Baseball and the sports publishing industry—dodged a high, hard-one recently when the players and owners came to their senses and negotiated an agreement that averted a strike. What would a strike have meant to the publishing industry? PW asked Peter L. Bannon, president of Sports Publishing, who was almost put out of business by the last stoppage in 1994. "A baseball strike would have stopped all sales of baseball books immediately," says Bannon stridently, "and possibly for years, depending on how long the strike lasted. We have seen very strong sales on our baseball books, but these would have died with a strike."
"A baseball strike would have hurt any industry that depends on people's affection for baseball," says Jeff Neuman, v-p/director of sports books at Simon & Schuster. "It's nice to believe that during a strike, people would turn to reading about their past heroes or immerse themselves in the history of the game, but it isn't so. Labor disputes have been very damaging to the prospects of baseball books of all kinds. Fans' reaction tends to be 'a plague on both your houses'—they take it out on the players, but it's not as if they're sympathetic to owners, either."
With the focus shifting to the inner workings of the game, we have begun to see baseball books that are not strictly about balls and strikes. Recent works are about the business of baseball, be it the players union, racism in the sport or what happens behind closed doors when owners powwow.
One of these books is Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston by Howard Bryant, a journalist who covers the Yankees for the Bergen Record. In Shut Out, Bryant captivatingly describes how the Boston Red Sox under owner Tom Yawkey and his cronies managed to be the last major league team to lift apartheid. Bryant tells how the Red Sox gave Jackie Robinson a tryout, then humiliated Robinson by refusing to sign him. He also details how they missed out on a young Alabama centerfielder by the name of Willie Mays because one of their scouts wasn't "going to waste my time waiting on a bunch of niggers."
"Obviously, it's about much more than baseball, and that is why we decided to publish it," Linda Hollick, v-p and publisher at Routledge. "It touches on a lot of issues—racism in Boston in particular as well as in baseball in general, and the role that the sportswriters and the media played in the issues of race. The tying in of the various racial problems in Boston, for example, busing, with what was going on with the Red Sox team is very revealing. It is social history seen through the lens of baseball."
"But first and last, Jackie Robinson was a hard-nosed, hard-assed, brass-balled, fire-breathing athlete." That's how NPR's Scott Simon describes the man who—along with Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon Baines Johnson—did more to rescue America from the filth of apartheid than anybody else. In Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball (Sept.), Simon carefully dissects Robinson's first season in the majors, his relationship with Pee Wee Reese, and what it all means to America in 2002. Wiley is promoting Jackie Robinson with what it calls an "NPR Bases-Loaded Tour," in which Simon will do signings and NPR interviews.
Perhaps the most intriguing title about the inner workings of baseball is The Last Commissioner: A Baseball Valentine by Fay Vincent (Oct.). "What attracted me to Fay Vincent's book," says S&S's Neuman, "is the fact that it's not a book about the business of baseball; it's a book about baseball." Vincent tells some wonderful stories about hobnobbing with Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. He also tells of his battles with George Steinbrenner and describes how DiMaggio could be narrowly vindictive.
"Vincent presided over a turbulent time in the sport," says Neuman, "having had a front-row seat at the Pete Rose negotiations, the World Series earthquake, the machinations of George Steinbrenner, among other unnatural disasters. Yes, some of what he writes about deals with the business of the sport; it would be irresponsible of him not to share his views on the direction baseball must ultimately go if it's to be an ongoing, economically healthy sport. And, yes, his suggestion that players be granted an equity stake in a Major League Baseball Inc., and his view that the economics of the game only work if you own a television network, and that such networks may ultimately own multiple teams, these are radical notions in the economics of the game."
Another book that explores another facet of baseball is The End of Baseball as We Knew It: The Players Union, 1960—81 by Charles P. Korr, with a foreword by Bob Costas (Sept.) Korr, professor of history at the University of Missouri, is the first author to use the files, letters and correspondence of the Major League Baseball Players Association. He tells the story of how Marvin Miller transformed a meek union into a powerful bargaining cartel. "The general reason university presses publish books on popular culture," says Richard Wentworth, sports books editor, University of Illinois Press, "is that they not only increase our knowledge of the subject area but also tend to bring in more income then most books on narrow historical topics. In this case, the book was an obvious one for the press because Illinois is not only the only scholarly publisher with a longstanding series on sports but is also the leading publisher in labor history."
