An interview with author Steve Reilly

A few weeks back, our people were contacted by Steve Reilly’s people about setting up an interview at this site. Since we usually approach others about an interview and the Reilly Party thought high enough of this blog to approach us, we welcomed a Q&A.

The Fat Lady Never Sings is about a high school baseball team that makes up for a disappointing year on the football field. If you like sports, high school and things that involve sports and high school, this book is for you. If you don’t like those things, this book is still for you.

Reilly has spent the last 20 years as an assistant high school baseball coach in Connecticut. He lives in Seymour, Conn. where he has spent the last 10 years coaching. You can buy your copy of The Fat Lady Never Sings here. If you don’t? Your penis might fall off.

1. Steve, take us through a typical day of writing, if such a thing exists.

I haven’t had a typical day of writing yet. The first draft of The Fat Lady Never Sings was written on nights and weekends and whenever else I could sneak time in at my office computer or my laptop. My numerous rewrites post a professional critique, a professional full edit and a professional proofread were done during lunchtime at a local Subway restaurant (which resulted in my clothes usually reeking of baked hearty Italian or parmesan oregano bread), and at home at night on my laptop. I made great use of thumb drives. Sometimes, I had pulled an Al Bundy and retreated to the bathroom to review and rewrite draft pages clipped to a cheap clipboard.

Most of my writing about the book (including the blog tour I’m currently on), as well creation and development of the book’s website and my MySpace account, is done either at night or on weekends unless I can sneak a few minutes in during the day.

2. You’re a high school baseball coach and also an author. How do you juggle the two?

You mean, how do I juggle all three? I am also a lawyer with a solo practice.

During baseball season, my life’s really imbalanced. Before the spring season starts, I try the best I can to maneuver my law schedule to have mostly early day and night appointments and Court matters after the spring season ends. During the spring season, I get up, go to my office, work my tail off. At about 1:45 p.m. I change out of my suit as fast as I can, put on sweats and sneaks and my baseball cap (unless it’s a game day where I throw on the uniform), jump in my car and head out for our field or our opponent’s field. If I’m not late, I’m sometimes lucky enough to stop for some coffee or bottles of Snapple and some Bazooka Joe or Big League Chew to get me through wacking fly balls, ground balls and pitching batting practice. After practice or a game, I drive back to the office where I meet my wife and then we go out for dinner, followed by my return to the office to work or meet clients. Sometime around midnight I finally go home and watch Yes Channel reruns.

If I’m lucky enough to not have any work to catch up on and my wife doesn’t either (she’s the Executive Director of a local YMCA) we also take in a movie. I’ve been lucky to have a very supportive wife. It may sound strange, but although its hectic during a baseball season, I actually relax more. During the games or practice, I’m able to concentrate on what’s happening and not worry about the stress of practicing law. The diamond never changes. That’s one of the great things about baseball, it’s timeless.

3. What was the process like, not only writing a book, but publishing, marketing, etc. Tell us about the entire process.

After I decided to write the book, I mulled over an outline for a few weeks. At the same time, I starting reading every book and magazine I could get my hand on about writing. The book On Writing Well by William Zinsser was probably the first. Its one of the classic guides on writing non-fiction. It has a chapter in it about sports writing. Almost every issue of Writers Digest and The Writer has something helpful in it. I also downloaded Nick Daws e-book Write Any Book In Under 28 Days; it was helpful. Take a look at his synopsis of the e-book here and you’ll see what I mean. ( No, I’m not a reseller). I played with the outline trying to see how the story might sound from different starting points and different points of view. One weekend, my wife had to go to a YMCA conference in Albany so I decided it was a good time as any to start the book. Once I started, I couldn’t stop.

