Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Two Great American Pastimes

by Laura Mahal

Isn't she beautiful?
Whether the hashtags you follow are #MSWL or #MLB, you've got terrific taste. Writing and baseball have quite a lot in common, if you stop to think about it. 

Both make for outstanding careers, but you've got to have heart and a helluva level of commitment to make it to the big time.

Batting Averages and Rejection Rates

In baseball, a batting average above .300 is considered quite good. This means the batter hits the ball less than one out of every three times he steps up to the plate.

A writer should consider it an extraordinary success to earn acceptances for 1 out of every 3 submissions. Generally, the rate of rejection is much higher than that lofty goal. Some studies show that only 4 percent of authors seeking agents land one.

You improve your chances of publication by submitting to literary magazines, contests, local newspapers and weeklies. 

The expression in baseball is "base hits win baseball games." Hitting it out of the park on national TV is nice, but dropping a ball through the gap in center will bring your teammate home and earn you an RBI (run batted in)--just as earning your stripes through smaller publications will build an impressive base, as well as make your bio do the wave.

Break out of your slump.

No matter what our batting average or ratio of acceptances to rejection, professional baseball players and serious writers keep stepping up to the plate.

You may have to go to multiple tryouts before you find the right team.

Sometimes, you need to start out in the minors, or the farm league.

In the same way, writers may need to query hundreds of agents before finding one who is willing to get on board with a project, put in the coaching and resources, and hire a cheerleading squad. You want an agent who is passionate about you and what you write. Be patient as you find the right team.

Anticipation is counterproductive.

Most major league pitchers have an arsenal of options that include a fastball topping 100 MPH. A batter who tries to anticipate the pitch will often swing too soon and strike out. Instead, he has to exercise patience, watch the ball as it comes out of the pitcher's hand, and use honed skills to connect with a hit.

Writers who tailor their books for the ever-changing market, anticipating current trends will continue, are likely to write something that will be obsolete by the time the work is finished. Markets become glutted. Most people fare better when they write what is their true passion.

Intuition and skill play a large part in both writing and baseball. But ultimate success comes down to craft and perseverance. With a bit of luck, a writer will connect with a perfect pitch.

Believe in the Dropped Third Strike.

The Dropped Third Strike, or D3S, is not very common at the major league level, but it does occur on occasion. In a D3S, the umpire has called a third strike. In ordinary circumstances, the batter would be out. But if the catcher by chance drops the ball (only after a called third strike), the batter can run. If he reaches first base before the catcher recovers the ball and throws to first, then the batter is safe. This increases the batter's on-base percentage and helps his team.

When a writer attends a conference and pitches a completed manuscript, but no one seems interested, it feels like a failure, much like a strikeout. Except maybe the writer goes out to the hallway and chats with a nice person, who just so happens to be an agent or an editor, quite well-connected in the industry.

There are seemingly fluke moments such as these that can lead to a foot in the door. My advice is: "Never pass up the opportunity to run with it." You might reach first base safely. And you just might win this game.

Remember: You love this job!
When you've finished listening to a baseball game, here's some homework for writers.

Why Agents Reject 96% of submissions
What to Do About Rejections
Chuck Wendig's Thoughts on Rejection


Ivan Calhoun said...

Excellent analogy about the dropped third strike!

Laura Mahal said...

Thanks, Ivan! Keeping stats during a game is as gratifying as copyediting a manuscript. I have an analytic inclination, so have to remind myself to forget about the route efficiency of a center fielder and simply admire the glorious talent of a dedicated player such as Andrew McCutchen.

leela_mahal said...

I like to chuck my copyediting hat and revel in the voice and characterization of a great book, even if there are a few typos along the way. I was the catcher on my little league team, until my brothers begged me to "take up a girl's sport." *cough* This position made me fierce (and gave me lifelong quads as a bonus, awfully convenient for hiking in Colorado). Writers need serious stick-to-it-iveness. We cannot be easily intimidated. Some seasons are better than others. Hopefully, our fans will continue to believe in us, even if we make some gaffes along the way.

April Moore said...

I love baseball AND writing, so excellent comparison! My writing batting average stinks, but that's mostly because I haven't been stepping up to the plate and submitting. It's time I started playing ball. (See? I could do this all day!) Thanks, Laura!

leela_mahal said...

April, I will lob you some writing prompts, which you can drag-bunt out of range of the infielders. (Just kidding.) But thank you for the kind words. The picture that should appear on this blog post is of you in your Cubs shirt this time last year. You are loyal to your team, and your superb coaching makes Northern Colorado Writers a top-destination in which to play. :-) We are a Division One writing organization!

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