I recently took a survey that asked me, “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as an author?”
Oh. Ouch. All the ouch.
There’s a lot of research, trial and error, learning, and growth that comes along with this authoring and publishing gig, especially for those of us who are in it for the long term. It’s a journey that requires creativity, business know-how, and oftentimes a combination of both.
Yet, my biggest mistake as an author wasn’t exactly a creative one or even all that business-related. It was part of the result of being grievously maltreated for ten years.
I’ll not go into all of those details in this post. But suffice it to say that I published some books in reaction to the constant demands for marketplace productivity from a twisted, abusive manipulator who feigned to care about my success and wellbeing—because my productivity would help the manipulator look good. There’s much more to it, but I’ll leave it at that.
No, those books I published in vain attempts to stave off further abuse weren’t bad books. I’m a good writer, and I didn’t just pick up a pen yesterday. Even so, I often say that writers should know the specific reasons why they, as individuals, write. Further, authors who publish should know the specific reasons why they publish their work. (That is, just because you love to write doesn’t mean you have to seek or desire to get into the business of publishing. Not all writers do, and it’s okay.)
But some time after I got out of that abusive situation and took stock of my work, I found that some of my books didn’t line up with my personal reasons for writing and publishing. They weren’t a reflection of my real passion. They weren’t the kind of books I hoped to be known for, nor were they books I would search for or purchase as a reader.
Why would I want to sell stuff to other people that I wouldn’t even buy myself? Publishing some of those books was a mistake.
Granted, I gained valuable information, skills, and experience in the midst of my mistake-making. Publishing those books taught me how to publish. Still, once I realized that those books (while good for what they were) weren’t produced in the spirit I want for my life and career, and they weren’t what I wanted to provide for readers, I had to stop and change my direction.
That meant doing some revising and reediting, and for one book, doing a thorough rewrite for a new edition. For other books of mine, it meant going through and unpublishing them, taking them off the market altogether. No reworking or rewriting—just removing them and putting a close to that unfortunate chapter of my journey.
Would I be further along than I am now as an author if I hadn’t had that weight on my back for a decade? In some ways, it’s quite likely. Even knowing what I learned at the time, I can see how that weight held me back, to put it mildly.
The important thing, though, is that after making my biggest mistake(s) as an author, I didn’t hang a “Forget It” sign on my door and close up shop. I kept going. I’m still going. And as long as I’ve got more stories to write and to share with the world, I’m going to keep at my life’s work, because no one can do my life’s work but me.
This absolutely doesn’t only apply to authors, but whoever you are, if you’re reading this: There’s life after your mistakes. Find a way to make things right, even if it means changing your direction or taking a totally different path, or going back and making corrections, or “unpublishing” some chapters you’ve written, taking them “off the market,” and letting them go.
Dust yourself off, inhale some fresh air, and keep going. No one can do your life’s work but you.