The Up Side of Failure

Something Emily said in the comments on the happiness post yesterday reminded me of something I’ve always believed in but had forgotten: If you’re not failing now and then, you’re not trying hard enough. It had been awhile since I’d failed, but then it had been awhile since I’d tried going outside my own head. I’d been writing for ten years, I just hadn’t finished anything. No chance of failure there. I never got near the mountain top.

I should be clear, I don’t think of Nita as a failure as a book, but there’s no denying I failed to get it published with an editor I have a contract with. And that was surprising, but when I thought about it, not that surprising. I had even warned Mollie there was a chance Jen would turn it down because it was just too weird. And of course, the sensible thing to do in the future would be to not write weird, to stop trying so hard.

There are a couple of problems with that, though, the first one being, I’ve always written weird. I’ve had several authors tell me they started to write romance after reading my Harlequins because they realized they could write stories that could have older heroines with smart mouths who didn’t want a baby. I don’t think I’d have had the career I did if I hadn’t tried too hard and written weird. So trying to write to market would be counterintuitive for me.

The bigger problem is that I like writing weird. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s where the creative juice is for me right now. I completely understand if nobody wants to buy my weird, marketing is crucial and publishers need to make money to stay in business. But I’m going to write what I want to write.

And then there’s the whole health thing. I don’t know whether I’m going to die in twenty years or twenty minutes, and that’s very liberating. (Who knew a dicey heart could set you free?). If I’ve only got twenty minutes left, I’m writing about mechanical bats in an alternate timeline, not about some chick going back to her home town to open a bakery.

(Apologies to everyone who has written wonderful books about going back to a hometown to open a bakery, especially since the book I’m going to be finishing in the next couple of months is about a thirty-something who gets trapped in her home town with somebody trying to kill her.).

Picture me as the penguin in the center of the flock singing, “I GOTTA BE ME!”

And no worries about Nita; if it doesn’t go anywhere in traditional publishing, we’ll self-publish (Mollie can do anything).

Because we’re trying hard enough.

83 thoughts on “The Up Side of Failure

  1. Hug, this is why you are my role model.

    I don’t read Jennifer Crusie, because you sell books, I didn’t trek to London to hunt for your latest book, because you were a best seller.

    Your books are different, you take risks, I found you in among piles of Harlequin/Mills and Boon and I kept reading.

    Your books aren’t weird, they are just the first, they show everyone else how it can be done, when they’ve never even thought of it. That’s why they are awesome.

    You grew instead of just writing what would sell and that is why I am going to read Nita even if you only print it on A4 paper and sell copies on a stand in your front yard.

  2. I echo what Kay said. I love your books and I’ve got them all and re read them regularly.My local bookseller tracked down the early ones and ordered them from the States when you first came across my radar. Your characters are fun, quirky and memorable. I love Min, Agnes, the Dempsey family etc and I will love Nita however you publish her story. Life throws us curve balls but we pick ourselves up and carry on. My life and my husband’s is the sweeter for battling through my cancer together over the last 3 years because the alternative is not being here at all.

  3. What Kay and Hilary said!

    Heh. You inspire expressions like “most unique” that make grammar purists roll their eyes at 500 RPM.

    I have them all. I’ve read them all. I want more. I won’t make the mistake of asking for more of the same – write what you want. Feel free to surprise me.

  4. So we’re (or you, really) are left turning from Alice and towards Lavender now? Ok. You got this and we’ll support you. No matter what your write or who publishes it.

    1. I have 75,000 words done on Lavender. Which means I can probably finish it by summer. Time to finish Lavender.

      1. I’m so happy to hear this. I think of that darn book all the time and just want to finish it and find out who hit her with the rock. 🙂

  5. I’m with everyone else here: No matter what, how, when, where you will publish the next book, I’ll read it.

    Nothing weird about your books – the term you’re looking for is wonderfully different. Extraordinary awesome. Possibly outstandingly original and delightful. Deliciously weird, if weird has to be in the equation – I love it all.

    Granny Weatherwax would’ve been proud of you!

