Happy Fourth of July! Declare your independence from the tyranny of failure — I am

Failure is all around us.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance. Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

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.

Here’s the review.

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.

49 thoughts on “Happy Fourth of July! Declare your independence from the tyranny of failure — I am

  1. “Unqualified Commercial Failure” … seems a little strong.  You show 39 “hardcover” copies in the last 8 weeks.  Granted, you’re not gonna make the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list, but the readers of your blog may be more tech savy.  How are your sales in eBook format? 

    Also, your book is in the top 100 books in its category on Amazon (right above “Bitches On A Budget” …. okay, a little chuckle there)

    Is the book as successful as you and your publisher had hoped?  Obviously not.  BUT, your book was still published, and it has a few things going for it.  So I think “Unqualified Commercial Failure” is a bit far.

    **Disclaimer, no I haven’t read your book yet, but I have recently bought it in Kindle format.

  2. Thanks for buying my book. 

    In order to meet my publisher’s sales goal, I would have had to sell at least 7,000 copies. I don’t have access to all the sales data, but I’d be surprised if I sold 1,000.

    That said, my primary goal in writing the book wasn’t to be a bestseller, but to help people. And I have received many reader questions that originated from the book, so in that sense, it’s met my objective.

    I’ve been pretty open about my other failures. My point in writing this post is to say, you don’t have to let them define you.

  3. I haven’t read the book, but based on what you’re saying and on the review, maybe print isn’t the best format for the work you do. Your column is obviously very successful and part of that might be that online articles aren’t static. You can–and do–update what you’ve written to reflect lessons learned or respond to readers. The types of issues you’re covering are based on practices that change daily, so the permanence of a printed book doesn’t have the flexibility to keep up with those changes. The 1-star review you linked to was harsh, and one of the complaints was that your writing came across as “rantings,” but that might have to do with the fact that you typicially write for an audience who is very present and engages with you in your articles. That back and forth is what makes the articles so interesting. Since that type of exchange is not present in the book, maybe that’s why the reviewer felt the way she did.

    But good for you for recognizing that it was a failure–in your own perception. Ok, the publisher’s perception too. 🙂 I took a business class in graduate school and one of the first assignments was to create a failure resume–professional, personal, anything. It was a hard thing to do, but it really shows how everyone has failures and it’s not the failures that define you, it’s what you learn from the failur–and what you do nex–that does. So, recognizing your own contribution to those failures really only helps you in the long run.

    My advice, just dust yourself off a bit and move on. That idea didn’t work out for you, but at least you know why, and I’m sure you have many other great ideas in the works.

  4. One bad review makes a scam?  Hardly.  Is this self pity?  The quality of the book for newbies and the amount of sales are completely different.  Promotion is the key, with distribution now a far second place.  Talk show tour, a few book store appearances, two weeks out of your life traveling. 

    Just look at today’s top-selling fiction about sleazy s&m sex.  Hot sales, trash books.  So are you proud of the writing or not?  If you are proud, stay proud.

    1. Yes, I’m proud of Scammed, as I say in the post. 

      And no, this isn’t self-pity. I want to be the most effective advocate that I can be, and I really wish more people had a chance to see this book. I think that’s one of my biggest regrets, that so few people will read it and benefit from the advice, which took me the better part of two decades to collect.

      Re: Marketing. That’s a difficult issue to discuss openly. A colleague with a travel-themed book that was published just a few weeks after mine did very well, but her publisher promoted the heck out of the book. 

      Mine, not so much. When someone referred to it as “catalog filler” early on (I don’t remember if it was someone at the publishing company or one of their authors, but that’s unimportant) that’s when I knew we had a problem.

      But I don’t want to go there. Those are the gory details that my publisher would not want me to disclose, mostly because it makes them look really bad. And that’s not the point of writing this.

  5. I did read your book and found it interesting and very helpful, but really not until I got to the second half (all the stuff about how savvy companies use SEO and other methods to skew the web in their favor was too much info too early in the book in my opinion–everyone’s a critic). But, no thanks, I don’t want my money back. It was a good read.

    However, after reading it I was awfully discouraged to realize that as a consumer (and I’m a lazy consumer) I’m practically getting scammed everywhere I turn. Maybe that’s the problem — people really don’t want to know how or even that they are getting scammed — it takes the fun out of shopping!

  6. OUCH to that review. And to the low sales. This article demonstrates that you are an open and cool person. Kudos to you for a good grasp on reality and life. 

