In a 1992 essay for the New York Times, George Plimpton wrote that “there are superb books about golf, very good books about baseball, not many good books about football or soccer, very few good books about basketball, and no good books at all about beach balls.” The essay was titled “The Smaller the Ball, the Better the Book: A Game Theory of Literature,” and sports publishers have made a similar correlation to book sales.
“The smaller the ball, the better the sales,” says Bill Wolfsthal, v-p, executive director of sales and marketing at Skyhorse. “Baseball books and golf books always sold best.”
Spring inevitably means a new roster of baseball books, including some high-profile memoirs and biographies, and new takes on baseball history. Golf and other major sports also come into play, but with a smaller number of releases. There are also a few curveballs this season: sports such as cycling and soccer are gaining traction in the U.S., and publishers are taking note. Here, we look at rookie titles for the coming season and beyond.
The popularity of the FIFA World Cup, combined with easier access to international games on cable TV, has increased the base of U.S.- and foreign-born sports fans that follow the beautiful game.
“Just anecdotally, I don’t ever recall more people being into the World Cup than they were last summer,” says John Fagan, v-p, director of marketing at Penguin. “There’s been huge growth and interest in soccer. We make editorial decisions based on watching the marketplace and what people are interested in.”
In July, Penguin will publish Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty Kick, by Ben Lyttleton; penalty shoot-outs played a decisive role in four FIFA World Cup 2014 matches. September’s Football Clichés: Decoding the Oddball Phrases, Colorful Gestures and Unwritten Rules of Soccer Across the Pond, by Adam Hurrey, translates the terminology that announcers use in U.K. soccer games.
The publisher based its publication plans on the success of the 2013 title Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer is Wrong, by Chris Anderson and David Sally. That book had an original print run of 11K and went back to print eight times, for a total of 25K in print, Fagan says. Given that history, the announced first printings for Twelve Yards and Football Clichés are 25K and 20K respectively. Though these figures aren’t breaking records, they demonstrate increased expectations of sales.
“Soccer is going mainstream here,” says Brooke O’Donnell, managing director of Trafalgar Square. “You can walk into Niketown and get professional [European] jerseys; you can turn on Fox Sports or ESPN and watch Real Madrid vs. Barcelona.” According to the 2012 U.S. Census, some 13 million adults and children play soccer, making it the third-most-played sport in the U.S., behind basketball and baseball/softball. ESPN reported that 19 million people stateside watched Germany beat Argentina in the final game of the 2014 World Cup.
Trafalgar Square distributes books in the U.S. from a number of U.K. publishers with soccer offerings, O’Donnell says. “Books on players like [David] Beckham, [Wayne] Rooney, and [Lionel] Messi; longtime managers like Alex Ferguson; and popular teams like Manchester United and Chelsea hold a lot of appeal to readers in the U.S. I end up getting hundreds of sports books to consider each year for distribution.”
O’Donnell sees the audience as fans who can’t travel abroad to England or Spain to support their favorite teams. “These are readers who don’t benefit from the coverage that the teams get in their home countries.” Transworld’s 100–0 series explores English team rivalries, titles in Carlton’s Little Book of Soccer series collect memorable quotations from current and retired footballers and coaches about English Premier League teams, and Danann’s Backpass Through History series of books, packaged with DVDs, offers perspective on specific soccer clubs reaching back several decades. Such titles sell particularly well online with official fan clubs, O’Donnell says, as well as at major retailers.
In advance of this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, which Canada is hosting from June 6 to July 5, Abbeville is releasing FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015: The Official Book, by Tanya Aldred (May), a guide to the teams, players, and rules of the tournament. It includes a match schedule in which readers can fill in the brackets as teams advance through the rounds. Forthcoming titles in Abbeville’s World Soccer Legends, a series for young readers written by Illugi Jökulsson, include the May releases U.S. Women’s Team and Alex Morgan, the latter about the popular striker for Team USA. Morgan has her own middle-grade fiction series with Simon & Schuster, The Kicks; Hat Trick will be out in June.
According to the National Sporting Goods Association, 35.6 million U.S. adults and children rode bicycles at least six times in 2013, with about $6 billion dollars in bike sales that year.
“The market is enormous,” says Charlotte Croft, the U.K.-based head of sports and fitness books for Bloomsbury. “So many people used to take up golf, but it’s all Lycra and cycling now.
With offices in the U.S., U.K., India, and Australia, Bloomsbury focuses on sports with a global appeal, such as cycling, soccer, rugby, and tennis. Recently, the publisher has been expanding its offerings in the sports and fitness category—eight cycling titles, for example, will be published this year, double the number of previous years. Those books include illustrated titles such as Infographic Guide to Cycling, by RoadCycling U.K. (Mar.), and P Is for Peloton: The A–Z of Cycling, written by Suze Clemitson and illustrated by Mark Fairhurst (Oct.), and the memoir A Clean Break, by outspoken antidoper and former professional cyclist Christophe Bassons, written with Benoît Hopquin and translated from the French by Peter Cossins (Mar.).