  6. I worked in traditional publishing for a decade as a senior acquisitions editor with Pearson. I love, love, love self-publishing. The tag line for my publishing company is “Independent publisher of unexpected fiction. Bending, blending and breaking genres.” In traditional publishing, you have to care about things like what shelf in the bookstore a product belongs on, and what the precise tastes are of the single person buying in that space for B&N, and what other books are on your list and how the pieces all fit together.

    In self-publishing, you get to say, “I wrote this thing and I think it’s fun and I hope someone else will think it’s fun, too.” It’s so incredibly freeing. And it’s also ridiculously easy, which is obviously both a good thing and a bad thing, but in your case, it would be a purely good thing. If you wanted to self-publish, you could have Nita out in the world in no time and be earning real money from every sale.

    And seriously, if you need money, you ought to look at what Lois McMaster Bujold is doing. She publishes novellas in her worlds and sells them for $3.99. According to Kindle Rocket, she’s making $28K this month from her latest, Knife Children; $1K from her second latest, Flowers of Vashnoi, and a solid few hundred from the other four. That’s monthly!

    Those numbers are based on the sales ranks, so obviously, they’re a snapshot in time, not a paycheck, but it’s a damn solid P&L. And of that $30K, she’s keeping 70%. That’s not petty cash. And it’s not even romance, where the sales numbers are sometimes staggering.

    Not to mention that if you self-publish, we could all be reading Nita within a couple months and as one of the people who did my best to skip all the Nita posts because I didn’t want to be spoiled, that would be a good thing. 🙂

    1. We self-published once, just to get the hand of it, so Mollie knows how. The key is, she’s aces at internet marketing, that’s what her business is, and I think that’s key. But first we try traditional. Self-publishing is for if nobody sees its brilliance (g). I do think we might look into self-publishing the novellas if publishers don’t want them. I think novellas are a great length for some stories that just aren’t right to go the 100,000 word distance, so I want to write them. Then we self-publish, we put them out there for cheap (they’re short). So yep, lots of possibilities.

      1. It’s gotten easier and easier, too. In 2011-12, putting together an ebook that looked professional was hard. I resorted to coding mine, because I wanted proper quotes and em-dashes and reasonable typography. Now I use Vellum and it takes maybe twenty minutes. But I also recommend Draft2Digital to other people. It’s a distribution platform, not a production tool, but it will turn your Word documents into ebooks for you and distribute to most places, including Overdrive for libraries. Very straightforward for people who don’t want to spend a ton of time and energy on the production side of the business.

      2. What have you already self-published and when did you publish it?? I thought I had all your books (even Sizzle), but don’t recall something that was self-published.

        You continue to be an inspiration to all of us for finding the positives amid the ups and downs of life!

        Onward to Lavender! Wasn’t Lavender the one where the hero lives in a converted diner?

          1. I have that! And reread it regularly.

            (I read ebooks mostly at lunch at the office and they are Perfect for that.)

      3. One of my favorite authors seems to have a combination of traditionally published books, and smaller self-published novellas and short series. I’m there for all of it, no matter how the stories are published. Ditto for your work. : )

      4. I think that is exciting! I really really want to read the ones about petal or petunia or a p name (it changed a few times). It was a fairy-tale series. And then the Monday Street stories (was that the name?) had such killer back stories and atmosphere. You had the whole layout of the town worked out. Love!

        1. It was a book of short stories about people in Crazy For You called Crazy People.

          And I apologize for not getting you out of moderation sooner. It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Welcome to ARGH!

    2. Well, it’s not all good. I’d love to read Lois McMaster Bujold’s novellas, but I’m old-fashioned. I don’t read e-books, and I don’t pay by internet. Her novellas do appear on paper after a while, but only very expensively in hardback. My budget is more mass-market paperback. And I live in Europe, so that always means a premium paid on top for American books.
      I do hope Jenny’s new book will appear in hardback, and then a while later in a paperback I can afford. I’m willing to wait, but I would like to get my paws on it at some time.

      1. Clare, I held out against e-books for so long. I just love proper books, they’re comforting in a way that nothing else is, and I couldn’t bring myself to move onto digital. But recently I started to notice that there were books I couldn’t get hold of in hard copy – books I really wanted to read. So I ended up buying myself a Kindle. I still don’t like it as much as real books, but it means I don’t have to miss out. And it’s much better than I thought it would be.

