Mindsets and our attitudes to success and failure

Lately, I’ve been watching the sales of my books slide into oblivion, and it’s disheartening, to say the least. I have to admit that at times I’ve been tempted to define myself through that lack of success, to start wondering if I’m a failure at this whole self-publishing gig.

Today, I started reading a book that might just help me to find my way out of that attitude: Mindset by Carol Dweck. Basically, she defines types of mindsets, the fixed mindset and the growth mindset, and describes how they affect how we react to setbacks. What follows is a very superficial summary of what I’ve read so far. The fixed mindset is the camp that tends to believe that talent and intelligence are givens (“fixed”); as a result, people with that mindset are all about validity, seeing the abilities they have rewarded, getting confirmation for their success. The growth mindset is about constantly learning new things, about embracing that kind of learning. People with the growth mindset tend to enjoy a challenge, while those with the fixed mindset are more likely to avoid challenges. They would rather be the big fish in a little pond.

Reading this book is making me realize that I have a bit too much of the fixed mindset in my emotional makeup. Not all the time, of course — I don’t think anyone is all one or the other. And I do have a history of seeing setbacks as challenges, and making something good out of them. When I learned I was probably too old to get a position in the German academic system, I went to Clarion West and started redefining my life around my dream of becoming a writer. When my German publisher decided not to take the second book in The Pendragon Chronicles, I decided to try the waters of self-publishing — and Shadow of Stone now has a better rating on Amazon than Yseult, the first book in the series. So at setbacks, I do tend to react in a “growth mindset” way. But that’s my reaction to major setbacks. At the same time, I also often interpret lack of success as failure. I took the plunge, learned how to make ebooks and book covers, learned some rudimentary marketing. Sometimes I get a kick out of all I’ve learned in the last year and a half. But part of me wishes it were easy, wishes once I’d done the job, I would get immediate validation in the form of runaway sales (fixed mindset). That part of me doesn’t see challenge anymore, it just sees frustration.

I know well enough that the indie authors who do have runaway sales are those who put out several novels a year. Yes, I have put out several books since I started self-publishing, but most of those are previously published material. Mostly short stories. Notoriously hard to sell (despite what anyone else will tell you.)

What I need to do (besides learn how to market myself better) is learn how to write faster. There’s a big reason for my drop in sales — I’ve all but stopped marketing, trying to concentrate on the writing in order to have a more serious number of longer works. I know that, I told myself it would happen, but still I want the validation from sales numbers. I want it to be easy. I have challenges coming at me from every direction, and rather than embracing them, I’m ducking.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had any time this week to test the fast writing techniques I want to try. A big project has been eating a lot of my time the last few weeks. Nonetheless, I did manage to get another 3000 words written on A Wasted Land. I turned the first big chunk of the project in yesterday, though, so I’m hoping that next week I can experiment on myself and see if I’m up to the challenge of learning how to write faster.

Wish me luck!

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10 thoughts on “Mindsets and our attitudes to success and failure”

  1. Wishing you all the luck in the world, all the worlds.

    My writing has slumped to a sodden halt. I’ve officially designated tomorrow (Monday) as my first day ‘back at work’ so I’m hoping to kick-start something up from zero.

    ‘Ain’t this roller-coaster fun sometimes? 😀

  2. I think most people’s sales have dropped off a lot lately – not only is it that time of year, but the retailers have been changing things up to be not in indies’ favor, especially B&N. Fixed vs. growth is an interesting way to look at it – I never got into much marketing because it made me stressed out and cranky, so I’m also trying to focus on getting more product out there, experimenting with writing different lengths and maybe a serial. We’ll see how those go. Good luck with your growth and fast writing!

  3. I just posted a few shorts on Smashwords for free to spread the word about my writing and to nurture a fan base. You never know! 🙂 I know your frustration Ruth… I imagine we all do. Every month we compete against more and more indies, apart from everything else. But I never did write to get rich or even for the money (though, hey… I’d REALLY like some), and I have to remind myself of that. We need to define our idea of success and work to that. Mine is a decent fan base. Once that’s in place, money will follow if they really are fans. I’m a modern day indie reader and I can honestly say there a only about three authors I actually return to and they are the ones I read before Kindle. Not because no one else measure up, but because there is just so much choice now, and for very little investment. I wish you luck with your fast writing Ruth. Maybe concentrate on that – they say more books is the best marketing plan for any author. Speaking of which, I have to some revision to do. 😀 X

    1. I have all kinds of freebies already, Shah, but I’ve come to the conclusion that if they’re not in the same world as your novels, they don’t help much, sigh.

      But yes, more product is what I’m pursuing now, before I get back into the promotion circus. If I have more books out, maybe the measures I take will have a longer-lasting effect, or so I hope! 🙂

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