Getting on Base and the Long Game

In his “Acting ‘As If’” post last week, Shawn wrote:

“Our books are not Frontlist. They are backlist, evergreen, long-term commitments. So we spend weeks, months, years on every single one we put out there in an effort to reach what we think is the publisher’s job . . . getting the book into the hands of 10,000 readers. We have plans to promote all of our titles every chance we get, in any way we can do it, for as long as we’re around.”

How is this accomplished?

By getting on base and playing the long game.

Getting On Base

“Your job is to get on base,” says my son’s baseball coach. Ego likes a line drive, resulting in a double or triple, but, end of day, the goal of getting on base eclipses the how of getting on base. Just get there.

In outreach terms, this means focusing on what makes sense, rather than on what Ego wants. Just like a homerun, a weeklong New York City publicity blitz can feed Ego, but just like a homerun, it isn’t a guaranteed grand slam. You can hit it out of the park, but that homerun won’t guarantee more runs batted in than any other type of hit. In other words, a media storm focusing on your book can result in your book being the “it” topic of the week, but it isn’t a guarantee that the book will hit the bestseller list—or sell that many books period.

Going back to Shawn’s “Acting ‘As If’” post, Black Irish Books plays to get on base, just as if it was a Big 5 publisher, but it’s prepped for drawing a walk and advancing play that way, too. Walks aren’t a Big 5 strength. They slow down the game and eat through the time the Big 5 have allotted for outreach. Their business model is focused on larger quantities, on which each title is given a set amount of time to succeed.

Dan Marino, matching the football/baseball mix within this post. Photo credit: Miami Dolphins.

The Long Game

Adding a little football to the mix: Think Dan Marino. Marino’s one of the best quarterbacks of all time, yet his fingers are void of Superbowl rings. Marino was drafted 27th in the 1983 NFL draft, with five quarterbacks preceding him. “Some, like Jim Kelly and John Elway, went on to have splendid careers,” wrote Kristian Dyer for Yahoo Sports. “Others such as Tony Eason and Todd Blackledge, well, not so much.”

Marino’s a backlist bestseller. He didn’t launch at the top of the list, but he outlasted and outplayed many of the others who launched that same year.

When you’re playing for a lifetime instead of for a season, you’ll find yourself adjusting the view.

You’ll approach the producer at that big nationwide television show, but you’ll also approach the grandmother who leads a book talk discussion at her church, as well as the student who has to do a persuasive talk in front of his class about his favorite topic (and cites heavily from your book), and that CEO who gives away copies of books as gifts, as well as a long list of other individuals with varied backgrounds. Reaching out to them takes a long time, but, in time… Their reach expands. That young kid will grow into the CEO giving away your books, and that grandmother’s family and friends will pick up the call she started. At the same time, that producer who never answered your calls will have burnt out and become a publicist, and that journalist you sent pitch after pitch to will accept the buy-out from his paper and retire. The guest booker will book a career-ending fake interview by mistake, in his rush to get someone on air for a breaking news story, and the editor will decide it’s time to retire when her magazine folds. Yet, your readers . . . They’ll still be there.

If you focus on outlets over people, or on lists or rings or wins over relationships, you’ll stall out early. If you’re lucky, you’ll achieve success, but it won’t be sustainable unless you’re there for the long game. Stick it out. Get on base and then go long.

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  1. Mary Doyle on August 1, 2014 at 5:49 am

    Thanks for this Callie – despite my being challenged to the max with sports metaphors the strategy of the long-lens vision and sustained effort is a winning one. This was a reminder I really needed to hear today!

  2. Arthur Shapiro on August 1, 2014 at 6:21 am

    Terrific advise on a number of levels. As a writer, this hits a resonant chord. Even as a marketer, it suggests that in this new communications environment, quality is more sustainable than quantity. Just get on base and patiently let things happen.

  3. Joyce Thierry Llewellyn on August 1, 2014 at 7:20 am

    I am so not the target market for this blog. You lost me, when I started out interested in what you had to say. I get the whole idea of long term but the overuse of sports metaphors was a bit much.

  4. Brian on August 1, 2014 at 7:59 am

    I am a kinesethtic learner. If I cannot make a sports analogy out of it, I don’t get it. If I can make a sports/workout/exercise analogy out of it–then I know it cold. In my bones.

