How to get ahead in Sports Publishing

Posted by on Jul 9, 2011 in Conversations with | No Comments

A few weeks ago, we published a review of Nick Richards’ new novel, Memorabilia. Nick’s book has been well received and has brought greater attention to his website Nick Sport’s Junkie so I thought it would be interesting to ask him more about the not inconsiderable task of writing a full length book, as well as the publishing process (most of the Unfortunates work in the industry in our days jobs but we are more likely to deal with a book on The Domesday Book or Wittgenstein and Austrian Economics). The results are below, a spin on our fledgling “Conversations with” series.

LR: Given that you run your own website, Nick Sports Junkie, what inspired you to go for the more traditional printed format and how much did you draw on your own experience?

NR: I spent ten years working for a regional newspaper as a reporter, sub-editor and editor and left that post last summer. I’d spent years working in printed media and I actually wrote a column in a weekly sports newspaper called Sports Junkie back in 2007. I started a blog last summer as I was doing more and more online work and wanted some way of putting all my sport experiences together so they could be read by the online world. I borrowed the name of the column for the blog too.

I wrote my first book in 2009, a history of American football in the UK called Touchdown UK but wanted to write a novel too, so started writing Memorabilia in the summer of 2009. Both books were triggered by visiting a sports memorabilia show in Las Vegas. The first book on American football made me realise how big American football was in England, as the dealer in the store was telling me at length about all their UK customers, and then I saw an in store signing by a legendary baseball star named Pete Rose. So I had the idea of a washed up sportsman being wheeled out on a signing tour.

I’d also had an idea about two collectors arguing about an item after attending a sports auction a couple of years ago back in the UK and kind of added all the ideas together. I’d say the book is 50 per cent autobiographical in terms of things I’ve experienced or seen and 50 per cent is fictional. I lost a close friend when I was in my mid 20s so thought about him a lot while writing some of the book, I sat in Captain America’s restaurant in Norwich and wrote a chapter as it was a childhood favourite haunt and the sought after Norwich v Everton programme from 1984 was the first match I ever went to.

LR: The novel certainly comes across as heartfelt and tinged with important memories and there is a real emotional engagement. Tell me more about the relationship between the two main characters – Alex Taylor seems initially deeply unsympathetic and out for a quick buck. The way he leaves Jerry dangling for that Norwich v Everton programme seems heartlessly cruel at times. Is this shark like behaviour typical of the football memorabilia scene?

NR: The contrast between the two characters is down to the different eras they’ve grown up in. Jerry was struggling for money, working in a factory and married with a son when he was Alex’s age while Alex makes money from his laptop and hasn’t got the same commitments to his girlfriend or her son, so he’s free in that sense. Jerry is amazed at what Alex has in his life and wishes he’d had the same. The one thing Jerry wants to stress to Alex is to spend time with Cameron, his partner’s son as he knows the sense of loss he has felt at losing his own son.

Alex on the other hand is having too much fun to want to worry about settling down, although he has sympathy for Jerry which is why he holds out on giving him that programme. It’s not so much that he doesn’t want him to have it, but that he wants him to realise that he’s being a mug for wanting to pay so much for it, especially as the only reason he wants it is for sentimental reasons. He would rather Jerry moved on with his life than continue to put so much energy into moping about after his dead son.

In terms of the football memorabilia scene, I think it’s generally good natured and trusted between dealers, but I’ve been to plenty of auctions and seen plenty of people like Alex in operation – people who just seem to be there in order to show off and show how much cash they’ve got. I went to one auction a couple of years ago and a guy there was behaving just like Alex – he kept coming in on all the auctions with crazy amounts, so I had him in my thoughts when I was creating the character of Alex.

LR: That’s fascinating – but rather than ask you how much I’m likely to get for my 1978 European Cup Final programme (Liverpool v Bruges…Dalglish and all that), I’d like to ask you some questions about the publishing process. What avenues did you explore and did you think about getting an agent? Why did you opt for Grosvenor House Publishing?

