These are words from my friend Andrea, at a meetup I helped run last night that brought together local creative professionals.
The group shared stories of their own journey to craft a creative life & business, and observations from friends and colleagues.
Andrea shared another quote, from a local shop owner who, after opening her doors and struggled to develop a clientele:
“I didn’t realize how hard it would be to just bring in $100.”
This is akin to an author dreaming of their book launch, and wondering how many hundreds or thousands of books they will sell, and plateauing at 75 books sold.
It is so difficult to write a book, and to then publish a book, that the concept of developing an audience and selling books can be downright paralyzing to any reasonable author. (luckily, most authors live in a dreamworld, to their credit!)
There is so much risk in choosing to write and publish a book:
- Risk to one’s identity (or perceived identity)
- Risk to one’s social standing
- Risk of losing money (or opportunity value that comes with money)
- Risk of feeling foolish by wasting one’s time
Just to name a few. The discussion last night, luckily, also touched upon success that comes with risk as well. That failure is part of a PROCESS to success, not an ending. A comma, not a period.
“I released a novel last summer, and no one bought it.”
“I released a novel last summer that sold 75 copies, and my follow-up is due this June.”
One of these sentences requires a tissue. The other starts a conversation.
Our conversation last night hit upon four ways of moving through risk and failure:
- That, by risking, you are inherently pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, and in the process, developing new skills. These are akin to survival skills that can be used again and again.
- You develop processes for fixing your mistakes. Part of this is accepting that mistakes WILL happen – you can’t prevent that. Learning how to make things better is a big part of not letting mistakes stop you, and this leads to personal and professional growth.
- Establishing processes for dealing with failure on an emotional level. In my experience, people avoid taking POSITIVE risks towards things they really want because their emotions stop them. They stay in the safe confines of their comfort zone where no one will judge them, instead of pursuing their dreams. Many successful people I know describe the roller coaster of emotions they go through on a near daily basis as they take risks to find success. Despite this, they step on the roller coaster each day, not because they no longer fear it, but because they have learned to better manager their emotions, without leading to paralysis.
- You learn to trust yourself more when you have experience with risk. This one came up in conversation a lot last night, from topics of signing leases to business partnerships, sales and store openings. For myself, I am amazed that I no longer get nervous with public speaking. In fact, I enjoy it. That took YEARS to happen, after dozens and dozens of sweaty-palmed panic attacks moments before going on a stage to talk to a group of people or give a presentation.
Another risk that is often overlooked is not planning for success. An easy example is signing a 1-year lease for store you are opening instead of a nice long 10-year lease. Clearly, the person who signs a 1-year lease is limiting their commitment, and in their mind, limiting their risk.
But what happens if their store succeeds? If they develop a customer base, sales come in, and they are personally satisfied? And then, after a year or two, their rent goes up dramatically because they didn’t lock in a lower rent in a long-term lease. Or some other factor pushes them out of that storefront because they had no legal commitment to it. Suddenly, their success is in jeopardy because they didn’t adequately prepare for it.
This is a favorite quote that I have found to be true in my own experience:
“Being brave isn’t about not having fear; it is having fear and moving forward anyway.”
I have written recently about my work with one author whose novel launches soon. As we move towards her publication date in mid-May, it is awesome to see how much of her time is spent working on her NEXT book. That her focus is to develop momentum as a storyteller, even as she feels the excitement (and pressure) of realizing the dream of the current book.
The conversation I had last night with local creative professionals is part of a monthly meet up series called “Momentum.” My friend Scott and I started these meetups last year, because that is the word we found so many people were looking for in their lives: MOMENTUM.
That, for an author, perhaps the goal is not to be a bestseller. But wouldn’t it be nice to be viewed as a vibrant storyteller.
Someone whose next story is something to look forward to.
And that the biggest risk is not in “only” selling 75 books, but in allowing a failure to become a conclusion, instead of a process toward success. And that the thing to be avoided at all costs is not low sales, but this internal narrative: “I only sold 75 books. I failed. I suppose I’m not a writer after all.”
How do you approach and work past RISK in your life as a writer?