    Kelly and I have produced a race for the past 3 years. Sunday is our 4th annual. We have avoided ‘easy money sponsors’ like casinos, alcohol, or other companies that we feel do not reflect our values.

    We have also avoided some ‘traditional’ marketing outreaches (using online racing programs to register) because they add a fee to our customers, or take 10% from our revenue.

    Last night we closed registration at 408 participants. That is small potatoes to most events. 2 potato chips small. To us, it is a 150% increase, from last year–before we get the day of registrations. So, we have been doing cheetah back-flips between running to the bathroom to vomit. (not really–but close…)

    This has been hard. I’ve wanted to quit so many times I cannot even count. I have wanted to cry, suck my thumb, curl into the fetal position and never show my face in public again. Repeatedly.

    I think we have finally made traction this year, and we’ve done it the hard way. Each sponsor is a company I can stand behind. We even had a medical start-up call me to ask if they could sponsor us!?!?!? After dropping the phone, I said, “YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT YOU CAN SPONSOR US!!!!!!”

    I deeply appreciate your post this morning. We still have 48 hours of preparation, signs printed, rehearsals with volunteers and race marshals, logistic concerns pre-placed and packaged–but we have been playing the long game here–and looks like the bases are loaded.

    Have a wonderful weekend to all at Black Irish Books, and fellow tribesmen/women battling Resistance to create anything of value in this world.

    • ilona on August 1, 2014 at 11:04 am

      Wow — thanks for sharing this moving example. Congratulations to you for hanging in there! With you in spirit.

  5. ilona on August 1, 2014 at 8:44 am

    I am so NOT a sports person yet the baseball metaphor of getting on base hit (ahem!) a home run with me. Yes, the ego wants that line drive. I see that in many areas of my life, not just with writing, and having this phenomenon explained again and again, in different ways, helps me to refocus my attention and my heart. Thank you.

  6. Erika Viktor on August 1, 2014 at 9:12 am

    Yes, this is very sound advice. We humans (especially Americans) really value the quick fix, the fast break, the big win. Part of the gold rush we are experiencing right now involves the dream of big and fast prizes, instant fame and universal love. We are all guilty of dreaming this way. But, just like in real estate and relationships and raising children and growing your financial investments, time and tending are the most fruitful reward machines. It took me a lot of growing up to understand this. I have seen so many people quit their artistic career in the first couple of years because they didn’t realize the payoff was in the distant future after climbing many many mountains. And that the only pay off they were likely to get in the short-term was that of self-satisfaction for working hard. I had to sit down and make a conscious decision to keep going without hope for reward and keep trying. I think we all have to sit down and make that decision. Very well written post, Callie.

  7. Marcy McKay on August 1, 2014 at 9:22 am

    Terrific, Callie. I love the sports analogies. Publishing, like any other business, succeeds based on relationships. I heard Jeff Goins say yesterday on a podcast, “Selling means serving.”

  8. David Y.B. Kaufmann on August 1, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Valuable, as always. Now here’s a question: How much does age factor into “long tail” or “long game”? If the game is only 3 innings instead of 9, does the equation shift, and the longer ball or extra bases become more significant?

    As you and Shawn have pointed out, it takes time to build an audience (tribe). Shawn’s 10,000 readers seems like a realistic mid-level (mid-list) goal. (I remember back in the day a comic book had to sell about 100,000 copies to be viable. (Unless it was Superman, but Superman always sold more anyway.) More than that – a best-seller. Less than that – unless it had a really loyal fan base and great artistic merit, it might be dropped. And below another threshold, nothing could save it. Today, the number is 20,000. (I think the same has happened to network TV. In the 60s or 70s, audience had to be in double-digit millions (only game in town); today, 5 million makes a show renewable and profitable.

    Getting from “Uncle Jake” to 10,000 readers (who will come back for the next book or, better, given addition and subtraction of readers, will yield a readership of 12-15,000 for the next one), takes time. And it doesn’t matter if one self-publishes, hybrid-publishes, small/independent-publishes, Big Five-publishes.

