In January 2020, I published my first book, “Sports, Technology, and Madness,” a collection of pieces I wrote in 2019. The process of creating and publishing the book was much easier than I would have thought thanks to Amazon’s Kindle Create program, and I had a terrific editor (my mom).
When I first held a copy of the book with my own hands, it was an incredible feeling of accomplishment. However, that feeling soon began to wane, and over the past 18 months or so, I’ve had plenty of mixed emotions surrounding the book that I’d like to dive a bit deeper into.
Why Did I Publish the Book?
In short, I had written a lot of things I was quite proud of in 2019, but because I was (and still am) a relative nobody on the internet, hardly anyone had read any of it.
Releasing a collection would allow me to compile many of my best works in one place and give everything a bit of extra longevity instead of having it all disappear into the vastness of cyberspace. It would also serve as something of a time capsule to what kind of a writer I was and what types of things interested me at that point in my writing career.
That was definitely the main reason, along with my long-standing desire to be a published author. However, there was also a part of me that saw it as a resume-building opportunity and a chance to gain more credibility as a “legitimate writer,” whatever that means.
Of course, having written a book (and particularly having self-published) doesn’t actually say anything about one’s quality as a writer — just that they went through the work of writing and releasing the thing.
Still, when you’re looking for a job in a competitive sports media industry, any advantage helps, and few people can say they’ve published a book. I’m mostly happy to reap the benefits in that scenario. But being an author tends to really impress people in more typical social interactions as well, and that can make me uncomfortable at times.
Hey, Look at Me, the Guy With a Book
I have always hated self-promotion. I’m not good at it, and it makes me feel simultaneously arrogant and needy. I think a lot of people feel this way, but most people aren’t also pursuing careers that require their creative output to be consumed by others.
That’s not to say that I don’t want people to read/watch/listen to things I make. I very much do. But I don’t want to be shoving things in people’s faces. In an ideal world, my content would magically appear in front of those who would be interested in it, and the content would speak for itself.
Alas, that is not how this works, and I end up self-promoting my content out of a sense of duty. “I’ve done this thing and I do want people to know about it, so I owe it to myself to share it.”
I feel the same way about my status as an author. It’s something that I wish people knew about me without me having to tell them. Because if people aren’t aware, both telling them and not telling them are awkward options.
Let’s use an example. I am currently wrapping up my Master’s in Journalism from Northwestern University, where, obviously, I’ve been privileged to meet lots of talented classmates.
Entering the year, I wanted to get to know these people and understand both what they have done previously and what types of things they’re interested in doing in the future. I’m sure that desire goes both ways, as this program allows us an opportunity to make long-lasting connections and friendships.
So when I tell people about myself, I end up mentioning the book. Because you kinda have to. With people you hope to be good friends with (and with journalism students in particular), it’s really something that they should know. Not telling them is dumb, and it only makes it a lot weirder when they eventually do find out about it.
But I can’t talk about it without feeling like I’m showing off. And while most people think (or at least say) that it’s really cool, I’m sure it makes some percentage of folks also feel somewhat inadequate.
I hate the thought of making other people feel this way because as I’ve already stated, I don’t think the sole act of having published a book really means anything or makes me better than anyone else. For all they know, my work could be garbage.
Often, people will ask me questions about the book, which similarly makes me uncomfortable as it, at least temporarily, creates a power dynamic where I’m being looked up to where I feel as if I haven’t necessarily earned it.
Being put at the center of attention in this way is actually kind of embarrassing in a way I find difficult to describe, probably because of how few people have actually read the book.
It’s like I need people to know and respect what’s inside of the book before I’m able to feel deserving of the regard they have for me for being an author.
And then to wrap this up, there is another part of me that will downplay my book because it’s a collection of pre-published material, which makes it in some way lesser than other books.
This is absolutely silly gatekeeping. After all, I still had to write everything in the book, and if someone else released a similar type of book, I wouldn’t judge them in this same way. Yet, the feeling sticks with me regardless.
That’s probably a symptom of the high standards I place on myself and my inability to allow myself to feel content for long, but that’s a topic for another time.
Thoughts on the Quality of the Book
So, how do I feel about the stuff I actually wrote? In general, I’m still really happy with it. An Overindulgence of Madness probably remains my favorite thing I’ve written, while the absolute behemoth that is Adapt or Die: Technology Is Forever Altering Sports is probably the best thing I’ve written.
That wide-ranging exploration of technology’s impact on the sports industry was the culmination of many interconnected research interests throughout 2019, but my favorite sections are probably the opener on the quest to solve games, the part on aesthetics/pace of play/the sports viewing experience, and the section where I introduce the concept of the unsolvable game, which might just be the coolest idea I’ve ever delved into.
The last of the major projects, Out of the Dawg House: The Story of the 2018 Cleveland Browns, was a ton of fun to work on and serves as something of a precursor to a lot of the storytelling work I’ve done since.
Of the individual pieces, I particularly love my deep dive into whether we should change the format of the World Chess Championship, journey to find the maximum number of home runs a player can hit in a season, and write-up of the greatest ironman streaks in sports history.
There are only one or two pieces that I would consider omitting or replacing if I were releasing the book today. But more than the strength of the individual pieces themselves, I’m most proud of the diversity of the overall collection.
My book contains heavily-researched, semi-academic work, alongside fiction, long-form storytelling, columns, statistical deep-dives, analysis pieces, and more on many different sports and topics relating to the sports industry as a whole.
I feel like you’d be hard-pressed to find someone writing on a wider range of subjects. Most of the pieces aren’t things you would find on a traditional sports outlet, and I love that fact. I think the uniqueness of my ideas is the greatest thing I have going for me, and part of me definitely wishes people would recognize that.
On What the Book Represents
Thinking about my book is somewhat bittersweet because I don’t know if or when I’ll have the creative freedom to create a collection of pieces like that again.
The closer I’ve gotten to being a member of the full-time working world (and we are currently on its doorstep), the harder it is to find time to work on side projects and the harder it becomes to justify doing so. Everything becomes a struggle between what I want to pursue and what would be the most beneficial thing for my professional career.
I also lament that becoming a professional in the sports media industry comes with the mantle of being an expert. I don’t want to pretend that I have all the answers. I don’t want to feel like I have to always be right. I just want to share what I think.
Some of the pieces in the book don’t reach a definite conclusion. When I write about possible changes to the format of the World Chess Championship, I make it very clear that I’m not a chess expert, but merely someone interested in the structure of sports and competitions and someone who believes we should always be willing to examine our rules and ask if changing them would be beneficial.
Adapt or Die has plenty of speculation. Individual sections can be roughly summed up by the ideas of “here’s something that happened, here’s what I think about it, and here’s what might happen in the future.”
I like being able to just think about things without my word being perceived as gospel. It allows me to go outside the box and entertain a greater range of ideas. I find that content creation is a journey where I explore things that interest me until I’m satisfied, at which point I try something else.
That got very philosophical very quickly.
And speaking of pieces that don’t reach a definite conclusion…
I guess to wrap up this thread of thoughts, I’d say that I remain proud of the book, but underwhelmed by the fact that still, very few people have read any of it. This makes it harder for me to take myself seriously when others are impressed and want to know more about the book.
Theoretically, authors with books on the New York Times Best Sellers list should be able to talk about their works with confidence. They’ve sold lots of copies and gotten lots of reviews. For me, it often feels like I’m pretending to be an author. I’m not trying to scam anybody, but what proof do I have that it’s not a scam?
I should be pleased with what I’ve accomplished, and I am, but it’s just more complicated than that.