It took me about six to seven weeks to write the first draft. I sent the manuscript to a professional editor in Washington state and asked him to critique it. After I got back his critique, I asked him to give me a more in-depth critique which goes chapter by chapter. It was then that I learned the difference between a critique, a full edit and a line by line proofread. (Industry lingo, which if I had fully understood before jumping into publishing might have saved me some cash). My editor was very adept at not discouraging me while at the same time offering very insightful as well as constructive criticism. Critiques and edits can take months to complete. I had three goals for the book. The first was to get the book out by the 15th anniversary of the season I was writing about. The second, was to get the book out before I turned 50 (just a life goal I guess) and the third was to get the book published before the World Series began last year because I felt that once the World Series was over, no one was going to care about baseball anymore and the launch of the book would most likely have to be delayed. Fortunately, my editor was not insulted by a cash offer to complete his full critique faster.

While I was awaiting for the full critique, I started reading everything I could about the publishing field and its inherent delays as well as other options. I decided — after having it critiqued by the first editor — to publish it through iUniverse, where, after an additional full edit, a professional proofread and some prodding by myself to have the book out before the World Series, it came out on October 2, 2006. After that, it ended up being an Editor’s Choice, Reader’s Choice and Publisher’s Choice Book of iUniverse and was a finalist in pubinsider.com’s 2006 Indie Excellence book contest.

As for the marketing aspect, I think the biggest challenge any author faces is to get someone to actually buy their book. People will read my book, tell me they love it, but then tell me they got it from somebody else and are passing it on to someone else. I think people love to read books; stories are what life is all about. They just don’t want to pay for them. You know what I’m talking about. Go into any Barnes and Noble or Borders any day of the week and its like a library with benefits. You can talk all you want and sit and read, at least until the store starts to experiment and slowly pull away the chairs without any music to see how it affects sales.
I’m just as guilty. I went to a Barnes and Noble last night and thumbed through about ten magazines and about ten books, (after checking my book out — I just can’t help it) but at least I bought two magazines albeit with my wife’s discount card.

What most people don’t realize is that unless your somebody like John Grisham, or a celebrity, the marketing is mostly done by the author. Whether or not your book sells is up to you. It won’t sell itself. So after reading several books on book marketing ( the best is John Kramer’s book 1001 Ways to Market Your Book), I started on a campaign to get book reviews posted on Amazon.com, online interviews and radio and Internet radio interviews and advertised on a great Connecticut Internet sports radio site: www.SportingnewsCt.com where this past summer I was a commentator for them on broadcasts of American legion baseball games. I created a web site www.TheFatLadyNeverSings.com through a company called www.Inspiredtype.com and also created a MySpace site.

I had book discussions at the public and a private library in Derby where I was able to have many of the characters of the book show up and converse with readers and also gave talks at Derby High. I contacted the local Rotary Clubs and they were very receptive to allowing me to speak and get a free lunch. I consigned the book at a local Sports store (mentioned in the book), a hospital gift shop, a train station coffee shop, a local newspaper stop (mentioned in the book), and a Hallmark card shop. I sent an advance copy of the book to a local newspaper who ran a column about it and helped publicize my speaking engagements.

In addition, since iUniverse has an affiliation with Barnes and Noble, I was able to get the book into three local Barnes and Noble stores. I also had bookmarks professionally printed up which I left at libraries and printed up postcards myself and sent them out to everybody I thought might be interested in the book. I also printed up business cards for the book which I passed out and put into my bills payment envelopes and stuck them on every info board I could find in the surrounding area.

I purchased a giant baseball glove from a company called Akadema (it’s the same company that produces Manny Ramirez’s glove) and I use it as a prop at all my events. It’s an instant conversation piece to lead into the subject of the book. I just got back from “The Big E,” the largest fair in New England. I was one of the featured authors in the Connecticut Author’s and Publisher’s bookstore in the Connecticut Building. I met hundreds of people, many of whom loved baseball, pitched my book, allowed many of them or their kids to have a picture taken with the gigantic Akadema glove, talked to them about how Jason Giambi of the Yankees could use it or how the Red Sox catcher could snag Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball easier with it, but…in five hours only sold four books. To sell those four books was a challenge.

From everything I’ve read and learned about writing and publishing, it seems as if the secret is to get the book published in New York but market it in Hollywood. If you can get a celebrity to endorse it, any celebrity, even My Life on the D-list Kathy Griffin, I believe your book will outsell over ninety percent of them out there.

