Week 3: In Which My Novel Was Okay

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My first novel was good. Not great, but good.

Okay, maybe even that’s a bit generous. I’m notoriously hard on myself, so it’s really tough to say. I liked it at the time, of course; I wouldn’t have pursued a publishing deal if I hadn’t liked it at the time. But I wrote it seven years ago; it was published four years ago; I’ve grown a lot as a writer since then, and there are things I would certainly do differently if it were possible to, you know, go back and do things differently.

That’s not the point of what I’m talking about in this article, but it helps lead us to the point. Bear with me for a moment, and I promise I’ll guide you there (or just jump to the picks if you’d like, because it’s not like I use these intros to explore ideas that will help you become better in DFS – right?).

The funny thing about that novel, however, is this: It was “good” in the area I care less about…and it was “successful” in the area I care more about.

Here’s what I mean:

Most people who desire to make a name for themselves in the world of literature – not “fiction,” mind you, but “literature” – are very pompous about the things they read. Many of them have never picked up a book with the name “Crichton” or “Grisham” on the spine. Most of them only know in theory what a Tom Clancy book is like, and most of them wouldn’t go near Stephen King unless they were absolutely forced to do so (I mean…most of them wouldn’t go near a Stephen King book; I don’t think any of us would go near Stephen King). For most writers with “literary” aspirations, reading falls into two categories: Old Masters (Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Oscar Wilde, William Shakespeare, and so on) or “non-mainstream writers from the last 50 years” (Raymond Carver, John Cheever, John Hawkes, Italo Calvino, etc.). But this was not how my journey as a writer began.

Back when I was 14, 15, 16 years old and was coming home from football practice each day, skipping homework, and passing the night writing and reading, my “reading” consistently landed on those books that “literary authors” are supposed to have no interest in:

“Jurassic Park”

“The Firm”

“Rainbow Six”

“The Shining”

By the time I was 18, I had read every book John Grisham had written to that point. And I had never read a word Hemingway had put onto paper.

This changed, of course. By the time I was 21 or 22, I had read an additional 150 to 200 novels written by old masters of the craft. I had expanded my scope of study, and I had expanded my writing ability as a result.

By the time I wrote “The Great Lenore” (the aforementioned “potentially okay, but certainly not great” novel of mine), my literary goals and aspirations were (and remain) twofold. 1) By the time I reach the later stages of my life, I want to be highly respected in the literary community; 2) I want to write novels that even “non-readers” can enjoy – novels that not only strike a chord in the “often snobby literary community,” but that are also just plain enjoyable to read, and are accessible to even those individuals who only read one or two novels per year (or…one novel every few years).

Looking back on that first novel now, several years later, I am surprised it won the awards it won and received the positive critical attention it received (minor though these awards and attention were, in a “lasting literary sense”), as there is plenty in that novel that the literary community should have been far more picky about. There is a lot they should have been more critical of. There is a lot I wish I had done differently in this sense – a lot I would, honestly, be criticizing myself in that novel if someone else had written it.

I am also, however, surprised that the book achieved less commercial success than it achieved. For all its faults in a literary sense, I can actually say – even now, seven years after writing it (when I have had plenty of time to develop more criticism and “corrections” for the novel – in my “always harder on myself than anyone else will ever be” sense) – that I hit the “commercial appeal” side of things extremely well. It is the sort of book that even “non-readers” can enjoy. It is the sort of novel that someone who has not read a novel in years can still sit down and go through in no more than a couple days. And sure, it’s not that way for everyone (some people, naturally, hated it, as there will never be anything created that lines up with every single person’s tastes; except maybe pizza, I guess – everyone seems to like pizza), but for most people, that first novel of mine was an enjoyable read.

There are a couple ways in which I could tie this into what I want to talk about today – in a DFS sense. I’m going to choose one of these two paths, so as not to bore you (each “tie-in,” after all, leads to the same conclusion, and to the same DFS lesson).

A few people have made comments on my articles lately to the effect that they “feel like they know me” through the articles I write. If you have read more than a handful of my articles, there is a good chance you feel this same way, as I – obviously – write in a “conversational” manner. Furthermore, I write about myself.

