Written by: Neil Acharya
Snapping the ball, puck drop and tip-off. Three things sports fans anticipate when autumn approaches.
When the NBA, NFL and NHL begin new seasons, it also marks the start of book season.
Book season? Yes, the publishing industry has a season of its own.
“Nine times out of 10, if we are scheduling a big book, it's going to be in the fall season,” said Scott Sellars, vice president, associate publisher and director of marketing strategy at Penguin Random House Canada.
The window from September into the holiday season coincides perfectly with the return of the most popular professional sports leagues in Canada and North America. Teams and players are top of mind for fans who will notice new titles on store shelves and available online.
“You don't put out anything past Nov. 15 because it's really tough. Once you get to then, bookstores are kind of set,” said David Caron, co-publisher and president of ECW Press. "If you ship a book on Dec. 9., it's likely to stay in the back room till after Jan. 1. They don't have time to make the display. September through November 15, if you want to have that new book for the holidays, that's the only window."
The process of how a major sports title enters the market is two-fold. Literary agents may approach a publishing house with a client, or the publisher may solicit an athlete. Agents usually take a 15% fee.
This season two of the biggest biographies are connected to Canadian athletics stars - Andre De Grasse and Donovan Bailey. In the case of De Grasse and his new book “Ignite - Unlock the Hidden Potential Within” (release date Oct. 17 - HarperCollins), the literary agency of Rick Broadhead and Sons approached De Grasse’s agent Brian Levine.
The timing of De Grasse’s release is particularly interesting in that he is still an active professional. Sports biographies often involve retired players but De Grasse’s team is focused on building his brand toward a third Olympic Games come summertime 2024 in Paris.
“People in Canada only know about Andre once every four years,” said Michael Naraine, associate professor of sport management at Brock University.
“He’s one of the world’s fastest individuals with an amazing story. In between games he needs something to keep him relevant in the national conversation of sport and a book helps to do that.”
As for a retired athlete like 1996 Olympic 100 metre gold medallist Donovan Bailey, whose book “Undisputed” (release date Oct. 31 - Penguin Random House Canada) hits shelves on Halloween, Naraine refers to “brand equity” being extended through a memoir.
“For him this is icing on top of an already eaten cake.”
In 2022, the sports and recreation genre generated $6,599,589 in sales according to BookNet Canada. BNC is a non-profit organization that gathers and analyzes book sales from retailers, publishers, and consumers across the country. They estimate their data represents 85% of the total physical book industry sales for English-Language print trade books. This data is accumulated from weekly point of sale (POS) transactions. BNC does not collect digital book sales (ebook and dgitial audio). Through consumer purchasing surveys they estimate that digital book sales accounted for 20-25% of the “entire” trade market for Canada in 2022.
Brian J. Wood has been a literary agent since 2006. This season he is behind two major releases in the ever-popular and seemingly evergreen market for hockey titles – “Hometown Hockey Heroes” (Oct. 24), written by Sportsnet anchor Ken Reid, and “Draft Day” with former NHL general manager Doug MacLean and distinguished journalist/author Scott Morrison. Both will be published by Simon and Schuster Canada.
Wood receives throngs of pitches year-round. He and his fellow literary agents are ultimately at the front line of a pivotal convergence point when it comes to creation and commerce.
“When you are looking at material, you ask yourself, “do they have a great story to tell? What’s the quality of the writing?” Wood said. “In the back of your mind you are always thinking, can I sell this to the editors I deal with.”
What works for publishers, is the new offering readers see for purchase at this time of year.