Quinnipiac University College of Arts and Sciences

I Never Intended to Write a Book

In Faculty, Research on February 11, 2014 at 4:11 pm


By Stan Rothman, Professor of Mathematics

Part 1

In the spring of 2008, my colleague, Professor Larry Levine, knowing how much baseball was part of my life, suggested that I offer a course which introduces a student to the area of mathematics called sabermetrics. Sabermetrics uses statistics to replace subjective decisions in baseball with objective decisions. This course would be offered as part of our new sports minor at Quinnipiac. The idea intrigued me because it would give me an opportunity to teach an introductory statistics course wrapped around baseball data. Upon approval of the course, I began looking for a textbook. Unfortunately, although there are many books that use sabermetrics, I could not find a book that met my goal of teaching a true introductory statistics course applied to baseball data. In the summer of 2008, I began writing my lecture notes for my new course called Baseball and Statistics.

That summer, I received an email from Trevor Lipscomb, an editor for Johns Hopkins University Press, asking if I was interested in writing a book for my new course. I sent him my newly written lecture notes and he sent them to a reviewer. The reviewer thought the idea was good but the notes needed a lot of work. Trevor told me to rewrite the notes which I did. This time the reviewer approved the notes. The Board of Directors at John Hopkins University then approved the book project. I met with Trevor and signed a contract and the creation of the book, Sandlot Stats: Learning Statistics with Baseball was started.

Immediately, I began to have second thoughts. I said to myself  “What am I doing.” I remembered that in high school and college my writing ability, judged by my teachers and professors, was at most at a B level (probably a C+). I then rationalized that I needed a textbook for my course so I would write my notes in the form of a book and even if it was never published it would still be used in my course. I had nothing to lose. As the chapters progressed, I would have campus copy print the chapters for the students. If it wasn’t for the course, the book probably would never have finished. From 2008 to 2012, the students enrolled in my course offered many valuable suggestions to improve the book and the book started to take shape. My philosophy was to provide all the necessary mathematics within the book. Topics like sets, linear equations, and graphical techniques are part of the book. My other idea was to focus on technology. For example, the student would first learn the theory behind linear regression and then use Excel to find the actual linear regression equation.

In 2010, my editor and friend Trevor left Johns Hopkins and took the editor’s job at Catholic University. He said that with him gone the new editor might not want to continue the project. Was the book dead? The new editor was Vincent Burke, Ph.D. It turned out he encouraged me to continue the project. At this time, the book had expanded to over 800 pages and 21 chapters. Vincent met with me and told me to streamline the book. For a one semester course it was just too long. His idea was to reduce the chapters to 18 and take out of each chapter the material that did not involve statistics. I remember his words “if it is not statistics it is out.” At the end of each chapter, I had included topics from the history of baseball. Such topics as the origin of baseball, how the Hall of Fame got to Cooperstown, and the Black Sox Scandal were deleted from the book. The book was then slimmed down to fewer than 600 pages. He told me that many books were never finished because the author was never satisfied and would continue to rewrite the text. Vincent then made the following proclamation “The book is done.” By that he meant the only thing left to do was to edit the chapters. At the end of 2011, the content of the book was done; but the book was far from finished.

Part 2

The chapters of the book are now complete. At this point each chapter has only text in it. The figures and tables are not included; figure numbers and table numbers are inserted as space holders in the text. A new person enters the process. His name is Jeremy Horsefield, the copy editor. He is a free-lance writer hired by the publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press, to work with me on finalizing the text in each chapter. After completing his review of each chapter, he sends his changes to me which I then review. He is a professional writer and 75% of the time his changes improved the book. Even though I never met him, he was easy to work with. This process lasted about three months.

After thanking Jeremy and saying good-bye to him, three separate folders: one containing the final version of the text, one containing the numbered tables, and one containing the numbered figures are sent to the publisher. Enter the production group which has the task of assembling the three folders into the final version of the book. Each figure and table must have a heading and be inserted in its right place in the book. Believe me this is a big job. This process takes another two months.

The final galleys were then sent to me; this was my last chance to correct any errors in the final version of the book. I had to be careful that the tables and figures referred to in the text are given their correct page numbers. Since the book consists of over 100 figures and over 100 tables, this is a very time-consuming task. This process lasted for one month.