I know that “writing about myself” annoys some of you; if that’s the case for you, I apologize (and I also want to point out that my articles on here comprise only a portion of the articles available; there are scores of awesome articles on RotoGrinders each week, from writers who will probably annoy you less – so feel perfectly free to swerve away from my articles the moment you see them if you think I stink). But there are many others of you for whom this “conversational style” is appealing. There are many others of you who come back to my articles each week specifically because you feel like you know me, and feel like we have a friendship with one another (which we will have, if you are coming to New York City in November for the DFS Players Conference, as I will be there, and you and I will be hanging out).

I do not know how to defend the fact that my first novel received more positive, critical attention than it probably deserved (maybe the people providing this positive attention were just feeling particularly generous that year, or maybe the literary scene was bereft of much else to praise, or maybe I really am just that hard on myself – which I don’t mind, if that’s the case, as that’s what drives me to get better), but I do know one of the reasons why the book was not more commercially successful.

What was this reason? The simple fact that I used the blog on my “author website” to interview Pulitzer Prize winners, and National Book Award Winners, and Booker Prize winners; I used my blog to interview the assistant fiction editor of the New Yorker, and to feature various bookstores, and to chat with literary agents. I used my blog to share news about the literary landscape, and to help aspiring authors with their own writing in a very impersonal way.

I never talked about myself. Ever. That was a general, unwritten rule of mine. I never discussed my own struggles in writing; I never explored my growth, my shortcomings, my triumphs. I acted like I was already an established author – telling myself this would appeal more fully to readers. But the real truth was: I did this because I did not want to open up to the public. I did not want to expose myself or make myself appear vulnerable. I did not want anyone to know anything about me, because I did not want them to know my thoughts, my struggles, my growing pains, or my shortcomings. I spoke about myself in vague, general terms only, because I did not want anyone to know anything about me.

I could pretend I did this for strategic purposes. I could pretend I figured this would actually draw a larger audience. But even then, I knew that what people liked the most in a writing-focused blog was relatability. People want to feel like they know the person writing. People want to build a relationship with the person at the keyboard, and they want to learn from them in a “friend-to-friend” manner, rather than learning from them in a “may as well be a robot writing this” sense.

I used to convince myself that I was shocked that my blog was not more popular, as I was constantly featuring interviews with popular authors. I used to tell myself I had no idea why I was unable to build an audience, but I’m sure that all along I knew why: I was too scared to make myself vulnerable; because of this, I never opened up at all on a personal or personable level, and this meant that no one stuck around. Opening up on my website would not have made my novel any better in the areas where I now feel it fell short, but it would have created a lot more exposure in terms of “commercial reach.”

I thought through all this the other day, while thinking about the roster mistakes we sometimes make in DFS for no real reason other than that we are “concerned about what others will think.”

To show you what I mean by this, let’s first travel back to last NBA season (before looking, also, at a few examples from NFL this year).

Around the end of January, I started missing DFS sorely. I had played MLB nearly every day from April through the end of September, and I had played NFL every week from September through mid-January (investing a good 20+ hours each week into study, roster construction, etc.). And so, I did what seasoned NBA DFS vets love for people like me to do: I jumped into NBA, and after a few good days, I started playing at the same bankroll level at which I had been playing MLB and NFL. That story of losing lots of money for a couple months before finally “breaking the code” in NBA (too late in the season to really turn my bankroll around much – which left “turning my bankroll around” as my focus throughout the entire MLB season) is a story for another day. For now, however, I want to talk about one specific day before this turnaround occurred.

jeremy lin

I do not remember the date around which this story occurred, but if you’re an NBA fan or NBA DFS player, you probably remember it: Jeremy Lin started getting a bunch of minutes for the Lakers, and he was putting up big game after big game. As I studied ownership percentages each night, however, I noticed that most people were still not rostering him – including most of the people whose rosters I had been studying in order to learn as much as I could about NBA DFS. One night in this stretch, however, I really liked his matchup, and I really liked everything I was seeing (everything I had been learning by studying the lineups of top NBA players) to predict yet another solid game from Jeremy Lin.

Did I roster him? Absolutely not. And of course, he went off again.

That night, I was texting my buddy Collin (Collinman005 on DFS sites and on RG – who, by the way, has been writing a really cool user-submitted blog on RotoGrinders in which he breaks down the winning Millionaire Maker lineup each week), and he told me he had not used Lin either. He described the same thought process I’d had: everything he had learned to look for pointed him toward Lin as a low-cost, high-floor, high-ceiling play that night, but because no one else had been rostering him, he had decided not to roster him either. What we basically both established that night was that we “didn’t want to look like noobs,” so we made sure to not slot Lin onto our rosters.

