Thursday, August 9, 2012

Olympic Silver ... or Bronze .. in publishing

With the theme song from the Olympics drumming in my ear the past week, I've been focused on the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Everyone is thrilled by their Gold medals.

But the other medals, Silver and Bronze, are initially disappointing to many world-class athletes. Sure, everybody shoots for the Gold, but there's only one Gold medalist in each event.

I'm keenly interested in the also-rans, the top stars who either didn't medal or who won Silver and Bronze. You know why? Because in everyday life more of us are the non-Gold medalists. And that's especially true in the world of publishing.

Best in the world in publishing is easy to tell in terms of critical success. Those authors crown the bestseller lists time and again. They engage millions of people at a visceral level.

Publishing stratifies into mid-list next. I think this may be the Silver and Bronze category, depending on the size of your book deal and your sell-through.

After this comes small press and indie pubbed authors. With each step down the bestseller ladder, the number of authors vying for readers increases exponentially. And for many authors, they are content where they are. Sure, everyone wants more sales, but the more sales you have, the higher the demand is for the next book on a quicker timetable.

Lesson learned?

Critical success comes at a price.

Those Olympic athletes have paid it. Every one of them. We authors have paid it, too. We've put in the time, trained and honed our skills, and risked rejection by putting our books out in the field of critics.

Sure, I'd love to receive the publishing equivalent of a Gold medal, but I won't be sad or crying if I happen to win Silver or Bronze.

What's your take on this?

Maggie Toussaint

In For A Penny out now in ebook
www.amazon.com/InForAPenny-ebook/dp/B008MCSGMM
more info at www.maggietoussaint.com

33 comments:

  1. I've watched with interest through the games as more and more athletes smile through defeat, or if they do cry, they're the first ones there to hug and cheer for their teammate or a rival. I've seen fewer tantrums or poor manners.
    I see your point perfectly. For myself, I know if I had begun much earlier in my life--like so many of those top authors did--I might be further along on my road to glory. But I didn't--not because I was restrained by the demands of school, child-rearing, and teaching--but simply because I never had a thought in my head about writing a story.
    When it did pop out---literally--of my brain, I was shocked by how easily I could write one story after the other. Where did this come from?
    Maybe we should have a second grouping--older authors beginning later in life--of course we can't compete with a 20 yr old. But we do have our own little Olympics, that made of the older authors who began later.
    Yes, I'm happy--never satisfied--that would just kill the urge, wouldn't it? But I am very happy getting to write and have my stories put into book form. What a thrill! Then I could stand on a podium with a "tin foil" medal that said-"She started late but she gave it all she had!"

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    1. I love your motto, Celia - she started late but she gave it all she had. Those are words to print out and put on your monitor, folks!

      I remember seeing one of our male gymnasts stand up for the vault of the top-rated vaulter in the world. He said something like "I've gotta see this." And when the guy stuck the vault, our guy was clapping and cheering like everyone else. It was amazing. Our guy came out 5th on vault, but his "lesser" distinction didn't impede his enjoyment one bit.

      There's a lesson there for all of us. Keep striving, but enjoy the ride.

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  2. Loved your blog, Maggie. I can SO relate to the mid-list silvers and bronzes :-)

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    1. Thanks, Alice. I'm dreaming about medals this week. Sigh!

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  3. Interesting analogy, Maggie, and so true.

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    1. thanks for taking the time to stop by, Keena!

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  4. Great post, Maggie. I admit to some impatience with everyone describing getting a silver or bronze medal as losing. Granted they didn't get the gold medal, so maybe technically they didn't "win" the event, but winning a medal is mean accomplishment. In most cases they're competing with the best in the world, in a contest that has already winnowed out many. They've survived to the final round and given the second or third best performanace. I think there's a reason that it should be described as winning "silver" or "bronze." That's not a failure, it's just a slightly lowere level of success.
    I was impressed by what Brendon Hansen said after winning bronze when he's failed to get an individual medal in two previous Olympics. When asked about it he seemed jubilant to finally get a medal--any medal--and said that "would be shiniest bronze medal ever!" I love his attitude.
    It is, of course, all a matter of perspective. Is the glass half empty or half full? How many people envy him that bronze medal and would have been thrilled to win it themselves? A lot, I imagine.
    The same is true with publishing. We're not NY Times bestsellers. We're all on different rungs of the publishing ladder. But no matter what rung we're on, we got here through our own hard work. Just finishing a book, rewriting, getting it edited, etc., is a major achievement and should be celebrated as such. Getting it published-at whatever level-is another achievement.
    There's always going to be someone who is going to be higher on the ladder than us, someone who has sold more copies, gotten bigger contracts, made bestseller lists, etc.
    But then there are many who will look up at where we are and see it as a goal to get to our level. Some of them will do it. Most won't.

