Guest Blogger: Marla Taviano

Finding the Good in Failure

Don’t hate me because I’m published. In fact, let me get that part out of the way, so I can spill the stuff my fellow writers not-so-secretly want to hear—woeful tales of failure and rejection.

Yes, I’m a published author. Of four books. With publishers that pay advances and royalties, and print books with paper and ink. Books that have shown up on actual bookstore shelves. And yes, a few months ago, I signed with a new agent (you’re reading her blog).

But that’s where the fairy tale ends (or gets temporarily stuck anyway).

Two years ago, my first book went out of print. I cried. And promptly bought 2300 remainder copies from the publisher for $1 apiece. This past February, another book bit the dust. I didn’t cry this time (well, not at first), but the news stung. It still does.

Then there’s my latest project, which is currently being rejected by one publisher after another (due, in part, to my “mediocre” sales history).

So, after four books in four years, I’ve hit a cement wall. And while I’d love to back up, take a running leap and scale the stupid thing once and for all (or borrow a bulldozer), I’ll bet God has some takeaway for me during this season of failure. Now, if I could just figure out what it is.

After this second book bomb, I questioned his methods. “God, I don’t get this. You know these books are really good, right? You know I get e-mails all the time from women who’ve been blessed, right? What purpose is this going-out-of-print stuff serving?”

He didn’t really answer. So I kept going.

“This is so disheartening. Humiliating. Everywhere I turn, someone besides me is succeeding. I know my life probably isn’t over at 34, but I can’t seem to see through the fog. I’m about ready to call it quits. For good.”

While I haven’t gotten an audible reply (or a rainbow in the sky promising another book contract), I slooowly started to see the silver lining in the cloud of failure-dom.

1. People empathize more with your failures than your success.

When I first blogged about my book going out of print, I got enough virtual hugs and words of affirmation to last a solid week. We naturally feel a stronger connection with people who are struggling. And in typical funeral fashion, people often wait until one of your books dies to tell you how much they loved reading it.

2. God has used my failures to grow my ministry—in a different way.

I’ve always wanted to write. The speaking gigs were an afterthought effort to keep my writing alive. Nowadays I speak 2-5 times a month, and like it or not, my ministry has evolved into sharing my weaknesses. No one wants to hear how perfect I am (thank goodness). They want to draw encouragement from the fact that I perpetually screw up and God still uses me. In an illogical (but biblical) twist of events, my weakness bears testimony to God’s greatness.

3. My failures have translated into getting my message to more people—for cheap.

Two days after my second book went out of print, my blog readers had snatched up 400 copies at a discounted price. Women who couldn’t afford the book before can read it now. Churches bought multiple copies to give to new moms. One gal started a book club with 12 pals. One woman encouraged me to imagine all my books circulating among friends and secondhand bookstores—”Who knows how many lives your words will touch?”

4. My failed titles have given me more time to focus on my two “survivors.”

One look at the sexy cover and you can see why my book Is That All He Thinks About? has sold relatively well. More importantly, it has helped heal marriages, and I’m on a holy mission to get it into more bedrooms.

Expecting is a sweet hardcover devotional for pregnant women. And thanks to my awesome blog readers, over 300 copies have been donated to crisis pregnancy centers around the world. Thank you, Jesus.

5. My failures have put me in my proper place.

I am loved. Gifted. Important even. But I don’t make the world go ’round. Self-absorption really isn’t a great look on me , and I’m slowly learning to get over myself. God’s plan for my life is just a small part of a Big Ol’ Story he’s had going on since the beginning.

Whatever role he wants me to play, whatever failure (and hopefully success) he wants to use to bring him glory, I’m game. Bring it.

Q4U: Are any of your failures lined with silver?


Marla is Wife to Gabe, Mama to three young girls, Lover of Zoos (http://52zoos.com/) and Seller of Cheap Books. She pokes fun at herself 5-7 days a week over at her blog: http://marlataviano.com/.

