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Long Form Sports Writing

Matt Thacker

It’s not writing a blog, nor is it embarking on a book. It’s having an idea and developing it, seeing where it goes and then finding a home for the finished article. Matt Thacker, managing editor of the Wisden Cricket Quarterly, the Nightwatchman, on long form sports writing.

It’s never been easier to get published – you just do it yourself. Start a blog, write your stuff, get it online, get noticed. Trouble is, it’s never been harder to get paid for getting published. There’s too much noise out there, too much competition, too many people wiser in the ways of the digital world and with the connections to make things happen for them. At your expense. 

It’s important, possibly even essential, to cultivate a group of people doing similar things in similar worlds – everyone is a bit lonely and needs like-minded friends. You need your ambassadors, your cheerleaders, your referrers, people going in to bat for you. And they need you in return. There are some fantastic writers who rarely get published and some average ones who regularly do. That’s often a question of confidence, being media-savvy, having cojones (or is it self-delusion?), and understanding that writing is very rarely about locking yourself away in a garret and crafting your beautiful words. An amusing twitter presence is often just as important as your purple prose – you’re without doubt going to be your own best (and cheapest) publicist.

True, you shouldn’t try and succeed without at least a modicum of talent. The late Richie Benaud once said: “Captaincy is 90 per cent luck and 10 per cent talent, but don't try it without the 10 per cent." The same could be said of getting published.

And when you’re choosing what to write about, go for something different, something personal, something you can research, something polemical, something that is not going to lose currency after a week or two, like most things on sports news sites. And take your time over it. Just because it’s not a book doesn’t mean it’s not important. Publications that run long form writing rarely want topical pieces – those here-today-gone-tomorrow articles tend to be shorter, written in haste, forgotten more readily. But they always want quality.

Seeing what others are up to, what they have written, is essential. Keeping abreast of things will mean you’ll know what to avoid and what’s “been done”. It might spark ideas in your own mind, or reveal a well-turned phrase or killer finish that you can adapt at some point. So click on Grantland (well, its back catalogue anyway), on The Old Batsman, on Cricinfo magazine. Put the hours in and take it seriously. 


And look at other blogs in your area – many are helpfully listed on similar blog sites – and get in touch, ask for advice, keep talking, not just writing.

In my sphere of interest, I am managing editor of The Nightwatchman, the Wisden Cricket Quarterly, where three of us act as co-editors and commission about 20 essays a quarter of between 1,000 and 10,000 words. We want diversity – of subject matter, of geographical location (past and present), of gender, of style, of article length, of degree of fame of the contributors, and of occupation of the writers – we actively encourage those who are not cricket journalists to submit work as they come at the sport, and at writing, from a different angle.

When pieces come in, we work with the writer to get them ready for publication. In most instances that means an initial chat between the three of us to check we are broadly in agreement on a piece or a writer’s relative strengths and weaknesses. Normally this amounts to “broadly fine, needs slight tweaking” or “needs to lose about half”. Then one of us will work with the writer to implement the agreed changes. Rare are the occasions when we say: “needs to be longer.” All in all, it’s a collaborative process, and a fun one.

And the most important thing? Try it. Put yourself out there, dare to fail.

Matt Thacker is managing editor of the Nightwatchman, the Wisden Cricket Quarterly, as well as All Out Cricket magazine. Find him on Twitter at @NightwatchmanXI

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