NR: I wouldn’t get too excited about the value of your programme from 1978 – the programme in my book was from 1984 and in reality worth only a couple of quid. The point with that was that even a cheap programme can be worth loads (emotionally) if it’s given added significance, so that programme is probably worth more to you than to anyone else.

As for the publishing, I went with Grosvenor House who are self-publishers as I wanted to get the book out there now, rather than wait a couple of years and search for a deal through an agent. Self-publishing used to be a bit of a joke or a last resort, but that’s changing now. Just like in the 1970s when bands stopped bothering to make demos and wait for record companies to sign them up, people are now putting things out for themselves. Punk bands started the DIY aspect of bringing out material and the internet has only enhanced that, helped along by Twitter, MySpace, Facebook. The book itself makes reference to the changing times of today by referencing Betfair, Facebook and Twitter as regular parts of Alex’s everyday life while Jerry is so averse to change that he hates digital radio and still plays records at home.

Self-publishing is now a viable alternative to the old days of trying to find an agent – the service is professional, the books are printed on demand so there is no warehouse full of unsold copies and the turnaround is quick. I could have waited five years for someone to give me a deal to publish the book and, while I will certainly go down that route in the future, with this book I just wanted to get it out now.

LR: It sounds like you are very happy with the deal and I would certainly agree that they have done a good job with the production – the book looks terrific. Have Grosvenor House engaged in any marketing for the book? How have you gone about publicizing the book yourself? Have you any new ideas for a new book

NR: Grosvenor House don’t do any marketing – that’s part of the deal, so it’s a nice fun challenge to do that yourself! I’ve managed to get on local radio and get the book into local and national magazines and newspapers which is good fun. The internet is a self-publisher’s best friend when it comes to publicizing work and it’s been a great tool to use in terms of getting the book reviewed and featured on blogs. I’ve got a new book already on the go which is a slight step away from the world of sports memorabilia although I am going to borrow the theme of collecting and the next book is about collecting Kennedy memorabilia. It’s kind of timed to come out in 2013 which is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK so I’m thinking there will be plenty of interest in the subject in a little over two years’ time.

LR: Sounds like a great idea – looking forward to seeing that one and political blogs are if anything more numerous than sporting ones, so you’ll have loads of opportunity to publicize it. I’d like to finish by getting your thoughts on Norwich City’s extraordinary season? Which players do you think will be key for the Canaries as they return to the top echelon? – and where do you think the club will finish?

NR: Last season was amazing, I remember walking out of Carrow Road after we’d lost at home to Watford after we kick-started the season on the Friday night and thinking it would be a long old season, but we just seemed to get better and better. The games against Cardiff and QPR in January were key for me – we took four points out of six, and of course winning at Portman Road was another highlight along with all those late goals.

It was an amazing season, especially after the season before it. As for the coming season, well Paul Lambert has been busy in the transfer market and it’s worth noting that most of the players he’s signed were playing in League One when Norwich were in the same league in 2009/10, so I’m pleased we’re signing quality young British players rather than wasting money on expensive foreigners. Our key man will be Wes Hoolahan, he pulls all the midfield strings à  la Modrić or Messi and watch out too for Russell Martin, second in our player of the season voting last year. He’s nicknamed ‘The Norfolk Cafu’ he loves to get forward on the right and pops up with important goals.

The club has said that their only target is finishing 17th or above which of course would be good. Realistically, we’ll probably start really well and then tail off when the injuries start in January. I think we’re in a fight to stay up with QPR and Swansea and another six clubs. We’ll almost certainly be in the bottom half, but if we keep the spirit from last season there’s no reason why Norwich can’t survive – though I’m sure QPR and Swansea fans will probably say the same about their club. If pushed, I’ll say we’ll finish 15th but we’ll leak goals like a sponge!

Thank you very much to Nick for kindly agreeing to interview. You can follow Nick on twitter at @NickSportJunkie

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 50 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.

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