  1. Tamika: says:

    >Marla, I cannot share say enough about how this blessed me.

    I try and encourage myself in the Word, because God's way are not my ways neither are His thoughts my thoughts.

    When ever I try and figure it out Paul's words remind that right now I only know in part.

    God bless and your writing ministry.

  2. Spicy Magnolia says:

    >This is a great post, Marla! I got a little chuckle out of your bio, too. 🙂 And I am so excited to see the creativity God's given you in how to distribute your books and how He's using the other projects, like "Worlds Apart". He really does make all things beautiful.

  3. Martha Ramirez says:

    >This is an awesome post, Marla! Thanks for sharing. It's a hard road to become a writer–without God it def is not possible to get through it.

  4. Dineen A. Miller says:

    >Really. Awesome. Post. Much wisdom and inspiration here, Marla. Thank you so much for sharing your flawed but beautiful self. 🙂

  5. Anonymous says:

    >So tru! Got very discouraged after a rejection on a partial–but less than 24 hours later I got a request for a FULL from a dream agent! You never know when and where the silver lining will shine…

  6. Kathi Lipp says:

    >You are my hero! Not only are you a talented writer who encourages so many, but you are also a great encourager to all of authors who are not sharing front table space at B&N.
    Love you friend!

  7. Tawna Fenske says:

    >Terrific blog post, Marla!

    I especially love the line, "People empathize more with your failures than your success." How true! I recently blogged about my brand new three-book deal, and while people were very kind and congratulatory, I noticed that my follow-up blog post a couple days later about all the struggles and setbacks I'd had along the way really struck a chord with a lot more people.

    Good luck on your journey, and I'll look forward to reading your future titles!

    Tawna

  8. Sharon A. Lavy says:

    >Thank you for sharing, Marla.

  9. Dena Dyer says:

    >Marla, thanks for sharing these lessons so eloquently. I've been through a similar journey (my last two books were work-for-hire and the other three didn't stay in print long) and so have many others. I'm glad you chose to write about it. I've learned and am continuing to learn some of these same lessons. And I've found, like you, that God being the strength in all my weaknesses is a much better testimony than if I had it all together! 🙂

  10. Erica Vetsch says:

    >What a blessing, Marla! Thank you!

    From a fellow lover of zoos. 🙂

  11. Shelley Sly says:

    >Marla, thank you for this wonderfully inspirational post. I agree that others empathize more with failure — I don't know why that is, but at least you are humble and positive, sending a valuable message to both writers and readers.

  12. Billy Coffey says:

    >What a great post, Marla. LOVED this.

  13. Kay @ Off the Beaten Path says:

    >Marla, I love you! Thanks for giving me a good dose of perspective today. Yours is radiant. And I know God is certainly not through with you at, what was it, 34? Oh my, no! You hang in there gal. My career (if you can call is that) is just barely getting started at 46! There's time, sweet thing, there is time.

  14. T. Anne says:

    >Marla, this was great. What a humbling experience and yet filled with so many blessings. Don't lose sight of those.

  15. Beth says:

    >I think it's good to remember that publishing is business (which of course you know) and that when a book goes out of print, it's not personal. It's just business, although I can understand the sting for the author.

    God, who gave your your original ideas, is limitless and has other messages for you to bring to people. Writing is much like farming. The farmer doesn't grieve once the crop is in and done because it's all over. He plants the next seeds for the next crop. The cycle will only stop when he quits planting. So chin up, and keep on planting!

    While the earth remains,
    Seedtime and harvest,
    And cold and heat, and summer and winter,
    And day and night
    Shall not cease.
    —Gen. 8:22

  16. Britt says:

    >Hello, Marla!
    You are on Rachelle's blog?! How exciting. I love both of your blogs 🙂
    Britt

  17. Alexis Grant says:

    >Hey Marla — Love reading about you here on Rachelle's blog, where we first connected! It's great that you can write honestly about both your successes and your failures — or, as I'd say, areas that need improvement 🙂 Nice work.

