Eighth in a series of nine daily essays leading up to the 2008-09 college basketball season.
Since the invention of the printing press and discovery of binding, it's been the dream of everyone who strings words together to write a book. A longform work of 80 or 100 thousand words that can be touched, held open, smelled, stacked on a shelf and command a reader's undivided attention for hours on end -- there's a lot of power in that. And it doesn't stop there. When you as a "writer" become a "published author," bulldozers will clear out a forest for you, machines will pulp the trees and stamp your sentences on the flat, double-sided end product. The whole process is a victory of human ingenuity over nature itself.
This April, when the season was over and I'd recovered from Detroit
, I was approached by two outlets interested in distributing my work. One was a "digital publisher" that wanted to distribute my travelogue series
from last season. I didn't think those entries were as good as I wanted them to be, certainly not good enough to receive payment for -- so I said no thanks. Besides, they were already in digital form. The other company was more forward-thinking -- it proposed a project about the 2008-09 season, a behind-the-scenes chronicle of the efforts of several mid-major teams to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, the Big Dance. Sprinkled in amongst, stories of struggle and season survival that would draw the stories of champions in important relief.
At last, someone with large printing equipment was reading my mind. I said yes before negotiating, I was excited. I'd get an advance of several thousand dollars on submission of two chapters, and it was arranged that an excerpt would run in a magazine over the summer of 2009. I'd do a reading tour, flog the book like any author, and embed sales pitches in every single blog post and chat session during the 2009-10 season. The contract was minimally restrictive, except for a non-compete clause that stated that I could not offer another publisher a college basketball manuscript until the fall of 2010.
I signed the contract the same night as the "sports blog" discussion on Costas Now,
and I wrote about the feeling
of starting as an accidental blogger turned first-time author-to-be. "After that ridiculous TV discussion show on Tuesday night, I'm more proud than ever of the internet," I noted. "The internet made me. None of what's happened to me is possible without a 'blog' -- that horrible little word splinter that's come to represent irresponsible reporting, tit jokes, parents' basements and anarchy."
Sports Publishing LLC started 20 years ago as a small specialty press in Illinois, was once named as Publisher's Weekly fastest-growing independent publisher and has a number notable titles to its credit. SP distributed Michael Phelps' first bio
and published the autobiography of one of my heroes in this business, Dickie V
. I was proud for the opportunity.
But the difference between large publishing houses and those that don't become large can sometimes be measured by the quality of their business acumen. The company had a history of odd lawsuits, and I found few first-time authors that had good things to say about their experience with SP.
I didn't care. For one, I knew that my book about mid-major basketball would never make me a millionaire. I wanted my name on a book. I just wanted to do the best job I could, make a book I was proud of, one that would make the authors I desire acceptance from to look at me as more than just an "internet writer." I just wanted to get on Amazon.com and into the Library of Congress. I know too many authors with day-jobs and adjustable-rate mortgages to ever believe that a book would be my ticket to riches, and I could afford to take a bath on billable hours.
In September, in amongst a larger American financial crisis, Sports Publishing LLC teetered on the brink of a savior sale before falling into Chapter 11 bankruptcy
. The employee list was whittled down to two, creditors barred the door to their warehouse, and the company's tattered financial books were put on display. It was revealed
that the company owed Michael Phelps over $57,000 and his co-author over $49,000. A bank seized all SP's assets, including my contract.
As the company melted down over the course of the summer, many writers were, as the president put it, "stuck in the middle." My project was dead, but I hadn't written a word or accepted a cent. Many hard-working writers with projects of their own were placed in horrible positions, having invested hours and days and months into their manuscripts. Some of those authors were forced into pennies-on-the-dollar settlements, and many were, understandably, angry
. I know how hard it is to come so far and be denied at the end, that's the key recurring story of mid-major college basketball.
For my part, I went through the stages (anger, denial, whatever), thought about it for a couple of weeks, and consulted with counsel. Finally, after much deliberation, I decided to go ahead anyway, to write this book. Three programs had promised me full access with which to work, and I wasn't about to give up that opportunity.
The first question, though, was distribution. Here's the plan for now, which is subject to change. Once the manuscript is complete and independently edited next summer, I will release it one chapter at a time, in PDF form, for free. If you want a copy with a nice color cover that you can hold in your hands, that can be arranged (thanks to a DIY digital outfit that prints one-off copies) for whatever price you feel is worth it beyond print costs. It's an idea inspired by monologue-heavy sci-fi author Cory Doctorow
, and it's the loophole in the fall 2010 clause of my contract. I've joked that the working title of the book will be "In
As for those three schools, the list is secret for now. Those inclined to tease out the details will be able to do so, the places on the map
that I keep visiting will offer clues to the riddle. But I won't mention them as a group until the season is over, to keep from presenting the appearance of preferential treatment. Obviously, I have an interest in their success, but I want to make sure that doesn't have an impact on my work here, or with ESPN or Basketball Times
And finally, a special message to agents and publishers (even the "digital" ones) out there. This book is going to be good, there's a defined audience that will buy it, and it's available for pickup if you're willing to take a chance. The initial publisher is a dead company that cannot enforce the deadlines set out in the contract. The odds of a holding company enforcing a two-year non-compete are very slim, and if you have a legal team with a workaround for something like that, I'm all ears. That clause, right there, is the only trap standing in the way between this book and the public. I'm willing to talk, you know where to find me