Writing A Book Part 1: Idea to Execution

The 21-month period ended this Saturday with the publication of my latest book, Terry Bradshaw: From Super Bowl Champion to Television Personality. The long process appeared to be common with certain kinds of non-fiction publications.

Things started last January when an editor for a new series of books on sports idols who became popular culture icons asked me if I wanted to submit a book proposal. Having had my book, The Bullets, The Wizards and Washington, D.C. Basketball published with Rowman and Littlefield, I knew something about the steps they sought in their book proposals. The difficult part was figuring out whom I would write about.

At first, the names that popped into my head were female tennis stars, specifically Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. Each had played a role in furthering women’s roles on the tennis circuit, but they also were well known for their sexual orientation and became major figures in announcing. After thinking twice about them, I focused on Jim Brown. The former NFL star running back had a long career as a movie actor in Hollywood. He stood as a player in the Civil Rights Movement and had also voiced his opinion on matters in politics and culture over the years.

Then, the set of struggles over the Confederate flag in South Carolina and on the car used in the television show The Dukes of Hazzard happened. I read a wide-range of articles and felt there was a lot about the American South that I did not know. I realized that Terry Bradshaw had as rich a career in popular culture as in sports so I looked into him as a possibility for a book. I wrote a chapter on Bradshaw acting in 1970s Burt Reynolds movies, polished it up after my friend Brian gave it a great read, and shipped it off to the publisher along with the book proposal.

With university and some academic presses, after the editor completes a review, he/she submits these documents to people with expertise in the field for comments. Rowman and Littlefield have “reading boards” with librarians who offer their assessment, including whether they would have an interest in buying the book upon completion. The group gave the possible Bradshaw book the nod in January 2016. I received a contract giving me an October 2016 completion date. I doubted that I could complete the ten chapters in this time frame and sought a co-writer. This time I could not find one. Fortunately, Brian volunteered to read chapters, then raise questions and identify gaps.

As always I started with researching the subject. Bradshaw has written four books about his life and they proved very helpful. These books featured stories that I could use later and people and places that I knew had to be corroborated in other books, magazines and newspapers. Bradshaw’s books showed why he was a popular culture icon. His football career covered the 1970s and 80s. He served as a color commentator for games during the 1980s, and has been a studio analyst for professional football on two networks for 27 years. He has sang country western and gospel music, made movies and appeared on television shows in the 1970s and the 1990s and 2000s. Has has made commercials for nearly every type of product.

The other books ranged from fan and journalist books on football and the Pittsburgh Steelers to academic works on  of the 1970s.  Sports reporter Gary Pomerantz’s Their Life’s Work: The Brotherhood of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, Then and Now provided details about the team and the individual men. Several figures from the team wrote autobiographies, including the team’s President Dan Rooney through linebacker Andy Russell and announcer Myron Cope. All these works provided context and stories about the team and Bradshaw’s personality. A few scholars wrote about on road movies and Southern movies during the 1970s as well the depictions of Southerners in popular literature and television which offered perspectives on imagery of Southern white males, specifically the Good Old Boy.

This information got me off to a great start but I noticed great gaps about his childhood and days working in television. I used resources like the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame to identify people who wrote about or played with Bradshaw while he played high school and college football. Thankfully I discovered that people from the area proved very nice and willing to help. Doug Ireland, the head of the Hall of Fame, gave me several names, and they remarkably included Bradshaw’s old high school football coach. The coach provided details about Shreveport, the school system, the football program, and Terry’s personality. I also spoke with the journalists they had told me about and they had grown up with Terry so they could provide some childhood insight as well as high school and college football stories. Again, my great fortune to meet open and straight-shooting people.

I figured finding out about television broadcasting would be more difficult. There are small cadres of people working in the field and reputations are guarded closely. I tried to reach out to a few groups including the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.  I left messages and heard nothing back. Some articles in sports weeklies such as Sports Illustrated, featured a few articles about individuals who worked with Terry Bradshaw while he was with CBS Sports. Through various searches I found information for sports producer Terry O’Neil. I re-read the articles, read his autobiography and prepared a list of questions. He proved very helpful and insightful about the work of a color commentator and studio host and analyst for the NFL.

Other searches for producers and on-air talent did give me a few email addresses and telephone numbers. Most significantly I got to talk with Bradshaw’s broadcasting partner for a few years Verne Lundquist. He proved generous with his time, providing responses to my questions but also offering stories.

