I am a self-professed Cupcake Wars junkie. I love the inventive combinations: applesauce cake with cinnamon goat cheese frosting, double-shot mocha latte with espresso cream filling and chocolate frosting, salted caramel cake with pecan coconut brittle crumble and caramel Swiss buttercream. I would happily devour them all.
Each show, for those unfamiliar, begins with four bakers. After two elimination rounds, two finalists duke it out in a bake-off that requires them to produce 1,000 cupcakes in 90 minutes and shelve them on a display of their design, executed by one of two bearded, flannel-clad carpenters. They also get four baking assistants.
When the winner is announced, the audience is generally treated to a tearful acceptance speech. "I've worked so hard to get here. It's so nice to have that recognized."
Right. And what about the other contestants? Did they not work hard, too? Could we not acknowledge that in some way?
Writers are in constant competition. I'm not talking here about actual writing competitions. I'm talking about the competition for agents, editors, reviews, publicity budgets, shelf space, and sales.
Most of us are aware that we're competing for agents and editors, but might not be aware that, once we have representation and a signed contract, we're in competition for the rest. There are elimination rounds, and most of us won't win. In publishing, winning means national advertising, a book tour, a major online publicity campaign, lots of social media outreach, a floor display, and wide galley distribution. By your publisher.
The non-winners must do our own publicity and, no matter how hard an author promotes her own work, very few can compete with the marketing muscle of a major publisher.
It's usually clear long before the judges decide, who’s going to win Cupcake Wars. It’s less clear which book will be chosen as the winner of a big publicity campaign. Obviously, one that is expected to earn a big return, but which one's that? Not even publishers know for certain.
What is certain is that a quiet book without an obvious “commercial hook” doesn’t necessarily take less time or thought to write than one with the potential to be an international best seller. Most authors bring their best game to every book: an original combination of ingredients, quality workmanship, a few fanciful twists, reduced fat... They work very hard and give it their all.
Clearly, not everyone can be declared the winner in Cupcake Wars, nor in publishing. There is only so much space on the dwindling supply of bookshelves, only so many readers divided by the dollars they’re willing to spend, divided by the hours they’ll devote to reading.
Here’s what watching Cupcake Wars has taught me: Acknowledge the journey. To all you writers, bakers, and everyone else out there who’s worked hard to deliver a great product and wasn’t declared a “winner.” Congratulations on a job well done. Thank you for your effort, time, and dedication. You are a winner.