Enough about You, Let's Talk About Me
Todd lets his guard down and talks about writing for a living
I thought I’d take a short break from the more hardcore fantasy analysis to talk about something a little lighter and dovetail on some of the thoughts of our own Rick Wolf. The Wolfman has done some recent pontificating of his own, sharing his thoughts in his Fantasy Sports Business series.
On occasion (and sometimes in person), I get an e-mail from an aspiring fantasy writer, asking advice on how to get a job in the industry, often requesting a critique of some writing sample. So today I thought I’d share some thoughts on the subject and on the life of a fantasy baseball writer in general.
In the name of full disclosure, my entry into the industry was unconventional in that I became a full-time writer more out of desperation than desire. I realize that doesn’t sound great so I’ll try to explain what I mean. The plan was to have a career in science while doing this on the side and for close to fifteen years, the plan came together perfectly. But then I had some family commitments and by the time I was able to venture back into the work force, jobs commensurate with my experience were hard to come by.
The opportunity to change careers was available to me since around 2002 but I was steadfast in my plans. Besides, I loved science and I loved my hobby and the niche I carved out in the industry and to tell you the truth, was deathly afraid that if my hobby became my vocation, I’d loathe them both.
So at a time when the fantasy industry took off, opening up a bunch of job opportunities, I opted to continue donning my labcoat and safety goggles. That is, until the company I was at for 15 years closed its doors followed by two separate year-long employs at failed pharmaceutical start-ups.
Then my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
Throughout the time I was focusing on family, I used fantasy baseball as an outlet as well as a (limited) revenue stream. When I finally made the decision to do this full-time, I was extremely blessed to have great friends and colleagues offer me work. In fact, Fantasy Alarm was the first to come calling followed shortly thereafter by Baseball HQ. I had already been doing some freelance for ESPN.
I’m going to be honest; I don’t know the best way to go about breaking into the industry in today’s landscape. Five years ago I did – but the times, they are a changin’.
A few years ago I would have suggested finding a web site with a lively message forum or columns with active commentary. The best way to get some recognition and build credibility was to get involved with the discussions, offering intelligent analysis. Almost every private site I know looked to hire from within, recruiting from trusted site regulars.
But message forums are going the way of video stores, being replaced by social media. Sure, there are still niche sites with extreme loyalists that continue to carry on discussions (and I am wholly envious) but by and large, it’s getting more difficult to share knowledge since most knowledge worth sharing requires more than 140 characters.
I’m guessing starting your own blog can be a means in, especially if you use social media to get the word out. But I think the better avenue may be via the podcast, a route I wish I had the time to explore more.
I am 100 percent positive that attending the fall First Pitch Forum sponsored by Baseball HQ is a necessity. And even though you may not be a member, inadvertently showing up at the hotel hosting the January and June Fantasy Sports Trade Association conference can’t hurt.
Self-promotion is also necessary and is an admitted weakness of mine.
Damn, that must seem extremely ironic if not laughable considering the author of those words is in the midst of what some may deem an extended #humblebrag. Honestly, in public I’m the creepy introvert, longing for a basement in which to duck. However, putting a keyboard under my fingers or microphone to my mouth is akin to getting Dr. Bruce Banner angry; a transformation ensues. Don’t worry, I don’t turn green but I have been known to pop a shirt button or two. OK, that has more to with pizza and Chinese buffets than bulging muscles.
With respect to content, the best I can do is pass along the sagest advice I ever received. If you know Jason Grey, it comes as no surprise he was the source. For those unaware, previous to becoming a Major League scout for Tampa Bay and writing for ESPN, Jason founded Mastersball and brought me on as a writer way back in 1997. While at the aforementioned First Pitch Forum circa 2001 or so, I asked Jason what he wanted me to focus on and write about the upcoming season.
"Think about what you’d want to see if you visited a web site and write that."
The implication is to find a topic that isn’t covered or requires a measure of new or updated treatment then write about it. So short, so sweet and so much to the point. To this day that’s my approach and it has served me well.
Here are some other pearls of wisdom I can offer when generating content.
AVOID HACK PREMISES UNTIL YOU’RE ESTABLISHED
And even then have a non-conventional approach. Note there is a difference between gimmick and hack. If done properly, gimmick can work. Hack shows no originality, creativity and quite frankly connotes laziness. A hack premise is one beaten to death.
- Buy low, sell high
- Only void trades if there is evidence of collusion
Yeah, we know. Tell us something we don’t know.
If you’re a comedian and you hear talent scouts from Comedy Central are in the crowd, it’s best to leave your airline hunk out of the set. If you’re a ventriloquist, your dummy better be a dead terrorist. Or on a stick.
In order to impress, you break out the material no one else discusses.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Something I hear all the time is “I like so-and-so’s advice because he/she gives their reasons.” That’s all well and good but reasons are only half the story. A necessary half, but half nonetheless. Too many supposed reasons are based on intuition or outdated research. Someone assumes something to be true and presents it as fact.
This is a bit off-topic but I believe there is what I call an information pyramid. There’s a group of writers and analysts at the top of the pyramid that are on the cutting edge. They do research and present fresh content. Then there’s another group that does their due diligence in that they are aware of this work and cite it as a reason for their advice. Then there’s another that reads or hears this and assumes it to be true. And another, and another. As the information moves down the pyramid, there is less and less research and more and more regurgitation. Sometimes it even becomes like the old ‘telephone’ game where the message becomes garbled and is eventually lost the further it gets passed along with no backwards fact-checking.
Bottom line? Do your due diligence, don’t regurgitate.
BE WILLING TO PAY YOUR DUES
This is another area which has changed over the years but the old model of breaking in required writing for free (or very little) while sowing your oats in the industry. Perhaps you get noticed and someone offers you a paying gig. At least that's the way it was and I suspect to a degree still is. The gestation period may not be as long nowadays, but it still exists and the more willing you are to earn your way up the ladder, the bigger the ladder you will find.
YOU CAN’T FORCE FUNNY
There’s nothing wrong with funny. In fact, showing personality and writing in an entertaining fashion is a great idea and a perfect means to delineate yourself. Just don’t force funny.
I fell victim to this personally this time last season. I was writing for a site where the clever David Gonos was also on staff. There was a column posted daily that was rotated among the staff and Gonos absolutely killed it when it was his turn. In typical fashion, he perfectly merged salient information with humor. The rest of the staff was instructed to use this as a model for their turn.
So I did.
And it sucked.
Until, I said this isn’t me. I’d been doing this for over 16 years. I had my own style and it worked for me. I tried to force funny and it was goofy. I like to call my style conversational and sometimes in the course of a conversation, funny things are said. They just happen; they aren’t forced.
As suggested, it does help to be entertaining. Maybe entertaining isn’t the best word. Maybe readable is. Which leads us to the final point.
SPELLING AND PUNCTUATION COUNTS
Be it written or oral, use proper grammar. Spell words correctly. Pronounce words properly. I admit I’m old school but there’s no bigger turn-off to me than poor writing or an audible butchering of the language. I’m not suggesting to string multi-syllabic words together or bookmark a thesaurus. Just construct your sentences with proper grammar. I’m not talking Shakespeare or Twain; just be readable. Language or sentence construction (written or spoken) that distracts often masks the message.
GET TO THE POINT
Especially in the short attention span in which we live, it’s best to make your point and move on. Don’t dwell on a topic. Don’t bedeck or embellish deploying a plethora of eloquent verbiage. Say what you want to say as succinctly as possible. Avoid redundancy and saying the same thing again and again. You irritate and eventually lose your audience.
See what I did there?
Yeah. It was hack.