But it’s funny. That happened to me in NBA because I was still in the learning stages of that sport at the time; it was easy, at that point, for me to talk myself off a player I liked if I was scared others would not be using him – if I was concerned others would look at my roster (particularly if that player failed to have a good game) and laugh and say, “What was he thinking?”

But the crazy thing? NBA is not the only sport in which I have done that this year. In spite of having achieved a level of proven, consistent success in MLB and NFL, I still sometimes move off a player “because of what others will think,” or “because of how it will look if I’m wrong on this guy.”

And I’ll tell you something else: I know I am not the only one who does this, either.

Although people do not often say so explicitly – although they do not talk about how they moved off a player “because of what others would think” – we all, frequently, move off players because “no one else is mentioning them,” or because “someone whose opinion I respect doesn’t like them this week.” We all have a fear of using the player that will make us look dumb if someone sees him on our roster, and if that player fails to go off. We all have a fear of exposing ourselves to too much criticism, or to feeling like we are opening ourselves to the potential for ridicule.

Okay, so maybe that doesn’t all tie together perfectly. It did in my head – the idea of how my first novel would have been more successful, commercially, if I had been willing to “forget about what others thought about me” on my blog, and had built a following through a personable, vulnerable approach to writing (as I have done on RotoGrinders), and how we also should all aim to be more vulnerable in our team building as well, choosing to not care about “what others will think when they see our rosters,” and choosing to not care about “how it will look if we are wrong on a particular pick.”

My NFL examples? For two consecutive weeks, I have recommended Dion Lewis, and have not used him myself, as I became too scared that I would wind up inaccurately predicting the Patriots’ game plan, and would look like an idiot for rostering Lewis as a result. I also liked Donte Moncrief last week – even with T.Y. Hilton playing. I also planned, originally, to fade both Carlos Hyde and Ameer Abdullah, but I was too scared about what others would think if those guys went off, and if people saw I had faded them.

I have not been as “vulnerable” in my team building as I should be. And I can almost guarantee that you have not been, either – as it is rare that any of us are truly as willing as we should be to let go of inhibitions, let go of fear, forget about how we’ll feel or look if we are wrong on a particular player, and instead simply think about what it will mean if we are right.

As I mentioned over the last couple weeks, this is not a straight “picks” article. Instead, this is an article in which I will aim to provide you with picks that fulfill a specific purpose.

This week, I am going to look at three plays at each position that we all might be “too scared to use.” These are picks that are not being talked up enough, and that it will be easy for us to talk ourselves off of. These are all picks that I feel are in prime position for a big game.

Will I be using all these guys? Of course not – mostly because (as you probably know by now), I usually build only one or two lineups each week – using this lineup (or these lineups) across all the contests I enter. I can only fit so many players onto such limited space. But some of these players will find their way onto my roster(s), and if I were a multi-lineup guy, I would certainly have exposure to all these guys.

That is: I would certainly have exposure to all of them if I were able to be vulnerable enough to stick with them. Let’s all aim to do that this week. Let’s let go of inhibitions, forget about how we’ll feel or how we’ll look if our picks are wrong…and let’s think about how we’ll feel if our process is as good as we should believe it is, and if our picks work out as we predict they will.


Andrew Luck at Titans: It’s funny to put Andrew Luck here, isn’t it? But I’ll tell you: every time I go to put Luck in one of my practice rosters, I feel dumb about it, and I try to remove him. The truth, however, is that Luck did not suddenly forget how to play quarterback, and even though the Titans have graded out well in pass coverage (even according to sources that attempt to adjust for matchup), we need to acknowledge that they have faced Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel. Luck should be able to absolutely pick apart this defense, and he should be able to get on track with one of the biggest fantasy games he will have all season. Everyone knows that Luck is a good play on paper this week, but trust me when I say: most people will also be scared to roll with him. We can take advantage of this fear, knowing he will be lower-owned than he should be…and knowing this gives us an edge on the field.

