Fear of Failure (with an excerpt from Dare Me)

It’s commencement time. Students are graduating and moving on to higher education or into the workforce, and intelligent people have words of wisdom for them. The most prevalent I’ve heard is, “embrace failure.”

Michelle Obama most recently suggested this to high school students in Tennessee. And just last week I posted Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech to last year’s graduating class at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, which has recently been turned into a book, Make Good Art. One I’m sure will find its way into many graduates’ hands.

I find the discussion interesting, this talk of failure and its ability to spur one on to better himself or herself. I agree with it, wholeheartedly. I have failed so many times, have made so many mistakes in so many ways that I now expect to struggle. I even advise my daughters with this wisdom: mistakes are normal.

Yet–and it’s a big yet–I am so very anxious of failing with Dare Me.

It’s not that Dare Me is going to rival Tap Out for morally offensive elements and I fear being labeled “amoral” or “immoral”. Rather, it’s that I know more about the industry this time around, just enough that I’m second-guessing every move.

Last week I blogged about my most recent conundrum: should I or shouldn’t I pay for a professional book trailer?

Really? This was even a question? Dare Me is focused on YouTube, daredevil culture. What other medium could possibly do better for promotion?


It’s the truth. Word-of-mouth, be it literally one person to the next, or virtually, on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, blogs, etc., is the number one way books get sold. And yes, it makes sense that marketing increases word-of-mouth, but no amount of marketing overshadows lack of engagement, lack of talk about a book.

So what do I do?

Behave like Joel Goodsen (Tom Cruise) in Risky Business when he meets with the college recruiter? You know the famous line. Or do I continue to worry relentlessly like Cameron Frye in Ferris Bueller’s? (Can’t resist the 80s movie references–sorry.)

I don’t know.

Part of me wants to turn off my brain and just take the plunge. Like I did when I started writing. No thought, just action. Part of me wants to analyze and be exacting. Chances are I’ll do a little of both.

I am afraid of failure, but I am equally afraid of not trying. I fall neatly into Seth Godin’s idea of anxiety: “I define anxiety as experiencing failure in advance.”

That is not the goal. Good writing, word-of-mouth spread, and true enjoyment of the process, is.

So in that spirit, as I’m figuring out what to do, let me give you a slice of Dare Me, not surprisingly, from a scene in which Ben, the protagonist, is afraid to jump, and equally afraid not to.


     I don’t have time to respond, because he’s at my elbow again and I’m standing and all is as it was before, except I’m more used to the blindfold. In fact, I’m glad I have it on, because I’m numb.

    “In five, four, three . . .”

    Ricky’s voice fades and I hop. For a moment, I feel nothing and wonder if I haven’t jumped far enough. But then I’m falling, the wind rushing by and my insides shaking. I remember to tighten up just before I hit.


As anyone who is trying to connect with the world knows, audience is key. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, musician, artist, or businessman, it’s all the same. The connection to those people who you believe your “product” is for will make or break you.

I’ve been thinking about this because of recent chatter about the negative vibe between authors and reviewers on Goodreads. I’m not entering that fray. People more knowledgeable than me have already addressed the issue. My takeaway, however, is that somewhere there is a disconnect with the audience. The people who the author wants to read his or her work either are not, or are, and are behaving inappropriately. It’s a sad state of affairs because often a good review can elevate and enough negative can achieve just the opposite.

This, of course, has forced me to think of advertising and marketing and what I know of the “business model”. I am an educator and a writer. I do not hold an MBA, yet I am faced with these principles of business every day. Education is changing towards this end and writing books is a business. Therefore, I must market, I must advertise, I must reach that audience who is everything. But how do I do that? How do I reach the teens who I know will be changed by Tap Out, or whose eyes will be opened, or those who will be able to hand my work to someone and say, “This is my life”? How do I achieve this and at the same time avoid those who will shoot down my work because it’s uncomfortable?

The short answer is that such is an impossibility. The long answer comes from Seth Godin’s blog this morning. I’ve included the image from his post below:

For me, it’s the story I must now build. Not the one I’ve written, but the one around Tap Out. Why does Tap Out matter? How is it different? Why should anyone care? Fortunately, I’m gaining help with this. Below is a review from the School Library Journal that says it all:

DEVINE, ERIC. Tap Out. Running Press Kids, September 2012. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780762445691.


Gr 8 Up—Tap Out by Eric Devine is the memorable and heartbreaking story of Tony, a boy whose mother has constantly been dating a variety of abusive boyfriends throughout his childhood. Even though he wants the abuse to stop, Tony knows he can’t win a fight between any of them. When Cameron, one of the worst abusers, comes along and gets his mother to start doing drugs again, Tony knows he needs to get rid of him. After agreeing to go to a mixed martial arts class with his best friend, Rob, Tony instantly falls in love with the sport; it helps him relieve his anger at his mother, Cameron, and his terrible living situation in the trailer. When a drug problem arises in the neighboring trailer, Rob and Tony unwillingly become tied in as well. While Tony and Rob both share problems, each deal with their own by themselves. Tap Out deals with social status, teen pregnancy, heartbreak, and drugs, all situations today’s teens might relate to.

