Fail with Glory!

Here’s the deal: it’s hard to stay focused in church when you have a squirming six-month-old who just wants to grab your nose or rip pages out of the hymnbook or other such painfully adorable baby activities. So I wasn’t really paying much attention to the closing hymn until the end of the second verse, when I hit the words “If we fail, we fail with glory.”

And the first thing I thought of was all my bloggy and writerly friends, and our constant discussion of how gut-wrenchingly terrifying it is to put our work out for others to read and critique and reject. And how unavoidable failure seems in a profession where you have to plaster a wall with rejection letters before you get that golden letter, the possibility that someone might like your book enough to publish it. And how even once your book is out there, you have to face the inevitable disgruntled readers who didn’t like this or that or the other about your book.

But I, for one, would rather fail while putting myself out there and working for success than fail because I didn’t ever try.

So put away your fear of failure and take on the mindset that if you fail, you’ll fail with glory. After all, failure is only the end if you don’t pick yourself up and try again. Go after your life’s dreams, “Patient, firm, and persevering . . . no event nor danger fearing . . . pains, nor toils, nor trials heeding, and in heav’n’s good time succeeding.” (God Speed the Right)

Pitching a Perfect Strike

The first time I pitched my manuscript to an editor was one of those fall-flat-on-your-face, hide-in-your-closet-for-a-week, utterly mortifying disasters.

I was taking a class on children’s publishing from the esteemed Rick Walton, and an editor from a local publishing company was coming to guest lecture. We had been forewarned that this particular editor had in past classes asked students to pitch their manuscripts to him at the end of the class, so, of course, I had been spending my nights carefully crafting, crossing out, and rewriting the perfect pitch. This obsessive writing, on top of my two internships, homework, and capstone madness, meant that I didn’t exactly sleep for a couple of nights.

But the day came, I had worked out a beautiful hook, and I was going to blow them all away with my brilliance. Granted, lack of sleep had brought on a decent headache and exhaustion, but I could sleep after my novel had been accepted for publication on the spot.

As the day wore on, the headache turned into a low fever, the exhaustion turned into chills, and by the time the class rolled around at 5:30, it was pretty obvious that I was coming down with the flu. But there was no time to be sick! An editor was coming! A living, breathing editor! I could make it a couple more hours, right?

I didn’t hear most of the lecture. What little brainpower was left over from being wretchedly tired and ill was too busy stressing out about the pitch. And so, when the editor finished his spiel and opened up for pitches, I raised a trembling hand, desperate to just get it over with.

And realized I couldn’t remember a lick of my carefully-planned pitch.

And so, with the few remaining sparks left in my brain, I stumbled through a truly lame outline of my plot, petering out about halfway through because I had no energy left to dig myself in any deeper. This poor editor stared at me for about thirty seconds, no doubt trying to figure out how to be somewhat polite in his response. Finally, he said simply, “That sounds like every other fantasy novel I’ve ever read,” and called on somebody else.

Lessons learned:

1. Don’t try to impress an editor when you have the flu. It just won’t happen.

2. Practice. I had written and rewritten, but never once did I practice actually saying my pitch. And so, when the time came, it escaped me completely. I’ve learned since then to say it over and over so that when the time comes, giving your pitch is as much muscle memory as anything else.

3. Learn from rejection. I realized while walking home that night that there really was absolutely nothing unique about my novel. It was really depressing, but I went back to the drawing board and changed, added, twisted, and reorganized until my story was something new and exciting. Trying to pitch my book really opened my eyes to its biggest weaknesses. It was terribly tempting to just throw it away at that point; but instead, I cut it down to the roots and made it grow into something worth reading. (At least, I think it’s worth reading.)

Anybody else have wonderfully embarrassing pitch stories or advice on how to not have a wonderfully embarrassing pitch story?