The power of the dollar drives baseball today, and this is captured succinctly by Theodore Powers in The Business of Baseball (Oct.). "The author considers not only the distribution of wealth between the franchises and their people," says Gary Mitchem, assistant editor of McFarland, "but explains the roles of owners, commissioners, player unions and fans in the operation of baseball." Powers also reports on the ways baseball has made its money through the years, and some of them surprise.
Remembering Teddy Ballgame
When the great Ted Williams died last July it marked not only the passing of a special American but also the passing of an American way of life. Williams was an athlete/ soldier. Like almost every baseball star of his era, Williams went away to war. Unlike most, he served twice—in WWII and the Korean War—missing about five years of ball playing.
"Williams represents a time when it was enough to love the game and love your country," says Jim O'Leary, cofounder, Sport Media Publishing, "and his allegiance to both was unwavering. He refused to settle for second best at anything—whether it was hitting a baseball, flying in combat or angling for 1,200-pound marlin. He rarely set a goal that he failed to achieve and, thus, his life exemplifies achievement."
The heroic life of Williams is remembered this fall in several books. What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now? by Richard Ben Cramer (Oct.) is being published by Simon & Schuster. Unlike his Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life, which was a scathing portrait of a selfish man, this book is a paean to an American hero. In 1986, Cramer spent months working on a profile of Williams, which was published in Esquire. That article, along with new material about Williams's later years, are encapsulated in this loving remembrance from the Pulitzer Prize—winning Cramer.
Sport Media Publishing will be doing Teddy Ballgame by Williams and David Pietrusza, a reissue of Ted Williams: My Life in Pictures, but with new material, including reminiscences from the likes of Bobby Doerr, Bob Feller and baseball historian John Thorn. Sports Publishing's Ted Williams: The Pursuit of Perfection by Jim Prime and Bill Nowlin includes a CD, and Triumph has Ted Williams: A Splendid Life by Bill Nowlin, Jim Prime and Roland Lazenby.
Probably the best loved ambassador of baseball in America today is Yogi Berra. The former Yankee great is also turning out to be his own cottage publishing industry. Several years ago, Hyperion had a bestseller in When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It! and now S&S is coming out with What Time Is It? You Mean Now? (Oct.), described as "an A-to-Z collection of life wisdom from Yogisms." Yogi will promote nationally, including major TV.
Finally, it looks like legendary publisher Al Silverman has stolen a Yogism for the title of his new book, It's Not Over 'Til It's Over: The Stories Behind the Most Magnificent, Heart-Stopping Sports Miracles of Our Time (Sept.). Silverman covers every sport here, but baseball makes the list the most: Freddie Merkle's base-running boner in 1908, Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" in 1951 and Carlton Fisk's body-English homer in the 1975 World Series.
The Puck Stops Here
It's been a decade since PW took a shot at books on hockey in its annual sports roundup. Editors have routinely avowed their love of hockey books to this correspondent, but this is the first season in a long time that the words of love have been backed up by superior products. So just where is hockey publishing going?
"If you look at demographics," reminds Peter Bannon of Sports Publishing, "hockey fans represent an impressive market. Easily as affluent and educated as the three other major sports."
"I think it has a passionate fan base," says Charles Nurnberg, executive v-p, Sterling Publishing, "but not of the size that the standard sports, like baseball, football, basketball have."
Stan Fischler is known as "The Hockey Maven," and he's out to prove his genius—with the help of his co-author and wife, Shirley—with Who's Who in Hockey (Dec.). "Hockey is a sport sprinkled liberally with colorful, exciting personalities," says Patrick Dobson, assistant editor of the Andrews McMeel Publishing Book Group. "Who's Who in Hockey capitalizes on those things and the fact that hockey fans buy books. What better combination could we want?" Andrews McMeel is planning a major U.S./ Canadian radio/print campaign for this fall.