Starting with the first page, Devine instantly captures your attention and holds it until the very end. Something is always going on whether it deals with drugs, fighting, or just what the characters want to do with their lives after high school. When I first read about mixed martial arts, I thought it would be a story that only guys could relate to, but after reading it, I realized that both genders can enjoy the novel equally. However, I didn’t like the ending. It was good as far as the plot, but the outcome was terrible. Overall, I thought the storyline, the drama, and the characters were all thoroughly put together. Personally, I’d recommend this book to any of my friends.—Sarah A., age 15

This article originally appeared in School Library Journal‘s enewsletter SLJTeen.

Thank you, Sarah.

To my audience:

I’m here and I’m trying to reach you. I’ll keep trying, I promise.

To those for whom Tap Out is not for:

Please, do me a favor, pass it along to someone for whom it is. Build the story of my work. You have the power.

Monday Mash-up

I’ve got a mash-up today, because I have too many strands I’d like to speak about, and well, my brain’s a little toasted. So here goes:

Tap Out

I’ve been working diligently at the line edits for my illustrious editor, Lisa Cheng, and am wowed by her insight and ability to discern the loose spots in my work. Her professionalism is exactly what I had hoped for. Between Lisa as my Editor and my already fabulous agent, Kate McKean, I am one lucky writer.


I’m not exactly sure when I first heard of smashwords, but I do know when I became interested–after looking at the various eBook channels and realizing all that smashwords offers for free. Therefore, my first novel, This Side of Normal is available there, and for right now, because of their promotion: Read an eBook week, TSON is available, with coupon, for free until 3/10. There are thousands of titles available at discounted prices, or for free. Check it out.

And Smashwords just signed a deal with Baker and Taylor for availability of their books through the e-reading app, Blio, and access to public libraries through Baker and Taylor’s Axis 360 service. Pretty fantastic for the self-pub enthusiast.

Stop Stealing Dreams

If you are unfamiliar with Seth Godin, please take a minute to Google him or clink on my link. He’s a genius in marketing, but his recently released manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams, pries into the thorny topic of Education. I downloaded the free eBook and was immediately hooked. Admittedly, I have an interest in the topic having been employed as a high school English teacher for the past decade, but I think the ideas within Stop Stealing Dreams apply beyond the classroom. In fact, I sent the link to my boss and owner of the CrossFit where I work, because he manages people. He has expectations for us, and we are all educators. So is every parent, every manager, every entrepreneur.

Godin paints a picture of the future of education that seems far too plausible to ignore, and highlights the current trappings that will drag us there with unsettling authority. He challenges us all, educators or not, to rethink what we want of this service we call education. It’s a respectable premise, and one I toyed with last night, asking my daughters, “What do you want to learn?”

My eldest: “How the Earth spins.”

My youngest: “How lipstick is made.”

Within minutes we had answers and I think we could have gone for hours with this Q&A. But the idea is not to unearth random facts for trivial purposes, but to begin where the interest lies and grow from there. From the spin of the Earth to lipstick, these waters are deep.

I can’t wait to see what this week brings.

Potential = Sacrifice

Right now the Internet is rife with discussions of how to be successful in this New Year. I do not have any platform to discuss strategies toward success. This is not a Top Ten list of how to succeed. Rather, it’s a discussion about potential.

There is no success without first having potential, and I believe the key to obtaining potential lies in sacrifice. We can put ourselves in a position to be great at anything if we simply sacrifice for it. The thorny matter, however, is the degree to which we are willing to give up aspects of our lives, or to take on more within our days. Sacrifice isn’t all about omission; it’s commission as well.

The Omission:

I am at the beginning of a writing career. I have the potential to write books for years and years. Will I? The answer comes in the response to the question: How much am I willing to sacrifice? I have a busy life–wife, children, a full-time and a part-time job. And writing. What will be put on the altar to serve the needs of that last element?

That’s a disquieting question, and one I’m not comfortable answering. I’d like to keep everything intact but I know that cannot occur. Change is the only constant.

The Commission:

We must do more. Writing, alone, is not enough. We must be visible and accessible. These are our mantras, and I am heeding them, as so many of us are, with facebook and Twitter and all the other social media packages available. But how much more time am I willing to spend in front of a computer screen serving this end? What will I be missing due to this act of commission?

Again, questions I am not comfortable with, but must learn to be.

Seth Godin, in an interview with Subvert Magazine, discussed failure and sacrifice after a slew of rejections: “That’s when I realized I had no real options and this was the real deal, the course of my life. Stay in or get out, and I really had no choice. I was in.”


Godin’s words are this premise boiled down to stark reality. We have to be willing to sacrifice it all, whether we want to or not, because there will come a point when we’re in it, and life will decide for us.


I’d rather have the reigns, even if the ride is treacherous. The potential for greatness is too enticing. And the sacrifice…hopefully worth it.