Failure is all around us.
You can’t miss it, from Ann Curry’s tearful farewell on Today (see video, above) to Penny Palfrey’s brave but futile attempt to swim from Havana to Key West, to what some conservatives view as John Roberts’ treasonous U.S. Supreme Court ruling on healthcare.
But as we celebrate the Fourth of July holiday today, I have some good news: failure doesn’t have to define us.
The dictatorship of failure makes us fearful, stifles us with strict boundaries and turns us into predictable lemmings. But we don’t have to live under its tyranny.
In a moment, I’ll tell you exactly how all this affects you. But first, let me make a confession about my own failure, and what I intend to do about it.
I’m talking about my latest book, Scammed, which, while well-received by critics and readers of this site, is an unqualified commercial failure.
What does that look like? Well, here are the last eight weeks of sales. I cleared 39 hardcover copies. Not gonna be making the bestseller list anytime soon with numbers like that.
The real reasons for Scammed’s lack of box office appeal are so embarrassing — mostly to my publisher — that their disclosure would probably make any aspiring author want to hire a hit man to travel back in time and assassinate Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the modern printing press, if that were possible. I won’t go into the details here, except to say that in the end, I’m responsible for the book, because I allowed it to happen.
I accept the responsibility.
It’s not that Scammed is terrible; it was a carefully-researched manuscript with helpful advice for consumers. It was a team effort, with many friends pitching in to help with editing, fact-checking and legal reviews when my publisher couldn’t or wouldn’t.
No, it’s that by the time the book was rushed to market for a late December release (the worst time to publish a book, I now know) I had permitted almost every single important decision, including the book’s title, format and cover, to be made by someone else.
And it turns out some people do judge a book by its cover. At least one reader recently decided to let me know that he believed my book was, for lack of a better word, a scam.
It kills me to read this. Mostly because I wish this person had finished the book instead of abandoning it at the halfway mark. But this reviewer makes some valid points, and it appears there are others out there who share that opinion.
I could allow one unsuccessful book to define my career. (Hey, maybe I could add the word “failed” to my banner, just before “author”?) But I am not, and I’ll tell you why: I see people allowing failure to control their actions every day, as consumers.
They don’t have to.
In travel, which is where I mediate most of my cases, here’s what happens:
Failure can “destroy” an experience. Seems like I get a version of this complaint every week — someone who had a negative experience and allowed it to define their vacation. Here’s someone who had a few bad experiences and allowed it to ruin her wedding. Letting a customer-service failure define a trip is giving it way too much power. Life is full of unpredictable glitches. Roll with it.
Failure makes you afraid to try something new. Like driving on the left-hand side in the Caribbean, UK, or Australia. I confessed my own fear of that in a recent column. But if we allow fear — particularly irrational fears — to set boundaries we’ll lose our sense of adventure. That’s no way to live.
Failure can make you boring. If you’ve experienced enough failure as a consumer, then you become timid, cautious and predictable, because you’re wary of additional failure. This partially explains the preponderance of fast-food restaurants (and the Starbucks latte in LA tastes exactly the same as it does in Miami … oh, joy!) In the travel context, it means people will always visit Branson, Orlando and Las Vegas. Because they’re safe bets.
Not to sound like a pop psychologist, but on this Independence Day holiday, you need to know that you don’t have to give failure that kind of power.
You can be free of it.
It doesn’t have to define Ann Curry, who was unceremoniously booted from the Today anchor seat after just a year. Oh, Ann, I know you got $10 million to walk away, but you need to leave NBC now. Steve Capus is not your friend. For Palfrey, there’s always next summer. And Roberts? We’ll leave that to the legal historians, but there are many rulings to make before he retires.
I’m not letting my failure define me, either. My next project, which is already in the works, will be bolder, more authentic and totally interactive.
Since Scammed was about customer service, I think the best thing I can do is to offer a full refund to any reader who wants it, starting with Mr. One-Star Review. (There’s a little fine print to the offer, which I’ve published at the end of this post.)
I’m also going to go a step further. In order to qualify for a refund, I’ll need to see a proof of purchase and a reason. Was the book not what you expected? Did you just not like the narrative voice, which, I confess, was not entirely mine? Would the information have been better presented as an app, which was the original idea?
I’ll publish every one of the refund requests in their entirety.
If I could go back in time, I would have done a lot of things differently. Mostly, though, I would have asked my readers about what they wanted and listened to them instead of allowing a pencil-pusher in New York to decide what’s right for consumers.
It won’t happen again.
Happy Independence Day!
Note: And now, the fine print: From now until July 11, you can ask for, and receive, a full refund on your purchase of my book Scammed. In order to qualify, the email must be sent to my address, [email protected], and it must contain your full, legal name, a proof of purchase and a reason for requesting a refund. By doing so, you are granting me permission to publish your full name and the reason you requested a refund. I may edit your email for brevity. Payment will be made by PayPal, which may impose fees on the transaction. Limit one per customer and as always, void where prohibited.