Patricia Bostelman, v-p of marketing for Barnes & Noble, compares sports books to the Civil War.
Just how one battle doesn’t define the war, one theme doesn’t define a nebulous category featuring everything from biographies to instructional guides to coffee-table books.
"Sports is so varied, there’s so much opportunity,” Bostelman says. Certain elements have to align to bring success. Kathy Morrison, owner of Newtown (Pa.) Bookshop, says time and place matter with sports books. For her bookstore, located about 30 minutes north of Philadelphia, books on the Phillies or even the New York Mets matter when the grass gets greener. Books about the Miami Dolphins? Not so much.
Indeed, one publisher—Triumph— stakes out local niches year after year with its 100 Things (insert fan base) Should Know About…. series. This spring the publisher adds 100 Things Brewers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Tom Haudricout (April) and similarly titled offerings on the Toronto Blue Jays (by Steve Clarke) and the Los Angeles Angels (by Joe Haakenson), both also due in April.
Rooting interests aside, sports books are like any other genre, observes Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books in Oxford, Miss. “If they are well-written and the story is interesting, it’s going to find readers, and not necessarily sports readers,” Howorth says. “Look at Michael Lewis’s books and Jerome Charyn’s book on DiMaggio. Those are books that are just so well done that anybody could read and enjoy them.”
The spring and summer offer titles that promise the hope of mass appeal, including ones seemingly inspired by Howorth’s observations. In May, HarperCollins’s Ecco will release The DiMaggios: Three Brothers, Their Passion for Baseball, Their Pursuit of the American Dream by Tom Clavin, “a dynamic portrait of a family and the ways in which their shifting fortunes and statuses warped and fashioned their relationships.”
In July, Viking will debut The Numbers Game, which the publisher calls the “first big book on soccer’s stats revolution—a Moneyball meets Freakonomics for the most popular sport on the planet” by football statistical expert Chris Anderson and behavior analyst David Sally.
A closer look at what publishers are offering this summer reveals at least three trends, including targeting those who would rather pursue athletics than read about them.
It’s How You Play the Game
Howorth says sales of how-to sports books at his store are not noteworthy. “Most people who are into sports think they already know everything about it,” he half-jokes.
Publishing houses politely disagree, both vocally and in their offerings.
Eric Kampmann, publisher of Beaufort Books, says America’s obesity epidemic and the constant television talk about health regimens have created an environment hungry for such titles.
“It bubbles from the current cultural problem of so many families feeling like they have lost their health through too much eating and not enough exercise,” Kampmann says. Beaufort’s Get Your Kids Hiking: How to Start Them Young and Keep It Fun! by expert hiker Jeff Alt is due in May.
The audience can be reached in a variety of ways.
“How-to sports titles sell surprisingly well in e-book format,” says Peter Burford, publisher of Burford Books. Surprising, he says, “because the general understanding is that the e-book market is dominated by genre fiction or more ‘straight read’ titles. We’ve observed that the more technical the subject, the better the e-book market.”
Publishers also note that the market extends beyond traditional bookstores and online avenues. Martial arts titles, says Nick Sanchez, who handles and marketing and public relations for North Atlantic Books, “also do well in special markets—studios and dojos especially.” North Atlantic’s Blue Snake Books will offer an updated edition of 2004’s Muay Thai Counter Techniques (April) by expert marital arts artist Christoph Delph, as well as former Judo champion Walther Von Krenner’s Aikido Ground Fighting (May).
The market for how-to books includes “sport-specific bricks-and-mortar-stores,” says Trafalgar Square Books’ managing director Martha Cook. “In our field, these are tack shops and farm/ranch stores.”
Trafalgar Square will release two equestrian-themed guides. Pressure-Proof Your Riding: Mental Training Techniques to Gain Confidence and Get Motivated So You (and Your Horse) Achieve Peak Performance features sports psychologist and riding mentor Daniel Stewart providing “[horse] riding-specific techniques to managing nerves and performance-related anxiety,” Cook says. As for Modern Eventing with Phillip Dutton, Cook believes five-time Olympian Dutton (assisted by Amber Heintzberger) has created “the ultimate eventing reference for today’s rider.”
