American sports represents, in many ways, the pulse of the nation. For example, in the manner of civil rights, America first ennobled itself through a sporting event—on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson took first base at Ebbets Field, breaking the color barrier in professional sports. (Perhaps not so coincidentally, one year later President Truman integrated the United States armed forces.) The character of this nation is closely aligned with its sports and their heroes, be they iconic football coaches like Bear Bryant or baseball legends like Bobby Thomson or Ralph Branca. And the sports publishing industry captures the spirit of America, as it does this Christmas season, whether telling the story of Mickey Mantle, or how women's romance novels have gone to the NASCAR track. As America changes, the first indications may be at a sporting event near you.
Nowhere is the pulse of the nation more vibrant than NASCAR. Today it claims 75 million fans (that is one-third of the U.S. adult population); it's the number one spectator sport (with 17 of the top 20 attended events in the U.S.) and the number two—rated regular season sport on TV. Its popularity is such that politicians shamelessly courted the "NASCAR Dad" during the 2004 presidential campaign. Perhaps they should have been paying more attention to the power and growing influence of NASCAR's fairer sex.
Far away from the roar of the NASCAR track, the romance novel has been a staple of the publishing industry for generations. In many historical settings, it dealt with helpless damsels in distress, their perspiring bosoms heaving as they waited for their hero to rescue them (think generic Fabio). Thirty years ago, the cover conferences were the most important part of the publishing process as the correct cover was painfully sought for the likes of Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney. The late Leona Nevler, then the publisher of Fawcett Books, used to refer jokingly to the various lines of romances she published as "lust in the dust."
Although traditional bustier-busting romance novels are as popular as ever, the genre has embraced modern career women, and the 21st-century covers are now adorned with overheated race cars as lust has moved from the Regency manor to the pit-stop—and Harlequin and NASCAR are overjoyed.
NASCAR and women? Look at the facts: (1) there are 30 million female NASCAR fans; (2) female NASCAR fans are more likely than female nonfans to buy books; (3) romance novels are among the top five types of books purchased by female NASCAR fans; and (4) 35% of female NASCAR fans earn $50,000+ a year.
"We at Harlequin saw this as a great match," says Michelle Renaud, public relations manager, Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. "Harlequin approached the NASCAR Library Collection to talk about future opportunities, and they loved the idea of our two powerhouses teaming up to bring fans on a variety of romantic journeys through the NASCAR world."
The NASCAR Library Collection, according to Jennifer White, senior manager of publishing/NASCAR, "is a brand extension within NASCAR's overall licensing program. The brand was created in June 2004 and all NASCAR publishing partners carry the logo on their product. It's another mark of distinction for the NASCAR fan when they are looking for an authentic NASCAR book."
In 2006 Harlequin published its first three titles under the NASCAR Library Collection: In the Groove and On the Edge, both by Pamela Britton, and A NASCAR Holiday by Debra Webb, Roxanne St. Claire and Kimberly Raye (to be published this November). Each title had a 175,000-copy first printing. In 2007 Harlequin is scheduled to publish 21 additional titles.
The agreement between Harlequin and NASCAR was a first for both companies, with In the Groove being the first fiction title licensed by NASCAR. Promotion plays a big part in the Harlequin-NASCAR agreement. Their tag-team approach to promotion began in February 2006 at the Daytona 500 and will continue at next year's 500 when Harlequin will be launching its own NASCAR-branded series, the initial title being Speed Dating by USA Today bestselling author Nancy Warren.
Yes, romance fans, pit-stop lust looks to be in its ascendancy. "The relationship between Harlequin and NASCAR has been very well received," says Harlequin's Renaud. "The media has loved the joining of these two powerhouses and to date we have received over 268 million media impressions." That screeching sound booksellers may be hearing is the NASCAR pedal being put to the publishing metal.
Bear Bryant Retrospective
PW counts no less than six new titles this fall about Paul "Bear" Bryant, the legendary Alabama coach, and wondered why the sudden adoration 23 years after his death. "Quite simply, Coach Bryant was a winner," says Pete Wolverton, associate publisher/executive editor at Thomas Dunne. "This resonates with college football fans. His character on and off the field also makes him an intriguing sports figure. I think, to a lot of people, Bryant represents something that has been lost—both in sports and society—which contributes to a certain mythology about his teams."
For all the adoration that Bryant enjoyed while he was alive—and obviously still enjoys today—his coaching career was not without controversy, especially what many thought was his rather late integration of the Alabama football team. Two books take a look at this landmark battle in civil rights.
"In the South," says Marc Jolley, director, Mercer University Press and editor of Career in Crisis: Paul "Bear" Bryant and the 1971 Season of Change by John David Briley, "the integration of sports was a critical element in the Civil Rights movement. Washington could pass laws, and King could preach sermons, but when white fans cheered for African-Americans on the field, the equality was undeniable. This book is about the year football was integrated at the University of Alabama. This is the first book-length treatment of one of the most important moments in African-American history in the American South." Barbara Keene, Mercer's marketing director, reports that response to the August book has been positive, and they are looking to go back to press shortly. Publicity includes book signings throughout Alabama and appearances on sports talk shows.
The game that prompted the integration of Alabama occurred in 1970 when Bryant's Crimson Tide faced John McKay's USC, which featured an all-black backfield. "Turning of the Tide: How One Game Changed the South by Don Yeager [Sept.]," says Chris Park, senior editor, Hachette Book Group/Center Street, "is the story of a football game that had lasting repercussions on people's lives beyond the football field—the part of Bear's legacy that isn't often discussed." Coauthors Cunningham (fullback) and Papadakis (defensive captain) played in the game for USC. "[The book] focuses on one particular story that has long been mythologized in the lore of Bear Bryant," says Park, "that he deliberately set up a game against a racially integrated team, the first ever to be played on Alabama soil, a game he knew he would lose, in order to drive home the point that integration needed to come to the Tide. Years after the game, Bear famously said that its star player, Sam 'Bam' Cunningham, 'did more for integration in Alabama in 60 minutes than Martin Luther King Jr.' It was a watershed moment not just for the Crimson Tide, or college football, but for all of Alabama and the South. It's not really a story about football at all." Turning of the Tide has a 75,000-copy first printing and Hachette/Center Street are pursuing national media.
Race also plays a major part in The Missing Ring: How Bear Bryant and the 1966 Alabama Crimson Tide Were Denied College Football's Most Elusive Prize by Keith Dunnavant (Sept.), author of Bryant's biography, Coach.The book focuses not only on Alabama's quest for a third-straight national championship—which was denied by Notre Dame when they notoriously played for a tie with Michigan State—but also the segregation in the Deep South, Alabama's governor George Wallace's race-baiting tactics and the apartheid that existed as a matter of policy for the Crimson Tide. "It is a book that works on many levels," says Wolverton. "It appeals to the Alabama football fan, but it also tells an important story about the collision between football and culture—one that led to what some feel was a great injustice in college football history." St. Martin's/Dunne did a 35,000-copy first printing and is pursuing major promotion in Alabama.
Other recent Bryant titles include Bearby Don Keith (Cumberland House); Ain't Nothin' but a Winnerby Barry Krauss and Joe M. Moore (Univ. of Alabama); and Don't Play for the Tie by Creed King and Heidi Tyline King (Rutledge Hill).