        1. I loved printed books but with Kindle I can readjust the print size by time of day (I need larger print at night). I can slip my Kindle into my purse and carry it with me to appointments or when my husband drags me along on his errands because he needs my input on one of them but there are an extra five stops he makes. I can load it up before vacations with a ton of books and only have the equivalent of one paperback book to take along.

          The last time I read a real book I kept tapping the edge of the page to turn it, I was so used to turning pages that way.

          1. The only reason I don’t do that is because it’s been so long since I picked up a treebook. My problem is that I own two Kindle ereaders, an original Kindle with side buttons for turning pages, and the newer fire with touchscreen. The old Kindle is barely bigger than a cell phone. The Fire has a 7″ screen.

            But if I had a working Win10 computer I’d use the Kindle for PC app, because I have a 23″ screen, which means more options for font sizes or multiple columns.

            I used to have a Nook. I gave it to my daughter to use as a tablet. But I notice everyone who mentions ebooks mentions Kindle instead of Nook/Barnes & Noble or the EPUB format. Did Amazon win the ebook war while I wasn’t looking?

          2. I have a Nook ereader format, not a tablet. All books all the time. I bought it years ago and when it died I got another one. Lots of books and lots of money to replace the books if I got another format. Supporting the underdog. Ha

      2. I’m with you, Clare. Reading off a screen is not pleasurable, not only because it gives me headaches.

        I ended up reading the Bujold novellas off a screen using Kindle; perhaps I would have liked them more if they were on paper. 😉 (That’s a lie. I only really liked Penric and the Shaman and that was because it resolved the problem left at the end of The Hallowed Hunt. The others, well, they weren’t like Mountains of Mourning or Labyrinth. Of course, I read Mountains of Mourning and the other early stories on paper.)

  7. So do we get five days of Lavender (instead of five days of Mackie)? I remember really liking the premise for that novel (series?).

    And for anyone who wants to think some more about the advantages of failure, there was a really good discussion of just this topic, and how girls in particular are often robbed of failure when they’re young, making it harder to cope with it when they’re older, on On Point last week. I can’t find the direct link, but if you go here and scroll down to Feb. 4 and Girls Who Code, it’s that one.

    The guest speaks about perfectionism and how girls learn early on to aim for perfect instead of just trying stuff, and it keeps them from trying things later in life. It’s not universal of course, but it really spoke to me. I hadn’t planned to listen to the whole thing, just had the radio on while doing a project, but I couldn’t turn it off. Particularly loved her advice on some baby steps to take to be bold (like sending out a not-too-consequential email without proofreading it seven times, and risk a typo).

    1. I have a fridge magnet from a quilt shop that says “Finished is better than perfect”. I have to keep that in mind for myself, since I can always find the flaws.

  8. I think I love you. Self-Publish, and I’ll promote it from the nearest church steeple, after purchasing copies for all my friends and relatives. It won’t make YOU rich, but I, and all my f&r will be far richer. Every one of your “weirds” has been a delight to me.

  9. People who write to the market take the risk of being on the down slope of the curve. If you write what isn’t out there yet, you might be in on the growth of that type of story. Either way has challenges, so everyone should write what they want to, because then at least you’ll have the satisfaction of a story you love, not a market-driven-genre book you aren’t 100% satisfied with.

  10. ” … I’m writing about mechanical bats in an alternate timeline, … ”

    Now we know you can’t stop. We’re in bat country!

    If you self-published grocery lists I’d probably buy it. Nobody writes like you.

  11. What everyone else said.
    And I’m thrilled to hear that Lavender Blue is up next, I LOVED the bits you posted last time you were working on it.

  12. So interesting as I was just talking about how I worked a charity’s phone lines once and had to learn to deal with rejection. I think even when I failed, I never took the lesson from it so it’s time to learn.

    In semi-related news the universe keeps sending me these odd incident/accidents that occur and I know that there’s a lesson in the somewhere but I can’t see it. And by Toutatis, I want to learn it. I’m sick of these things happening.