Going from one mode of transportation to another, DK Publishing will offer the illustrated pocket guide, Sailing Essentials All You Need to Know When You’re at Sea by Steve Selight (Apr.). Senior editor Rebecca G. Warren calls it “the perfect, portable sailing resource for beginners and intermediate sailors alike.” Burford Books covers another aspect of the sea-faring life with a revised and updated edition of Milt Rosko’s The Complete Book of Saltwater Fishing.
The chance to get knowledge from an expert like Rosko makes how-to sports titles attractive, Burford says. Audience also helps. “I think demographics are in favor of how-to sports titles because Baby Boomers now have time, money, and good health to put toward their favorite sports pursuits,” he added. “Golf, sailing, fishing, paddling, cycling, you name it, are attracting a passionate, committed market, and these people like to buy books.”
In Barnes & Noble’s universe, Bostelman says how-to books on extreme sports and endurance sports remain popular. Tyndale House has First: What It Takes to Win (June), an instructional memoir by Rich Froning (with David Thomas), the reigning champion of the international CrossFit Games. A communal high-intensity, fitness regimen, CrossFit boasts more than 5,500 affiliated gyms worldwide.
Meyer & Meyer Sport will offer the illustration-heavy 100 Best Swimming Drills (May) by Blythe Lucero and Rock Climbing (April) by Detlef Heise-Flecken and Gabi Flecken. Firefly Books continues its Anatomy of… series in April with Anatomy of Exercise for Women: A Trainer’s Guide to Exercise for Women, edited by Lisa Purcell, and Anatomy of Core Stability: A Trainer’s Guide to Core Stability by Hollis Lance Liebman.
Trafalgar Square Publishing has an array of titles, including June’s Marathon Training: Get to the Start Line Strong and Injury-Free by Nikalas Cook and James McKnight’s Mountain Biking: Skills, Techniques, Training.
“Our how-to sports books are straightforward guides that take readers through the sport in a logical and thorough way,” says Brooke O’Donnell, publishing director at Trafalgar Square Publishing. She adds that the thorough instructions and multiple illustrations and photographs involve readers and “set them up for success.”
One sport is getting the how-to treatment more than any other.
Aside from seasonal interest, “golf is one of the most popular participatory sports in the world—played by 60 million people in 120 countries, according to the International Golf Federation—so it’s a significant market,” says Niels Aaboe, senior editor for the Sports Publishing imprint at Skyhorse Publishing, which will re-release Bob Charles’s 1965 classic, Left-Handed Golf.
“Thanks to better equipment and telegenic role models like Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson, left-handed golfers are flourishing these days,” Aaboe added. “With more southpaws on the links, a clear, concise, step-by-step guide to playing golf left-handed meets a real need.”
Left-Handed Golf evokes the spirit of the 1960s; other books embrace the new. In April’s Kinetic Golf: Picture the Game Like Never Before, golf consultant and coach Nick Bradley evokes images that would be out of place in the swinging days of the Rat Pack.
“Nick’s insights and techniques come across instantly and dramatically through his one-of-a-kind, extraordinary photographs,” says Steve Tager, chief marketing and business development officer at Abrams. “It’s why Abrams was the right publisher for Kinetic Golf: The way Nick teaches is very visual and very unique, and we spent a great deal of time getting the images to look just right so that key concepts and lessons would translate instantly both to the amateur and professional golfer—like a bolt of lightning.”
Gotham Books has two titles that embrace the sport’s technological possibilities. Michael Neff, a leading expert in 3-D golf technology and clubfitting, gives readers a chance to measure their swings against the best in Drive Like the Pros: Increase Your Clubhead Speed and Distance Using Revolutionary Technology by TaylorMade. The book is out now. In May, comes How to Make Every Putt: The Secret to Winning Golf’s Game Within the Game by mental game coach Dr. Joseph Parent. “It’s the most practical instruction book he’s ever written,” says editor Jessica Sinder, “with an added bonus feature—QR codes in every chapter that link to instructional videos.”
Another title for the links arrives in April. Sterling Publishing’s 365 Golf Tips & Tricks from the Pros by acclaimed golf teacher Jay Morelli features tips from more than 60 PGA teaching pros and color photographs from Bruce Curtis.