One of the most impressive—not only in content but in weight and size—hockey books being published this fall is Kings of the Ice (Oct.). "Not only does it delve into the whole history of the sport," says Elena Mazour, publisher of NDE Publishing, "it is the first book to include international tournaments, World Championships and Olympics along with extensive coverage of the North American game." Illustrated with almost 1,000 photos, NDE plans a heavy print campaign.
Maybe the hardest job in hockey is that of the goaltender. Every time he makes a mistake, a big red light goes on and a siren blares, just so there's no confusion in the house on who's to blame. So it's nice to see that there are a couple of books in praise of the net-minder this fall. First and foremost is Without Fear: Hockey's 50 Greatest Goaltenders by Kevin Allen and Bob Duff (Nov.). Triumph's decision to publish this title, according to editor Mike Emmerich, was a no-brainer: "The combination of credible authors," says Emmerich, "USA Today's hockey writer Kevin Allen, longtime respected Canadian hockey writer Bob Duff and Hall of Fame goaltender Johnny Bower; access to compelling and rare photographs from the Hockey Hall of Fame; and the abiding interest in hockey's most enigmatic and colorful figures made this in irresistible opportunity."
Sports Publishing has just published Gilles Villemure's Tales from the Ranger Locker Room by former Rangers goalie—and Vezina Trophy winner—Gilles Villemure with Michael Shalin (Sept.). "For Gilles Villemure's book," says Peter Bannon, "we again wanted to do more hockey and we had great success with two previous Rangers books. The Tales series has also been a great success for us."
Bannon has also found the Detroit Red Wings to be a great source for his hockey books. "With the Red Wings winning the Stanley Cup," he says, "it was a natural to put together a championship book. Stanley's Back was released within weeks of the championship. We are following Stanley's Back with two more titles this fall—Detroit Red Wings' Greatest Moments and Players [Oct.], which will be more of a historical look at the franchise. We are also doing a biography of the retired Detroit goalie, Dominik Hasek, called Dominik Hasek: The Dominator. This is our first photo book on a hockey player. We have had success in baseball, so we decided to try a hockey player."
"We usually publish three or four quality hockey books each fall," says Lionel Koffler, president of Firefly Books. "One is a nostalgia book; another one or two are books of drills, techniques and skills; and the last will be a look at which players and teams are hot right now. It's a good mix to reach a variety of audiences: kids who play; kids and adults who don't play, but watch the game; and older fans who want to remember the great players and great games." Koffler's big book this fall is The Game I'll Never Forget, which features 100 NHL players' and coaches' most important games. It is illustrated with extraordinary photos. Firefly will also publish The Official NHL Fan's Guide, a full-color guide to the best teams and key players in the NHL.
"We have always published a great many hockey books," says Sterling's Nurnberg, "trivia, star books and practical how-to." This season Sterling will go the nostalgia route with Etched in Ice: A Tribute to Hockey's Defining Moments by Michael McKinley (Oct.) and Oldtimers: On the Road with the Legends of Hockey by Gary Mason (Sept.). As for marketing, Nurnberg says, "We go after the fan magazines, the official and not so official newsletters, magazines, the sports magazines and newspapers and media. We also promote to the individual teams and rinks."
One of the most intriguing hockey books is The Physics of Hockey by Alain Haché (Oct.). With such a title, it's not surprising that the publisher is the prestigious Johns Hopkins University Press. Haché is a physics professor and an amateur hockey player who combines his two passions in this book, which uses hockey to explain various aspects of physics, from thermodynamics to fluid dynamics. "Hockey is one of the greatest physics laboratories on earth," says Trevor Lipscombe, JHUP's editor-in-chief and science editor. "Our book looks at how physics can lead to a better slapshot, more effective body checking and faster skating. In so doing, it reaches out to inform, educate and entertain—part of our mission at a university press—and gets modern science out of the laboratory and into everyday life."
