by Steve Laube
The NCAA Basketball Tournament is upon us with lots of drama accompanying March Madness.
As you watch a game, of any team sport, the focus is on the players in the contest. The camera follows the stars and their every move. What you rarely do is watch the bench or the players on the sidelines.
I find this to be a fascinating metaphor for the writing and publishing “game.” There are mega-stars with household names. There are the “up and comers” carving out their place. And with each publishing release a new name steps forward displaying their talent.
But what about those who are left on the bench? What do you do when someone else takes what you think is your place in the spotlight? Or what if you used to be on the starting team but can no longer get a new contract or the attention your books deserve?
I observe at least three types of writers who sit on the bench:
I have often observed the sneer of disdain when a famous author is being discussed. “Oh their books aren’t that good. I couldn’t finish even one.” “I can write so much better than so-and-so.” You understand what I’m saying? And I have likely willfully participated in the criticism.
There is a legitimate place for critique and published reviews (both online and print). They provide a valuable service in helping us discover whether a book is worth the time to read. And yet I once looked up every review written by an individual on Amazon out of curiosity (it is easy to look those up). This particular reviewer did not like a single book they had reviewed. Not one. It made me wonder if they were being intentional about their criticism in order to bring other writers down.
If you are on the bench be careful not to let the jealously bug bite and infect you with bitterness. Caustic words tend to burn the giver as well as the receiver.
Teams practice nearly every day. It creates a “muscle memory” for certain plays and for the interaction with other team members. They learn from each other and from their coaches.
It is the same in the writing world. This season may be one where you are on the bench. Use that time to improve your craft. Watch how other authors market their new books and keep a notebook of ideas. Make note of promotional things that don’t work as well as those that do. Read widely in your genre and outside. Your non-fiction may improve after reading a great storyteller. Or your fiction may have a new layer of fascination because of some non-fiction piece you read.
I have met a number of very famous authors in our industry who have attended a writers conference as a student. They were not there to teach or speak. They were not there to mentor. They were not there to critique. They were there, paying their own way, to sit quietly in the back and learn how to improve their craft.
So even if you are on the bench you can still learn something. And be prepared for the day when your name is called.
The video at the end of this piece is absolutely delightful. See how the bench celebrates the success of the other players. It is inspiring. Why?
Because it is a lesson to the rest of us. No pasted smiles on our faces when our friend gets a contract and we don’t. You’ve seen the smile that doesn’t travel up to the eyes. No empty words like “I’m so happy for you” said with gritted teeth.
Instead bring unbridled enthusiasm to the game. This is about changing the world. The non-fiction piece inspires and instructs thousands of people in far flung places. That novel warms a heart or challenges a reader through a character who has come alive on the page. This miracle of the written word is something to celebrate, truly celebrate.
Of course not every book is made equal. That is why there are so many and why our tastes are so varied. But if you find yourself on the bench for whatever reason. Take the chance to send a note of encouragement to that author. Not just gushy fan letters, but a note that only another writer would understand. Use your blog or Facebook page to celebrate those new releases. Let your network know there is an alternative to the drivel found on most TV stations and in movie theaters.
Meanwhile, enjoy the rest of March Madness and this video. Next time a new book hits a home run or scores a touchdown or sinks a buzzer beater or gets past the goalie, celebrate like these guys: