The issue of competition requires regular reminders to everyone who is currently working or desires to be part of the book industry, so I am walking in the same footsteps of previous posts.
An element of competition is involved in every aspect of publishing, down to the smallest detail.
One need not be obsessed or discouraged by the competitive environment, rather the opposite, with eyes wide open, strengthen your resolve, work harder, learn more, continually improve, never give up and be laser-focused.
Competition in general teaches competitors how to handle adversity, how to handle success and the importance of teamwork. In addition, the outcome of whatever endeavor is secondary to the lasting effect of the lessons learned in the process leading up to the competition.
The journey teaches more than the goal. How you handle the journey says more about you than anything.
A number of professional athletes and performers have said in effect, “They pay me to practice. I play for free.”
Few authors truly understand their book is swimming in a virtual sea of other books. Until you expose your work to the wider world, you never really understand how competitive it is.
I wonder how many high school choirs have been encouraged to go professional because they did such a good job performing High School Musical for the spring production? The parents and grandparents were so proud.
However, if you had ever seen a real Broadway production, you would never make the suggestion. They are spectacular. The best of the best performing with the best.
What is great in your hometown school or church, probably would not compete well in the intense and often ruthless competitive world of the professionals. This is true for authors, musicians, churches (yes, churches), business and the most commonly discussed competitive environment, sports.
The worst week of any high school sport season is the first round of the state playoffs, when the undefeated, conference championship team gets to play outside of its area against another undefeated, conference champion and they lose in a lopsided manner, discovering they aren’t as good as their all-school assembly thought. Dreams are dashed by halftime.
I heard a story recently about a highly touted basketball player going to his first practice for a college team and in the first minutes of practice, the star player on the team dunked over him as if to say, “Are you ready for this?”
The new player quit after the first practice.
I’ve traveled to many cities and countries, visited churches and heard pastors in many settings. I have the highest regard for people in church ministry. I’m related to some of them.
But not every pastor of every church should be writing books. They should stick to their main thing…shepherding their flock.
In fact, often it is pastors or leaders of large local ministries who feel the greatest sting when they believe because five hundred people love their teaching, maybe 500,000 will buy their book. They are deeply disappointed when it doesn’t happen.
The aspiring author, getting rave reviews from relatives and friends steps out of that comfort zone and sends their work to an agent or publisher to start a competitive process. Few truly understand how competitive.
While many authors have put in the time to train, develop, practice and hone their skill, many do not. To some, writing is a hobby or maybe a way to pick up a little spending money. They are in for a rude awakening.
Writing is not easy and it does not come naturally. You better be ready for the rejection and criticism. Relatives and friends are terrible judges of your ability.
Developing a “thick skin” is an under-appreciated aspect of competing well, no matter what the competition might be. In a sense, you will be dunked over and asked, “Are you ready for this?”
Best-selling author Jerry Jenkins has this to say about discouragement and rejection.
Yes, once in a while an author seems to “hit the jackpot” on the first try at writing a book. But the vast majority of books are written by those who labored in relative obscurity for a lengthy time, put forth the effort, honed their skills and then, got a chance to see what they could do to a larger audience.
Jerry Jenkins wrote dozens and dozens of books before he wrote Left Behind with Tim LaHaye in the mid-90’s. He wrote books for other people, with other people, on his own, fiction, non-fiction, and kids books, whatever he needed to write. Certainly God blessed the epic series with Dr. LaHaye in a unique manner, but for Jerry, it was part of a long writing-road with turns, detours, construction zones and potholes that made an eventual international bestseller all the sweeter.
While you get paid when someone agrees to publish your book, in reality the payment should be applied to the journey that led up to publication.
Attitudes toward the journey would be much different if it was viewed as an important and necessary process, rather than a necessary evil.
Of course, you pay for your training, not a publisher, but maybe authors everywhere would lower their blood pressure a bit adopting the attitude, “The money I received for the book paid me for the hours working alone, to attend writers’ conferences and critique sessions. I wrote the book for free.”
A well written reality check.
Thank you for this good and honest reminder.
Valuing the Journey,
Well said, Dan. And just the kick in the kazizzie many of us need from time to time to keep us grounded in reality. Thank you.
Enjoyed this piece. Well done.
So true. Every bit of it. I would also add, If you don’t enjoy spending hours upon hours alone with your work in progress, then writing is probably not for you.
Dan, I’ve often said of baseball players (usually after they strike out or allow the winning hit) that they get paid large sums for playing a children’s game. Maybe I should apply the same philosophy to them–they get paid for the hours of practice, the crazy hours, the uncertainty of their position, and all the rest. They play the game for free.
