Q/A with author of new Manziel e-book: Challenges were somewhat significant

Johnny Football, aka Johnny Manziel, should help deliver Fox Sports a strong rating tonight for Texas A&M-Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

The Heisman Trophy winner as a freshman is the hottest thing going in college football. People want to know more about him.

HarperCollins sought to get in on the hoopla with a new e-book: Johnny Football: Johnny Manziel’s Road from the Texas Hill Country to the top of College Football.

Written by Josh Katzowitz, the book is more like an extended 11,000-word profile. Priced at $1.99, it is designed to capitalize quickly on the interest surrounding Manziel.

In a Q/A, Katzowitz talks about the challenges of turning around the project with such a tight deadline, and what this type of e-book could mean for the future in publishing.

When did you receive this assignment and what were the challenges of doing such a book on short notice?

Let’s see. I got the first email from my editor, Adam Korn, on Nov. 15 about exploring the idea of writing an e-book on Manziel. I sent him my pitch Nov. 20, and I followed that with Chapters 2 and 3 on Dec. 5. I emailed him Chapters 4 and 5 two days after that, and then, after Manziel won the Heisman Trophy on Dec. 8, I had to turn in the first chapter/intro and the final chapter/epilogue two days after that. The challenges for me were somewhat significant. Since I cover the NFL for CBSSports.com, I didn’t pay extremely close attention to Manziel’s season. After I got the assignment, I spent about a week just researching and interviewing before I even wrote a word.

HarperCollins/William Morrow wanted 10,000-11,000 words for the e-book, so it wasn’t a ton of writing. But with the research and the interviewing and the dictating and the re-reading and the editing and everything else that goes into writing a book – aside from just the plain old writing – it was certainly a time crunch. The funny thing is: in my two previous books, I was a little bit late getting my book to the publisher. On this one, I nailed the deadline.

What kind of access did you get from Manziel, his family, Texas A&M coaches?

My access to Manziel was pretty much what everybody else got. Not much, because of A&M coach Kevin Sumlin’s rule about freshmen not talking to the media. Nobody could get him until after A&M’s regular season was complete. Then, it was teleconferences and pre-Heisman press conferences. ESPN obviously got some additional time with him for the Heisman ceremony, but by the time I could have gotten any extra time with him, most of the book was done anyway. I did drive to College Station-Bryan, Texas and spent part of an evening with Johnny’s mother and sister. Despite the media crush they were experiencing (just by being related to Manziel), they were very accommodating.

What kind of behind-the-scenes access did you get during Heisman presentation?

It was tough, if not impossible, to get any one-on-one time with Manziel, but watching the way he dealt with the media and the way he carried himself during this process was really impressive. Plus, I did the typical “reporter who’s desperate for color walks slowly behind the subject praying for something to leap out at him after the final press conference” move, and with the A&M fans screaming at from the floor above him at the Marriott Marquis, I got the final scene of the book. Behind-the-scenes stuff during the Heisman weekend isn’t much different than a pregame MLB clubhouse, in that there’s not a ton of news, but sometimes, you stumble onto something noteworthy.

What were able to learn about Manziel? Any surprises?

I found out some great information about his very colorful family history. Even though his great-great uncle, Bobby Manziel, came to this country without much money, he became sparring partners and friends with Jack Dempsey, and they struck it rich together discovering oil in east Texas. The Manziel’s basically ran the town of Tyler, Texas, and some people think they still do (and those people might be right). As far as I can tell, none of that history was written about during this year of Manziel hype. I enjoy leafing through newspapers of the 1950s and finding out info like this, so for me, that was one of the most rewarding experiences I had during this project.

How tough is it to do a biography on someone who is so young?

It would have been tough if I had to write 100,000 words on a 19-year-old who’d been in the national spotlight for only about three months. But I didn’t have to write that long, so together with his family history, the discussion about why Manziel is perfect for the A&M offense, the highest of the highlights of the 2012 season, and what Manziel’s family was going through at the time, I ended up writing too many words and having to cut. But if I can compare it to the music industry, I wasn’t releasing a 12-song album with this book. Instead, I was releasing a single for the radio. If I had to write a full LP about Manziel, it would have been tough to accomplish.

Anything else?

This was my first experience writing an e-book, and I’m interested to see if they really are the wave of the future for the book publishing industry. It’s hard to imagine the print products dying out completely, leaving us all holding our Kindles and Nooks. But that uncertainty is also what’s kind of cool about working in the media landscape today. I always thought it would have been awesome to have lived in the 1940s, worked for a big-time paper and competed in the real newspaper wars. But this is a really cool time to work in the media, mostly because it’s the Wild, Wild West out here and nobody really knows the future. Hopefully with books like Johnny Football, we can figure out how to get there in one piece.

