The Yang Slinger: Vol. XX
You have a book coming out—and you want it to sell. Here are some of the things to do (Step 1: Swallow your pride). Plus, Mike Moodian on California's climate doom and a Georgia Tech soph on misogyny.
Yesterday was Tuesday, Feb. 22.
It was, among other things, the 121st anniversary of the Pacific mail steamer sinking in Golden Gate harbor, the 78th anniversary of the The Soviet Red Army recapturing Krivoi Rog and the 63rd anniversary of Lee Petty winning the first Daytona 500.
It was Rajon Rondo’s birthday, Drew Barrymore’s birthday, Michael Chang’s birthday and Steve Irwin’s birthday.
On Feb. 22, 2007, former Celtics guard Dennis Johnson died.
Feb. 22 is National Cat Day in Japan.
Now, a new one …
On Feb. 22, 2022, Ian O’Connor’s Mike Krzyzewski biography, “Coach K: The Rise and Reign of Mike Krzyzewski,” was officially released.
And before we dig into this week’s Substack subject, a word: The book is tremendous. I was fortunate enough to read an early copy, and Ian (as always) delivers. The guy is an elite-level researcher and an elite-level writer, and what you get is what you always get: One-of-a-kind insight and storytelling.
That said, I am here to neither praise Ian nor slam Ian, but to use Ian as this week’s guinea pig. Or, in other words, after devoting the first 19 of these newsletters to myriad subjects big and small, I’m finally going with what may well be my No. 1 strength.
Being a book whore.
And wait. Just wait. I know some of you are thinking, “Whoa—’whore’? That’s a bit derogatory/sexist/wrong.” And, technically, the word’s definition backs you up.
But, for this rare exception, I’m sticking with the oft-used literary slang and also relying on an expanded breakdown ...
Why? Because for authors (myself certainly included) to sell books to maximum capacity, we must unleash our inner book whores. Which means having no shame. Which means asking for 10 million favors. Which means calling people we don’t like. Which means pretending the publishing company never provided a publicist. Which means, dammit, walking the streets, letting it all hang out.
Which means selling our motherfucking souls to Pride Satan, and doing so with a shit-eating smile.
I would argue my skills were cultivated at a young age. Way back in 1986, when I was 14, my father (a reformed CPA who ran an executive search firm) wrote “Conquering the Corporate Career: A Guide for Professional Success in the Office.” And what I could not have known at the time was the whole project radiated Book Whoredom.
First, though Dad self-published and printed but 1,000 copies, he invented an official-sounding company name and corresponding book spine logo …
Second, Dad enlisted a book publicist, the immortal David Kolberg, to pitch “Conquering the Corporate Career” to different outlets. I remember Mr. Kolberg quite fondly. He called one place after another. Newspapers, magazines, radio stations. Always as, “Hello, I’m David Kolberg from Kimberly Press …”
Here’s an old photo of David Kolberg …
Here’s an old photo of my dad …
Third, Dad’s big coup was not merely landing copies of “Conquering the Corporate Career” inside the local Waldenbooks, but having them regularly placed by the front of the store in the NEW RELEASES section. How did such a small outfit work such marketing magic? Easy. Whenever my father, my brother and I visited the Jefferson Valley Mall, we’d hit up Waldenbooks, sneak through the aisles, remove the three copies from the bottom shelf of the business section and sneak them to the front.
Several years ago, for my masters degree program, I pieced together a mini-documentary on the art of book whoring. A portion of it recalled those youthful days …
Anyhow, what I’m trying to say is—thanks to my father and a good dose of personal experience—I’d rank myself among America’s better book whores.
Which leads me back to Ian O’Connor, and what (were I advising/helping him) I’d do to promote his book.
So I used to think the biggest key to book whoring was visibility. And, in a way, that holds true. You need as many people as possible to know your book exists. Because awareness equals interest and interest equals sales. But with the rise and Hiroshima-level explosion of social media this past decade, I’ve changed my tune a bit. I believe one of the best things an author can do is make readers/potential readers feel as if they’re along for the journey. Meaning, if you’re writing a Coach K biography, use the two years of research to sprinkle out material on your social media feeds. If you’re selecting photos for the book, post two images you’re deciding between and do a Twitter poll: Debating pics for next book—which would y’all choose? If you learned something cool (but not newsworthy) about a subject, share it. “Was in Coach K’s hometown today. Turns out he lived three miles from America’s first 7-Eleven” (It shows you mean business and you know your shit). If you spent time with an old Duke player, and you have a photo, Tweet/Instagram it out. “Had the chance to chill with Christian Ast today. Dreams come true.” Chris Herring, author of the recent Times’ best-seller, “Blood in the Garden,” teased the names of chapters. Which is brilliant.
