Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On the Hooves of Failure

That could be the title of my autobiography! It’s been a pattern. I wrote my first book while I taught high school (I used that in-class experience later while teaching writing workshops at conferences, retreats and on cruises). Though my agent was unable to sell my first novel, I had written its first draft while working as a weight loss counselor. That experience later helped in writing the proposal for a cookbook which didn’t sell despite three agents trying.

I wrote another book, food themed, and that led to my decision to try to sell the cookbook again. It failed with another agent. I raised two boys. As a writer, I was lucky enough to stay home, be involved in my boys’ educations, and speak at the schools. One thing I did was speak on writing topics. Along the way I failed to sell my third novel.   

On the side, I did some in-home cooking instruction. I coupled that with my experience cooking with my hubby's Chinese family and my weight loss counseling expertise, pitched myself, and was paid for my food thoughts and recipes. A dollar a word seemed like a lot of money for something that was sheer pleasure.

The cookbook set aside again, I started a suspense novel that involves food and Asian themes, then I tossed in an amateur sleuth who is a cooking instructor. Somewhere in the middle of all this I started a horror novel that instead became an award-winning screenplay that didn't sell, the same fate of eleven of my subsequent award-wining screenplays. But the experience improved my fiction, and my sample scripts ended up catching the attention of a producer which landed me a connection and job with an indie director and later script doctor work.

I have eight file drawers filled with all of my drafts. After writing for over 20 years, my “submissions” spread sheet has far more rejections on it than acceptances. My dear “sister,” Janet, made a great suggestion. I shouldn’t call them rejections; I should call them “declines.” So I changed the heading of that column. She was right. The publishers declined my submissions; that didn’t mean they’d rejected me or even my skills. They simply had declined that project. For whatever reason.

My life seems to have the theme of: OK start another book but do something else at the same time.

I continued to edit for others, becoming a script and book doctor.  I continued to teach writing. In fits and starts I wrote for newspapers and magazines and blogs. The exposure got me writer-for-hire gigs and allowed me to coach and midwife successful books for other writers.

Another agent took on the cookbook, she brought a contract to me, I signed and the photographer backed out at the last minute. The cookbook went on hold again. From the time I started writing to today, I’ve had poems, shorts, essays and flash pieces accepted and published, both in paper and on line. These were the little things that continued to feed my confidence that I would eventually sell a longer work and be able to do one of those fun key note speeches about my “overnight success.”

Last year, a client referred me for a celebrity ghostwriting gig that some would feel was the writing job of a lifetime. It might have allowed my husband to retire, but it ended up getting sabotaged and thrown into a tailspin.

Even that traumatic experience ended up being grist for the mill and there are 300 pages of that story in my memory stick now. Along the way I’ve been offered representation by seven agents. Yet none of my own book-length works--fiction or cookbook--has been published.

In true lemons-to-lemonade style, I don’t discount all the benefits I got along the way from those efforts. I am proof that success can follow on the hooves of failure, IF you parlay the experiences. Looking back on it, all my writing detours led to something good. If nothing else they gave me a theme for the column I write for BTS Book Reviews, appropriately name “Karen’s Writing Detours.”
 All I do now to make money, to forward my name recognition, to land that next cruise gig, to reach out for another chance to write, all my opportunities come on the hooves of failure.



  1. Go AROUND the rocks and NEVER give up and NEVER surrender, Inky! Look how much good you're doing and how much your writing is improving. Look at the gigs you're getting---including cruise ships! Ever consider a European agent? You're a good writer, Inky, It will come, it will! And there's always Indie publishing....

    P.S.: Like the decapitated snow man! Nice touch! :-]

  2. You have a witing career many would envy. All the result of hard work and talent. Never discount your accomplishments. BTW- have fun on the cruise!

  3. Karen: You are truly an inspiration and a great role model for perseverance. A full-length sale is in your future for sure!

  4. First of all you are not a failure. You're are a great teacher. Your writing has won awards and has reached other fellow writers. And it's really good. I've enjoyed reading your work as well as other fellow writers and the writing is far superior than 90% of the traditionally published work I read. Self publish.