Friday, August 26, 2011

Not A Level Playing Field

Yesterday, the boys and I watched the Yankees hit three grand slams in one baseball game. It was really cool to see history being made. I Facebooked about it and got some comments about the Yankees’ payroll. It’s true that they have a ton of money, and it allows them to acquire great players. And I understand why fans of teams with less financial ability get frustrated. My parents, who are Mariners fans, often call Seattle the AAA farm team for the Yankees because their best players often get taken by the Yankees. Interestingly, many other franchises have the ability to make the same kind of money, according to my daughter’s sports economics class at the university. But they don’t. Why? Because they aren’t as successful. It’s hard to get fans to come when you lose. And it’s hard to get the money to get better players if you don’t have tremendous fan support.

So why am I doing this whole baseball post when I’m not really that much of a baseball fan? I think a lot of this applies to writing and writers. It’s easy for writers to grouse when they see books that make the bestsellers’ list that they deem not well-written. But the truth is that while the playing field is level, i.e., any book can make the NYT best sellers’ list (excepting indie e-books), in another way the field is not level.

Publishing is a business. And individual books sales are greatly influenced by your publishing house. Whether they give your book the editing it needs, the book cover they select (authors get some input, but not final say so), whether they pay for good book placement in bookstores, etc. But those things are out of writers’ control. Yes, you can do marketing, and every writer does, but there are no guarantees.

And like baseball fans and players, writers have to do it for the love it. That’s where the satisfaction and the joy come from. And who knows, maybe you’ll do well—word of mouth is the greatest sales tool. Don’t forget, the Athletics took two out of the three games. 


  1. I noticed the same thing when I got into college football. The best team is always the best team because they attract and recruit the "best" athletes. It's slimmer pickings for the other schools unless they can offer better financial aid or something. When I started college, our team had just started doing really well but because we'd gone through a long period of suck before that, tickets to all home games were free for freshmen. They'd been doing that for the last few years to build fan support. Of course, they stopped doing that in the years following because we were winning a lot more. :)

    Great analogy to writing, and a great reminder for why we do these crazy things despite the un-level playing field.

    BTW, I gave you the Liebster Award on my blog!

  2. That's an excellent point, and a good connection. ;) It is a business and there is a lot of guessing in it, even for publishers.

  3. Hmmmm, as someone who grew up in Baltimore, and a one-time rabid Orioles fan, I'm not exactly a huge Yankees fan. (Some of that feeling, I must admit, is festering sour grapes.) But, still and all, it's a good analogy. Good thing I enjoy writing, because I don't expect to achieve Yankees status at it. And hey! Krispy can't give you that award ... I just wrote my blogpost for next Wednesday, and I'm giving you that award, too! (Guess you're getting it twice!)

  4. I know exactly what you mean. It's the same thing with Rugby, my country's one national sport.

    I think that leveling the playing field is one big reason why all writers should build platforms. Sure, it might not ensure success, but having one can make a big difference if done right.


  5. Yes, this is such a great analogy!

    If you look at the NYT bestseller list (for children's books, at least) any given week, the results are pretty predictable: Huge Name authors (i.e. Rick Riordan, James Patterson), Big Name authors with newly published books, and Debut authors with either large advances (and thus larger promotional push from their publishers) and/or a really large online following. Of course, you also see books that didn't get a lot of publisher attention / weren't expected to succeed on there -- but they are fewer.

    So no, publishing isn't a level playing field. Not really. It only offers the tantalizing potential of a level playing field. But as writers, all we can really do is write and hope hope hope to reach that potential. :)

  6. The non-level playing field is frustrating. It will be very interesting to see how indie publishing changes that in the next few years.