I’m telling you, it all works. I picked this one up while researching my USFL book, “Football for a Buck.” It was the first time I told people the subject of a project in advance, and the more I Tweeted about the USFL, the more tips, thoughts, suggestions, encouragement I received. Houghton Mifflin published “Football for a Buck” with zero sales expectations. They literally said as much. “We don’t think this will do well.”
Well, fuck ‘em. The thing wound up a New York Times best seller. Why? People felt invested.
Along those lines, it is imperative to land as many pre-publication and early-publication excerpts as humanly possible. Now, a solid 70 percent of book publicists will tell you this is a mistake. They’ll say you don’t want to give too much material away. They’ll say excerpts need to be special and unique and … and …
The more excerpts, the more links to your Amazon page. And that’s huge. Like, HUGE HUGE HUGE. In case you’ve never noticed, every book on Amazon has a sales ranking. For example, as we speak my Barry Bonds biography is No.
1,190,097 … um, eh. Let’s not talk about that. But every book has a ranking, and the higher your ranking the:
A. More visible the book becomes on Amazon’s homepage
B. The more people buzz about its existence.
“Understanding the Amazon algorithm is really important,” said Matt Rudy, the longtime golf author. “Amazon promotes your book based on ‘authentic’ behavior from consumers. You need real people buying it as a part of the regular cart of stuff they’re getting that day/week. Then the book gets promoted organically on Amazon to other consumers with similar profile/similar cart/similar purchase history. Somebody going on and buying 50 copies doesn’t move the needle. Two hundred or 300 people buying it as a part of their regular Amazon spend does—especially if it’s in a medium-sized category. Then you get the advantage of Amazon starting to promote your book for you in the form of suggestions to other customers you may have never reached.”
In terms of visibility, Ian has been killing it. Thus far, he has had three different entities (the New York Post, SI.com and Yahoo) run excerpts, and all three included Amazon.com links to “Coach K.” I want to emphasize this Amazon thing, because many publishing houses make it an unnecessary point of contention. For example, when “Sweetness,” my Walter Payton biography, came out in 2011, one of the (now-unemployed) main PR folks at (now-defunct) Gotham Books insisted all links be directed toward the Gotham website—not Amazon. I fought this and fought this and fought this, going so far as to call Sports Illustrated and ESPN and begging them to ignore Gotham’s directives. But this publicist was perfectly cast as Deranged Cyborg from Planet Book Sabotage, and she refused to take no for an answer. So instead of readers being directed to my Amazon page, they were sent to Gothambooksinc.com—barren wasteland where authors go to die. It destroyed me, my Amazon ranking and my vocal cords (from screaming).
So excerpts are hugely important. As is getting as many friends and colleagues as possible to Tweet out your book (ALWAYS with the Amazon link). As is (if you’re a sports author) landing on an endless stream of sports talk radio shows and sports TV shows and sports podcasts. It all adds up, and these days you can’t take anything for granted. That irksome 5 am interview with some podcaster nicknamed Spuds McGoo may well be heard by a dude with active fingers and 10 million TikTok fans.
You just don’t know.
But here’s another thing I do know, and it sucks: Influencers matter.
The word itself (Influencers) makes my skin crawl.
“So, what do you do for a living?”
“I’m an influencer.”
“What does that entail?”
“Posting stuff on Instagram and watching people slavishly do as I say.”
I hate it, I hate It, I hate it. But I also acknowledge it.
A decade ago, right before “Sweetness” dropped, Sports Illustrated ran a cover excerpt. I thought I’d hit the lottery. I mean, there were still a solid 2.5 million Americans reading the magazine every week. And yet, corresponding book sales didn’t follow. In fact, I don’t think the needle moved at all. Why? Well, first of all, print is all but useless, because it lacks the instant click of an Amazon link (We are a lazy species. The jump from “Read on Page” to “Go to phone/laptop and order” is bigger than you’d think). But more important, we’d already entered the world of influencers. And they sorta rule all.