Unfortunately, other well-known people I called failed to return my messages. Getting in touch with players I figured would be a challenge. When I wrote the basketball book I received a list with contact information for some former players. This helped a lot and I conducted quite a few interviews, particularly with players who were active decades ago. A few active general managers, assistant coaches, scouts and former players spoke with me. But one former player gave me particular insight into why many would not discuss their past or other players. He said, “This is a fraternity. If you want to get a chance at a job in the league, you have to keep things tight.”

While that stunk, I revealed in the discovery of how much simpler researching history has become because of the digitization of many magazines and newspapers. Before starting specific searches, I consulted the yearly Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature to find any article published about Terry Bradshaw, the Steelers during the 1960s and 1970s, and items related to NFL quarterbacks. I then found many of these articles through the specific search engines for the magazines, including Sports Illustrated and Time, People and Variety. Most fortunately, people with specific interests such as in radio, or in movies, have digitized some special interest magazines, such as Broadcasting and Cash Box, which contained significant insight into Bradshaw’s television, movie and music careers.

The number of newspapers that have been digitized is amazing. Thankfully I live in Washington, DC and have the Library of Congress as a resource. They have access to the digitized versions of the largest newspapers, including Washington Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe and the Atlanta Constitution. They also have services providing access to African-American newspapers and to small-town and rural newspapers as well. The city’s library has a service that provides access to historical newspapers across the United States. Most of these newspapers start from the 1990s. These are incredibly valuable resources, especially when you are interested in knowing what reactions reviewers, critics and the general public had to a person’s artistic and other activities.

I spent weeks printing or copying the details from thousands of articles covering Bradshaw’s playing career through his years on Fox’s NFL Pregame shows, which have changed names and contributors over the years. Among those with regular appearances on the show are comedians Jimmy Kimmel and Frank Caliendo. I organized these materials chronologically in individual chapters based upon Bradshaw’s activity: childhood, football player, singing, acting and commercials, studio analyst. I drafted a chapter every three weeks and received pretty quick reads from my friend.

While Brian read the chapter 9 and the conclusion I searched for photographs. I asked several of the people whom I interviewed if they had a photograph and thought that two would send a copy. I consulted with Louisiana State University in Shreveport and discovered that they had digital images of the Woodlawn High School newspaper. This included a few photographs of Terry Bradshaw. I called the Louisiana Technical University’s Archives and they had a large collection that did not yield what I hoped to put in the book. The Pittsburgh area newspapers and magazines had a couple of excellent photographs. However, I ended up only using a bird’s-eye view of the new stadium (Three Rivers Stadium in 1970). The problem with the others was that they had NFL depicted on them and the photo archivist stated that I might have to pay the league for the rights to use them in the book.

I am not sure about the legal issues but I heard something similar when I called the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Library and the Warner Brothers’ Library. Each had photographs of Bradshaw in the movies, specifically Hooper and The Cannonball Run. Unfortunately, each photograph cost more than I planned on spending and they mentioned that I was responsible for getting the rights clearances. The expectation was that I would contact the person in the image and get their consent to publish the photograph in the book. Way too much to do and quite unlikely to be granted if the person isn’t able to exert control over how the image is used.

After creating a list of the photographs and indicating their location in the book, I shipped these documents, copies of the photographs and the nine chapters to the publisher in late September 2016. The book editor read the manuscript and shipped me back copies within a month with questions to clarify points or offer suggestions about words or sentence structure. The largest comments focused on the size of the book. The contract called for 100,000 words and this I delivered. However, the book ran 400 pages which was too costly for production. The editor asked me to reduce the context surrounding everything from the economy of the South in the 1960s through the attempts of athletes to make music and star in movies. I could also make some small changes in word choices, spelling or other items. Another big decision involved splitting up the chapter on the Steelers’ four championships in two because of its size.

The first round of editing ended in December. The copy editors and printing staff at Rowman & Littlefield took over. We looked at a couple of possible cover images and I offered my opinion.They also asked me if I knew of people in the field of sports history and popular culture who would be interested in reading the first draft and providing an endorsement. I belong to a few groups of academics but am not very well connected so I wasn’t sure whom to ask. I contacted the people who initially got me involved, the series editors, and asked them if they had any recommendations. With me sending out a few requests and the editors looking, we arrived at finding three people who offered to read the draft. To my amazement, all submitted raves for the book. I felt great.