Then I received the bad news that it was time for me to create the index for the book. When I signed the original contract, I committed to do the index for the book. For years I always took an index for granted. When I was interested in finding where a certain item was in any book, I simply looked in the index. I never imagined the work necessary for someone to create the index. I had no idea of how to create an index. Fortunately, I had a helper in the creation process. My helper was Microsoft Word which provides an index making tool. The process of picking out key words and phrases and assigning page numbers to them is very time consuming and tedious job. The creation of the index took another month to complete. The last two items to be included were the table of contents and acknowledgment page. These two items were very easy for me to do. The corrected galleys, the index, the table of contents, and the acknowledgment page were then returned to the publisher.

No, we are still not done. We do not have a title for the book. The publisher came up with the title: Sandlot Stats: Learning Statistics with Baseball. I loved it. They sent me their idea for the cover of the book. I loved it.

Finally, I arrived home one day to find in front of my garage a box from Johns Hopkins University Press. After opening the box, I held the book in my hands. Four years had come and gone. The labor was difficult. The pregnancy was over and the book was delivered. Happily, the author and the book are doing well.

It was at this point I found out that any book published by Johns Hopkins University Press must go through a 20-step process. Step 1 is the submission by the author of a proposal for a book. Before the contract is even drawn up the proposal must pass a peer review test and then be approved by the Johns Hopkins University Faculty Board. After the book is completed, the finished manuscript is again peer reviewed and the Board must give final approval before it actually goes into production which is Step 19. I can see why the editor never told me about the 20 steps. If I had known this ahead of time I probably would have abandoned the project before Step 1. This brings us to Step 20. Part 3 will discuss this final step in the process along with the nurturing of the book.

Part 3

With the book done, nurturing the book was next. Nurturing involves creating value-added tools to enhance the book and to make decisions on how to market the book. Marketing the book is Step 20 in the publishing process.

In my first posting, I mentioned how I was forced to streamline my book. Originally, at the end of each chapter, I included themes from the history of baseball including the origin of baseball, how the Hall of Fame came to Cooperstown, the Negro Leagues, and the Woman’s Professional League. It would be a shame if readers of my book were denied seeing them. How can I solve this problem? The answer was the creation of a webpage. Fortunately, my wife Tara is a web designer. She created my webpage with a URL of http://www.sandlotstats.com. Everyone is encouraged to visit the webpage. The left-hand side of the webpage gives a list of topics on the website. Some of the topics include: About the Author, Teaching Tips, and a Chapter by Chapter summary of the book. Clicking on the topic, Interesting Facts will take you to 18 PDFs labeled Chapters 1-18. . Each PDF provides one of the 18 themes which were taken out of the book. At the top of the webpage you will see the word BLOG. My baseball blog allows me to discuss new baseball research not covered in the book and give my view on current baseball issues. Please read some of my postings. More than that, the blog allows my students to write their own postings. One student, who recently lost his father, wrote a touching posting describing how baseball was so important in their relationship. A woman softball player wrote how supportive her teammates were in helping her cope with her epilepsy.

What about marketing the book? I thought my only role in marketing would be an occasional book signing. Yes, I did a few book signings. As a professor and previous chairman of the math department (for 21 years), each semester I would have sales representatives from such major publishers as Wiley visit me in my office. They would inform me of their new books and encourage me to use one of their books in place of a book currently being used. Johns Hopkins University Press does not do this. I was told that I should be active in the marketing process. Here again my wife came to the rescue. Besides creating my webpage and publishing my blog postings, she put me on many of the social networks such as Facebook, LlinkedIn, and Pinterest. I jokingly said I was surprised she did not put me on match.com in an attempt to get rid of me. When I mentioned this to her she just said, “I thought of doing it.” The publisher told me I needed independent reviews of my book. Fortunately, I found out that once a new book is released reviewers come out of the woodwork. I got several reviews and thankfully they were all very good. You can read these reviews on my webpage. The publisher put my book on almost every on-line book-selling site. The publisher negotiated contracts with such book sellers as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, EBay, and many others. I would have had no knowledge of how to do this. The publisher also created Kindle and Nook versions. Since Sandlot Stats can be used as a textbook, I have spoken at several colleges and math conventions on teaching an introductory statistics course using my book. The website also gives tips on how to teach using my book.

Finally, I would like to contrast my writing a book to a celebrity writing a book. Like a celebrity, I also was asked to write a book. Whereas, I received no advance and had to write the entire book; a celebrity receives a large cash advance and is not responsible for the actual writing. A professional writer hired by the publisher writes the book. Even though this is unfair to a non-celebrity, I really enjoyed the four year trip. A book is a piece of an author that will live forever.


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