Microcosm Publishing, based in Portland, Ore., also has a healthy slate of cycling books, many of them with a sustainable-lifestyle slant. As marketing director Eleanor Blue points out, “Cycling can mean someone going for a weekend bike ride—or replacing their car with a bicycle.” Blue is also the author of 2012’s Everyday Cycling: How to Ride a Bike for Transportation (Whatever Your Lifestyle); a second edition comes out in August with updates including a section on carrying pets by bike. The Culinary Cyclist: A Cookbook and Companion for the Good Life (Sept.), by Anna Brones and illustrated by Johanna Kindvall, includes essays and gluten-free vegetarian recipes. And the anthology Pedal Zombies (Sept.) is the third volume in the Bikes in Space series, which merges cycling, feminism, and science fiction.
Other publishers with forthcoming cycling titles include Toronto-based ECW, with The Urban Cycling Survival Guide: Need to Know Skills and Strategies for Biking in the City, by Yvonne Bambrick and Marc Ngui (Mar.); and Pegasus, with Lanterne Rouge: The Last Man to Finish the Tour de France, by Max Leonard (June), and Gironimo! Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy, by Tim Moore (May).
Baseball, Bios, and More
Growing interest in soccer and cycling does not necessarily translate into lesser interest in the perennials: meaty memoirs and complex biographies about baseball icons.
“Baseball fans are die-hard,” says Susan Canavan, executive editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. “There’s so much happening between each pitch and each bat; that’s what makes for literary contemplation. Then there’s nostalgia, the mystique, the charm—that never goes away.” In April, HMH will release Bill Pennington’s Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius, which details the complex, turbulent player and manager’s struggles on and off the field.
Memoirs by a pair of baseball rivals will go head to head in May: Pedro, by retired Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez and Michael Silverman (HMH), and The Journey Home: My Life in Pinstripes, by retired Yankees catcher Jorge Posada (Morrow/Dey Street), both with first printings of 100K.
Spring also brings two biographies about Ty Cobb, the controversial inaugural Hall of Fame outfielder. [em]Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty[/em], by Charles Leerhsen (Simon & Schuster, May), and War on the Basepaths: The Definitive Biography of Ty Cobb, by Tim Hornbaker (Skyhorse/Sports Publishing, May). “Superstars are always of interest,” says Robert Bender, v-p, senior editor at Simon & Schuster. “That’s one thing that everyone is after, as well as the great narratives.”
Molina: The Story of the Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty, by Bengie Molina with Joan Ryan (Simon & Schuster, May), is a son’s tribute to his father, a factory worker in Puerto Rico, who helped Bengie and his two brothers, Josie and Yadier, become successful catchers on several Major League Baseball teams. The Cy Young Catcher (Texas A&M, Mar.) is Charlie O’Brien’s memoir about catching for 13 pitchers who won the prestigious Cy Young Award.
Bender also points out that the history of baseball can be a prism through which to view U.S. history, citing Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. The memoir Out at Home: The True Story of Glenn Burke, Baseball’s First Openly Gay Player (Berkley, Mar.), which Burke and coauthor Erik Sherman originally self-published in 1995, details a different civil rights struggle. Burke refused to bow to management pressure and marry a woman in order to dispel rumors about his sexuality; almost two decades after his death from an AIDS-related illness, he was honored at the 2014 All-Star Game.
Other books taking a broader view of sports include The Game: Inside the Secret World of Major League Baseball’s Power Brokers, by ESPN editors Jon Pessah and Claire Smith (Little, Brown, May), which looks past the diamond and the locker room to examine the role that money has played in the last two decades of baseball. The Domino Diaries: My Decade Boxing with Olympic Champions and Chasing Hemingway’s Ghost in the Last Days of Castro’s Cuba (Picador, June) details a sportswriter’s decade-long adventures in Cuba building relationships with the country’s best boxers. And Fanaticus: Mischief and Madness in the Modern Sports Fan, by Justine Gubar (Rowman & Littlefield, June), looks at fan violence throughout the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Latin America.
Though baseball dominates the spring lineup, other sports and their players will edge their way into the spotlight. Not a Game: The Incredible Rise and Unthinkable Fall of Allen Iverson, by Kent Babb (Atria, June), details the former NBA star’s successes and failures. In Year of the Dunk: A Modest Defiance of Gravity (Crown, May) journalist Asher Price pushes himself to try something he’s never done—dunk a basketball. The biography Ben Hogan: The Myths Everyone Knows, the Man No One Knew, by Tim Scott (Triumph, Apr.), offers an insider’s view of what the famously private golfer was really like; Scott worked for the Ben Hogan Company/AMF from 1969 to 1984. And in Men in Green (Simon & Schuster, Apr.), Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Bamberger sets out to create intimate portraits of the golf luminaries of the 1970s, the so-called greatest generation.
S&S’s Jeter Publishing imprint is exploring subjects that go beyond retired Yankee captain Derek Jeter—and beyond baseball. Forthcoming titles include Seeing Home: The Ed Lucas Story (Apr.), a memoir about a baseball fan blinded in 1951, at age 12, who became a broadcaster for the Yankees; a film about Lucas’s life, starring Stanley Tucci, is currently in development. In No Excuses (June), by Derrick Coleman Jr., with Marcus Brotherton, Coleman—part of the Seattle Seahawks’ 2014 Super Bowl–winning team—tells how he became the first deaf athlete to play offense in the NFL.
“We’re interested in putting out books that will inspire people in their own lives,” says S&S/Jeter senior editor Adam Wilson. “We’re showcasing the best of what human nature can achieve.”
Jill Caryl Weiner is a journalist and author in New York City.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article listed an incorrect publication date for Clean Break by Christophe Bassons. The correct date is March 2015.
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