  13. Go you, Jenny! I self-pubbed my Women of Willow Bay series because all the places my agent sent it (read every damn pub in the US!) said the same thing, “Great voice, great story, love the writing, characters are too old.” One editor even suggested ways to make them younger, like that wasn’t something I couldn’t figure out for myself. Um, change their ages? Duh!! However, these characters came into being in their 40s and 50s, and their kid was 16, not 16 months or 6. I couldn’t do it, so I stopped trying to sell traditional pubs on my older characters and just did it myself, with the help of the awesome Lani Diane Rich. I worked hard at marketing, found a niche audience, and that eventually led me to be discovered by my current publisher, who loved my voice and my writing and asked me to do a series for them. So stay true to you, baby. Write what’s in your head, not what’s expected. You are an amazing writer, whether it’s rom-com or weird, and you will always, always sell books. Hell, I’d buy the phone book from ButtFuck, Alaska if you wrote it. So keep the positive going. Hugs and thanks for all the wonderful stories you’ve already shared. Can’t wait for more!

    1. Didn’t Anne Stuart/Krissie promote this book on her blog with all sorts of glorious praise for it? (The first one, anyway.) I remember checking it out on Amazon when broke a while back, and loving what was there.

      I just went and looked up the book, read the first paragraph and thought, yep. This is it.

      I’m adding it to my basket for next payday.

      And to anyone else, the excerpt online is great. Buy it!

      ps: I also back up what you said above.

      1. Thank you, DahliaU! Yes, Krissie did promote the Women of Willow Bay on her blog. How kind of you to remember! Please enjoy!! Oh, and thanks for the backup!!

  14. I’m going to echo what everyone else has already said – I’m happy to read whatever you put out. I’ve been a fan since my friend thrust your books into my hand and told me I’d enjoy them. She wasn’t wrong. I’m looking forward to reading whatever you come up with next.

  15. Um, don’t be scared, but I have all your books in print, in e-book, and in audio. I’m not stalkery or anything…

    Set up your stand, and sell lemonade and Nita, and we’ll all line up.

  16. I’ve just re-read The Magpie Lord series by KJ Charles. Again. Somewhat anachronist alternative magic-soaked Victorian London m/m romance. Weird is were it’s at baby.

  17. For me, it’s only when I’m already in a good mental and emotional space that I’m able to view failures as learning experiences and positive outcomes. Otherwise, failure just sends me deeper into a funk.

  18. I’ll buy Nita if you self-publish. I’m pretty invested by now and need to know everything that happens. Very excited for the novellas (always need more short fiction) and for Lavendar.

  19. If you write it I will read it. The weird is one of the things I just love about you; I feel we could be great friends! That being said, I get where you are coming from and whatever works is good to see.

    Glad to hear you have survived this far and hope for a few more to come.

  20. I have read you for more years than either one of us wants to mention. One of the reasons is that snark is my mother tongue. One of the others is your sneaky sense of humor. I’m reading along and all of a sudden I’m belly laughing. It may be an Ohio thing as I’m originally from there. Your heroines are always women I’d like to sit and chat with and when the book is over I always want more! Thank you. I have you in paperbacks and ebooks. I’ll buy your books if I have to drive from NJ to my small Ohio hometown. By the way, you’re right they really are Amityville, so going home is quite a sacrifice.

  21. Mechanical bats, yes! I like what you’re saying so much. And it rings lots of bells for me, because what I’m currently writing is probably not what my publisher would like me to write, but it’s such fun that I want to keep going with it.

  22. I want Mechanical Bats. In fact, I’m jealous that I didn’t think of them. Jenny, you are a freaking inspiration. Brave, funny and kind. Just look at how you’ve inspired your students. Many of which have gone on to publish in their own right.

    And may I say that you can do audible books even if you self publish. I know this for a fact. I’m actually thinking of going back and narrating my books myself. My actor couldn’t do the latest brie and I hate when a series changes narrators. But I have to buy a microphone so it may be a few months.

    Nan, I think I need to take Marketing lessons from you!!

  23. I’m still having a hard time accepting that Nita is weird. I swear there are other writers writing things that are similar. I mean, is there really that much of a difference between a dead guy and a vampire? Technically, they’re both dead. And without naming names, I’ve seen that romance on the shelves (many, many versions of that romance). So, you know, I object and humph and bah and humbug.

    But I’m excited for you cause you sound excited about the potential, and I hope it all goes somewhere good.