Thanks for sharing this.
Thank you for sharing this. It’s posts like this that keep us going when we feel like giving up. Discouragement, criticism, rejection, they’re all part of the journey.
I’m a firm believer that competition increases quality. The fiercer the competition, the sharper the competitive edge becomes. My son’s track coach had their 3A team compete entirely in invitational meets with 5A and 4A schools. The first time they did an all-3A meet was at district. Every year, either the boys or girls and sometimes both teams won the team medals at state. Training for competition with the big schools gave a huge competitive edge.
Competition has made my writing much better. Rewriting in response to judges’ comments in both Genesis and First Impressions contests led to big improvements. But, while contest-winning writing quality might get you through an agent’s door (maybe…), it won’t get a person through the publisher’s door if the marketing platform isn’t already there. So the brilliantly gifted author can spend years trying to build an online platform that may never meet the needs of a publisher who must sell several 10s of thousands of a book to stay alive.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading writing blogs, it’s that excellent writing is absolutely necessary but never sufficient. Beautifully crafted books with potential to transform their readers’ lives will never get the chance. Inspired books never see the light of day because someone (rightly or wrongly) thinks they won’t earn back their advance, and it has to be that way for the publishers to survive.
Still, it’s like putting the gold-medal shot putter in the 100-meter finals at district and telling them they can’t go to state because they came in last against the true sprinters, who couldn’t throw a shot within 10 feet of his worst throw. (There was one girl from Los Alamos who got gold in both at state, but that was far beyond astonishing. She was built like a thrower but still crazy fast. I guess she’s the equivalent of a debut author at a big publishing house with a best seller.)
While writing a book with wildly successful sales is always desirable, it’s not the main goal for some of us. For some, the book is the means to an end but not the end goal itself. I’d rather contribute to the transformation of 100 than sell 100,000. When the primary mission of the author doesn’t match well with the mission of the publisher, it might be time to pray about whether one is trying to compete in the right game.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Once again, if you didn’t say what I was thinking, you said what I should have been thinking. I hope you count the ones who read your posts on this blog as lives you’re touching, too, and include me.
I have been touched by so many who comment here, as well. It’s so good to be a part of a community where we are blessings to each other!
Dan, I always appreciate your perspective. It is only as we step into a “bigger pond” that we realize the truth of your words. When we put ourselves out there, especially that first time, and we discover we’re not quite as good at this writing gig as we thought we were . . . that’s the decision point. Will we work to learn and grow in our writing, or will we give it up and find something else to pour ourselves into?
Competition is a part of the journey. Discouragement is a part of the process for most of us, but it doesn’t have to be the final answer.
Thanks for your timely words.
May the coordinates align! I agree with Carol. It can be a bit bleak out there, that message and good writing isn’t enough. We need to be remarkable (The Purple Cow, Seth Godin)
I appreciate the emphasis and reminder about the competition and competitive edge. We are in a race. I sometimes wish I had started in this race at a younger age, but I didn’t understand the game or how it works…and I had to support my five children as a single mom and address the needs of the day. It is quite the journey, one that blooms and flowers the more nurture we give it…given the right conditions.
Yet, we carry on. And we grow. And we speak. We meet wonderful people and enjoy lively discussions. The writing journey becomes a joy and an adventure. I’m liking it.
Norma, those years were like being 3A athlete racing in the 5A world. I bet your writing is richer and deeper because you spent those years pouring yourself into your children and the challenges of your life.
Carol, yes, you are sooo right. It was rich and rewarding along with difficult and challenging. What I learned in those days is invaluable. But it’s hard not to regret the passing of time. But no worries. Thanks, Carol.
There was a quote about time I kept on my door at work.
Time flies like an arrow.
Fruit flies like a banana.
– Kermit the Frog
Dan, your last line offers us a great perspective: “…I wrote the book for free,”
I love it!
James L. Rubart
This post should be handed out at the start of every writing conference.
Dan, again your provide a blog that is profound that will be useful for rereading a couple times and then pondering a while. Thank you for opening up your thoughts and work for us to use.
Janet Ann Collins
Jerry Jenkins is a good writer, but he also had the great advantage of timing with the Left Behind books. If they had come out in the 1960s or today they probably wouldn’t have done as well, but the change of the millennium gave them great publicity. I wish we could know what would be hitting the news a few years from now so we could take advantage of what will be big news when things we write now might come out.