it’s human nature to focus on the negative, which is why I suggest making a list of the positive and referring to it often.


This list doesn’t cover everything, but  hopefully, this will help someone who might be in need of some encouraging words.  I want to thank Stephannie Beman for helping me come up with the list.


  1. It’s like sending short stories or poetry to magazines. They don’t always get in. Sometimes they do, but usually they don’t. The important thin is not to treat it like a message concerning your abilities. Instead, accept it, see where you can improve if possible, and move on.

    1. I agree. The key is to be objective about it.

      1. And to never give up hope or let your determination waver.

  2. Good ideas!

    This is the first I’ve heard of Bookbub

    1. Bookbub is a good marketing tool. It’s one of many available to authors, but I hear this is one of the best. I put the link above, but I’ll do so again in case you or someone reading this would like to submit to them:

      1. Nicolette says:

        I stumbled across Bookbub while I was acting as a reader. It is pretty nifty, you get books you may be interested in emailed to you, and you can just glance through the email to see if anything catches your attention. I loved how easy it was to navigate, but honestly I wished they would have a wider selection of books to pick from. This comes from me as a reader; I haven’t yet tried to submit to them.

        1. I do subscribe to them as a reader and enjoy the emails I get from them. I agree that it would be nice if they had a wider selection. I highly recommend them. I think they’re worth trying to put an ad through if you want to give them a try.

  3. Talk about timing: Bookbub turned down my own sci-fi novel for promotion just today.

    1. LOL You’re not the only one. 🙂

  4. ronfritsch says:

    Ruth, I agree with every word in this post. I especially like this: “Define what success is for yourself.” Every day on the internet I read what I absolutely must do if I’m going to be a success as a writer. (Most of this, needless to say, comes from people selling the very services I can’t possibly live without.) My own definition of success as a writer is this: I’ve written and published four novels, and I love them as I would four precious children. Thank you for this post, Ruth. Somebody needed to write it.

    1. I love your definition of success. There’s nothing better than to be passionate about what you’re writing.

  5. lornafaith says:

    Excellent post Ruth! I think that’s so true that we have to define what success is for ourselves as authors and not let the fact that we didn’t get an award or that our book didn’t make it onto bookbub, be something that makes us fell like failures. My biggest problem this past year is thinking I could do everything – and when I almost burned out, I had prioritize and put a bunch of things on hold. So I’m learning…and sometimes its the hard way ;( I love your suggestion to make a list of the good things that come along – I’m going to start doing that. That way I can refer back to it on bad days. Thanks so much for a great post… it’s what I needed to hear today!

    1. I hear you on doing so much you feel like you’re going to burn out. I went through a prioritizing process last year. I think narrowing down what we want is one of the most important things to do. It seems that we’re being bombarded with people telling us what we should want that it can be hard to lose track of what we want. Those things that get put on hold can wait. What matters most is that you’re on the right track for yourself.

      1. lornafaith says:

        Thanks for that Ruth 🙂 I do need to keep re-evaluating what I want too. Then it will be easier to stay on track 🙂 Glad I’m not alone in needing to re-prioritize. Appreciate your helpful tips!

  6. What an excellent post. 🙂
    Especially that bit about goals and defining success. I’ve written about it myself, and I’m very firm on the fact that others might not consider what I’ve done ‘a success’ I certainly do as my definition is based on what’s actually possible in my life right now. 🙂

    1. You brought up a good point. Not all of us have the time or the resources to do as much as other people. So when an author says they were able to do so much of something and tell us to do that, too, it’s not always possible. For example, an author who works full-time won’t have the same opportunity to write as much as one who doesn’t. Success and the goals that take us there are dependent on what we can do. 🙂

  7. josois says:

    As a new indie author I found this post very encouraging. I especially liked the point you made about how we shouldn’t define success by other people’s definitions. When we do that we only become more disillusioned when those expectations are not met. I realized the truth of those words with my own struggles of self-publishing my novelette “Before the Legend” last November. I was initially very disappointed by the lack of sells and reviews I was getting. I’ve come to terms that they’re some things I just can’t control which is the hardest thing to swallow sometimes. But there are things we can control and from the sounds of your post you were able to bounce back from your own struggles and set realistic goals. Those are points I will use to remind myself that I can achieve success… but on my terms.

    1. When I started publishing, self-published authors were led to believe they’d never make money. Looking back, I’m glad that was the case. I’m also glad those people turned out to be wrong. But it helped with my expectations. Mine were so low, I was shocked anyone read anything I wrote.

      If I were to publish today, I would expect sales because that is what so many people are talking about. They make it sound like selling books is so easy and that all it takes is having a blog, going on Facebook or Twitter, and getting a couple reviews. Then suddenly, sales just come in, and sales always go up.

      I wish the mega-selling authors weren’t the ones we seem to hear about so much. It’d be nice if the average author was appreciated as much. But, of course, it’s usually the outliers who get the attention. That only makes it harder to be realistic about things.

      1. ronfritsch says:

        You are so right, Ruth, I wish I’d written your comment myself. The “mega-selling authors” are the only ones we hear about.

        1. I wonder how many of the authors of the classics we read today would have been featured as a successful author. No one even knew Jane Austen’s identity until after her death, and Nathaniel Hawthorne had trouble with making ends meet.

  8. This is such an inspirational post. Thanks for helping us remember to stay positive and be thankful for the good things.

    1. I’m glad you found it useful.

  9. I agree with Laralynn. Your post helps us stay positive during those dreary days which come with the territory. One thing I can add is every job includes the positive and negative so think of the same with our writing. There will be days like this, but thankfully they are not every day. Great post, Ruth, and God bless.

    1. If you can find a job you love, then it really helps to offset the negatives.

  10. kinnearjulie says:

    Not winning an award, not making it to the Top 100 on Amazon… but the awareness that it could happen is nice. An inspiring post, thank you!

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