    This relates to Steve’s post from Wednesday: time, skill & craft, talent – getting these to operate in sync, and then go market? (Your turn at bat, get on base, take a walk or hit a grand-slam – the method doesn’t matter.)

    Daunting. Doable. But who’s the pitcher you’re facing?


    • Callie Oettinger on August 4, 2014 at 8:37 am

      It’s your game. You decide how long you want to play. Mozart hit homeruns early, while Grandma Moses was in overtime innings when her paintings became popular – and continued painting until she died (at 101).

      Louis Zamperini comes to mind, too. He could have quit at any time, but after achieving success at an early age as an Olympic athlete, he survived being shot down during WWII, drifting at sea for almost 50 days, being a prisoner of war, and a number of other trials, and kept going.

      In his intro to MEN AT WAR, Hemingway wrote: “We have only to fight as well as the men who stayed and fought at Shiloh.” Outside of the military context – and the baseball context – think of how long you are willing to champion your work and what you have the strength to endure – and remember that you aren’t the first to experience what you are going through. Others have struggled.

      As far as the pitcher goes… Another lesson from my son’s baseball coach: There’s a mound on one of the baseball fields near my home. My sons hates pitching from it because it is higher than those at other fields and it throws him off.

      His coach asks, “Do the other pitchers have to pitch from the same mound and do other players at bat have to swing at balls coming from the mound? Or is it just you?”

      “It’s everyone,” my son replies.

      “Everyone has to adjust, then, not just you,” says Coach. “You’re all on the same field, having to adjust to the same things.”

      My son can complain, or he can adjust and move on. Same lesson for adults. It’s about you, not the pitcher or the mound or …. It’s about how you play that matters the most.

    • Stacy on August 4, 2014 at 10:18 am

      Callie, I love that. “It’s your game.” Such a simple thing, but so hard to remember in the down times. Hanging it up on the fridge! Needlepointing that sh*t! 🙂

      To me, this goes back to about asking permission. You don’t NEED permission, for any length of time. It’s just another form of resistance. If you think you can do it for only 10 years, does that mean you shouldn’t do it? Penelope Fitzgerald didn’t launch her literary career until her fifties. Craig Johnson didn’t “find the writer’s lifestyle” until his mid-forties. Now he’s a best-selling author.

      But is success what “getting on base” means? To me, getting on base is just getting out there, over and over. It’s hard. You risk rejection, failure, depression. I guess you have to decide, ultimately, whether not doing it is worse.

  9. antares on August 1, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    I liked the baseball analogy.

    Everyone wants to walk up to the plate and pound that first-pitch fastball over the center-field fence. That’s the glory. But it takes dedication to stand there, watch those pitches go by, foul off a few, and earn that base on balls.

    I looked it up. The top four base-on-balls leaders in major league baseball history are (in order) Barry Bonds, Ricky Henderson, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams.

    Do I have the courage to change my game, stop swinging for the fences, and work for a walk?

    • Callie Oettinger on August 4, 2014 at 8:02 am

      Thank you for this comment – and for the link.

      I spend so much time around Little League games and practice these days that the life lessons baseball offers have risen to the top in a way I never noticed while watching pro games. Just getting to the point that we can approach the plate is a huge deal. I’ve seen kids who were afraid of the ball and stepped out before the ball even crossed the plate, as well as kids who were hit by the ball numerous times at bat, but fought through and stayed in the game. Adults face the same in different forms later in life. Before batting, they have to get in the game, stay in the game when it is their turn at bat, and then work on that swing with the “dedication to stand there, watch those pitches go by, foul off a few, and earn that base on balls.”

  10. Doug Armey on August 2, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Wow! What an encouraging post.

    It is easy to become discouraged when we see others in the spotlights. Yet, often we forget about them until years later we read their story of a career washed up on the beach.

    Remembering we’re in this for the long haul because we love to do what we do. So we just keep at it not for the glory but because it’s our passion.


  11. Gary Neal Hansen on August 4, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Love it. Thanks Callie. I don’t play or follow either sport, but the metaphors help with a crucial shift of perspective for me. Don’t give up before the pitch. Don’t always swing for the bleachers. Watch the game and get on base.

    And at the same time, shorn of metaphor, keep working at the craft.

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  16. Antonie Norton on April 13, 2024 at 5:17 am

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