  7. Getting a book published is darn hard, so that in and of itself is a success.  I’ve really enjoyed and appreciated your advocacy columns for years. You have helped many people — even those who may not have deserved it — and taught us valuable lessons along the way.  Thanks for that.

    1. As I told the guy at the deli yesterday evening — why is it that I always get into political discussions with guys behind the deli counter? — I feel disenchanted, politically.

      You know, if the anti Obamacare conservatives can show us a way to do healthcare better, then they just might have my vote in November. I’m not sure it would make any difference, though.

      As of now, color me independent.

  8. i did not bring up the politics but libs always do  we had good ideas to fix healthcare but did not have the house or the senate majority to even get the stuff on the floor( look at the old news from 09 and 10..I am in healthcare and see it going down the (*&^% socialized liberal EU path and u know whata happens over there.. Get ready and hold onto ur hearts and other important pbody parts.. it is coming….

    1. If I wanted nonsense, I’d go read articles on Yahoo.

      Conservatives had their chance during the Bush years. They got the (un)PATRIOT(ic) Act passed. They got the No Child Left Behind passed. They got their war in Iraq.

      They didn’t do a thing about health care.

      Stop lying to yourselves and to us: even if you have any ideas (and you don’t), you don’t care to do anything with them.

      And here’s a hint: you can usually edit your own posts, so you don’t have to make a half a dozen of them, spamming the forum with your pint-sized rantings.

      1. cjr001 is an idiot and does not pay attention to what is happening in america their head is in the ground and they are true libs


    1. Actually, that’s what Scammed was supposed to be – an ebook and an app. That was voted down by my traditional publisher and ex-agent.

      Did I say ex-agent? Yes, that was my third literary agent, and dropped me for reasons beyond my control long before Scammed bombed.

      Agent 1: Abruptly left the profession to move to Key West and do who knows what.

      Agent 2: Got his walking papers from his NY agency because his authors were not earning enough.

      Agent 3: Left to start her own literary agency. Not quite as dramatic as the Ann Curry exit.

      Harold Ramis was right.

  9. PPS>>>> Obamacare is not a healthcare reg IT IS A TAX BILL generating 15 new levels of taxes and150 new government entities to enforce it……READ the 2500 pages and see what is really in it…

  10. plus it regelated the hiring of 15,000+  new IRS agents  of course we need them  to  administer healthcare???? 

  11. OWWWWW!  That negative review is hard to read.  I’ve read books like yours in the past … I like to think of myself as a sophisticated traveller and business owner, and I read everything, never make hasty decisions, ask for help when I need it, and am absolutely convinced there’s no free lunches in the world!  I’ve often found books like this less than helpful … to ME.

    But I think the less-sophisticated reader would find lots and lots of information and good advice.  So failure as a book?  Probably not.

  12. Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success. ~Dale Carnegie

    Chris Elliott and failure aren’t exactly two words I’d put in the same sentence.  Okay, the book isn’t flying off the shelves like all writers would like.  As a writer myself, I get that you’d have liked better sales.  And OF COURSE someone’s going to write a negative review, if for no other reason than they can.  Sometimes, people just really suck.

    But Chris, to call it a failure?  Not from where I stand.  You wrote a book.  You got it published.  Total strangers bought it (not a friend, not your parents, not your brothers or sister – a total stranger) and while some liked it, some did not.  

    There are people out there who hate (HATE) Hemingway.  

    Judy Jance told me, once, she was told by several people she was an awful writer.  Thankfully she didn’t listen and has made the NY Times best seller list a few times.

    In his book “On Writing”, Stephen King writes he was told to never write another word by a high school English teacher.

    It’s not failure – it’s just a lack of the results we wanted/expected.  Remember, there’s a reason it’s called WD-40 and not WD-39.

    1. Point taken. And I should emphasize that the failure of this project is from a sales point of view — it’s a commercial failure. But it is not a failure from other perspectives, so to that extent, I agree with you. Loved the Dale quote, by the way.

  13. The only failure that really matters to me is to fail as a parent.  From the aspects of your personal life that you have shared with us on this blog, that failure is never going to happen to you.  So treat this as a teachable  experience and carry on.  As we used to say in my heyday, “More power to you.”

  14. You are a wonderful writer and helper to all.  We have all had failure and hopefully “come back.”  You are still a huge success to me.  Thanks for just being — CHRIS!!!!

  15. Chris, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, A G Bell had thousands of failures between them before a success was created. We learn from failure. At least most of us do. No one succeeds 100% of the time. And very few succeed first time out. Good Luck in the future.

