Recently, my Facebook friend Jeff Pearlman, author of the new Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s, posted this on his blog, reprinted in full:
Writing books is what I love to do.
I’m not just saying this. It’s my true passion; something that brings me happiness for 1,001 different reasons. I love delving into subjects. I love sports. I love travel. I love sitting in the rear of a coffee shop, digging through clips. I love finding myself lost in research. I love being able to drop my kids off at school in the morning. I love picking them up in the afternoon.
Writing books is what I love to do.
Promoting a book, however, is very hard. But, more than hard, it’s gut-wrenching. I’m not sure how many people even realize this, but Amazon has a ranking system that many authors live and die with. It literally ranks all books by sale totals. Some authors—King, Hillenbrand, Gladwell—know they’ll hit No. 1 without much effort, then stick at/near the spot for months, if not years. Other authors never even think about such things—they write purely for joy and thrill, and even having a book on Amazon is reward.
I don’t fit in either category. I’m not Gladwell. I’m not the guy who’s just happy to be there. I think, with Boys Will Be Boys, I peaked at No. 6 on Amazon—a huge thrill. Showtime recently hit No. 23, also pretty sweet. But, unlike the supersonic guns, I struggle mightily to remain in a high perch. I’m not entirely sure why. Name recognition? Quality? Marketing? Really, it’s a riddle I have yet to solve. But I desperately want to get there; want my books to sell and sell and sell and sell and sell. Instead, I watch—hand in front of eyes—as my book slowly heads down the mountain. I mean, I’m not complaining. I get very high, and am grateful for that. But as one goes from 23 to 43 to 56 to 68 to 98 to 122 … well, it sucks. I try doing more and more media; more and more Tweets; more and more … anything. Everything.
This, however, is the riddle that plagues me.
This keeps me up nights.
To which I respectfully reply
Dude, as of this writing, Showtime is 159 for all books. Not to compare our situations — you’ve got several critically-acclaimed books to your credit from major publishing houses; I’ve got one from a university press — but the highest my book every ranked was 9,005. And I was thrilled! Are my standards that much lower?
You’ve published some great baseball titles, including The Bad Guys Won: A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo Chasing, and Championship Baseball with Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, the Kid, and the Rest of the … Put on a New York Uniform–and Maybe the Best and The Rocket That Fell to Earth: Roger Clemens and the Rage for Baseball Immortality, that latter of which I included as one of the 501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read before They Die (which, also as of this writing, ranks a tad south of 752,000). And you’re already fretting that Showtime might dip down to 123?
Come on, Jeff. Think of all the other full-time professional writers who would love to be in your shoes. You’re getting major air time on sports talk radio and TV (80 interviews?) and you know the reviews will be piling up across the country. I think I’ve got a gig on my town’s cable access station in a week or so. Not to mention you write for Sports Illustrated! As you say, writing is “my true passion; something that brings me happiness for 1,001 different reasons.” How many people in the work force are lucky enough to say that?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m very grateful for whatever events and appearances I’ve had and the conversations and e-mails about 501; it’s been a real hoot. But if you ever wanna swap professional lives for a week or so — with the appearances, acclaim, and royalties — let me know.