Sports Bios Still Captivate
Biography continues to be an energetic niche. "Sports gives us heroes, people who are capable of extraordinary feats," says Scott Moyers, senior editor at Random House. "Especially now, when the sports industry works on so many levels to turn athletes into celebrities."
"I think sports biographies are so popular," says Jill Langford, sports acquisitions editor, Taylor Trade, an imprint of the Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group, "because sports fans want detailed insight into their favorite players and teams."
The biggest sports biography of the year—this side of Seabiscuit, which continues to sell—was John McEnroe's You Cannot Be Serious, published in June by Putnam. Random House has a contender built along the same lines: a controversial author who's a retired superstar and now gets plenty of exposure behind the microphone. Did someone say Sir Charles Barkley? "Simply put," says Random's Moyers, "I May Be Wrong, but I Doubt It [Oct.], is Charles Barkley's platform for getting his point of view across on a host of issues about which he feels strongly. The bottom line is that he has a lot to say about America, and he sees a book as the best way to say it."
Moyers is also hoping that McEnroe's success will be duplicated by Barkley. "The appeal is analogous in that they're both famous for speaking their minds without fear or favor—they're both very smart, very self-confident, very opinionated, and utterly without fear. In addition to which, of course, they're among the greatest athletes ever to play their respective sports."
Random will be sending Barkley to seven cities this fall to get the word out. "I doubt anyone will be surprised by how funny the book is," says Moyers, "but I suspect some will be surprised by how emotionally moving it is. It's the fruit of deep thought over many years about matters quite close to his heart, and that shows."
Perhaps the antithesis of a Barkley or a McEnroe is Sandy Koufax—once called by Sports Illustrated "The Left Hand of God." Jane Leavy's Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy has impressed many as a unique biography, skillfully and lovingly written—although Koufax has facetiously called her a CPA: "a certified pain in the ass." Writing it was a difficult task because Koufax is the J.D. Salinger of baseball—an intense, enigmatic yet gentle recluse. "This is not an authorized biography," says David Hirshey, executive editor of HarperCollins. "Leavy calls it 'a reluctantly tolerated biography,' and Koufax refers to it as 'an unauthorized biography by a neat lady.' Koufax made it clear that he had no desire to participate in the process. When it became clear to him that the project was going forward, he said he preferred it to be done right. To that end, he gave Leavy access to his friends, former teammates and opponents. He also agreed to verify matters of personal history. You could describe his cooperation as circumscribed but invaluable." The first printing for Sandy Koufax was 60,000 copies, and author Leavy is currently on a round of media appearances including stops in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C.
With the recent death of football legend Johnny Unitas, Triumph Books has rushed Johnny Unitas: The Best There Ever Was by Roland Lazenby (Sept.) into print. "Johnny Unitas exemplified the best in competitive sport," says Mitch Rogatz, owner and publisher of Triumph. "He's a hero to an entire generation, and he's a personal hero of many of us here at Triumph. As a leading sports publisher, we're able to follow our hearts and pay tribute to our own personal heroes—and because of our strong, long-time relationships with our retail partners, we can get John's book to market fast so the rest of his fans can have a lasting memento when it is still top of mind." Triumph put out 25,000 hardcover copies and another 30,000 copies in trade paperback.
Taylor has two football biographies sure to grab attention in separate parts of the country this autumn. The first one, Nitschke (Sept.), is a name that still inspires visions of crushing hits in the frozen tundra of Green Bay, leading to Vince Lombardi championships. "Ray Nitschke is another misunderstood legend," says Taylor's Langford, "sort of an oxymoron of the sports world because he was known for being such a brute on the playing field and such a wonderful father, neighbor and friend in the Green Bay community. With such a strong and loyal Green Bay fan base, and Nitschke's enduring reputation in the football world, we knew this one [by Edward Gruver] would be a winner."
