College football fans are the most passionate sports fans in the United States. I hesitate to say they’re the most passionate sports fans anywhere, because I’ve seen how crazy some foreign soccer fans can be. But here in the US, the passion of college football fans transcends all boundaries, including professional ones.
As some of you may know, I am currently writing a book about the business of college football. It will cover many of the topics I’ve covered on the site and also some I’ve held back. You won’t buy my book if you can read it all on the site, right? The book is currently titled Saturday Millionaires: why college athletes will never be paid and other uncomfortable truths about the business of college football.
I love the part of the title about “uncomfortable truths”. Writing on this site, I’ve sometimes found that you all can’t handle the truth. You don’t want to hear that your school’s biggest rival did something right or makes more money. And you don’t want to hear that most schools can’t afford to pay players.
No problem. That’s what this site is for – to stir debate. Generally speaking, I love getting into these topics with you all. Your interest and your passion is what keeps this site going. And hopefully, it’s what’ll get you to buy my book.
I ran into an interesting problem when I started sending my book proposal out to literary agents, however. For those who don’t know how it works, you generally have to send query letters to literary agents in order to get your book presented to a major publishing house. My other book (Balancing Baseball: How Collective Bargaining Has Changed the Major Leagues) was acquired directly by a publisher, but I wanted to shop this new book around, which meant getting a literary agent.
So, I began sending out query letters and full proposals for my book. I’d done this before for my fiction writing, so I was used to what they call a “form rejection” (which is what it sounds like - a form rejection letter a literary agent sends out when they pass on a project). I should have known this project would be different.
My initial batch of queries went out to a small list of agents who had represented other books about college athletics or sports in general. Many of these agents were male, which was in stark contrast to my agent list for my women’s fiction. Initially, I thought I’d be more likely to find a male agent who wanted to represent this book, because they would be most likely to be interested in a book about college football.
Well, they were definitely interested in college football. So much so, some of them lacked objectivity. In fact, some of them argued with various points made about college football in my proposal.
One spent multiple paragraphs telling me why college football players should be paid and that my Title IX argument was weak. Here are his exact words:
“Title IX is a legitimate issue to raise, but I think everyone knows what the NCAA rules are and what they really want is for those to be changed.”
I resisted the urge to write back and explain that Title IX is a federal law, not an NCAA rule. Oh, and by the way, it’s not going anywhere.
In my proposal I also detail the difficulties that some athletic departments would have if they paid college athletes, namely the fact that only 22 athletic departments are self-sustaining. Here’s one agent’s response:
“To say that schools couldn’t afford to pay players anything because, gosh, the money is all gone at the end, is a bit like car manufacturers in the 70s saying they couldn’t afford to install airbags in cars because it would make them too expensive and all the automobile manufacturers (who actually do have to pay their employees) would have to go out of business. It just doesn’t make sense.”
I could go on and on with these quotes. I sent my proposal to about a dozen agents and a quarter of those wrote me back emails with 500+ words on why some issue I covered in my proposal didn’t fit with their opinion as a fan of the sport. While I think these comments and opinions are perfectly acceptable here on BusinessofCollegeSports.com, I do not think they are the usual and customary response of a literary agent responding to a proposal. Certainly a literary agent can discuss with you what they think are the strengths/weaknesses of your proposal and the subject matter, but I do not think it’s customary for them to reply to your query with paragraph after paragraph of their personal opinion on the subject matter.
I read a lot of author blogs and message boards. I’ve never read about anyone receiving emails from agents where they argue about the subject matter. But that’s what college football brings out in people. Unbelievable passion that knows no boundaries, not even professional ones. In fact, one of the emails I received was 100% unprofessional. The agent should have simply said it wasn’t the right book for him and passed. Instead, he lectured me on the evils of college football and why everything I said offended his sense of what was should be happening in college football.
Like I said, this was only a quarter of the response. It was just the most shocking portion of the responses. Other agents who represent sports books like this but passed because they were too busy to take on the project (which I consider time sensitive) said thinks like, “I’ll be looking for it in bookstores!” and “You’ve written a great proposal on a timely and important topic. I have no doubt this will be a very successful project, in the right hands.” Others passed because it wasn’t their cup of tea. It happens.
In the end, I received four offers of representation. After some of the feedback I received from agents who were clearly fans first and literary agents second, I expanded my query list to include a few agents I was really interested in having represent my fiction, but who also represented non-fiction. The agent I ended up choosing had been on my dream list to represent my fiction. She confessed to not being an avid college football fan, and I sighed with relief. By that point, I thought perhaps it would be better to find an agent who wasn’t passionate about college football and could look at my work with an objective eye. I had to make a difficult decision, because the other three agents were fabulous as well. But a decision had to be made, and I am very happy about being represented by Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency.
My experience searching for an agent for this book reminded me of something I already knew. College football fans are endlessly passionate. It’s why sites like this exist. Because you all can’t get enough. I hope that’s still true when the book comes out!