nick foles

Nick Foles v Steelers: After I recommended Foles last week, with admittedly poor results, this is an area where it would be easy for me to back away. After all, I am certainly exposing myself to ridicule – am certainly being vulnerable – by going back here again. But while we may all be wrong about the Redskins’ secondary this year (as I discussed in my NFL Edge article this week), we know we are not wrong about the Steelers’ secondary. Furthermore, the Steelers have one of the best offenses in football, and while I think the Rams will hold them down a bit more than most seem to be expecting, I do still expect the Steelers to put up points and force the Rams to throw. What’s more, the best way to attack the Steelers is through the air. We should see a good 35 throws from Foles this week – with a number of shots downfield – and rostering Foles at his dirt-cheap price could pay off big-time. Even if he has to wait until garbage time to get his points, I strongly believe he is going to get his points.

Ryan Fitzpatrick v Eagles: I am getting more and more scared of this recommendation as the week progresses. It started with a strong endorsement in my RotoGrinders Exclusive article on Rotoworld on Monday. It was followed by a bit of “lets play this somewhat safely in my recommendation here” in my NFL Edge. And now, today, I was tempted to not mention Fitzpatrick at all. Certainly, most of the rankers whose opinions I respect do not agree with me on this one. But here’s the truth: I see the Jets having to throw more than they want to in this game. I saw one writer mentioning how poorly Fitzpatrick did, from a fantasy perspective, against the Browns and Colts. Well, sure – but the Jets had the lead in each of those games, and the Jets optimally want to get a lead, play good defense, and run the ball. On a week in which they are less likely to be able to do this, however – against a beatable secondary – I don’t see any reason why Fitzpatrick should be unable to return great value at his bottom-barrel price.


Dion Lewis v Jaguars: Again? Yes, again. This time, maybe I’ll finally roster him. The fear here is that the Patriots will go heavy on LeGarrette Blount in this one. After all, in Week 1, it made sense for the Patriots to lean on Lewis with Blount out, and with the game expected to be a shootout. And it made sense for the Patriots to lean on Lewis in Week 2, with the Bills having one of the strongest run defenses in football, and the Patriots likely to take to the air as a result. Because the Jaguars are not generally, publicly viewed as having a great run defense, however, it is easy to talk ourselves into the belief that the Patriots will try to attack them on the ground. The truth, however, is that the Jags do have a top run defense. If we are willing to trust that Belichick and McDaniels will see this themselves, we should also trust that Lewis will be on the field far more than Blount yet again. Given his low price (and his pass game usage), he should be able to come close to reaching value even if we are wrong. And if we are right, he could pay big dividends yet again.

frank gore

Frank Gore at Titans: Am I the only one who sees Gore having a really solid effort this weekend, compared to his price? Yes, it seems I am. Gore is one of the true workhorse backs in the NFL, and while the Colts have a desire to keep his legs fresh (and are going to mix in Josh Robinson as a result), Gore is their go-to guy. The Colts have not gotten him involved in the pass game nearly as much as anyone expected coming into this season, but this offense traditionally uses its running back as an outlet option, and I expect Pep Hamilton to get back to the basics this week in order to get this offense back on track. Furthermore, I expect the Colts to eventually have a lead, and for them to run out the clock with Gore. Twenty touches should be easily attainable this week, and at his current price – in this week’s matchup – that should be more than enough for him to do some serious points-per-dollar damage.

Melvin Gordon at Vikings: The Melvin Gordon hate has gone too far. And the Danny Woodhead love has swelled to overwhelming proportions. Last week, however, the Chargers used these two backs about the way we expected them to be used coming into the season: allowing Gordon to be their early-down bell-cow, and bringing Woodhead in for third downs and obvious passing situations. The problem, of course, was that the Chargers were forced to go pass-heavy in the second half, which led to Gordon being underused. This week, however, the game script sets up perfectly for Gordon to be heavily used – with the game likely to remain close throughout, and with the Vikings being very vulnerable to runs between the tackles. Gordon should easily hit 18 carries, and could pick up one or two receptions as well. This should give him a good shot at hitting value, and could give you a low-owned edge on the field.