  18. Andrew says:

    >Marla, if you've saved one marriage, you've done more good than almost anyone in the world will be able to claim.

    I don't think you've failed at all. I think you are a hero.

  19. O Mom says:

    >Loved this! I have a feeling you are at the top of the best seller list in Heaven. 🙂

  20. Anne Riley says:

    >I LOVE THIS POST. Thank you, Marla!

  21. Rachel says:

    >Excuse that strange syntax. I meant, contact me–not send me a book to my email. 🙂

  22. Rachel says:

    >What a gripping, honest post. I run a "book blog" with 4,000 followers/subscribers, and I'd love to read and review one of your on Home Girl's Book Blog! Please send me one at homegirlsbookblog@yahoo.com if you want, or visit at http://www.j-kaye-book-blog.blogspot.com

  23. Heather Sunseri says:

    >Hi, Marla. I love your honesty and words of enoucragement. The hardest lessons come out of our failures, and so many times, it takes a incredible amount of hindsight and reflection to see and learn those lessons. I'm always hoping that I'm listening well enough that God doesn't have to hit me over the head every time I fail to hear. Thank you for this post, Rachelle and Marla.

  24. Matilda McCloud says:

    >Wonderful post…my undersea books for kids weren't exactly a rousing success, but I'm too much of a Pollyanna or in denial to call them a failure. Sometimes I'll click on a library site and see that one of the books has been checked out–that's success for me. Some kid in Missoula, Montana, is reading one of my books!

    I've written two failed (unpublished) novels for adults and am now on novel #3. If I hadn't written these two novels, however, I never would have written this one, which I think is much better that the previous two.

  25. Missy says:

    >Marla –

    Thank you for your authenticity and for giving credit to our Lord who wastes nothing – even our "failures," which are only labels we give to parts of the journey that didn't turn out the way we thought or wanted.

    How true that our audiences relate much more to our shortcomings than to our successes. I hope you're having a fantastic week!

  26. Catherine West says:

    >It's hard when you're in a place where nothing seems to be going the way you wanted it to. I constantly need to remind myself that as much as I desire the things I'm waiting for, so does God. If they are good things, and things that will help me. Sometimes the things I want are not what He wants. Those are the tough lessons. I think it's easier to look back at those hard times a few years down the road and see what God was doing. It's a matter of trusting Him and putting one foot in front of the other. It sounds like that's exactly what you are doing, so hang in there, He will provide for you in His perfect time. Thanks for sharing your heart with us today.

  27. Jessica says:

    >Marla, what an honest post! Thank you for sharing it.
    It seems like the things that hit me hardest are the things that God uses to change me (when I let Him, lol)
    I'm not even sure you should look at these as failures. Before I started writing, I very rarely bought new books. Most of the books I had were bought from discounted stores, given to me, or obtained from my precious library (love that place!) I have no doubt that these "failures" are touching lives and helping people, so although they might not be "selling" that doesn't mean they're not helping someone out there. 🙂
    I hope your newest one sells!

  28. Ali says:

    >Inspiring and Genuine. Two of my favorite things about you. And the picture of you with the giraffe, well, who needs published books and speaking gigs when giraffes are lining up to give you a big smackeroo?!

  29. Becca says:

    >Girl I love this post – and I love how God uses us so mightily in our weakness! Thanks for sharing!

  30. Jen says:

    >Wonderful post, and I know it must be hard to have to admit all that and come out and say the true feelings behind it all, but I am inspired by you! Though I am not in the stages of doing querys or sending my book out to publishers I've gotten insight on what to expect and what I might have to overcome!

  31. Rachel says:

    >Hi, Marla!
    This post is very inspiring to me. There are a lot of times (okay, all the time) that I feel like my writing "career" is stuck and I am a failure and I wonder, what does God really want me to do?

