Basketball handicapping 101

Over the past two years I’ve run a college basketball pool for some of the poker/fantasy football group. We each post an entry fee and then pick five college basketball games each week against the spread. The winner and runner-up split the pot.

In a desperate effort to avoid repeating my futile and embarrassing performance, I started developing my strategy early this year. Like, a week ago. After re-reading a book on sports betting, I calculated my own power rating for each of the 351 NCAA teams in order to cipher point spreads for each game.

Photos taken at Las Vegas.

There was an interesting blog entry on recently about the differences in home court advantage between teams. At the end of the day, Pomeroy said you can’t calculate this with much certainty, then he proceeded to list his HCA for each team. Which feels like a tease. But, like any degen gambler, I’m going to ignore his warnings and use it as an adjustment anyway. At least for a few weeks to see how it goes.

I also decided to concentrate on four conferences. Big Ten, since I watch a lot of those games anyway. And then three mid-major leagues in the Missouri Valley, Mid-American, and Ohio Valley. I’m hoping that the point spreads won’t be as accurate for the smaller schools. I don’t plan on betting any games where the sportsbooks’ spread is close to mine; I’m looking for games where there’s a disparity.

So I plan to post some of my spreads for games in these pages. If I start winning, maybe I’ll finally get my dream job: hanging around Churchill Downs and giving my selections to other people to bet on.

For Friday, November 10, here are the spreads I’ve calculated:

Indiana minus 16 vs. Indiana State

Southern Illinois plus 5.5 at Winthrop

Ball State even at Dayton

Miami (Ohio) plus 4 at Fordham

Bowling Green plus 9 at Drexel

Missouri State minus 2 at Western Kentucky 


With the opening of basketball season, it’s time for me to start showing up at book fairs and basketball tournaments to try to sell some books while avoiding eye contact with strangers. First up is the Christmas Hobby and Gift Show November 8-12 at the Indiana Fairgrounds.

Other writers have told me that this is a great venue for local authors, and especially books about sports. The attendance skews heavily female, and one guy told me that they frequently want to buy books for husbands/fathers/sons so they’ll read more. Because men are dumb and have short attention spans. So I’m hoping I can get rid of the last copies I have to sell. I’ve been thinking more lately about another book, and selling out* would get me to the break-even point financially.

I think I’ve learned a lot about the publishing process, but I’m still not willing to write on topics just because a book might be a money-maker. Writing fiction would be convenient, because I could do it all from home. But even though I don’t need book sales to make a living, I would like for at least a few people besides my family to buy copies. I’ve also been reading a lot of Richard Russo lately (“Nobody’s Fool”, “Everybody’s Fool”, “Bridge of Sighs”, etc.) who sets the bar impossibly high for fiction. That guy is just so good, I feel like anything I could write would be embarrassingly bad by comparison.

My sports-themed book idea would require a lot of travel. Fun, but expensive. My other non-fiction idea is completely removed from sports, so maybe I’ll go that way.    


*Selling out of books, yo. I’ll never sell out on certain strongly-held positions. Like opposition to the designated hitter rule, or the superiority of rye bread over white.



A tale of two coaches

A couple weeks ago I had occasion to interview the new head coaches of both the Indiana and Purdue football programs. I can’t claim any keen insight into either man. Both interviews were by phone and neither lasted more than fifteen minutes. My talk with Purdue’s Jeff Brohm took place while he was driving, and I spoke to Coach Allen of IU as I sat in my car during a driving rainstorm.

I think I’ve improved at interviewing people over the last twenty years, but I have very little experience at telephone interviews. I’m uncomfortable with it, and I’m pretty sure my discomfort registers with the subjects. Which makes them more uncomfortable. Which makes me even more uncomfortable.

Anyway, as often happens with athletes and other people who interact with media-types on a regular basis, what I mostly got from Allen and Brohm was coach speak. It’s stuff that reads OK in an article because somebody semi-famous said it. But if you have to listen to it live or type it, it’s…..uh…..boring.   

But there were points in each discussion when the wall got a little chipped and a bit of light broke through.

Coach Allen’s son is a freshman on the team, signing with the Hoosiers after his Dad got the job. I don’t think it was nepotism. The kid had received offers from several Division I schools including Rutgers and South Florida. Neither of which are Ohio State or Alabama; but neither is IU. He was also ranked as one of the top 100 high school linebackers in the country by ESPN.  

I asked Allen about coaching his son, and he sounded like he got a little emotional. He talked about how hard it is to be both Dad and coach to a kid.