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    1. Karen,
      We are so on the same page with this! There's so much prestige with even having a slot at the Olympics. To be a finalist is fantastic and folks would do well to remember that!

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  5. Arg.. meant to say "NO mean accomplishment"

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    1. I'm the Queen of typos in blog comments. No worries, my friend!

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  6. Hi, Maggie,

    I love your analogy! As a writer who could paper her house with rejections several times over, I always feel successful when I sell my work and collect a paycheck. There are only a very few best-selling authors!

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  7. Hi Jacqueline,

    I hear you on the rejection letters and collecting paychecks for our work, our intellectual property, is absolutely the best! Thanks for the visit.

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  8. I'm hopelessly hooked on writing. I wonder if I'd known the consequences way back when I started, if I'd have been terrified about what I was getting into!

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

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    1. I agree with you, Morgan - writing is addictive.

      I wonder if they should put a warning label on computers.

      It might read something like this, "Warning from the Publishing General: writing can be hazardous to your health. You will lose touch with current events, forget to do chores, dread exercising, crave chocolate, and form a co-addiction to social media."

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  9. Interesting comparison. I read somewhere that a study showed those who win a bronze medal in the Olympics are happier in the long run than those who win a silver one. I guess with bronze, you're just happy to be on the stand at all, but with silver, if you would have pushed just a little bit more, you could be wearing gold and hearing your anthem play.

    An interesting take.

    As for writing, would I love to be a best seller? Sure. But, I agree, with that comes more pressure to do more and more. I'm pretty happy just being at the games: being a writer and having my books out there.

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  10. Hi Maggie,

    Often, I am more interested in the journeys of the non-Gold medalists, especially those who have faced many obstacles along the way--the women from Afghanistan, those who suffered injuries...

    Like Celia, I belong to the older crop of writers who started writing later in life. At this stage, I am focusing more on the journey.

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    1. Hey Joanne,

      Those profiles of the athletes are always heartwarming, aren't they? It really makes us appreciate how far they've had to travel to become a standout in their country.

      Enjoy the journey!

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  11. Maggie,
    I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and what I'll do along the lines of my writing career. I feel like an athlete that started training for the swim team, switched to the gymnastics team and then moved to the volley ball team! I started out wanting to write western historical romance novels. But the way I "broke in" to writing and got published was through feature newspaper articles and anthology stories--The Rocking Chair Reader (Adams Media) which was a lot like Chicken Soup. I did go on to get my 1st western historical romance novel published, but was then asked to do a short story. I had not considered doing a fictional short story, and didn't really want to do it, but was told it would be a "good move" by my editor. So I did. As time passed, I tried my hand at paranormal/time travel, and then at contemporary romantic suspense novels. Then I branched out and wrote more and more short stories, in all different genres--historical, paranormal, and contemporary. I thought I had done it all...but I still had something else ahead of me to try--WESTERNS. And then I decided I needed to also write a novella about a 10 year old boy...from his point of view...and turn it into a series of three. I didn't really start until later in life, either. Oh, I'd always written, but didn't know where to turn to get published. I'm so happy it happened, I don't care really about the "best seller list"--I REALLY DON'T. Here's why. I've thought about what I'd do if I made it to the NYT besteller list. Do I really want to "tour"? Do I WANT to be on Jay Leno? Do I WANT to be surrounded by publicity every where I go? Once that arrow has flown, it can't be called back. The big question: DO I WANT THE MONEY? I don't know. I wonder if it would change me somehow, or change my life into something that might not be what I want. Can we control how "big" our career becomes? Would we embrace the "gold" or would we say, "Wait! I only want the bronze..." LOL Good points to ponder. Great post.
    Cheryl

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    1. Hi Cheryl,

      I can see this HAS been on your mind lately - mine too. One of the things I didn't touch on here is that there are other kinds of success besides critical success, and that's the value-added factor that most people overlook. Personal happiness is worth a lot in my book. Like you, I've wandered a bit in publishing instead of shooting ahead on a straight line. Will it matter in the long run? I can't say what the future will hold. All I can say is that I stand behind each decision I've made, therefore, this is the right path for me.