Let’s go back to Ian. If I’m the author of “Coach K,” I’m figuring out the names of the Top 30 biggest Duke-loving influencers on the world wide webatory. For example, former Blue Devil basketball star Carlos Boozer has 2.6 million Instagram followers. Two. Point. Six. Million. That’s a lot. In the week the book is coming out (it’s not too late), I’m finding Boozer’s home address, and I’m sending him a package that includes:
• The book, signed.
• A note saying something like, “Carlos, big admirer of your career. I wrote this book, thought you’d enjoy it. — Ian
• Something else. Could be a Coach K T-shirt (I had San Antonio Gunslinger shirts made up for the USFL release), could be a mini-basketball, could even be a bookmark.
Oh, and I’m gluing a sticker of my book cover to the top of the box. Just to make certain Carlos doesn’t think it’s cat food or Hungry Hungry Hippo socks.
And, yes, this shit costs money. And yes, your thrifty publishing house likely won’t reimburse you for the shirts/balls/stickers/etc (that said, they usually will fork over postage dough). But if you send out enough, and hit up the right people, odds are at least someone with an enormous fan base will fire off a photo of your book accompanied by warm words. As much (as a former SIer) as this burns my skin, that alone is worth 20 Sports Illustrated covers. Maybe 30.
On April 12, 2006, a photographer named Eric Risberg snapped the above image. It’s me, standing outside AT&T Park in San Francisco, handing out postcards featuring the cover of “Love Me, Hate Me,” my Barry Bonds biography.
The whole postcard thing commenced with my first book, “The Bad Guys Won,” about the 1986 New York Mets. HarperCollins agreed to print out 5,000 or so postcards, and in exchange I said I’d roam the Shea Stadium parking lot and place them on car windows.
Was it fun? No. Not really. I spent my two days in Queens dodging parking lot security guards and being repeatedly threatened with trespassing violations. But, humiliation be damned, there’s something to be said for the whole endeavor. To begin with, it’s Direct Marketing: 101. I wrote a book about the Mets. Met fans (presumably) go to Met games. And Met fans who go to Met games leave their cars in the Mets’ parking lot.
But it’s also priceless buzz. I’ve probably had a dozen articles written about the sad sports writer walking through the parking lot in support of his own product. Also, with social media the viral potential is endless. Live stream the experience. Put followers on the ground with you. Show them the grind. The hustle. How you don’t just write a book—you live it.
When “The Last Folk Hero,” my Bo Jackson book, drops in October, I can 100-percent assure you I will be cruising the parking lots and streets of Auburn University, 10,000 cards wedged in my bag.
And if I’m Ian, and I know the Blue Devils are hosting North Carolina on March 5, I’m hopping on a plane with a suitcase stuffed with postcards. I’m walking the parking lot, introducing myself to people, shaking hands, asking for support, handing out my rectangular slips of paper.
I’m going right to the people.
[A warning: It can get a bit awkward]
A final thought: The greatest mistake any author can make is waiting for the publisher-assigned publicist to do the heavy lifting.
That is not a slight at publicists. From Houghton Mifflin’s Megan Wilson to Anne Kosmoski of Penguin Random House, I’ve worked alongside some absolute killers. But cutbacks have taken a major toll on marketing budgets. Back in the day, when I started in this business, it was a no-brainer to assign an author their own PR person, and to fly both writer and booster wherever the book needed to be pimped.
Those days are over.
In 2022, you’ll get a publicist. But that publicist will be simultaneously working with other writers—usually many other writers. They’ll help you, assist you, do their best for you. But, come day’s end, you 100-percent have to be willing to do the dirtiest of work. Even when it hurts (and it always hurts), you need to call in every favor. You have to ask people for appearance time. You have to appear on every podcast, every show, every blog. “It’s a constant grind,” said Lyndsey D'Arcangelo, co-author with Britni De La Cretaz of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women's Football League.” “No one else is gonna do it for you and you’ve got to get creative. We've said yes to everything.”
In short, we all end the book PR phase feeling dirty and gross and much like a used car salesman.
But we get one shot at this.
One shot to peddle our books.
One shot to draw readers.
One shot …
… to be book whores.
The Quaz Five with … Mike Moodian
Mike Moodian wrote, narrated, and co-produced/co-directed “Coastal Crisis: California’s Vanishing Beaches.” It aired this past Sunday on KDOC-TV. He is the co-founder of the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon. One can visit his website here and follow him on Twitter here.