“It can be hard to separate,” he said. “I mean, he’s still your son, and you find your eyes going to him all the time. So that’s something you just have to focus on.”


I came away from our talk liking Coach Allen. He sounded like a man determined to make Indiana’s program better, but I don’t get the impression he’s the kind of guy who’d endanger kids’ health to win (as his predecessor allegedly did).

I remember watching Jeff Brohm play for the University of Louisville. He was the ultimate Louisville guy. He grew up there and his Dad played for the Cardinals, as did two of his brothers. Brohm sounded to me like a very focused, ambitious man.

He gave me a lot of “We want to field a team that’s competitive and fights to win every game”.

“Purdue is a place with great academics, and West Lafayette is a great college town.” (Wait, what was that last part?)


The most recent Purdue team that was fun to watch.

“People are starving for success, and they want to see the football program step up and do well. We need to deliver.”

All of which are perfectly acceptable, standard-type quotes for somebody coming into a job where the prior coach won like two games per year. Then I asked him whether it was hard to recruit at Purdue, considering their recent futility.

“We have a lot to offer at Purdue,” he says. “The academic reputation, the Big Ten conference and the opportunity to play against the best teams in the country. And, to be honest, playing time. We don’t have the depth we’d like, so a guy can come in and be a difference-maker.”

I thought the last part was a pretty candid statement. He’s all but admitting that it’s lean times in the Purdue football cupboard, and that he can get good athletes because last year’s starters may not be as good as incoming freshman or transfers.

After we wrapped up the interview, I told him that I was a Louisville alum and enjoyed watching him play. He sounded like he was happy to hear that. (Which is kind of a Louisville thing. If you meet somebody out of town and find you’re both from Indianapolis, it’s like, “so what?”  But if you’re both from Louisville, you immediately talk about 1) what neighborhood did you grow up in, 2) what Catholic parish did you attend, and 3) do you have access to Derby tickets.)

Then he said “Oh, yeah? When did you graduate?”

“1980. So, like, a long time ago.”

“Oh…….okay….”. After a bit of awkward silence, we ended the call.

I guess I sound younger than I am.  



A practice story

Last week I mentioned the 24-hour short story contest at I ended up writing three stories, only submitting the last one. Judging won’t end for around six weeks, so I don’t know if I won anything. But the first story I wrote was the one I actually like best. I didn’t use it as my entry for a reason that I’ll explain at the end of this post.

The piece was limited to 916 words. Also….the first graph contains the writing prompt required to appear in the story. I wasn’t crazy about it, but amended it only slightly. So I will accept only partial responsibility for the over-dramatic prose there. Hope you enjoy it, and comments/criticism are welcome!

Sister Act

Clinging tightly to her valise, she glanced over her shoulder before stepping onto the platform. She was wearing  the black and white habit of a Dominican nun from the 19th century, and her headdress fluttered in the wind. Dark blue clouds marched across the sky, pregnant with the promise of a blizzard. The conductor was urgently pleading for everyone to get on board so they could depart before the storm arrived. As she placed her foot on the first step, she paused. She looked like a woman who’d forgotten something…..





“CUT!” the Director screamed in exasperation. The cameramen, stagehands, and cast muttered and sighed audibly, with several actors rolling their eyes and shaking their heads,  “Audrey”, the Director said, his voice shaking with anger. “The line is ‘I know I’m forgetting something’! How many times have we been over this?”

Audrey’s cheeks flushed to a bright red, as she timidly walked over to the Director’s chair, avoiding eye contact with the script people and stagehands gathered around the Great Man.

William Harrison Guest did not suffer annoyances graciously. Forgotten lines, unexpected crashes from props dropped backstage and empty whiskey flasks were at the top of the list, and this….girl….had just made two contributions to category one. His head was covered with white hair that had not been tended in some hours, and his bright blue eyes flashed beneath bushy, silver brows. Audrey looked at the floor as she stood before the famous filmmaker.

Guest stared at Audrey. “If you can’t remember the line, young lady, we’ll find somebody who can. I don’t care who your family is. Do you understand that?”

Audrey nodded, her eyes darting from side to side underneath the broad brim of the habit.

“Now get back on your mark and play the scene already, so we can all go home.” Guest turned away from her and shook his flask at his assistant, who snatched it from his hand and ran offstage.   

Audrey walked slowly back to her place, gathering herself for the scene. When she got to her mark, she turned and nodded at Guest. He turned and motioned to the cameramen, and said “ACTION!”

