Sunday, March 13, 2011

Team Truimph

I don’t have a lot of knick-knacks on my desk (I prefer a clean surface when I’m working), but there are a few treasured items that reside along the perimeter of my work area: photos of my husband and kids, my Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference mug, a banksia nut candle that Dan brought me from one of his trips to Australia, and my prized possession, a small digital clock that I won as a team competition participant in the Coors Light Biathlon.

I won the biathlon prize many years ago, when I was in my twenties and lived in Santa Barbara. An avid cyclist, I spent long hours training and competing in centuries, triathlons, and biathlons along the California coast. My team partner, Deirdre, was a co-worker and a lithe, athletic runner with great speed, who had done triathlons with me in the past. She convinced me to enter this race, arguing that we had a chance to win based mainly on the strength of her running prowess (she was right about that).

Winning this particular competition almost didn’t happen. On the last lap of the cycling portion of the race, the gear-shifting mechanism on my bicycle sheared off as I approached the runners’ transition line. No longer able to make the bike move forward, I ended up running the last few yards on foot, stumbling along in my cycling shoes to hand off the baton to Deirdre. We won the competition by seconds; I imagine that we would not have succeeded if my bicycle’s gears had failed any earlier in the race.

I treasure this particular win, not only because it was one of the few competition victories I can actually claim (I was a decent rider, but by no means a star), but because I won as part of a team. Victories are sweet when they are hard won, but I believe they’re even sweeter when they come as a result of team effort. There’s something uniquely special and uplifting about winning a challenging fight with a colleague at your side. It’s the group mentality, that feeling of connecting with another person and fighting together, that brings about a unique sense of joy that only athletes who participate in team sports can realize.

This sense of team accomplishment carries over into many areas of life, including work and career. Like the world of sports, the business world can be just as competitive (and physically and mentally grinding) as a sporting event. With an accomplished team, all of us are more likely to succeed – we bring our individual talents and strengths to the situations we encounter and, in addition, we are there to prop each other up, cheer each other on, and celebrate our victories together.

I like to think that the author who has a team working with him is damn lucky. My sense is that the most successful authors have agents, editors, designers, publishers, and publicists all working on their side. Without this kind of team, the author who tries to go it alone is like the athlete who competes by himself – success is possible, but the achievements and victories are oftentimes fewer realized and even less acknowledged.

With a good team behind her, however, an author has a much better chance of succeeding on a big stage. Some authors may manage to take the publishing world by storm on their own, but most of the successful best sellers are so because they are published and promoted by the best agents, editors, and publicity people in the business.

One can argue that going it alone has its upside: there is no one to answer to, fewer time delays, and certainly never any argument about how a work should look, what it should contain, or how it is promoted. But the person who chooses to do the writing, editing, cover designing, publishing, and promoting himself, had better be damn good at all these things. Most are not, and the staggering number of poorly written and designed self-published books bears evidence to this fact.

But the author who chooses to build a strong, professional team around him has a good chance of being a winner. Like their athletic counterparts, authors who have talent, train hard, and surround themselves with the strongest teammates in the business, have a much better chance of standing out in the brutally competitive world of publishing than those who choose to go it alone.