Taylor has also just published a bio of a man who gets more than his share of media attention—new Washington Redskins's coach Steve Spurrier. "The Steve Spurrier Story [Sept.] was originally slated for publication in January," admits Langford, "but as Spurrier began to dominate media coverage of the NFL preseason, we decided to rush production for publication in late September, just as the season was getting under way." Since there's interest in Spurrier in both Washington, D.C., and Florida, author Bill Chastain will be doing publicity stops in both places as well as in Georgia and North Carolina. There will also be ads in several sports publications.
It may become an annual rite of summer: Lance Armstrong wins the Tour de France—and It's Not About the Bike goes back on the national bestseller lists. The book, which was reprinted in trade paperback in September of last year, now has 590,000 copies in print after 10 printings. "The paperback has done phenomenally well for us," says Berkley president/publisher Leslie Gelbman, "and will continue to sell for years to come."
It is safe to assume that more people in the United States know who Michael Jordan is then know what Dick Cheney does for a living. Jordan's comeback last year was front-page news and now St. Martin's/Dunne has chronicled that return in One Last Shot: The Story of Michael's Jordan's Comeback by Jordan expert Mitch Krugel (Nov.). "Michael Jordan is without question one of the greatest sports stars of the generation," says Pete Wolverton, associate publisher for Thomas Dunne Books. "What comes through here is his drive to make the Wizards a success. This is a book about Jordan the executive, the coach, and not just a recap about what he's done since he retired from the Bulls." Thomas Dunne plans a first printing in the 25,000—35,000-copy range.
Before there was Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier or George Foreman, there was a champion named Marciano. Now the University of Illinois Press has remembered him in Rocky Marciano: The Rock of His Times by Russell Sullivan (Sept.). This is a tribute to a quiet, enigmatic champion who retired in 1956 at the age of 33 with a pristine 49—0 record.
Can-Do Horse Books
"There is something about the outside of a horse," Sir Winston Churchill once said, "that is good for the inside of a man." Last spring, PW chronicled the publication of nearly 25 horse books of all varieties, from memoir and biography to instructional. Apparently, there is something about a horse that is also good for publishers.
The book that started all the excitement, Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand, is still riding high on the New York Times bestseller list, going on its 26th week. Although Seabiscuit has been in trade paperback since the spring, Random House continues to print and sell the hardcover, which has gone through 20 printings, totaling 381,444 copies in print. Ballantine reports that the Seabiscuit trade paperback presently has 426,000 copies in print after eight printings. The film adaptation, starring Tobey Maguire, goes into production this fall.
Why, all of a sudden, is America so horse crazy?
"Horse racing is one of the oldest and most popular spectator sports in America," says Nancy Rothschild, marketing director of Taylor Trade. "Years ago, it topped boxing, football and baseball in the number of fans."
"Recent reports show that there are approximately seven million horses in the U.S.," says Jackie Duke, editor at Eclipse Press, "and that the equine industry has an economic impact of some $112 billion. Horse racing is enjoying a rejuvenation thanks to various industry efforts and more exposure on network television."
One of the heftier books this fall is Racing Through the Century: The Story of Thoroughbred Racing in America by Mary Simon (Oct.). This coffee-table book is being published by Thoroughbred Times/ BowTie Press with a 50,000 initial printing. "We decided to publish Racing Through the Century," says Mark Simon, editor of the Thoroughbred Times, "because there has not been a good narrative look at the history of thoroughbred racing in America published in the last two or three decades. The end of the 20th century was a perfect time to look back at racing and how it changed as America changed." To back up the large first printing, there will be an eight-city author tour and an extensive national print advertising campaign. Thoroughbred Times/ BowTie is also publishing in paperback The Original Thoroughbred Times Racing Almanac—Premiere Edition by the staff of the Thoroughbred Times. "It is the first almanac ever published for thoroughbred racing," says Simon, "and we think there is a big audience for a book like this." The 25,000-copy first printing will be backed by author appearances and a heavy national print ad effort.
