I’ve been at the ACFW Conference, talking to people about pitching their story – their baby – into the business world of publishing.
They’re prepared. They’ve trained. They’ve memorized their strengths. They’ve limbered up. And, as they wait in the on-deck circle before being called into competition, they’re also sweating. They’re nervous. They’re on edge. The last weeks, months – years even – of preparation comes down to this moment.
Which sounds a lot like the Olympics.
Sure, you could say there are differences – you feel as if you are the best prepared for your pitch, and you may not get the result you feel you deserve. When you deliver it you find the person you are pitching to represent you loves your work but the publishing houses want something else.
This is a little like swimming a World Record in the 100m butterfly, only to find the race officials are only giving gold medals to the javelin throwers. Or you run the perfect 5000m race, but because of TV ratings, only Usain Bolt will get a medal, because everyone knows him.
But as pitchers at a conference, there are so many things we can draw from the Olympics.
That piece of ‘luck’ (or a God-thing at ACFW)
There are the those times in the Olympics when everything lines up – the right gust of wind when you’re approaching the long jump pit; the fact you were in the faster heat so you’re in a better lane for the final.
In Australia, one of our oft-quoted Olympians is a Winter Olympian. Bear in mind, to Australians the Winter Olympics is a time to watch other people play sport – we aren’t a winter country. But one year, Steven Bradbury won gold in the speed skating when he was coming fourth (in a four-man race) and everyone in front of him fell over. It was so extraordinary that whenever anyone gets a lucky win, it’s now called ‘Doing a Bradbury’. But he’s an Olympic Gold medallist.
We need that God-thing (instead of a piece of ‘luck’) while pitching. Timing our pitch just when someone is looking for just your story or finding out your genre is “like, so hot right now and publishers are looking for more.”
It also works in reverse. I saw athletes in Rio, who had trained for years, arrive at the starting line and tear a muscle three steps into their race, or drop the baton, or found they were swimming against the current in the Brazilian pool. (What was up with that?)
But how those athletes respond to their conditions – all things that were out of their control – can inspire us as authors and wannabe authors.
Those who don’t win, keep going
I saw something extraordinary in Rio. One of our Australian athletes was “supposed” to win everything. But she didn’t. She came sixth in the final and the whole country was disappointed in her. Not for her. In her.
So she stood in front of the world’s cameras and said: “Tokyo (the next Olympics) is only four years away.”
That’s what I hope to learn in the aftermath of coming to a conference like ACFW. And my prayer for others is that they will understand that they’ve done their best, but it may not pay off … yet.
Athletes keep going. They know there is a hard slog in front of them – after all, the memories of the past four years are still fresh – but they keep going.
Enjoying the training before the next event
One of the things that has always impressed me about athletes is that they don’t just turn up at their event and compete. They train. Hard. And they enjoy it.
Teri McKeever, the head swimming coach at UC Berkeley, once said that in her experience, medallists are usually swimmers who enjoy the process of getting to the race, not just those who race well.
So, after ACFW, I will head back to training. I’ve got no idea if my appointments will result in the gold medal of standing in front of a retail bookshelf with my book nestled in there, but I will head back to training. And I will enjoy the process of reacquainting myself with my characters, apologise for being away for a while, and get back into the process of working out how I can introduce them to the world.
My prayer for you is that you’ll enjoy the training too.