What to do when your writing fails

Not every piece of content will go viral and not every piece of work will become an instant bestseller. Even the best writers create content that fall flat or that doesn’t really get the traction they were hoping for.

But that’s ok.

Writing can be tricky to get right and audiences can be fickle. Not to mention that reaching your audience is never as easy as just pressing ‘publish’ and waiting for your millions.

So when that feeling of failure comes give this list a read and remember there are thousands of other writers feeling the exact same way as you do right now.

Consider numbers in real terms

Everyone is so obsessed with going viral that I sometimes wonder if people ever stop to realise the significance behind their own numbers. So you only sold 100 copies or your debut novel, or maybe only 100 people saw that piece of content you thought would set the web on fire.

When compared to a benchmark of “going viral” then 100 doesn’t sound like a lot but when you consider that one hundred actual people saw something you created then that’s something to smile about. The only benchmark you need to aspire to beat is the one you set with your best piece of work.


Invest in promoting it

Even if you write the best piece of work you’ve ever done, unless you have a platform that is already popular then you won’t get much traction without promoting it yourself. This is where the “make great content” mantra really falls apart. Really it should be “make great content, do great promotion”, if you want any chance of success.

More and more I’m hearing stories of success from those who have devoted the same amount (or more) time to promotion than they spent on their writing. From my experience this is the best approach and there are plenty of options available from the free (social media, building an email list) to the paid (Google AdWords, Facebook Ads etc) or even outsourced (agent or agency).


Review what you learnt

No words are ever really wasted.

Every piece of writing you complete will improve your range of styles and the flow of ideas you have for the future. Although none of my books have ever really been what you’d call a ‘success’ I’m ok with that. They gave me a chance to take on new writing challenges and go outside of my comfort zone. Even writing fiction helped me no end with writing business content in my day job.

The other area to explore is why the content failed. Was the audience not interested in it? Was the pace too slow? Did you price it incorrectly? Did it need more visuals? Run through the possible areas for failure and get feedback from others. Ask the people who shared the piece what they liked and didn’t like, and always include your email address on your work so people can share their views.


Repurpose it

Suzanne Collins wrote the Underland books before she wrote the Hunger Games and although you may not have heard of the former I’m sure you’ve heard of the latter. Whilst the Underland books never reached the same sales success, the themes of war and greek mythology in those books fed in well to the Hunger Games and helped refine her craft. Suzanne could have stopped at one, admittedly quite successful series, but she kept going and kept improving her work and hit upon one of the biggest literary successes in recent time.

After you’ve looked back over your content to understand what didn’t work the next step is to see how it could be given a fresh lease of life. Could you write a follow-up that explores those themes in a different way? Could you change the format (e.g. in to an Infographic or a video?). Could you launch it in a different place to get more traction? There are many ways you can turn a failed piece of writing in to something new (here are a few more ideas).

Just remember

If you write something and it fails you are not an anomaly. There are far more failed pieces of writing than successful ones. It’s easier than ever for people to create content and competition has never been greater.

The writers who are really successful more often than not are those who refined their craft over time. Their ‘overnight success’ is years in the making.

Returning to Suzanne Collins, she wrote in the background on children’s TV shows for almost a decade before she got her breakthrough piece of writing. Seth Godin blogged for years before marketers knew his name and pretty much every legendary writer you see today slaved away for a small audience for years before they made it big. But they kept going through every failure.

Own your failures. Promote them. Improve them. Learn from them.

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