    Sometimes I overlook my successes (helping people who otherwise couldn't afford it) and focus on my failures. Recently I have been trying to train myself to be content in the place where I am – to listen to God through His word and what he places in front of me. I am still in a confusing place, but it's amazing what has come my way.

    I know you will find your way as well. Don't ever give up. 🙂
    Love ya!

  32. M Clement Hall says:

    >Very brave of Marla to post this and also very instructive. Perhaps it strengthens her new career, I'm not sure it will make her a commercially more successful writer.
    It does generate a new form of memoir — not the typical misery memoir starting from poverty and rags, but the form when it all looked so good until the bubble burst. It takes a lot stronger character to rise from that. I truly wish Marla glowing success to complete the wheel of fortune's turn.
    Her blog also brings out the truism that getting into print is hard, but it's much harder to stay in print if your first was not a commercial success.
    It's all about the money, honey!

  33. Bridgett says:

    >Wonderful read. Please always remember that for every TEST there is a TESTimony. I do believe that God has placed you in the seat of Job. He wants to know how you would handle the "test of time" if he said no for moment. You are proving yourself to be more than a conqueror. Keep up the great work!

  34. Tanya Dennis says:

    >Good word. Great perspective. Thank you.

    Many times those of us who have not been published can erroneously believe that once we get that coveted contract, then we've made it. Then we can relax and enjoy the fruits of our years of grunt work. The truth is, as you honestly depicted, that we never "make it" because there's always one more lesson to learn, one more goal to reach, one more grace to accept.

  35. Jody Hedlund says:

    >Loved hearing more about your writing journey, Marla. You've learned some wonderful lessons that I think we can all relate to!

  36. Holly B. says:

    >Thanks for sharing, friend. I truly appreciate your refreshing, humble honesty–one of the reasons that I believe God transforms what looks to you like a failure to bring glory to Him! Love you!

  37. dhansen says:

    >sit around waiting for new,(sp) new=news.

    sorry 🙂

  38. dhansen says:

    >Nice post – Very heartfelt. Thanks.

    Every time I get a rejection or sit around waiting for new, I find more time to focus on improving my writing. It seems like the Law of Sacrifice. I feel like when I've given something, He rewards me with more clarity of thought and focus.

    Take it as you will, but I can't see it as anything but a gift.

    Here's to failure! (followed surely by success).

  39. Kathleen L. Maher says:

    >I agree that failures create sympathy with an audience. And it's true that people don't speak appreciation for something until it's gone. But it's also true that one can't talk about failures unless they're accompanied by success of some sort. Without the platform of success, failure can diminish an audience's respect.
    I have yet to grasp the brass ring of publication, but even that failure has its advantages. Meeting wonderful writers along the way, "growing up" with them and sharing joys and sorrows is a treasure. Learning from the brave souls who have gone before me makes my journey safer. Failure makes us stretch and grow. It's all good.

  40. writer jim says:

    >Marla,

    That is such a nice post. It gave me a chuckle when you said to God, "You know these books are really good, right?" But the greatest thing I noticed is your desire to really serve and please God, even when you feel you are failing.

    I bet your books are doing far more good than you realize. In my life this has happened repeatedly: I'd meet a stranger and witness to them about Jesus Christ. They would reject me, laugh at me, mock me, or even threaten me. I often felt that I had failed, and just should have somehow done a better job of witnessing.
    But then, a year later, or five, and as much as 23 years later; those persons would see me again, and run up and start hugging me. I'd have no idea who they were; but they remembered me: To them I was unforgettable, the most important person they'd ever met.
    Rather than failing, my witnessing had in fact affected them so powerfully that they went to church the following Sunday and got saved; and began fervently serving God.

    I have no doubt that your books accomplish many similar things that you'll learn of later on, year after year.

  41. Suzannah says:

    >Marla,

    This is really inspiring! It's wonderful to see you taking these less-than-fun experiences and turning them on their heads.

    My own first failures served a great purpose. They made me realize how difficult publishing is, and just how much hard work and effort I'll need to put in to make it.

    Thanks for this!

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