I received this first version of the book that the three readers got in early April 2017. This gave me the chance to see what the book will look like and determine if anything generated heartburn and needed changing. Every paragraph received a numerical label in brackets representing the chapter and when the paragraph appears, for example [2.3]. I understood the purpose of the numbers in brackets. Instead of using page numbers, the published wanted me to place these numbers in the book’s index. I had 2-3 weeks to place these numbers in the index next to the persons, places, and things that I thought worth tracking. After starting the indexing of chapter one, I realized that several people and organizations would need many subheadings to indicate the different activities and events they participated in. As I finished the second chapter I felt exhausted and another 250 pages remained. I decided in order to meet this deadline I needed to hire someone. A neighbor had some time so she took over the indexing of the two non-football focused chapters because she is not a big fan of the sport. She did a fantastic job and helped me with another chapter as well. I emailed the completed index to the publisher.

A month later, the book editor at Rowman & Littlefield emailed me with the final copy of the book’s cover. A week later I received a second  copy of the final draft of the book, including the index. They also sent an author’s questionnaire and a document I filled in with places that I thought would be potential locations for a book review. The press’s small publicity department generally sent out copies of the book to four of the outlets the review books for libraries. The publications are Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Choice and Booklist. I knew a few places from previous books that I’ve published, such as Journal of Sports History and Journal of Popular Culture. I researched for other outlets, particularly websites, and forwarded a list to the publisher.

In July, almost two months before the book came out, the first review emerged. The Publishers Weekly reviewer thought highly of the book and gave it a great review. My editor sent me notice of it. Now I became curious what else might come out. I noticed this blurb from Library Journal:

FIRST AND TEN: TOP FOOTBALL TITLES FOR SUMMER AND FALL

Abrams, Brett L. Terry Bradshaw: From Super Bowl Champion to Television Personality. Rowman & Littlefield. (Sports Icons & Issues in Pop Culture). Sept. 2017. 304p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781442277632. $40. SPORTS

Arians, Bruce with Lars Anderson. The Quarterback Whisperer: How To Build an Elite NFL Quarterback. Hachette. Jul. 2017. 256p. ISBN 9780316432269. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780316432252. SPORTS

**Bell, Upton & Ron Borges. Present at the Creation: My Life in the NFL and the Rise of America’s Game. Univ. of Nebraska. Nov. 2017. 400p. illus. ISBN 9781496200396. $24.95. SPORTS

Carlson, Chuck. Ice Bowl ’67: The Packers, the Cowboys, and the Game That Changed the NFL. Sports Pub. Oct. 2017. 224p. illus. ISBN 9781683580973. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781683581017. SPORTS

George, Thomas. Blitzed: Why NFL Teams Gamble on Starting Rookie Quarterbacks. Sports Pub. Sept. 2017. 208p. notes. ISBN 9781683581079. $24.99. SPORTS

Myers, Gary. My First Coach: Inspiring Stories of NFL Quarterbacks and Their Dads. Grand Central. Aug. 2017. 288p. index. ISBN 9781455598465. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781455598472. SPORTS

**Oriard, Michael. The Art of Football: The Early Game in the Golden Age of Illustration. Univ. of Nebraska. Aug. 2017. 280p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780803290693. $39.95. SPORTS

Savage, Phil with Ray Glier. 4th and Goal Every Day: Alabama’s Relentless Pursuit of Perfection. St. Martin’s. Aug. 2017. 336p. index. ISBN 9781250130808. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250130815. SPORTS

Stewart, Wayne. Remembering the Stars of the NFL Glory Years: An Inside Look at the Golden Age of Football. Rowman & Littlefield. Jul. 2017. 238p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781442274235. $38; ebk. ISBN 9781442274242. SPORTS

**Zimmerman, Paul. Dr. Z: The Lost Memoirs of an Irreverent Football Writer. Triumph. Sept. 2017. 304p. ed. by Peter King. ISBN 9781629374642. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781633198487. SPORTS

The R&L publicist said that indicated a full review of the book would be coming in the near future. It did and the person called it a unique take on Bradshaw’s life and career. The R&L editor thought the reviews were outstanding.

Anybody who knows me immediately realizes that I start combing through the Internet to see what else would appear. The book did not get reviewed in the other two locations. The hard work of marketing and publicity remained ahead to be discussed in the second part of this chronicle.

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