Do you ever feel like a failure as an author? Today, we have a special interview with New York Times bestselling author Jessica Lahey who wrote the book on failure - literally!
She wrote the book: The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.
Thankfully, she was willing to take out from her busy schedule touring, speaking, and signing books to share some of the things she has learned along the way, and how you can be a success even through failure! Want more great tips? Follow Jessica on Twitter!
Why did you start writing?
I’ve always written, as far back as I can remember. I always fantasized about being able to “Be a Writer” when I grew up, but I kept writing the entire time. It wasn’t until I got my first (unpublished) book under my belt, and started writing about teaching that I really found my voice. I think the combination of loving writing and loving teaching, and the ability to combine these two loves, resulted in some really fertile ground for me.
You write about failure - what would you consider your biggest failure?
My book, The Gift of Failure, only came to be after a significant re-write. My editor informed me that my first draft was not publishable, that my book needed a lot of work, and maybe I’d need help re-writing. I asked her to give me a few chapters, to let me show her that I could re-write the section myself, and then talk again about getting help. I then asked her to give me all of her feedback—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and believe me, she didn’t hold back. I wrote everything down, pages and pages of edits, and got down to work on those first chapters. It was such hard work, mainly because I had to admit to the flaws in my writing and my organizational shortcomings, but she was right. When I’d finished those chapters, she let me continue on with more, and finally with the entire book, and I have never been more proud. That book is the product of enormous failures on my part, and a whole lot of lessons learned.
What is your favorite thing about being an author?
It’s my dream job, really. I love formulating a question, or having an interest in something, then diving into the research that allows me to get at answers. I love the writing, of course, but the research is a big part of what I love about writing. I ask, and I read, and I interview. It’s like going to college to learn about some new field, then moving on to the next one after that.
And being able to work in my slippers. That’s pretty great.
What do you wish someone would have told you before publishing your book?
I have a lot of writer friends who briefed me on the stuff I could not have anticipated on my own. I’ve been talking about this book for four years, and when I go to a speaking event, it’s all new again for the people in the audience. My former New York Times editor, K.J. Dell’Antonia and I have a podcast about writing, #AmWriting with Jess & KJ, and we talk about that a lot. It may be exciting when you first have a great idea or go on to write a book about it, but if you are lucky, you will be living that topic for years. You’d better love the topic, because you will be talking about it for well beyond the book publication date.
What is the number one thing you see authors do wrong when trying to promote themselves and their books?
There are so many things authors can do to promote, and one person can’t do them all. Be strategic and focus on the things that are actually effective. For example, I am very active on Twitter, because educators use Twitter more than any other profession. Facebook, however, is less effective for me as a marketing tool. I look at my traffic and know where my readers are coming from. I don’t waste my time on social media that’s not going to reach the people I need to reach. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and let the promotion take over, but somewhere in there, the reader has to get done!
What is something fun about you that most people don't know?
I’m pretty forthcoming, so between my writing, interviews, and podcasting, most of my weird predilections and embarrassing foibles are out there for public consumption. I have a thing for collecting animals and if I did not have to spend so much time on the road, I’d likely have a full-on hobby farm up here in rural New Hampshire. It’s only due to my husband’s insistence on keeping our menagerie down to manageable numbers that don’t have a yard full of goats, sheep, pigs, alpacas, guinea hens, ducks….well, you get the picture.