One publisher that does exclusively horse books is the Eclipse Press in Lexington, Ky. "We are the largest equine book publisher," says editor Jackie Duke, "and that certainly gives us an edge. In addition to racing, we also publish horse books on a variety of topics from health care to art." Eclipse will have an eclectic list heading into the holiday season. Perhaps the oddest "horse" book on the list is Racing to the Table: A Culinary Tour of Sporting America by Margaret Guthrie (Nov.). "Racing people love good food," says Duke, "and racetracks and racetrack haunts serve up some of the best victuals. It seemed like a natural to combine racing recipes, racing history and great photos under one cover."
Old Friends: Visits with My Favorite Thoroughbreds (Sept.) is another title that is delighting the racing aficionado. "Barbara Livingston is the most lauded racing photographer in the country," says Duke. "Her stories and photos of racing's old timers appeared periodically in The Blood-Horse magazine to such enthusiastic response that she wanted to devote a book to the subject. In Old Friends, Livingston pays tribute in images and prose to such legends as Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid and Genuine Risk. We have never had a book start as strongly as this one." Eclipse has also published Rascals and Racehorses by Cot Campbell, author of Lightning in a Jar. All three titles are being supported by a signing and radio tour at all the big racing meets. There are also extensive print, direct mail and online campaigns.
A recent entry into the equestrian publishing sweepstakes is the Daily Racing Form Press. "When we started DRF Press in 2000," says Charles Hayward, president, "I felt that a targeted list of books on various aspects of thoroughbred racing was a natural fit for us, especially because mainstream publishers had generally abandoned handicapping titles, which is one of our great editorial strengths. I felt that it was a natural for us to publish a collection of the best nonfiction writing on thoroughbred racing." DRF has accomplished that with Finished Lines: A Collection of Memorable Writings on Thoroughbred Racing edited by Frank R. Scatoni (Oct.). The anthology includes such colorful writers as Jimmy Breslin, Hunter S. Thompson and William Faulkner. "We hope that Finished Lines will help introduce new fans to the rich literary history of the game," adds Hayward, "and that older fans will want to have this collection that covers many of the memorable people and events of the sport."
"We have been publishing horse books for years under our Derrydale imprint," says Nancy Rothschild. "Taylor Trade just recently added horse-related sports titles to our list. Rodeo, fox hunting, racing, polo and the various other equestrian sports appeal to many regions and demographics in our country, and that's why they continue to be popular." Taylor's initiation into equestrian publishing was last June, with And They're Off!: My Years As the Voice of Chicago Thoroughbred Racing. "Author Phil Georgeff is a well-loved character among racing fans," continues Rothschild. "He has the Guinness Book World Record for number of races called—96,131! There is no one who has covered this sport longer or knows it better than Phil, making him the ideal candidate for this biography."
A surprising kind of horse book has emerged this fall—rodeo. "More than 17 million people attended rodeos in the U.S. and Canada last year," says Jane Reilly, senior publicist at the Globe Pequot/Lyons Press, "and more than 13 million viewers tuned in to ESPN to watch the National Finals Rodeo, where the top competitors battled for $4.6 million in prize money." Cashing in on this trend, Lyons will publish Rodeo Legends: Twenty Extraordinary Athletes of America's Sport by Gavin Ehringer (Oct.) and Rodeo: A Photographic Celebration of America's Most Exciting Sport by Lynn Campion (Nov.). The first printings will be 10,000 copies for each title, to be backed up with a Western state radio campaign and author events at rodeo competitions.
Kate Darnton, senior editor at Public Affairs, also has discovered this genre and is publishing Rodeo Queens and the American Dream by Joan Burbick (Oct.). " It just seemed like such a nifty idea," says Darnton. "I had never even heard of rodeo queens, and when I searched around for other books on the subject, I couldn't find any. And then I fell in love with Joan Burbick, the author, a true horsewoman. The whole project lifted me out of 57th and Broadway and off to the plains. It was an escapist treat." Author Burbick will be making bookstore and media appearances in the West and other areas that are rodeo hotbeds.