Sunday books: Q/A with Marty Appel on his ultimate book about Yankees

You could fill a library with all the books written about the Yankees and their players. And leave room for one more: I’m working on a book on the myth and reality of the Babe Ruth “Called Shot” homer.

Indeed, the stories are endless. Marty Appel ties them all together in his new book, Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from before the Babe to after the Boss.

It is a 620-page epic with everything in there. Lots of good stories and baseball history.

Here’s my Q/A with Appel:

How far back do you go with the Yankees?

As a fan, back to the 1955 World Series. As an employee, the 1968 season, Mantle’s last, when I was hired to answer his fan mail.

How long did you work on this project and what was involved in doing the research?

In a sense, I worked on it since 1955, simply by remembering things. I fell in love with baseball and the memories kept adding on. As a writing project though, it was about 2 1/2 years. Knowing how to research and where to look for things I wanted was critical in making it a relatively short period of time, considering it covered 110 years.

The Yankees have such a storied tradition. What stories stand out for you? What are your favorite stories? Perhaps the stories that haven’t received as much attention through the years?

I think the opportunity to get fans better acquainted with Jacob Ruppert, who co-owned and then owned the team from 1915-1939, emerged as a powerful story. He was a great sportsman, he bought Babe Ruth, he built Yankee Stadium, he created the dynasty. He epitomized wealth in the 20th century, but he had to deal with anti-German feelings in the country following World War 1, then with prohibition, which effectively wiped out his brewery, and then with the Great Depression which kept the baseball industry stagnant for a decade. And he prevailed.

Who were your favorite characters? Known and perhaps unknown?

It’s hard to ignore Babe Ruth with this question, for he was so much more than the big lug America came to love. After the president and perhaps Charlie Chaplin, he was the best known American, and baseball had never had such a personality before, someone to capture the attention of so many.

Why have the Yankees been able to maintain their success over the years?

Ruppert set in place a practice of putting profits back into the team. It was something that George Steinbrenner did as well. That was the key, along with the legacy that was built so that players, when able to move on their own, wanted to wear the same uniform as Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and now Jeter.

Doesn’t it get boring having a team that wins every year? Speaking from a guy who lives in Chicago.

Nope! But honestly, if you were born in the late ’50s, or the mid 70s, you had to be almost 20 years old to cash in with your first world championship. That’s a long wait for what others consider a birthright.


More rips from Harmon and Feherty; More sales for Haney’s book

Perhaps Hank Haney should send thank you cards to Butch Harmon and David Feherty. They were the latest big names to question Haney’s motivation for writing a book about Tiger Woods.

All the chatter does is keep The Big Miss in the news. The end result has Haney’s book No. 3 on the current New York Times’ bestseller list. It actually had been No. 1, and with spring blooming in the Northeast and Father’s Day approaching (hey, let’s get Dad a golf book), it should rise to the top again.

It’s all happening either despite or because of constant criticism Haney did wrong by discussing the inside story of his relationship with Woods. In an interview with Golf Channel’s Morning Drive show Monday, David Feherty said:

The fact that Hank wrote the book – I wouldn’t have written the book. I just don’t think it has any class to it at all.

Last week in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Butch Harmon, Woods’ former coach, also took a shot at Haney. From the story:

“I’m very surprised that he would write it,” Harmon said. “I’d never do that to Tiger or Greg [Norman] or any of the guys I’ve been with. We get to spend a lot of time with these people, sometimes even more time than their own families. Things are said, or you see different things, and it’s just—it is what it is, you just leave it where it belongs. I was really shocked to see him talk about Elin and Tiger’s kids and stuff like that, I don’t think that had any place in it.”

He went on: “It almost seems the way he has everything documented in there—too many times and dates and places that you wouldn’t come up with from memory—it’s like he kept precise notes all along with writing a book in mind.”

Nothing helps book sales more than remaining in the public dialogue. People don’t appear to be turned off, judging by the bestseller list.

Haney wasn’t available for comment for the Wall Street Journal. If he was, I know what he would say.

Haney recently appeared as a guest on the golf show I do in Chicago, “The Scorecard” on WSCR-AM 670 on Saturday mornings. He stressed again that his time working with Woods was “my story too.”

He said:

I wanted to write a fair and honest book talking about my observations, what it was like to work with him. It was overwhelmingly positive, but it wouldn’t have been an honest book if there weren’t some negatives in there. When people read the book, they realize it is about coaching and about the greatness that is Tiger Woods.

People make the argument that Haney might have gone too far in disclosing some personal moments he witnessed with Woods. OK, but the book is so much more. From a golf–check that–sports standpoint, it is fascinating read, detailing the techniques Haney used to work with Woods. It is a behind the scenes perspective you rarely see involving a big-time athlete.

I’d recommend the book, regardless of what Harmon, Feherty and Haney’s other critics say.