Monday, September 13, 2010

You're Only As Good As Your Next Game


Not too long ago, a pitcher for my beloved Texas Rangers carried a no-hitter into the latter stages of the ball game, and everyone was saying, "He's found his stuff. He's going to pitch lights out for the rest of the season." In his next start, the pitcher did so poorly that the manager removed him by the time the fans had eaten their first hot dog. How will he do next time? Who knows? There's no guarantee of a next start. The Rangers are in a pennant race, and every game is important. And two things determine whether a pitcher takes the mound for the team: their last performance and how they do this time.

Despite authors holding to the cherished belief that publishing companies should serve a public-service function, the truth of the matter is that they're in business to make a profit. No profit, no business, and therefore no future contracts for authors.

With a rookie pitcher, the manager and pitching coach have to make a decision based on the minor league performance. Can this guy pitch in the big leagues? If they give him a chance, he might be great or be a flop.

In the case of an untested, untried author, the editor and publications board must make their decision based on an overview of the book, a sample of writing, and an educated guess at how the book will sell. That first book is like a baseball pitcher's preceding start. A good performance gives everyone hope that it will be repeated, and generally leads to a contract for a second book.

But that second book, like a pitcher's next start, is judged not by what happened with the last one but how it performs this time. In publishing, the editor or publisher can't decide after a book has been launched that it's under-performing and go to the bullpen for a "relief book." And that's why we sometimes see an author's name disappear from the list of those published.

The next time you pick up a book by your favorite author, recognize not only the hard work that went into it but the stress that goes with knowing that if this one isn't good it might be your last. Sort of makes you appreciate it more, doesn't it?
L

9 comments:

Katie Ganshert said...

Just goes to show we'll never be in a place where the writing journey doesn't cause some level of angst. I sort of like it this way. Makes me lean on Jesus every step of the way.

Blessings to you Richard!
Katie

Jody Hedlund said...

There's never a "sure" thing in the writing industry, is there? Just goes to show that we as writers need to continually be improving, growing, learning, and writing the best stories we possibly can. If I've done my part and God closes the door for future publication, I'll take that as his sign that I've had my turn, but that perhaps he's calling me to use my writing in a different way.

Richard Mabry said...

Jody and Katie, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. You all have certainly achieved a status in the writing world where you can understand these struggles. I like your attitude, though--it's in God's hands. Certainly makes it more tolerable, doesn't it?

Carol J. Garvin said...

When I hear writers suggesting that getting a first book published is their biggest hurdle and ultimate destination, I wonder if they really think they'll have it made afterwards... that their name will sell future books without putting out increasing amounts of effort. The constant push to make every new book better than the last is a challenge that excites me, even if nothing ever gets published, but I realize there must be a lot more angst when there are outside expectations on one's shoulders.

I can tell you that I'm currently reading Medical Error and it's even better than Code Blue, so I think you're right on your game! ;)

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks, Carol. Glad you think Medical Error is better than Code Blue. Now if you get Diagnosis Death next spring and think I've stepped up my game a notch, I'll have reached another goal.
With the publication of Diagnosis Death (which is already edited and ready to be printed) I will have fulfilled my three-book contract with my current publisher, so ACFW will be a busy time for me, meeting with editors about the next book (on which I'm already at work).

Sue Harrison said...

The second book was the hardest for me, just because I was second guessing everything. With the first book I simply did my best (over and over again - many rewrites). With my first book I expected myself to write the first draft perfectly. That is so paralyzing. By the third, I was relaxing again, allowing myself to trust God and to flow with the story and the characters. Thanks for another great post, Richard.

Richard Mabry said...

Sue, I've been through three contracted novels but never got past the jitters that accompany the novelist's lament: Can I do this again and make it good?

Maybe I'll be able to relax on number four. Thanks for the encouragement.

Richard Mabry said...

Sue, I've been through three contracted novels but never got past the jitters that accompany the novelist's lament: Can I do this again and make it good?

Maybe I'll be able to relax on number four. Thanks for the encouragement.

Jody Hedlund said...

There's never a "sure" thing in the writing industry, is there? Just goes to show that we as writers need to continually be improving, growing, learning, and writing the best stories we possibly can. If I've done my part and God closes the door for future publication, I'll take that as his sign that I've had my turn, but that perhaps he's calling me to use my writing in a different way.