Instructional titles remain a staple. Friedman/Fairfax has Horse: The Complete Guide by Mary Gordon Watson. "This book was first published in 1999," says David Drachman, marketing director for Friedman/Fairfax Publishers, "and is on horse care and training." Friedman/ Fairfax plans a 65,000 initial printing.
Centered Riding helped make Trafalgar Square one of the preeminent publishers of equestrian books, publishing well over 75 horse books. "Current Trafalgar Square owner and publisher Caroline Robbins acquired, edited and published Centered Riding by Sally Swift in 1985," says Martha Cook, managing editor, Trafalgar Square Publishing. Centered Riding went on to become one of the bestselling horse books ever published, selling more than 400,000 copies worldwide. "Caroline Robbins worked on and off for nearly 10 years with Sally Swift, who is now 89, to make this new book a reality." Centered Riding 2 (Sept.) is a main selection of the Equestrian Edge Book Club; first serial rights went to Primedia's Equus magazine and second serial rights to the United States Dressage Federation's Connections. Advertising will appear in national and regional equestrian magazines for the holiday season.
M. Evans has also gotten into equestrian instructional publishing with Riding in Prime Time: A Resource for Adult Riders by Sarah Montague (Oct.). This book runs the gamut from choosing a school and instructor to the health and fitness issues crucial for effective riding in the rider's mature years. "We are publishing Riding in Prime Time," says P.J. Dempsey, senior editor at M. Evans, "because I had a personal interest in the subject. I started riding as an adult and when I went looking for a book to help me, there wasn't one. I have seen the number of people my age who are taking an interest in this sport and thought that, like me, they would appreciate a reference targeted specifically to adults looking to enter the equestrian world of today."
Wrestling: Vince McMahon as P.T. Barnum
The newspaper headline read like a well-rehearsed body-slam: "79% Fall for WWE." Was the World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly the World Wrestling Federation) heading south? Was Vince McMahon going to be counted out? It's been only a year since McMahon's XFL laid a football egg. Are wrestling books still viable and profitable?
"We think so," says Scott Shannon, v-p/associate publisher, science fiction and media, Pocket Books. "The WWE brand is one of the most successful brands in the world. They have a loyal following that reaches countries as far away as Japan. Here in the U.S., they consistently have some of the highest rated programming on cable television, and they have millions of fans who are hungry for more information about their favorite performers. We anticipate that our books will be very successful."
Adds Steve Ross, senior v-p/editorial director of Crown, "McMahon is a latter-day P.T. Barnum, a carny who has turned his little act into an internationally renowned entertainment enterprise."
Ross has a special interest in the ups and downs of Vince McMahon because he has two books dealing with the mercurial shaman of the mat. "Without question," Ross continues, "the downturn in the wrestling business has proven to be a positive for Sex, Lies and Headlocks in that it gave the story an ending. According to my in-house wrestling aficionado [editor Pete Fornatale], wrestling has always been a heavily cyclical business, and the end of the book became the end of the greatest run that McMahon ever had. The success we've had with that book demonstrates that people are still interested in reading an intelligent account of the backstage dramas, even if they may not want to tune in on TV or buy the pay-per-view."
Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation by Shaun Assael takes a detailed look at the house that Vince built." The book's aim isn't to tear Vince down, nor is it a hagiography. The authors have deep connections within the wrestling business, and the book is full of riveting, original reporting that finally approaches telling the full story of this complicated figure."
Long Bomb: How the XFL Became TV's Biggest Fiasco by Brett Forest (Sept.) is a football book about wrestling. Sound confusing? Well, it basically tells how McMahon tried to transfer his WWE success to football through the fumbling hands of NBC executive Dick Ebersole. Sometimes, it is laugh-out-loud funny. "We had confidence that Brett Forrest was the kind of talented, hungry, committed young journalist who'd find the story wherever it led," says Ross, "and he is something of a gonzo writer, perfect for such a gonzo story. In the end, Long Bomb is not so much a book about McMahon or the XFL or NBC, but rather, as Peter Gent says in his cover quote, a book about a group of men trying to exceed themselves through football." Forest is doing media interviews.
