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The Pre-Game

The Writer's Playbook

Allow me a brief introduction. I’ve spent the previous thirty-plus years as a sports and entertainment business executive, having worked in the NBA, NFL, and MLB. But for two years at the NBA League Office in New York City, the rest of my career was at the local market level. I’ve been intimately involved in crafting the fan experience along the way, with probably close to 1,600 sports or entertainment events under my belt. Some of those national in scale (All-Star Games, World Series, Playoffs), but most were the garden variety regular season game or concert stop for a touring performer.

My journey has brought me so very many unique experiences and allowed me the opportunity to meet and, in some cases, get to know many professional athletes and entertainers along the way. People like Michael Jordan, Muhammed Ali, Torii Hunter, Barry Sanders, Magic Johnson, Miguel Cabrera, Dick Enberg, and artists such as Bruce Hornsby, Celine Dion, Bob Seger, and others.

I’m truly not one to name drop, however, my background was important to tee up where this blog will be going.

I’ll be sharing stories in future blogs that I hope you’ll find entertaining (sort of a peek behind the curtain), but that will also be educational to you, the writer. One of my crowning achievements was becoming one myself, and in that process, the corollaries between writing/readership/story-telling and the business of sports and entertainment became apparent. A novel is all part of the entertainment mosaic.

We can draw best practices from sports and entertainment, and apply them to our craft of writing compellingly great books, our author journeys, our reader’s experiences and, hopefully, finding some nuggets to become better at our craft.

We can draw best practices from sports and entertainment, and apply them to our craft of writing compellingly great books, our author journeys, our reader’s experiences and, hopefully, finding some nuggets to become better at our craft.

– Steven c. harms

This first blog is dedicated to what I’m calling the “pre-game experience.”

As a sports business executive, I always kept both eyes on our most important stakeholder, the fan. They drive almost every decision because, ultimately, their engagement with our product dictates the success or failure of our enterprise. The same goes for the books we write. Without loyally engaged readers (fans), the arc of our success is flat-lined or plateaued, or perhaps barely off the ground. And I’ll argue that a percentage of that success line is built in the pre-game.

Assuming that you’ve gone to a sports or concert event, take a moment to think about the experiential nature of that activity and what occurs before the game or concert even starts. There are a number of moving parts that can negatively or positively impact the feeling of having a great experience. Ticket purchase process, parking your vehicle, getting to your seat (crowd control management), cleanliness of the facility upon arrival, temperament of the customer-facing event staff, and so on.

When I go to a game as a fan, I’ve paid my money and I have an expectation that I’ll enjoy the hours I’m dedicating to that activity. But if the parking attendant is rude, or argumentative, or errs in giving me the appropriate change back, or rudely barks at me to “park right here,” I’ve already taken a negative position before I ever get out of my car.

Additionally, venues, concert tours, or your favorite hometown team, spend an awful lot of energy and money in creating a captivating welcome or opening ceremony targeted to you, the fan. Why? So you’re pulled into the excitement and it’s “special” from the moment you arrive. As a sports marketer, I knew we were building memories for each fan…every…single…game.

Another example is Disney. If you’ve ever been to one of their theme parks, you know what I mean by customer service and appreciation. Your entire experience begins way before you first walk through their gates.

One pillar of live sports and entertainment marketing is to be fully prepared when the gates open and eliminate all pre-game missteps.

Let’s flip the spotlight over to writing and ask yourself what’s the pre-game experience for your readers or potential readers of your new book and you as an author? Some areas to consider:

1. Your book cover. Is it something you really like, or is it a cover design that a majority of readers would find too artsy, or clunky, or just too weird to hold their attention? Look at it from a reader’s viewpoint and try to take your emotional attachment out of the decision. This is your main gate to your arena, so to speak. What does it look like? I understand the argument that covers don’t sell books, but I disagree. A great cover designed to capture the reader’s attention will serve a positive role in selling your books.

2. Same for your title – see above.

3. I’m big on an opening “wow” chapter or prologue, in particular within the mystery thriller genre. The open sets the stage for the rest of the book (which for this conversation is the transition from pre-game to start-of-game). It’s your opportunity to capture all that anticipation from your reader, much like the moment when football teams come bursting through the tunnel onto the field just before kick-off. The thrill, pomp and circumstance of it emotionally and energetically pulls the fan into the action about to unfold. Your opening chapter is that level of “moment.”

Your opening chapter is that level of “moment.”

– Steven c. harms

4. Does your author brand have “stickiness” or can you build to it? Stickiness simply means are you resonating with readers? Are you writing quality stories that are memorable enough to establish you as a brand? One tactic is to insure you have a website that emphasizes your uniqueness, looks fantastic, is easy to maneuver through, and uses imagery, fonts, colors and text that reflect you.

5. How are you set-up and operating on social media? Sports teams are very good at pushing out content, as are today’s athletes and performers. Sports entities and celebrities have a built-in base simply because they are who they are. Love or hate a team, they’ve been around for decades and have a brand. If they post something, it’s going to get attention without much effort. The vast majority of authors, on the other hand, are not household names. Pay attention to what you post. Asking my main character’s hair style of my WIP is, at best, a vapid exercise. You may get some responses, but to what end? Quality over quantity is where the focus should be. Content with thoughtful and respectful authenticity will do far more good than quick hit fleeting posts. And remember – potential readers are probably scoping you out on social media.

6. Athletes and musicians practice to perfect or improve their performance for games or competition in order to win. As authors, there are things you can do to hone your skills. Your novel is the same as a sports event or concert. You have one shot to win that game or nail that performance. How are you preparing? Conferences, writer’s groups, workshops, reading other author’s books, utilizing a quality editor, and the like are all there for improving your writing skills to facilitate better results for the reader’s experience. And, if you’re dedicated to the details of the pre-game experience, your odds of winning or scoring well will climb exponentially.

Think about your pre-game rituals and what you are or aren’t doing to prepare before tackling that next novel. Hall of Fame Football coach, and NFL legend Vince Lombardi put it well, “The will to win is not nearly so important as the will to prepare to win.”