1. So Mike, your new documentary, "Coastal Crisis," is a depressing, jarring exploration of the causes of coastal erosion and the effects of sea-level rise on our state's coastal communities. And I'm just gonna be honest—I sorta walk away thinking, "Well, we're fucked." So ... are we fucked?: In many ways, we are, Jeff. This month’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report projects that we could see close to a foot of sea-level rise during the next 30 years. This would lead to massive flooding and it would put in danger billions of dollars in property. Put aside, for a moment, our responsibility to be good stewards of the earth. Think about the economic impact on states such as California and Florida, places with significant coastal economies. Imagine the impact that this will have on businesses, jobs, and residents. We should all be genuinely concerned.
2. There's a lot of talk about what California's coastline looks like in, oh, 30, 40, 50 years if we continue on this path. And sometimes I do feel like we'll ultimately need science and innovation to save us. And, truth be told, science and innovation HAVE saved our asses many times in the past. Is my hope sort of ... inane?: No, you are 100 percent correct, and if we are to look for glimmers of hope, there are geoengineering solutions. One example is a proposal to fertilize portions of the ocean to grow plankton, which would take CO2 from the atmosphere and eventually relocate it to the ocean floor. There are more than 100 countries that committed recently to ending and reversing deforestation. Additionally, there is a facility in Iceland that extracts CO2 from the air and relocates it to the ground. Many of the world’s finest scientists are working daily on solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The problem is that these geoengineering solutions are difficult to implement and extremely expensive.
3. You're one of the most optimistic people I know. In a recent column you wrote, "After spending a year working on this project and researching this firsthand, I wonder openly if there is hope." In all seriousness, how are you able to deal with a subject THIS grim and still, say, find pleasure in the Rams winning the Super Bowl, or taking your son to see the Globetrotters? Seemingly trivial things as everything crumbles around us ...: I find optimism in one place: Our college youth are committed to combatting climate change. I am co-organizing an international collegiate competition that will take place next year called the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon. Twenty teams composed of college students from across the world will design and build innovative, net-zero homes and display them at a sustainable village in Southern California in October 2023. These bright, talented young people inspire me. They will certainly impact the world with their proposed solutions to tackling both climate change and the need for affordable housing. Jeff, you are the parent of a kid in college and another in high school. I am sure you would agree that your kids take climate change much more seriously than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.
4. Why do you think humanity is so paralyzed to act? Like, we know what's happening. We possess many of the tools to remedy it. Rich assholes like the beach, too. So why?: I hate to bore your readers, but I referenced this in a paper I coauthored a few years back. There is not one simple answer, but one is that this is an issue that might be hard for some to grasp because it is so immense.
You’re working hard and trying to raise your kids.
You’re worried about the forthcoming company acquisition or slowdown in sales at your company.
Your immediate concern is providing for your family.
Carbon emissions and rising seas are a concept coming at you from left field.
Also, we are a country that used to embrace science, and science used to be nonpartisan. That changed so much during the past few decades, especially while the fossil fuel industry has been under attack. There is also the issue of information literacy. As we saw during the past two pandemic years, there is so much garbage and misinformation on Facebook and social media. The Internet should have made us more enlightened by providing us with greater and faster access to information. It sometimes has the opposite effect.
5. Rank in order (favorite to least): Barry Redden, vanilla candles, Cheap Trick, Gene Simmons, Van Jefferson's newborn child, paper towels, "Gone with the Wind," Azusa Pacific, the number 3, the french horn: 1. Within a few hours, Van Jefferson wins a Super Bowl with the Rams, then he rushes to the hospital to hold his newborn baby in his arms. Is there a more beautiful story? And he named the baby Champ!; 2. Barry Redden. Want to know an amazing story? Rams running back Robert Delpino has spent his post-football years helping people by working as a social worker. I have so much respect for him; 3. I am not much of a Cheap Trick fan, but I love their song “Surrender.” It is actually third on my iTunes “Top 25 Most Played” playlist. Last summer, I attended Cheap Trick’s concert at the OC fairgrounds and endured their entire set just so I could see them close with “Surrender.” It was worth it; 4. Paper towels; 5. Azusa Pacific. My first thought when thinking of the school is always “The Nigerian Nightmare” Christian Okoye; 6. "Gone with the Wind"; 7. The number 3; 8. The French horn; 9. Vanilla candles; 10. Gene Simmons
This week’s college writer you should follow on Twitter …
Maya Torres, Georgia Tech sophomore and entertainment editor, Technique Newspaper.