Pocket Books recently became the exclusive publisher of WWE book products. This fall it will be publishing three titles with impressive initial printings: WWF Smack Down Trivia (Nov., 100,000 copies), It's Good to Be the King by Jerry "The King" Lawler (Dec., 125,000 copies) and Hollywood Hulk Hogan by Hulk Hogan (Nov., 350,000 copies)." Hogan is in the middle of a tremendous comeback and is enjoying a renewed surge of popularity," says Scott Shannon. "Lawler is a former wrestler and an announcer on RAW, and he is perennially popular. And our trivia book satisfies the fan's desire for immersion in the world of WWE." Pocket will work closely with the WWE on all marketing, and the books will be featured in WWE magazines and WWE television programming. Pocket also plans to tour Hogan and Lawler.
In November, Berkley Boulevard will publish In the Pit with Piper: Roddy Gets Rowdy by Rowdy Roddy Piper with Robert Picarello. "Rowdy Roddy Piper was the most popular bad boy of wrestling for many years and has quite a story to tell," says Kelly Sinanis, assistant editor, enthusiastically. "Just listening to him talk about his experiences, I had a newfound understanding and appreciation for him and wrestlers in general." Piper will be undertaking a major national tour.
Another Berkley Boulevard title, Monsters of the Mat by Robert Picarello, published in August, was on the New York Times Extended List for five weeks. "Monsters of the Mat," adds Sinanis, "is essentially a source for wrestling fans to read about the most popular wrestlers today, and it also includes a section on wrestling schools across America."
The Old College (Football) Try
One of the great success stories of recent years was a book from St. Martin's/Thomas Dunne called The Junction Boys by Jim Dent. Originally published in 1999, it has sold over 50,000 in hardcover and another 40,000-plus in trade paperback. Now, it is getting a new life with a made-for-TV ESPN movie starring Tom Berenger as the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant. ESPN plans an initial airing on Saturday, December 14, right after covering the Heisman Trophy show that evening. Thomas Dunne is printing 20,000 trade paperback copies with a new tie-in cover.
What all this demonstrates is the power of college football and a pretty erudite fan base. "The success of The Junction Boys," says Neuman of Simon & Schuster, "reminded publishers that college football is a subject well suited to profitable regional publishing. The trick to publishing college football books well is to remember that the smaller the target, the bigger the audience: you'll do much better with a book about a particular school than you will about its conference, and better about its conference than about college football in general."
"College football cultivates loyalties that border on the near maniacal," says Steve Ross of Crown, "as the success of books like The Junction Boys demonstrates. I think college fans have a proprietary sense when it comes to their alma maters, and people naturally like to read and own books about subjects particularly close to their hearts."
There are several houses this fall with books in the tradition of The Junction Boys. Crown is one, with Backyard Brawl: Inside the Blood Feud Between Texas and Texas A&M by W.K. Stratton (Sept.). "Of all the great rivalries," says Ross, "Texas versus Texas A&M is unique. More than a mere football game, it is an annual civil war, one that represents a true cultural divide in the state." Crown is promoting Backyard Brawl with bookstore signings throughout Texas.
Another book about a college rivalry is Horns, Hogs and Nixon Coming: Texas vs. Arkansas in Dixie's Last Stand by Terry Frei (Dec.). "It's a fascinating piece of history," says S&S's Neuman. "The Texas/Arkansas game of 1969 was at the vortex of a remarkable number of social currents: Vietnam protest, civil rights, integration—it was the last significant major college football game between all-white teams—youth culture, even the political future of Bill Clinton, all came together in an amazing week. It's a game that is still talked about, still remembered." S&S plans regional publicity around the South and Southwest.
Triumph also looks at the connection between college ball and patriotism with Field of Valor: Duty, Honor, Country, and Winning the Heisman by Jack Clary (Sept.). In this tome the football/military lives of heroes like Doc Blanchard, Glenn Davis, Roger Staubach and Pete Dawkins will be examined. Triumph has gone out with a first printing of 25,000 copies and former Heisman winner Joe Bellino will be touring.