Providing knowledge is one thing, but Bostelman says it helps if how-to books come with a recognizable name. A look at 2012’s most popular titles in three sports and recreations categories from Nielsen BookScan—Bodybuilding & Weight Training, Coaching/General, and Reference—proves her point: Arnold Schwarzenegger, legendary basketball mastermind John Wooden, football coach Pete Carroll, Sports Illustrated. However, last year’s bestselling how-to book came from Human Kinetics, which sold nearly 30,000 copies of Strength Training Anatomy by Delavier Frederic (in fact, Human Kinetics dominated the top-10 lists for books on both bodybuilding and coaching).
Outside the Lines
Phil Jackson, who won 11 championships as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls, and Jimmy Connors, the tennis legend defined by his brash behavior and spirited play, headline a batch of sports-driven memoirs.
Penguin Group Press calls Jackson’s 11 Rings: The Soul of Success (May 21) “the closest book to an autobiography Jackson will ever write.” Connors memoir, The Outsider, debuts May 14. David Hirshey, senior vice president and executive editor of HarperCollins Publishers, promises that Connors is still “feisty, unvarnished, and defiant.”
“In the 20 years since he retired from tennis,” Hirshey adds, “he’s been out of the public eye waiting to set the record straight on among other things, his formidable mother, his very public romance with America’s sweetheart Chris Evert, and, of course, all his famous opponents.”
Minnesota Vikings’ punter Chris Kluwe stormed into the public’s consciousness after defending gay marriage in a vicious (and eloquently hilarious) open letter to a Maryland politician that ran in Deadspin. Kluwe’s Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities hits shelves in June.
“As many sports memoirs as we see, there is no other Chris Kluwe on the planet—from a perfect English SAT score and a childhood as a violin prodigy to an NFL player with strong opinions about absolutely everything—we have a fascinating figure beloved by sports fans and gamers, and groups who appreciate his advocacy for gay marriage, justice, and common sense in general,” says Little, Brown and Company executive editor John Parsley.
A star tight end for the New England Patriots, Rob Gronkowski also has four athlete brothers. Two play in the NFL, one was a major league pitcher, and the youngest is playing big-time college football. Driving this success was father Gordy, a former professional football player. Along with Jeff Schober, the Gronkowski men explain what it was like Growing Up Gronk: A Family’s Story of Raising Champions (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; July).
Cris Carter, a Hall of Fame wide receiver and NFL analyst on ESPN, examines the history and evolution of the position he dominated in July’s Going Deep: How Wide Receivers Became the Most Compelling Figures in Pro Sports (with Jeffri Chadiha). The Hyperion title not only has “great stories about outsized stars and their off-the-field antics,” says editor Matthew Inman, but strong opinions supported with Carter’s “intelligent insight.”
Stepping away from the gridiron and into the octagon, popular UFC fighter Georges St. Pierre details his journey from garbage man to champion in The Way of the Fight (William Morrow; April). Readers will encounter “the essence of an unusually sophisticated man, and a tried and true recipe for personal success,” says executive editor Adam Korn. In May comes It’s Time!: My 360° View of the UFC from longtime ringside announcer, Bruce Buffer, who “brings a whole other perspective to the sport, having seen it grow from a grassroots phenomenon to mainstream entertainment,” says Crown Archetype editor-in-chief Mauro DiPreta.
Another famous voice, New York sports radio show host Craig Carton, moves into another medium with Loudmouth: Tales (and Fantasies) of Sports, Sex, and Salvation from Behind the Microphone. “I can think of no other sports personality that better vocalizes the mad but vital enthusiasm of what it is to be a fan than Craig Carton,” says Ben Loehnen, senior editor, Simon & Schuster, which will release the book in June.
Jennifer Pharr Davis may not be a high-profile name, but her story is. Two years ago, she set a record by hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 46 days—an average of 47 miles a day. Called Again: A Story of Love and Triumph comes out in June from Beaufort Books.
“It’s very dramatic in places, but what I love is that Jen is a writer,” Kampmann says. “She’s got a voice. It’s literary in the best sense of the word…It’s not me, myself on the trail. It’s got people in it, it’s got drama to it, it’s got all the elements that make a book a page turner because you don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Talking Baseball, A Lot of Baseball
Baseball, the summer game, makes for excellent promotional opportunities, Bostelman observes. Memoirs are just the start.
