20141217

Pitch Publishing showing the way for enterprising sports book publishers

It has not been the worst of years for the sports section of the publishing business.  In the lead-in to Christmas, the autobiography of motorcycle racer, TV presenter and all-round speed freak Guy Martin is at around 10th in the list of general best sellers -- ahead of Russell Brand and John Cleese and keeping company with Jamie Oliver's latest must-have cook book -- and of the two sports blockbusters of 2014 Roy Keane has blown Kevin Pietersen out of the water to claim a place in the top 20.

Away from the mega-sellers, though, turning a worthwhile profit from a sports book remains a tough challenge, regardless of the quality of the writing.  The big publishing houses have seldom been more cautious about investing in a sports title with many showing little interest in anything that doesn't shout 'guaranteed best seller'.

Yet there is one company that remains a beacon of hope for sports authors aspiring or established. Pitch Publishing, the Worthing-based outfit established in 2002, has 120 titles on offer to anyone looking for a Christmas gift for an avid sports book fan with another bumper catalogue anticipated in 2015.

So what is the secret of their success in a climate in which other publishers are feeling the pitch and reining in their ambitions?

Busy director Paul Camillin, who somehow finds time for a parallel life as Head of Media for Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club, does not deny that these are difficult days in the publishing business but has a more optimistic outlook than many.

"Publishing is always hard work and we've had to adapt to new challenges but there is a good market for good books," Camillin said.

"We can't pay big advances, we have to keep our overheads low and we rely on a loyal band of freelance editors, designers and proofreaders but we have been successful.

"The key ingredients include maintaining good relationships with the major retailers - the high street stores and the supermarkets -- and accepting that Amazon exists."

The online retail giant has transformed bookselling in a way that is often seen as to the detriment of the trade, driving down prices and making profitability even harder to attain, but Camillin sees no point in fighting it.

"Amazon has been there as long as we have, so we have made sure our business model works with it," he said.

"And Amazon can work in your favour, too. You can have a book that Waterstones and WH Smith don't touch that explodes on Amazon and they may then decide they want it on their shelves."

He says that care has to be taken in judging a title's potential.  While there are some books Pitch knows will sell in good numbers, with others there is a need to tread carefully.  He stresses too that authors need to recognise that handing over the manuscript is not the end of their involvement.

"You have to guard against being gung-ho. You need to be prepared, for example, to start with a modest print run and test the water with some titles.

"Also you need authors willing to publicise their work, to lean on every contact, to market themselves with newspapers and radio stations because reviews, publicity and making your book visible are absolutely vital."

Pitch ensures too that readers who prefer their books to be in electronic format are catered for too, with titles available as downloadable ebooks.  The Kindle revolution is seen as a positive as well, rather than a threat.

"The medium of delivery may change," Camillin says, "but people will always want to read and I believe there will always be a market for good books."

A glance through Pitch's catalogue reveals that focussing on small but enthusiastic audiences is a key element of their success, recognising, for example, the loyalty of football fans to their own clubs.

Pitch publish the growing 'Got, Not Got' series, the football nostalgia concept that began life as a blog, evolved into a book and subsequently a growing catalogue of sequels, jointly compiled by Derek Hammond and Gary Silke.

The original Got, Not Got: The A-Z of Lost Football Culture, Treasures and Pleasures appeared in 2011, a wonderful, lavishly illustrated collection of football memories and memorabilia.  A second volume followed in 2013 and, this year, an explosion of individual club titles, following the same theme, which will stir personal memories for fans of Derby, Coventry, Leicester , Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Norwich City and West Ham.  More are in the pipeline for next year.

For more information, go to Derek's page on Amazon or visit Waterstones or WHSmith.

Pitch have found another winning formula with a series of books, again aimed at the fans of individual clubs, based on great matches or defining moments in the their team's history.

There are 'Match of My Life' titles on Southampton, Stoke, Wolves, Brighton, Sunderland , Sheffield United, Derby and Liverpool among others, as well as Jon Spurling's excellent Red Letter Days: Fourteen Dramatic Events That Shook Arsenal.

Scottish football is well represented in the Pitch catalogue, too, with recent publications including Unthinkable, which charts the rise of Raith Rovers in the 1980s and 90s from the lowest tier of the Scottish professional game to beating Celtic in the final of the Scottish League Cup, and A Season with the Honest Men, a fly-on-the-wall account of a year in the life of Ayr United FC.

Away from football, Pitch has released a couple of interesting boxing titles this year including Mark Turley's Journeymen, which looks at a different side of the fight game, focusing on the boxers whose role is effectively to make up the numbers, turning up as opponents for young fighters on the way up, stepping into the ring to provide a solid workout but with the clear understanding that it is the hot prospect in the opposite corner who will leave with a win under his belt.

Tris Dixon also ventures into the shadows of the boxing world in The Road to Nowhere, this time in America, tracking down a fascinating collection of former fighters, from could-have-been contenders who vanished from view to one-time star names who had their moment in the spotlight but were ultimately left behind, and revealing where life took them next.

Pitch titles were nominated for three prizes at the British Sports Book awards in 2014.

Can't Sleep, Can't Train, Can't Stop won more plaudits for triathlete Andy Holgate after his success with Can't Swim, Can't Ride, Can't Run.

The Great English Final: 1953, Cup, Coronation and Stanley Matthews added to David Tossell's impressive back catalogue.

The Sergio Torres Story, written with the help of South American football writer Juan Manuel Lopez, tracks the improbable journey made by Crawley Town's Sergio Torres from a brick factory in Argentina to playing at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge.

Click on any of the highlighted titles for more information and to buy.

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    Who Says Football Doesn't Do Fairytales. The brilliantly written story of how little Burnley defied the odds and won promotion to the Premier League with minimal resources and a tiny squad. Contains many references to the methods of Sean Dyche.

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