    When the books are ready, so’s my money! 😉

    1. I agree on how limiting the definition of “weird” is. In what I’ve read of Nita so far you’ve created an alternate, ordered Hell with laws and a heckuva lot more morality than is present in our existing reality. I’m really intrigued with what happens when two superb models of each universe collide. 🙂

  24. You ended a 10 year writing block by finishing a book that I can’t wait to read. How was that in any sense failure?
    “ You don’t need no stinking Publisher.” Fortunately you have a huge fan base and self publishing is certainly an option. You find your editor. You find your cover and give us the book. I can’t wait. I’m so glad you’re working on Lavendar next.

  25. I’m so glad to hear your excitement for new possibilities and although I love your old books, I’m very excited about the new ones. If we don’t try new things we stagnate. Trying new things keeps my heart young. (My body is hopeless, but my heart is young.)

  26. I think that even if Nita never sees the light of day, she helped you break through your block and you’re creating again. That’s good to see.

    Also, for the record, I think you’d write a kick-ass move-home-and-open-a-bakery book.

    Of course, there’d be iron filings in the doughnuts to help the baker/demonslayer determine who in her town is a demon and her name would be, uhh, Rita Todd, yeah that’s it, and the guy who owned the restaurant next door would be named Rick Ghirardelli and he would make the best pot stickers ever, with a sauce that kept Rita from figuring out that he’s actually a demon. Until someone else starts killing good demons and bad people and, well, together they would solve crime and make great food.

    I’ll show myself out.

  27. What everyone else said. Self-publish your draft on Amazon and I’ll buy it tomorrow. You do you, oh penguin leader! I love that your books are so different.

    1. Read your blog post and had to smile. Yup. You’re not a real knitter if you haven’t screwed up on something (many things — miscalculation, reading the damned pattern, binging TV and missing the decrease, trying something that just doesn’t work), and are not willing to let that dumbass mistake stand (even when you know in your heart of hearts that you might not even be able to find it again in 6 months).

      Becoming an expert frogger is really a badge of unwillingness to settle for anything less than perfect.

  28. Wow. Damn Cruisie you are one hell of a woman.

    What a ride on the bi-polar express reading the last few posts.

    Denial: WHAT? They….but….the book.
    Anger: I’ll send angry letters too. Where do I send them?
    Bargaining: What if we send them money? All our money.
    Depression: No one cares about us having this book.
    Acceptance: More books. More stories.

    I was reminded of my mom telling me that raising children is like flying many kites at once. Sometimes one of the kites gets tangled and she has to follow the string, untangle the string, and get the kite back in the air. All this while she keeps the other kites flying.

    Whenever there was a string of comments about the injustice of the system…Jenny unwound the strings and put us back up in the air and kept 50 some other kites flying.

    Seriously, this was a great lesson for me on acceptance and positive thinking. Thank you Arghers

    And thank you Jenny. For it all.

    1. Here of a woman? Hell of a woman? Whatever. You’re a woman and a damn fine one. Let’s move on.

    1. This post! This one! @Debbie!

      And at the demise of their publishing house, their obituary shall include, “…and they decided not to purchase a book by Crusie.”

  29. I liked Nita. I read and enjoyed that 40,000-word first act. I will buy it in whatever form it finally comes out — I hope that’s the one that returns the most to you, but whatever works. And if it winds up being an ebook for $20 because it’s enough words for two standard novels, then yay, I get two books’ worth of story!

    And I have faith that you’ll write more good stories.

  30. Thank you for saying if all else fails, you’ll self-publish Nita. NYC publishers are limited by very narrow market demands these days. Those of us who need freedom for our creativity have to clip our wings to fit in. Thank you for not clipping your wings. I broke free of the chains several years back and don’t regret it. You have a huge audience who’ll spread the word when you’re ready. Go for it!

  31. Yes!!!! I want to read Nita and mechanical bats so bad!!!

    Thank you for the weirdness. It’s what keeps me going.

    No joke.

  32. I’d buy your books – whatever you write and whoever publishes it. I love the weirdness in them and all the info about something new always. I read Bet Me first and made a good friend because she convinced me to read Bet Me. I looove Bet Me. I traveled to a different city when Krispy Kremes opened in India because of Bet Me.

    You lead me to trying new authors and genres with your collaborations.

    Hope your health improves and you write many wonderful and weird books.


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