Question of the Week: Help From Other Authors
This week's question for Pandemic Baseball Book Club authors: Did another author help you in unexpected ways when it came to your own writing or publishing process?
One of the things I have found rewarding about SABR is that, in working on any book or article, I never hesitate to use the SABR Directory to reach out to people who might be able to help. I have done this dozens of times, looking for people who might help me find a local newspaper article in, say, Salida, Col. (as I once needed to do to learn more about a 1911 Red Sox baseball game scheduled there). Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but members almost always write back and give it a shot. Bill Nowlin
In 1991, while researching the first edition of my book on Hall of Famer Effa Manley, I interviewed John T. Cunningham, who had been a daily newspaper reporter in Newark in the 1940s. He was of great assistance, as was Newark, his book about the city. After getting out of the newspaper business, John followed his love of Jersey-area history to become so prolific an author that he became known as the unofficial state historian. He wrote literally dozens of popular histories (very readable, and accurate despite a lack of footnotes).
This was my first book, and after I finished with my questions, he had one of his own: "How's your work going?" I explained how exciting it was to interview former Negro League ballplayers and read through the Eagles' team files at the Newark Public Library. He looked at me across the table and said, "You'd better start writing."
"Huh?" I responded.
"Otherwise," he replied, "years from now folks are going to say, 'There goes old man Overmyer. He's writing a book on the Negro Leagues.' " I went home and started writing. I've shared this story a few times with fellow authors who are dithering over their projects.
An author friend of mine introduced me to his literary agent. They agreed to take my book proposal to a well-known sports publisher, who turned us down, saying that the New York baseball-book market was a crowded space, and that mine didn’t have enough “marketing firepower behind it.”
"Marketing firepower?" What does that mean? I eventually realized that no one knows who the heck I am, or cares what I write. I’d really thought the agent would be able to help me, but if he didn't think it was worth the effort, who else would? I'd never written a book before, and didn't have many friends in the publishing world. A few months later, I ran into fellow author Brian Wright at the Queens Baseball Convention. Brian had a table and was hawking his first book, “Mets in 10s” (which is great, by the way).
During the course of our conversation, I mentioned my dilemma and asked for advice about how to get a publisher interested. I was floored when he said, "Send it to my publisher — I'm sure they'd love it."
I did, and some time thereafter received an email saying they’d accepted my book for publication.
If not for my fellow Pandemic Baseball Book Club author Brian Wright, Gotham Baseball would not exist as we know it today.
Mark C. Healey
When I first attempted a book back in 2005 (an ill-fated biography/travelogue of my time with the professional wrestler Iron Sheik), I bought a book titled something like "How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal." It was helpful, but a book can only take you so far. When my second rodeo rolled around in 2014, I made cold calls to writers like Jason Turbow, Ken Ilgunas, Ben Blatt and Eric Brewster, asking them for the real story on how to approach the proposal process. (Nothing beats a conversation with a candid fellow author who can tell you how all of the advice you read actually works out in practice.) I am forever grateful that these writers took the time to talk to me and to help get me started in the process, and always keep that in mind when someone starting out on a project contacts me for similar advice.
My entire participation in the Pandemic Baseball Book Club came from the unexpected helpfulness of another author! I've never been a team player, but not because I don't work well with others or have the typical artist aversion to athletics. I've always been awful at team sports because I'm completely non-competitive ... which probably explains why I got so into snowboarding, surfing and drawing. Creating my book was such a lonely endeavor that I dreaded having to shift gears and compete against other spring baseball books, as I'd been advised to do. Lo and behold, just days before the pandemic hit hard, I noticed a tweet from The Wax Pack author, Brad Balukjian, congratulating me for briefly holding the No. 1 baseball book spot on Amazon. Everything I'd been warned of — and even experienced to some degree, as a woman working in the world of baseball — instantly led me to think this guy was messing with me. With my thumbs fired up to give him a what-for, I checked Amazon and found that Brad was a fellow author who would soon be in the same boat as the rest of us releasing baseball books this spring. He was being genuinely supportive.
That was the first moment in what would become an indispensable community of friends and compatriots. So many authors within this group have been overwhelmingly supportive and generous with their time, connections and expertise. I am an illustrator who also writes. The strength and experience in this club of seasoned writers has inspired me to continue to develop my skills and voice as a writer, and this collaborative community provides a safe and supportive space in which to do it.
As part of my research for They Bled Blue, I read Jeff Katz’s Split Season, about MLB's 1981 campaign, paying particular attention to its insights into the players’ strike. My own research left me with some unanswered questions — all minor, but intriguing enough to follow up on — and, knowing that Katz lived in Cooperstown, with ready access to the Hall of Fame’s research library, I wondered whether he may have uncovered some of the answers. So I asked.
I’d never met the guy — I still haven’t met the guy, though we’ve become Twitter pals — but he was nice enough to send me the annotated first draft of his book, containing sources for every bit of his material. In the end, there was no white whale, no hidden treasure trove of material that I hadn’t already uncovered, but the openness and generosity of the gesture stuck with me. Since that time I’ve had multiple authors contact me for similar reasons, looking to leverage my expertise for their own projects, and I haven’t hesitated to pass along whatever research I’ve done. There’s something to be said for paying things forward, and when it comes to building community among baseball authors, more is better. Not to mention, if it results in a book that’s better than it would have been otherwise, that’s a win for everybody.