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A call for more sports literature

As some of you may know, I’m a little into sports, and as a fan of the Mets, Nets, and Jets, things are looking surprisingly good. The New York Mets own the best record in baseball, at least for now (probably won’t last…or will it?). The Brooklyn Nets beat the Atlanta Hawks last night to tie up the series at 2 games apiece against the best team in the Eastern Conference (though their chances of advancing are still small). And with the offseason moves the Jets have made, they are, in my opinion, just a decent quarterback away from being potential playoff contenders (a tall order, I know).

So, with that said, I’d like to request/plead for sports-related queries. If you have a novel or nonfiction work on sports, I would love to take a look at your material.

Fair warning: books about sports are tough to sell for a very simple reason: the market. Publishers won’t buy a book that they cannot definitively say will appear to X number of readers or Y demographic. It’s no secret that women tend to read more than men, and it also isn’t a secret that men tend to be more interested in sports than women. Except that—and this is a secret—neither are true. Well okay, maybe the former is, but I have male friends who read voraciously and female friends who bleed red and blue (NY Giants, NY Rangers).

Sports are universal. There is a market. And when books about sports work, they really, really work. In fact, they often work themselves onto the big screen. Yeah, I’m looking at you FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS by H.G. Bissinger, MONEYBALL and THE BLIND SIDE by Michael Lewis, and SEABISCUIT by Laura Hillenbrand. Oh, and novels can work too—case in point: THE ART OF FIELDING, Chad Harbach’s wildly successful debut and one of my favorite novels in recent years.

Notice any commonalities between any of those books mentioned above? They’re great sports stories, told beautifully, and aren’t really about sports. Query me if you think your book fits the bill.

2 Responses to A call for more sports literature

  1. J. says:

    I recently sat on the judging committee for a major Canadian literary prize for middle grade novels and there were a LOT of sports books. And they weren’t all about hockey, either! If I may weigh in on what I learned so that any writers interested in sports novels can take a hard look at their writing….

    Out of approximately 20 sports novels (out of 85 entries), most were pretty badly written. Many had exactly the same plot…we need to beat our rivals for the big cup/trophy/prize/prestige. Usually, there was a new coach who wasn’t as good as the old one (i.e. didn’t like the main character who’s always been the star) but turns out to be tough and take them to the championship. There’s some sort of unrest within the team, too. They were very much divided by gender and the girl stories were almost always pretty lame. And possibly most important, the actual descriptions of the sports action weren’t accessible to someone who doesn’t know the sport.

    Three sports books made our short list of twelve, however, which I think is pretty good. What made them stand-out? Instead of the coach/team/rivals being the ones to hold the main character back, it was something in his (all three had male main characters) personal life. In other words, there was a non-sports storyline as well as the sports storyline. There were often co-ed teams, or at least one girl player or very close friend or sibling to give it some balance. The stories would definitely appeal to girls and non-players because they offered more than just a boy’s look at sports. And lastly, the sports descriptions were exciting, but easy to follow. Two were about baseball, which I’m a big fan, so no problem there. But one was about hockey which I know nothing about (I know, bad Canadian!) and yet I found the descriptions of the games riveting. I didn’t totally understand them, but I got the idea.

    On an unrelated note, I recently read a thirty year old mystery called DEAD PULL HITTER about a female sports reporter who covers Major League Baseball, and it was fantastic too. I think anyone who likes a good mystery would find that book (and the series) totally fun and accessible, so it’s another good example.

    I do think the reason publishers shy away from sports stories, based on this experience, is because writers tend to focus on the sport instead of the things that make a novel great.

  2. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    Well, it appears as if J.’s point is right on the money, Michael; sports lit is either Big Leagues or nothing. Juvenile sports books are as stylized as a Japanese Kabuki play because the niche readership who buys these books wouldn’t have it any other way and most middle grade editors regard sports as a dumping ground for an audience they couldn’t care less about anyway. (i.e., boys from 9 to 14) As for the Big League side, you need to find somebody on the MONEYBALL level in order to make a splash here. And while we’re in the neighborhood, check out BALL FOUR by Jim Bouton. (as soon as you’re finished scouting real estate in Salem’s Lot, of course) It’s still in print for any decent bricks-and-mortar bookstore, and a great read, although the frat-boy antics of the ’67 Houston Astros would cause widespread pious cries of horror if the book came out these days. I’ve got my share of qualifications to weigh in on this, as I grew up right in the heart of FRIDAY NIGHT NIGHTS Texas, where I can recall one of my proudest moments in high school… I’d been a second-string tagalong on the football and basketball teams for a couple of years when our coach one day gave a talk in basketball court strategy wherein he explained an on-court dirty trick (his words) some school used to tip the game their way which consisted of a second-string tagalong was sent in to pick a fight with the other team’s MVP and get both players thrown out of the game to sweeten the odds. He then looked right at me and said, “So, Lewis, you think you could do that?” I said, “WHAT!?! No Way, Man!!!” If I was writing this for a kid audience I’d of course make it a Noble Moment Of Principle, but I have to say it was pure slacker self-preservation. I cut the team a week later, figuring that if I was that expendable it was time to man the escape hatch and pull the ripcord. It didn’t occur to me I’d done anything heroic till several years later, but that’s sports for ya…………………

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