If you read one column by a college journalism, make sure it’s “How to beat misogyny” by Torres. It’s an absolutely wonderful piece that grabs the reader from jump …
… and carries a stirring message all the way through (“Whether that means being a little kinder to your female peers — even if she is wearing the wrong jeans or is a member of the wrong sorority — or to yourself, the smallest of actions can completely change someone’s mindset.”)
I don’t know what Torres is planning for her career, but the woman can straight-up write.
One can follow Maya on Twitter here. Bravo, kid …
Yet another story of one of my myriad career fuckups …
The year was 1993. I was the editor in chief of The Review, the University of Delaware’s student newspaper. I fancied myself a flawless progressive visionary with a heart of gold, so I decided we, the Review staff, should do a three-part series on the school’s limited number of African-American administrators.
The first piece would profile Ron Whittington, the new head of affirmative action. As the big cheese, I assigned myself the piece, went down to the Blue Hen administrative offices, sat across from the man for an hour or so. He was gregarious, open, available. I was a dick looking for flaws.
So I wrote the piece, laid it out, had it pretty much ready to go.
All I needed was a headline.
So I wrote one.
That should have ended me.
Random journalism musings for the week …
Musing 1: This is bonkers, bonkers, bonkers to the max. You may well be the best reporter you know. You may well be the best reporter your friends know. But you’re no Philip Crowther.
Musing 2: Just read “The Night of the Gun” by the late David Carr. And if you’re a journalist, and you want a textbook on how to dig and dig and dig and report and report and report, well, this is for you. A gem of an opus that I should have picked up long ago.
Musing 3: At initial blush, Taylor Rooks isn’t my type of journalist. She’s video-first. She sorta comes off as an aspiring celebrity. She’s a little too deferential to athletes for my tastes. She works for an outlet that has little use for the written word. But—and this is a huge but—she’s an exceptional interviewer who really gets people to open up. This recent chat with DeMar DeRozan was damn good. One of the tricks to this trade is making people feel comfortable with you. To have them forget they’re answering questions from media. Right now, Rooks is a gold standard in that regard.
Musing 4: There are few “journalists” (quotes intended) I find more depressing than Clay Travis, the once-upon-a-time college football guru who’s decided the best financial play is to kneel before Donald Trump and the MAGA crowd. The latest low came Tuesday, when Trump appeared on Clay’s show and, well … did this. And you’d think, Clay being a person with a functioning brain, he’d at least … oh, I dunno, say—”Wait. What? You’re backing Vladimir Putin over America? You admire a murderous autocrat?” Alas, no. Clay’s status as the nation’s biggest hack remains intact.
Musing 5: So Lacey Rose, an executive editor for the Hollywood Reporter, spent the past few weeks working on a piece about “Winning Time,” the HBO series based upon my 2014 book, “Showtime.” The story—“How HBO’s Lakers Series Ticked Off the NBA, Ended a Friendship and Became the Most Anticipated Sports Show in Decades”—finally dropped today. And while the whole thing was excellent, Rose gets insanely high marks for technical difficulty. The winding nature of the show, the 800 different characters, the dozens of interviews. As many here know, piecing these things together is a bear. Bravo.
Musing 6: Not sure I’ve ever enjoyed a podcast quite as much as Chris Molanphy’s recent two-part series for Slate’s Hit Parade on the rise, dominance and awesomeness of Daryl Hall and John Oates. Just textbook storytelling with some killer music serving as the soundtrack.
Musing 7: So by now you’ve probably read (or heard) about Phil Mickelson’s Saudi statements. And when shit hit the fan, he did what so many athletes do—blame the media. Only Alan Shipnuck, my former colleague and one of golf’s great pens, didn’t cower. Read this—trust me.
Musing 8: This week’s Two Writers Slinging Yang stars Jim Hecht, writer, co-creator and executive producer of “Winning Time,” the HBO series based upon my 2014 book, “Showtime.” Jim is the reason the TV show is happening. This episode gives the story behind the story. Link here.
Quote of the week …
"I fear three newspapers more than a hundred thousand bayonets."
— Napoleon Bonaparte
It would be fascinating to see if you would do podcasts outside the US and if Bo Jackson would reasonate in Australia or Nigeria. Hope you choose an international hunt for this book
When you get tired of writing about sports, I want you to be my cookbook publicist…and “you don’t just write a book, you live it” sounds sorta televangelical to me.