Demaryius Thomas at Lions: The Lions have had one of the worst secondaries in football so far. Demaryius Thomas is one of the best wide receivers in football. He is seeing a drop in both price and popularity. The last time this happened was in Week 5 of last year (after a three-game slow start to the season, followed by a bye week). He then came out and pasted the Cardinals for 226 yards and two touchdowns at 4% ownership. Peyton Manning has not quite looked like Peyton Manning, but he is still a good enough quarterback to feed the ball to one of the top wide receivers in the league. I expect double-digit targets for Demaryius yet again (after 11 in Week 1, and 14 in Week 2), and with the Broncos having had 10 days to prepare for this game, I do not envision him having a problem turning those targets into a huge game against this secondary. Later in the season, it is going to be Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., and Demaryius Thomas as the four guys everyone is considering paying up for each week. This is a great week to grab Demaryius while he’s still outside that group, and while people are scared to trust him and look foolish if they’re wrong.

Davante Adams v Chiefs: Remember back in Week 1 when Davante Adams was a “must play” at his low price? Then he put up a 4-59 line on eight targets, and then squared off against Richard Sherman for a large chunk of his game against the Seahawks…and all of a sudden he’s a forgotten man in the fantasy landscape? Look, maybe I’m wrong here – maybe Davante will not see the sort of usage we all expected him to see this year. But I will tell you this: he is supremely talented, and Aaron Rodgers trusts him. Oftentimes, that’s all it takes for a receiver to put up a big game, and this is a great week to jump back onto the Davante Adams train, while everyone else is looking the other way.

allen hurns

Allen Hurns at Patriots: This is a fun one for tournaments, and it is one I keep coming back to as a strong play (so much so that I am considering it in cash games)…and it is one we will all be too scared to use, lest we look stupid if it fails to work out. Hurns has as much “Travis Benjamin upside” as anyone in the league, and for the first time this season, the Jaguars are going to have to really let loose…and they will be facing a secondary that will allow them to put together some big plays. The main place everyone will be looking is Allen Robinson, but realize that Bill Belichick will be looking toward Allen Robinson also, and will be looking for ways to stop him. This is the perfect opportunity to “zig” while others are “zagging,” and to take Hurns in what could be a monstrous, low-owned game. If you look at my roster in tournaments this weekend and spot that Hurns is not on it, call me out on it! (Also, call me out for having three ellipses in a single paragraph.)


Start at the top: Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, and Travis Kelce are head and shoulders above all other tight ends this week, and this is the first place you should be looking. Gronk is going to be heavily used and is likely to have a big game. Graham has been complaining about his usage, and I expect him to be fed this week. And the Chiefs will have to pass against the Packers, and that means passes to Kelce. I encourage you to look to these three, first and foremost. If you want to look elsewhere, however, there are two guys to whom I would give a look.

Vernon Davis at Cardinals: Vernon Davis has 13 targets through two weeks, which is a very high number compared to how he has been used the last couple years. I mentioned in my NFL Edge that I do not necessarily see the Cardinals still being a shoe-in to be awful against tight ends, as a large part of that was Todd Bowles blitz-heavy scheme, and Bowles is, of course, gone to New York. But Davis is still an elite athlete, and the 49ers should be behind and throwing during the second half of this game. You may feel dumb if Davis gets shut down, but there is also a chance he puts together a big game.

Jared Cook v Steelers: Cook is as inconsistent as they come. But if we expect Foles to be taking shots down the field (and we do), we can expect a few of these shots to go to Cook. Against the Steelers, he could very easily end up snagging a couple of these for big gains.

That’s what I have for you this week, my friends.

What do you have for me? Let me know the guys you feel others may shake their heads at if they see them on your roster this week – the guys you feel concerned about using, lest you’re wrong. Then, after you let me know who these guys are for you this week, ask yourself: “Is my process good? What is leading me to like these guys?” If you can answer these questions in a reasonable manner, stick with them! Use them to rise to the top of the top of the leaderboards – and I’ll meet up with you there.

About the Author

JM Tohline (JMToWin)

JM Tohline (Tuh-lean) – DFS alias JMToWin – is a novelist and a DFS player who specializes in high-stakes MLB and NFL tourneys, with a strategy geared toward single-entry play in multi-entry tourneys. He joined the DFS scene at the beginning of the 2014 MLB season, and has since won five DFS championship seats and two separate trips to the Bahamas. His tendency to type a lot of words leads to a corresponding tendency to divulge all his DFS thoughts, strategies, and secrets…which is exactly what he does in his RotoGrinders articles and RotoAcademy courses. You can find JM on Twitter at JMToWin.