4. Why write The Fat Lady Never Sings nearly 15 years after that remarkable 1992 season?

I always thought the story of the team should be told. I think all of us have unique experiences we want to share and say to ourselves “I should write a book.” After fourteen years of thinking about these remarkable young men and their coaches and what they went through, I decided to do write the book and try to get it published before the season’s 15th anniversary. (Also before I turned 50).

5. Ever check out sports blogs and websites? If so, which ones? If you don’t, why not?

Sure. Who doesn’t? I regularly review all kinds of sports websites, but the ones I save as favored sites are about high school or college sports such as sportingnewsct.com, www.maxpreps.com, baseballamerica.com , or about baseball or teaching baseball such as Beabetterhitter.com, pitching.com, baseballstrength.com, batspeed.com, webball.com, theathleticpitcher.com and a host of others I use to keep me updated about what other baseball coaches are doing or thinking or find new drills.

Some of my favorite baseball blogs are http://frommersports.blogspot.com , baseballblogs.org, Baseballmusings.com, http://www.thecompletepitcher.blogs.com/ I just added yours to the list. (I’m not a Red Sox fan either and I like your polls).

6. What was the hardest part about the writing process?

The editing process by far. Sometimes it felt as if I was dragging my feet in a desert without a compass or a hat. It sucks the life out of you. Each time I looked at all the red lining, arrows and highlighted areas of a draft, it was just a mirage. The end was never really near. But every once in a while, I’d see a new sentence that I created and think, hey that sounds pretty good.
Early on in the process, whenever I sent a draft, I would hear back, “you need more dialogue, you’ve got to have more dialogue.” I felt like I was listening to Christopher Walken on Saturday Night Live. “More cowbell, Steve, more cowbell!”

During my editing process, James Frey’s memoir A Million Little Pieces got trashed when it was discovered he exaggerated some of the events he wrote about. It forced me to do a lot of thinking and research about what actually transpired back in 1991/1992 so that my book was as accurate as I could possibly make it. I can see where Frey probably got tempted and may have convinced himself he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He might have been hearing a similar voice telling him, More cowbell Jim, it needs more cowbell.

7. If you could go back and change one thing about the book, what would it be, if anything?

I would have started on a cover concept earlier as that aspect took more time than I thought it would. Unless a cover designer has read your book, it took me more time than expected to get across the book’s concept. For example, the first cover submitted to me contained a rather large football helmet on it. Although my book does have a football aspect to it, the predominant story concerns a baseball team. The concept of putting a football on a baseball field’s homeplate was suggested to me by a separate cover designer. But due to my own self-imposed time constraints, I took a picture myself and after it was changed a bit, it was used for the cover. If I had more time, I think I would have a professional photographer also help with the cover.

8. You’re on a deserted island with three famous people, dead or alive. Who are they?

I assume you meant to ask about anyone other than Jesus Christ. I wouldn’t have anything to worry about if he was there with me.

Otherwise, you know this question is a mindfield for any happily married man. Depending on who I name, I think I could end up on a deserted island alone so I’m going to avoid naming any actresses from Son of the Beach or The Girls Next Door or any models or singers either dead or alive. You guys are probably going to rank on me for this answer but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Not Gilligan because he’d do something stupid and I’d never be able to leave the island. Myself and the third person would vote him off. Perhaps Tom Hanks as he figured out a way to get off a deserted island with a volleyball and Abraham Lincoln as he was as wise and persistent as any famous person and I could talk to him about law; he could also chop wood for the raft.
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4 Responses

  1. This guy sounds like a machine; the next time I think I’m busy, I’ll have to remember that some people truly pack every minute of their days. Nice interview.

  2. Great work. Wouldn’t mind having my career shape out like that.

  3. Abraham Lincoln and Tom Hanks? Seriously?

    I’ll take Allison Stokke, Sasha Cohen, and because someone’s gotta do the cooking, Giada DeLaurentiis.

  4. Good stuff as usual…

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