September 14, 2020

When Failure Follows Success.

I’m just going to finally say it, my second book was a flop compared to my first.

Ok, maybe “failure” is a way too harsh word for what happened with my second book.  But it’s a tricky topic that I’ve been discussing with Andrew and the women who work with me and it’s something I wanted to write about because I think we all experience this on some level in our lives- be it parenting, our jobs, athletics…no matter the stage on which it occurs, it stings regardless. When we achieve something great, and set out to do it again and fall short- what can and should we learn from that experience?

As of late, an odd thing has happened. My first book is a best-seller once again. It’s been out for over five years, and in checking Amazon today its #1 in Interior Decorating and Decorative Arts and #3 in Interior Design– and ranked #847 of ALL THE BOOKS on Amazon (that’s 33 million books!) It’s gone into it’s 12th printing this month which bring us to 180,000 copies.  Even my publisher is bewildered by the numbers! It sold very well when it came out, but lately it’s gone gangbusters again- which is unusual (and incredible!!!)

How is this still happening?

In contrast, my second book is only in its second printing with 24,000 copies in the world. Ranked #26,166 on Amazon. Yes, it’s been out for much less time, but it also is selling way less and slower- as such, I feel quite disappointed. OK fine, I felt gutted. It took me almost three years to write that book, while learning how to be a parent to Henry, going through IVF multiple times, growing my business and renovating my house. A lot of work went into it, I’d say way more work than the first, and I was SO proud of it. I still am- the design is better, the writing is stronger and the content quite educational. But for some reason it did not resonate the way the first did.  I thought for sure that the family/ living stylishly with kids angle would be so well received given what I know about my demographic…but instead perhaps it alienated those who don’t have kids or aren’t in the “active parenting” phase of life?  I fought HARD for the new spine pattern design when my publisher wanted to stick to stripes again, and perhaps that was a mistake? I just didn’t want to do the same thing, the stripes were great but there are so many patterns in the world! I was also so sure people would love it- blue is our #1 requested/selling color in our work, after all. It all felt like it was going to be another raging success…perhaps a BIGGER success. And then it wasn’t. And all the sacrifices I made to make it happen a second time felt completely wasted. But why? Certainly I should be happy enough to have had a New York Times best-seller one time, was it simply greedy to think I could do it again? Were the risks I took in not repeating the same exact formula the reason it didn’t work?

Andrew is one of the best people I know at failing. And I mean that in the most flattering sense of the phrase.  He is NOT afraid of risk and therefore has fallen on his face a few times, and picked himself back up, looked for the lessons in those failures and moved forward wiser.  It’s made him a much better, more thoughtful employee, manager and person in general. I, on the other hand am pretty afraid of risk and do not handle failure well. And by “not well” I mean wallowing, self-blame and the general inability to let things go easily- in other words, horribly.  I swore up and down after this new book came out I was DONE writing books. I felt betrayed by the process.  After all that work, to have it flop meant there was no way I’d ever attempt it again, sort of a self-protective measure, I think. In some ways I let it erase the positive feelings I had towards writing and creating books that was so alive and strong within me after the first book came out. I’ve stopped writing altogether for the most part, even on this blog, because I felt such a deep sense of failure.  But as I rethink the process, and the response, I’ve heard a little voice in my head telling me “maybe not too fast, Erin”.  I recently re-watched a TEDtalk by Elizabeth Gilbert about creativity and failure and it really got me thinking about how the process itself is the success, not the result (can you even IMAGINE the pressure of having to follow up Eat, Pray Love???!) I actually really enjoy writing books , visually laying them out and putting all the pieces together to create something beautiful and hopefully interesting too.   So why do I have to have raging success for it to feel worth doing? Why do I feel the need for outside applause instead of simple self-satisfaction?  Shouldn’t it be kind of like how someone can love running and training for a marathon, and yet be super happy and proud to just finish, not win.

As I’ve aged and been through more “shit”, I’ve gotten a little bit better at trying to look at experiences in a more positive, wholistic light (Andrew is probably laughing right now and calling bullshit), but I really have tried.  Social media doesn’t help us do this though, it’s literally a scrolling example of how comparison is the thief of joy- making it easy to feel glory when the gettin’ is good, and really, really low when things go amiss or get stagnant (cue my current state of mind- being unable to shoot new projects and trying to find my footing as a working mom with a baby and a toddler).  But I think this pandemic, as horrific as it is, has hopefully helped people take stock of what is important and what is fluff, what is truly worth stressing about and what is something to let go.  Is the fact that my book didn’t do great worth crying over? NO.  Is celebrating the fact that I’ve written two books worth celebrating? YES.  I need to remind myself that it’s not something everyone gets to do and the feeling I felt holding my first ever copy of my first book in my hands.

Andrew asked me the other day what I’d say was the moment in life I was happiest (besides having our children) and I was quick to answer that it was the mini-vacation we took at the end of my first book tour. I was BLISSFULLY happy. Not because of any accolades or sales numbers, none of that had come out yet, but because of what I accomplished and the full, incredible experience of meeting so many amazing people and traveling the country with my husband. I recall the feeling of letting go of expectation, perfection, regret, anticipation and really relaxed into the moment fully and let myself ENJOY it. I need to do that more often, not just during monumental times in life when I feel I “deserve” to do it.  And let myself enjoy doing what I love to do without expectation or a lofty goal I have to meet. I like to work hard, I want to accomplish things in life, but that should not be the only beat I dance to. A hug from someone I love should mean more than a pat on the back from a stranger, after all.

Will I write another book? I’m not saying yes, but as of today, I’m no longer saying no. Other people will write bigger books. Better books. But that no longer means that I can’t try again. Failure doesn’t have to equate to an ending- maybe just a lesson in humility and a method by which we can reframe how we value ourselves, our time and how we define success.

The best part of my second book- taking Henry on part of my tour and seeing him sign books too!!!

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