      Hugs!

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  12. Maggie, I'm late here, but I want to tell you I admire the silver and bronze as much as the gold, because they are equal in strenth and perfection. It's probably that particular day that made a difference. Example 1: Gaby Douglas won the overall gymnastic and received 2 golds, but she was out in the bar two days later--after winning TWO gold medals!
    Example 2: Roger Federer won the Wimbledon seven times, the last against Murray, yet he lost the Gold to Murray, same opponent in the same field. So you see, it's not that one is better than the other. It's a matter of luck on that particular day.

    Same thing in publishing, it's not that NY published are better than authors published by small press or indy authors. It's a matter of luck and being noticed by an editor at the right time. This is my firm believe, after reading thousands of books. Of course I'm talking about those who make it to the race.

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    1. Mona,

      I get what you're saying about the athletes. Particularly gymnastics where a minor wobble sets off a chain of deductions. And we all have better days than others.

      Perfection on any given day, particularly with Olympic judging can make a huge difference in placement. It is all about being the best at the right time.

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  13. Well said, Maggie, and Cheryl and Mona and Celia, too!

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  14. Maggie, heck, I'd be honored to win a bronze or silver, but I know writing is a process and only time and patience help me get better. I guess the athletes know that, too. Sadly, my time is "taxed" by other commitments, but writing is a passion for me so I keep plugging away. If anything perhaps that's the heart that ties us all together - "the passion" we have for what we enjoy. The luck: as Mona, being in the right place at the right time to be noticed.

    Nice discussion Maggie!
    Smiles
    Steph

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    1. I appreciate your comment, Steph, and I have the same commitments pulling me this way and that!

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  15. I was struck by the pleasant smile on one of the U.S. female gynmasts when she was waiting for the controversy to tell her if she won a medal or was out of it - and she went to hug her rivals. Yeah, she was going to be sad if she didn't win, but she didn't let it show one bit. And, I thought of all the authors, me included, who have sent out their MSS only to have them rejected over and over, shrug and then send them out again. That little gal is going to be just fine in this world. (I did notice that one girl from another country practically disintigrated because she got silver instead of gold.)

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    1. Hi Norma,

      Your observations are spot-on. Those gymnasts stay under the spotlight for days. I don't know how they don't all break down and have hissy fits over everything. I would...

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  16. To continue the analogy, it's occurred to me that even if we're 'also-rans' and not medal winners in the Olympics, we still made it into the team by having our book(s) published and so we can congratulate ourselves on that achievement.

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    1. Good point, Paula. Each step along the way is an important milestone, and if we don't recognize that, this business will chew us up and spit us out. Keeping our head straight, bestseller or midlist or small press or indie, will make all the difference in how we see ourselves and our vocation. Thanks for the visit!

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  17. I am not medaling yet in the publishing world. I'm still pretty much falling off the bars, or belly-flopping off of the high dive... But I know I will get there someday!

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    1. It takes someone with strong drive, like a gymnast, to keep up with the demands of the publishing world. Writing a great books isn't enough to get noticed anymore. You have to do more, be more. Sometimes, its exhausting to contemplate. My philosophy is to do a little each day.

      Thanks for stopping in Elizabeth!

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  18. Excellent post and discussion. I find my greatest satisfaction comes from being engrossed in writing a story to the point where I don't care so much how I'm faring otherwise. But medals are always welcome. Gold please.

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    1. Beth,

      You're truly a woman who knows what she wants. Gold is the universal standard on our planet for excellence.

      I'm hoping your Gold Medal arrives soon!

      Thanks for the visit and the comment, Maggie

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