  16. That review really is unfortunate. The person basically says they’re not an idiot, therefore the book isn’t for them. But apparently it’s your fault, Christopher, that he bought it and therefore you deserve a negative review because of it. Go figure.

  17. Chris, let’s get one thing straight, ANN CURRY IS NOT A FAILURE: she got caught up in the “suits’ who got ants in their pants over the fact that Good Morning America was beating them out. They got slammed with Ann’s army of supporters, and placated them (and me) with another good assignment where her prestige (and pocket book) are still intact.
    Most egregious is after Matt Lauer signed a long term and juicy contract, he gave very tepid support over her leaving (protecting his ass).Frankly, personalities are important. I left GMC after Diane Sawyer left.Then left GMC when Robin Roberts uses it as her personal God pulpit.Most refreshing and great is the new CBS Morning show with Charlie Rose and Erica Hill. Great new set, good concept and format. Beats them all.

    Morning shows are only as good as their ratings, nothing more.

    Sorry to depart from your premise here: just adding my two cents.

    1. For what it’s worth, I don’t think she’s a failure, either. NBC totally mishandled the situation, and I believe it will pay for it — actually, it already is — with substandard ratings. Savannah is no Katie.

      1.  How many people still care about the main stream media? Last night I listened to a podcast that called all of these glamorous reporters as “presstitutes”. LOL.

  18. You did not fail with your book, you had the courage to try something and this time it did not work out as well as you had hoped.  Many people don’t leave their comfort zone and that may be a real failure.    

  19. Chris:
    I have a placard in my bathroom so that I can see it every morning:
    No need at all to knock yourself over ‘poor sales’ of a book well done. As you say, it was not meant to be a Best Seller. You had a niche that people failed to respond to.

    Unfortuantely, as you well know, people do not really know they have been scammed until they get caught up with identity theft, computer hacking, pick-pocket, credit card stealing (RFID), plus airline overbooking and getting bumped, plus your very long list that you have very successfully alerted us to in your excellent articles here.

    You serve the public very well. You deserve five gold stars for opening us up to fraud and being taken advantge of. Especially TSA abuses. Rental car abuses. Airline abuses. Booking sites abuses. Hotel abuses. 

    Your column here and in newspapers where you mediate on behalf of us “victims” very successfully (because of your unique rreputation) is legendary and much appreciated.

    Instead of knocking your head against an imaginary brick wall, hit the sack and sleep well, my friend.



  20. Chris-I bought your book on Kindle, and learned a little.  I have to say that I was somewhat expecting it to be more like your column.  And, you lost me in parts where it seemed to be too wordy.  Not my favorite book (then what consumer-advocate book would be?) but certainly not the worst.  Also, it was obvious that you did a lot of research for the book!  I would have given you a C+.  

    Your column, on the other hand, is my daily “must-read”!

  21. OK, I haven’t read the book…..yet, so I really can’t vote. But I highly suspect it is not a scam. I put myself in a win/win situation. I thought you might offer the book as a premium for donating to your site. I held off buying it till you did and received a signed copy for my donation. I certainly wouldn’t ask for my donation back and I’m sure I’ll learn something when I sit down and read it, just like I do from your blogs. HAPPY 4TH!!

  22. I did purchase and read your book… and subsequently gave it away.  I LOVE your work in general but found nothing in the book that was at all hmmmm new or unexpected or any kind of learning experience for me so I was disappointed.  I apologize in that I did want to like it.  Your writing in the articles is always entertaining and insightful.  Maybe I read so much of what you write outside the book that by the time I got there, there was nothing new.

    1. Thanks for the honest feedback. I think the intended audience for the book was someone who really doesn’t understand how businesses think about consumers. If you’re a daily reader of this site, then you already know. (Plus, a lot of the material in the book came from the cases I already mediated here.)

  23. I think this is the first post that truly angered me.

    Tyranny from failure isn’t the problem.  Tyranny from the FEAR OF failure is the problem.  Also short term thinking Vs long term goals.

    How many of our founding fathers were considered “failures” at the time?  Several.  Yet in the long term they made the right decisions.  How many light bulbs did Edison break before he got one to work?  How many rockets did we blow up before we got to the moon?

    This absolute need for short term success, this fear of failure is what is crippling everything today.  Failure is needed to correct what is wrong, and to push in the right direction.  Not allowing it means you’ll forever be stuck in the mediocre place.

    Everyone should be given the freedom to fail, as long as they are willing to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and head in the right direction (eventually).