Many know Ty Cobb as one of the most controversial figures in baseball history, a notion his grandson, Herschel Cobb, dispels in Heart of a Tiger: Growing Up with My Grandfather, Ty Cobb. ECW Press will release the book—“a touching, revealing story that yields a revised view of Ty Cobb,” according to publisher Jack David—in April.
On his way to becoming a big league pitcher, author Larry Colton played for the Birmingham Barons, the first integrated pro team in Alabama. Colton recalls the charged summer of 1964 in Southern League: A True Story of Baseball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South’s Most Compelling Pennant Race (Grand Central Publishing; May).
Two more established authors will take a swing at America’s pastime, emphasis on past. Allen Barra examines two of the game’s greats in Mickey & Willie: Mantle and Mays, The Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age (Crown Archetype; May). “The nostalgia factor for sports is always very strong, particularly with athletes of the stature of Mantle and Mays, and when an acclaimed writer like Allen Barra is involved, something magical will happen,” DiPietra says. Underscoring just how deeply baseball is entwined in America culture and history, Slate sports columnist Robert Weintraub’s The Victory Season: The End of World War II and the Birth of Baseball’s Golden Age centers on post-war healing and the role of the game in that process (Little, Brown; Apr.).
A popular holiday could be behind the glut of baseball-related fare. Parsley calls Weintraub’s book a “great read for dads everywhere,” while DiPietra hopes Mickey & Willie “will become a great gift for Father’s Day.”
Publishers have also thought of the children. Creative Paperbacks’ Spring ’13 sport series, World Series Champions, celebrates the highlights and stars of 16 Major League Baseball teams. And Scarletta Kids has Betsy’s Day at the Game by Greg Bancroft and Katherine Blackmore, for ages six to 10, which follows the protagonist’s ballpark adventures and teaches young readers how to keep score. Both debut in April.
“Baseball is woven into the fabric of our popular culture—from the game itself to the personalities,” says Tom Peterson, publisher at The Creative Company. “Kids follow the stories, watch the games, play the sport, and hopefully read the books.”
The University of Nebraska Press has nine upcoming frontlist titles on baseball history, including Mr. Wrigley’s Ball Club: Chicago & the Cubs During the Jazz Age (April) by Roberts Ehrgott and June’s Baseball’s New Frontier: A History of Expansion, 1961–1998 by veteran baseball author Fran Zimniuch. New Jersey history professor Lawrence D. Hogan reveals The Forgotten History of African-American Baseball (Praeger; June). Tom Dunkel’s Color Blind: The Forgotten Team that Broke Baseball’s Color Line (Atlantic Monthly Press; April) looks at the integrated squad that predates Jackie Robinson by 12 years. Sports reporter Gary Herron chronicles the sport’s history in the Southwest in Duke City Diamonds: Baseball in Albuquerque (Rio Grande Books, out now).
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Jonathan Schuppe takes us to the Northeast, where Rodney Mason, a former drug dealer, forms a Little League team in a rough Newark, N.J., neighborhood to steer kids away from his past. Henry Holt will release A Chance to Win: Boyhood, Baseball, and the Struggle for Redemption in the Inner City in May. In April, Scarecrow will publish Baseball’s Most Notorious Personalities: A Gallery of Rogues by Jonathan Weeks.
Casey Stengel was fond of closing his bewildering monologues with “You could look it up.” Indeed, you can: Peter E. Meltzer catalogues every noteworthy baseball rule and illustrates it with actual plays, from the historical to the contemporary, in So You Think You Know Baseball? A Fan’s Guide to the Official Rules (Norton; June), while Thunder Bay Press, courtesy of James Buckley, takes you on a tour of America’s Classic Ballparks (April). Sports Illustrated photographer Brad Mangin is featured in two books from Cameron + Company: Instant Baseball: The Baseball Instagrams of Brad Mangin and Never Say Die The San Francisco Giants, 2012 World Series Champions by Brian Murphy. Both are due by the opening week of baseball season.
As for what this season will bring, many are looking to the Washington Nationals to be the a great story. For those so inclined, Triumph has the story of how the team was built in Beltway Boys: Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and the Rise of the Nationals by Elliott Smith (May). Play ball!