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Vanessa Van Edwards

This week’s guest on Famous Failures is Vanessa Van Edwards.

Vanessa Van Edwards is a bestselling author and behavioral investigator. She runs Science of People, a human behavior research lab in Portland, Oregon where she studies charisma, influence, and power body language. Her most recent book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People, is the first comprehensive, science backed, real life manual on human behavior and a completely new approach to building connections.

1. What were your three most valuable failures?

My biggest failure was writing a book that flopped. I landed a book deal with a major publisher and hoped it would be life changing. Worked on it for 3 years. Had a big media and marketing campaign and then…nothing. No one bought it. No one read it. It was a disaster.

Another big failure was hiring a manager. I was told that if I wanted to get media attention I would need a ‘manager’ to ‘manage’ me—whatever that meant. Basically it was adding another cook in the kitchen and giving away 15% of earnings. I wish I had known more and gotten better advice. It took 2 years to get out of that ‘partnership.’

Lastly, one of my earlier failures is personal. I did not get into the college of my dreams—I had my heart set on Brown University. I didn’t get in, but did get into Emory University. It was another great school and was meant to be because it is where I met my husband my junior year. Thank goodness I didn’t get into Brown!

2. Which of those three failures was your favorite? What makes it your favorite?

I suppose my favorite was the big one—the book launch. I pitched a book and wrote a book I thought people would like. It was not a book I would have liked. So I didn’t write it for me, I wrote for others and that came across. I think that is why it resonated with no one—because it never originally resonated with me. Working on my latest book I had a completely different perspective. Every aspect of the first book shaped the second one. I made sure I wrote a book I would want to read. And it just hit the Wall Street Journal best seller list!

3. Which of those three failures was the hardest? What advice do you wish you had when you were navigating that failure?

I think the hardest was the book launch because it was so public. I had all of these announcements and press and everyone in my life knew it was happening. So when it didn’t succeed I was humiliated and had to constantly field people’s genuine questions with “actually it didn’t do well.” It was torture. I wish someone had told me to write a book for me.

Trying to appeal to everyone means you appeal to no one.

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