  24. And while we’re on the topic, I would like to point to Thomas Jefferson, who valued his enemies for pointing out things that were wrong with his life so he could correct them.

    So you got a one star.  Read the comments, examamine the truth, and take what is learned forwrd.

  25. Thank you for all the comments, feedback and support. Also, I love the letter grades. I truly value all of it.

    Tomorrow, it’s back to our regularly scheduled programming. I have a post about how resorts like to parse their fine print, and one hotel that did the right thing. Have a great Fourth of July, everyone. I’m about to go across the street to the Andes Hotel and order a burger. I hope that wherever you are today, you get to spend some time with friends and family.

  26. I bought Scammed as soon as it was available as an ebook for my Kindle, which is how I buy any book these days unless it’s not available for Kindle. I knew some of the contents from reading your coilumns and all the comments, but it was a useful refresher and I did learn new stuff. I also have it to refer to again when I feel the need.
    I was told a long time ago at school that “if you don’t try you can’t succeed, and if you fail just try again until you do succeed”.
    Keep up the good work Chris with your columns, your mediations and your other endeavours. 
    Happy Fourth of July.

  27. Sorry but I bought the electronic version, I didn’t like it at all.  The feel wasn’t quite right.  Didn’t really learn a thing.   I enjoy the online column, but that book just doesn’t cut it. 

    1. Although I haven’t seen the ebook version yet, I admit that I had the same initial reaction when I saw the final book. After having spent six months writing the manuscript, and almost as long planning it, I thought: “Wow, that’s it?” 

      That could have just been the perfectionist in me. But I asked around, and other authors and editors told me, “Of course you’re going to feel that way! You work in this business. You live this stuff.”

      Again, at the risk of repeating myself, I think the intended audience for this book was not the average reader of this site. You guys already know all of this. (If you didn’t, then I wouldn’t be doing my job.)

      I do wish I could have delivered a little more, and surprised even my regular readers with something extra special. But in the end, the deadline pressures were too great to pull something together.

      I hope you’ll keep reading this site. The information here is totally free and there’s no publisher telling me what to do.

  28. I don’t particularly want a refund of Scammed.  It wasn’t the book I was hoping it would be, but if you looked at the introduction or Chris’s blurbs on it here, it was exactly what he promised.  Honestly, my biggest problem with it was that it was very poorly edited — about the level of this blog, which is fine for a blog but not so much for a book.  (I read the Kindle version, so maybe it had problems the print version did not.)  In terms of substance, I thought it was a bit dry and obvious, but, frankly, the intro is pretty clear that it isn’t going to be a book detailing the “big scams” that make for more interesting reading… rather, it’s more of a “how not to” guide for the types of “scams” that most people face in everyday life. 

  29. I wouldn’t take this failure to heart Chris. Anybody that visits your site can see you are a scrupulously fair and thorough consumer advocate. And your experience with publishing mirrors many others, for instance Patrick “Ask the Pilot” Smith formerly of Salon who has a similar tale about his book.  Or Matt “Windows Programming Secrets” Pietrek. I also personally know people in the tech field who’ve written a book. They only do it to say they are a published author. Any financial return  they get  barely covers a round of doughnuts. 

    1. Thanks. I feel like I’m in good company. By the time I close the books on this project, I will have probably lost money on Scammed. That’s a real incentive to write a sequel, don’t you think? 😉

  30. I bought your book right when it came out from Amazon for my Kindle. I have read it twice thus far. Your book is not a failure to me. 

  31. I like your attitude – never give up.  Re driving on the left, as you probably know (if you’ve figured out who this is) I am from the UK and when I first came to the USA, I was scared about driving on the right, but I did it, and while it was scary for the first drive of around 20 minutes (not helped by the major construction they were doing in Austin on Mopac at the time – 1989) – when I got into the car the next morning, it was as if I had been driving on the right all my life!

  32. Chris,

    I haven’t read scammed, so I can’t comment on your question. But I really enjoyed your article and insights.

    Have you considered re-purposing this post. Maybe turn it into a short podcast or video cast, or a slide share or powerpoint? I think it has legs and should travel a little further than it has.

    Better yet, would you consider a short video interview on Google Plus Hang Outs? P.M. me if you want to discuss it. les at iamles dot com

    Anyway I liked it so much, I’ve linked to it in a post I wrote using the term “Tyranny of Failure” to help anyone who cares define what I mean by the term.

    Love your writing voice. I’m following. Cheers.

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