Picking up where we left off the other day...
So I go to Cal's handler-in-chief, John Maroon, and explain that if he's willing to listen to my latest offer, which actually got worse, we might be able to beef up the back end of the deal: give Cal more points in royalties than the typical author gets. I underscore my belief in the huge market potential for such a book, and give Maroon the usual song and dance (sung and danced, that is, by people who know they're in a weak bargaining position); I effuse that the $50,000 front money is just the tip of the iceberg, there's no telling how high is up, yada yada. In fact, I was certain that if we could just get the damn book on the shelves somehow, the profits would come pouring in and ol' Cal would make every dime of the quarter-million I'd wanted to give him originally and then some.
In my desperation to "get it done," I even floated an intriguing proposition: that Cal wouldn't have to do one iota of actual work if he didn't want to. Rodale would merely license the use of Ripken's name; I would do the writing, cover to cover, working from themes and principles that I thought were "philosophically aligned" with Cal's beliefs. He would have to do nothing but cash a check for $50,000 and permit the use of his byline and likeness on the cover. And of course he'd still get whatever percentage of proceeds we negotiated on the back end. So in effect we were paying $50,000 for 11 letters* and a photo. And yes, he would have a chance to review the manuscript and change anything he wanted changed. If he didn't want to bother with the review, that was fine, too.
I'm not proud of having thought that one up. Even though similar strategies are common in publishing, especially when dealing with so-called celebrity authors (see under "ghostwriting"), it goes against everything that true writing is about; more to the point, it epitomizes the quick-hit opportunism and intellectual barrenness that underlies so much of what passes for self-help these days. Would I have put my heart into it and done my level best to make the book a great read? Sure I would've; that's just the way I am when it comes to writing. That doesn't change the fact that a book that says "by Cal Ripken" on the cover, thus reeling in the unsuspecting schnook who hopes to assimilate some small portion of the wisdom that helped make Cal a modern-day legend, should be written by Cal Ripken, not an enterprising editor who's desperate to justify his title by throwing together some generic b.s. that in most respects could also be written by Tony Gwynn or Tony Perez or maybe even Tony Curtis. What can I say? I was in a tough, tough spot. The pressure to sign lucrative book deals (for peanuts) was extraordinary; immense. [See footnote in previous post, about "having moved my whole family to Pennsylvania...."]
Maroon told me once again that he'd "think about it." I went back to my superiors and sought formal confirmation of the right to sign Cal Ripken for $50,000.
This time the word from on-high was explicit: "Cal isn't relevant anymore. Maybe a few years ago. But he's yesterday's news. Nobody cares about Cal Ripken. And we're not interested." Once again the rejection was delivered by a corporate v.p., in a tone that said, "Stop this foolishness if you know what's good for you." The messenger added that given the profound sense of fiscal responsibility that the new regime had ushered in, "We can't just throw $50,000 at every author who wants to do a book for us." (I hasten to add here that there were rumors—and I emphasize the word rumors, because I had no direct knowledge of any of this—that a larger sum than $50,000 had been expended on a party Rodale hosted in connection with that year's Frankfurt Book Fair.)
So died my deal. Presaging the death of my entire Rodale career a month or so thereafter.
Now, can I say for sure that we could've landed Cal Ripken for $50,000 anyway? No, I can't. Nor do I know whether a guy like Ripken would have agreed to have his name on a book for which he supplied zero content. Somehow I don't see him being that laissez-faire about a product that purported to represent his views on life and success. I do know that throughout the several-month period in which I was courting Cal, Maroon always returned my calls and assured me that they were "interested."
I recall sitting in my living room some weeks after I was fired (October 3, 2001), watching Cal "Mr. Irrelevant" Ripken attempt to restore the optimism of a nation shaken by the events of 9/11. The spot was sponsored by Coca-Cola. I thought about that a lot. Here was a company, Coca-Friggin'-Cola, that could've had anybody it wanted as its spokesperson for a very important, sensitive campaign. They tabbed Cal. (Possibly Coke went that route because Cal was already building an enviable reputation as a do-gooder through his various foundations and charitable initiatives.) But he's not good enough for Rodale.
Later, Holiday Inn Express would deem Cal relevant enough to let him anchor their very funny ad campaign. Indeed, he became the chain's public face.
The real kicker here, though, is that in April 2007, Cal Ripken and writer Donald T. Phillips released a book about perseverance and mental toughness. The book was put out by Gotham, an imprint of publishing giant Penguin.
It was titled Get in the Game.**
In postscript, Rodale eventually did publish a celebrity sports book of its very own. The company that was so deeply concerned about athletes and their negative images went on to do a book with, of all people, Pete Rose. They reportedly paid Pete a seven-figure sum.
** You cannot generally copyright or trademark ideas for titles.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Picking up where we left off the other day...