As a follow up to yesterday’s post about my decision to write the book all coaches talked about writing. When coaches would get together, usually after a summer recruiting event or at the coaches’ convention (held annually in conjunction with the Final Four), one thing that was certain was that there would always be a plethora of stories. Coaches are usually good story tellers and also “excel” at one-ups-man-ship. The stories would get better and better (many apocryphal) until it was time to call it a night. At that point, the one line that could always be heard was, “We ought to write a book.”
As I explained yesterday, when I became director of basketball operations at Fresno State and had more family and personal time (because, by NCAA rules, that position is restricted to recruiting only on campus and by phone), I made the decision to write that book. I’ve been told on many occasions – by a numerous people – that I have the ability to tell stories. And I really enjoy writing – a love affair that occurred right after I graduated from college. Whatever the case, I began my quest to put together a bunch of funny stories that could possibly, just possibly, win me a Pulitzer.
After the two-and-a-half years of jotting down notes and coming up with 265 vignettes, I mentioned the pursuit of my goal to a father of one of our older (at the time, 12-year-old) son’s soccer teammates. He was a doctor who said, not only that he would loan his dictaphone, but that he was certain his assistant would transcribe it for me (at the rate of $18/hour). Things were moving right along.
After having the contents of the book transcribed, I had to edit it. The doc’s gal did a fantastic job but, being a California native, didn’t quite understand my New Jersey version of English. Although this was a surefire all-time best seller (we’ll never know because of the lack of ISBN number and bar code – see yesterday’s blog), I knew I needed professional help to get this work published, so I called Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN’s brilliant sports correspondent, who had been USC’s basketball beat writer for the LA Times when I was an assistant coach there. Gene didn’t only give me encouragement but told me of a former sports information director at the University of Illinois who had left the Illini to start a publishing company. The definition of a millisecond was the time it took me to make that call after ending the one I was on with Gene.
The guy was nice enough, told me they actually did publish books of amusing sports stories and said I should go by Barnes & Noble to peruse their works. One was called, Tales from the Dugout, obviously a baseball book. The others were a series of golf books. I can’t recall the exact names but something like Then Arnie Told Jack, Then Jack told Gary, Then Gary told Chi Chi – you get the idea. After checking out some of the stories, my initial reaction was, “My stories are funnier than these.” I called my new BFF and he suggested I send him 2-3 stories from each chapter of this masterpiece, which I decided to call Life’s A Joke. I got off the phone, put them together and overnighted it to him. I mean, just in case your business is struggling – have no fear, help is on the way.
About two months later, I got my reply – in the form of a rejection letter! It said, besides some positive comments (let the poor guy down easy?) that my book was too “regional” – that their audience was broader. Could it have been the chapter entitled, Family, which was stories about me, my parents, my wife and our sons? While their stories might not have been as hilarious as mine, they were about Babe Ruth and Ben Hogan – whom, I had to admit, people had heard of, as opposed to the narrative of my five-year-old son screaming at his female teammate who had just kicked the ball into the wrong goal. It was the I had an epiphany. Stephen King got somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 such letters for his first literary attempt – and, no matter how colossal a hit my book was destined to be – Carrie was a heckuva lot better than what I’d written.
So, it was on to Plan B, i.e. visiting the young, talented girl in our (Fresno State’s) sports information office, one of whose jobs was “formatting” – taking text and putting it into book form. I walked into her office on a Wednesday and asked her how much it would cost and when could she finish the project. She told me it would cost $500 and would take a week. Because everything I could do was finally completed, I was borderline frantic to see this project come to fruition. I countered with, “Can you get it done by Friday at noon if I pay you $1,000?” I knew she was recently married and could use the extra money. It was the perfect win-win. I wanted to expedite the project; she needed the dough. A deal was reached. By Friday afternoon, I delivered it to a friend of mine who owned a printing company. I ordered 3,000 copies to be printed. Of course, this was just the first printing. He told me he could deliver them in two weeks.
But I was in the role of the expectant father. I called on Monday. “Harry, is it done yet?” He was incredulous. Did I really think they would get it done over the weekend? But he understood my anxiety.
“Maybe next week,” he said. So, of course, I called back Wednesday. Harry assured it was coming along and promised he’d call as soon as it was done. The next Monday, my cell phone went off. It was Harry. “Jack, I can have 500 copies for you by Friday, the remaining 2,500 by next Monday.” This was perfect. At the time, I was in a member of the National Speakers Association and was speaking to a group on Saturday night. I was elated. Until the next day. Tuesday. September 11, 2001. Talk about bad timing.
As I watched the Twin Towers falling, the thought that went though my head was, “In three days I’m coming out with a book called, Life’s A Joke.” Believe me, I understood the real tragedy, but coming out with a book – with that title – at that time – it was like I wanted to . . . apologize. One thing that helped – a little – was an order I received, off my website, from a lady in New York City. She wrote:
“I just ordered a copy of your book. Please ship it immediately. We desperately need something to laugh about.”