Audrey slowly mounted the steps and turned to the camera. Staring into the distance, she said, “I know I’m forgetting something….”

“CUT!” Guest screeched, taking a swig from his newly arrived flask. “Print that, and have it ready for review by tomorrow.” He  was already stalking off the stage as he spoke, and the crew began wrapping up production for the day. Audrey took off her hat and walked quickly to her dressing room.

When she got to the end of the long hallway, she saw her friend and hairdresser Evelyn waiting at the locked door. Audrey fished the key out of her bag and opened the door. Evelyn followed and, as she closed the door, Audrey fell on the couch, sobbing.

“I don’t know why he has to be so mean to me,” she said, crying quietly as Evelyn offered her a box of Kleenex. “He know this is my first movie. Why can’t he be more patient with me?”

Evelyn sat beside her, a hand on Audrey’s shoulder. “You have to know that it’s more about your father than you,” she said quietly. Audrey sat up, nodding, dried her eyes and blew her nose. After several loud honks, she absent-mindedly handed the tissue back to her friend. Evelyn shuddered and wrinkled her nose, but held out her palm. She dropped the trash into the wastebasket and made a mental note to start carrying handkerchiefs.

Meanwhile, Audrey had turned her attention to a mirror and began wiping off makeup. She looked up from her work when there was a soft knock. Evelyn opened the door to a stooped, wizened man of 80, who smiled and bowed slightly. Seeing her visitor in the mirror, Audrey said “Daddy!” and rushed to embrace him.

“When did you get here?”

“I just drove down from the cottage, sweetheart,” he said. He suddenly saw the streaks in the makeup on her cheeks. “Audrey, have you been crying?”

Audrey flushed with embarrassment. “It’s nothing, Daddy. Just a run-in at the end of shooting today with William.”

The old man’s eyes glittered and he pursed his lips. “And what, pray tell, did the great William Harrison Guest find to be unhappy about today?”

Audrey turned away. “It’s really nothing, Daddy. I just made a mistake and he got angry about it. It wouldn’t have bothered me at all, but he threatened to take me off the film in front of the rest of the cast.”

He stood up. “I see. I believe I’ll have a word with the man.”

Audrey shook her head. “No, Daddy, no…please don’t. I did make a mistake, and he’s under a lot of pressure to finish the film. It was nothing. Really.”

He offered a tight smile. “As you wish, dear. I have a meeting in the city, so I’ll see you this weekend.” He bowed to Evelyn, kissed Audrey’s cheek and left, closing the door quietly.

Guest was draining a glass in his office when there was a knock at the door. He barked ‘Come in”, and the old man entered, fixing the director with a hard, flinty stare.

Guest sighed and rubbed his tired eyes. “ Come in, Dad. What is it now?”  



After I finished writing this, I looked at the fine print on the contest rules, and it said using the prompt as a scene in a movie or play is a common plot device and is a fast track to the discard pile. So, while there is no rule specifically prohibiting using it that way, I decided to go in a different direction for my entry. That one contained baseball references, and I’ll post it at some point.


Gambling for writers and writing for gamblers

I was talking to a couple of Muslim friends the other day about Islamic restrictions on food and behavior. First, I asked one to explain what makes meat halal (permitted) for Muslims. He made sure I understood that pork was never allowed, and that there were no restrictions on seafood. Since his English is still rudimentary, he struggled to explain what made beef and lamb halal, then finally resorted to making a slashing motion across his throat and making a “ckkkkkk” sound. Which was clear enough, though it occurred to me that this explanation would result in a 15-yard penalty in the NFL.

Then we talked about Islamic prohibitions against gambling. (For some reason many of my conversations end up as gambling discussions. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. (Nothing to see here….move off the corner, Johnny.) They told me that gambling is haram (forbidden) because the winner “doesn’t deserve” the money, having acquired it without working.

Some of my non-Catholic friends belong to Christian traditions that also frown on gambling. They’ve explained to me that they consider it a waste of God-given resources, or that they consider a gambler to have the same motivation as a thief; that is. to get money by way of deceit.

I’m not arguing against anybody’s religious beliefs here, just trying to understand the rationale. For me, gambling has always been more about the competition than the money. Which is why slot machines don’t interest me. In poker and sportsbetting, you’re usually rewarded for making good decisions. I love the feeling of having figured out a team’s value or what cards an opponent’s holding. It’s not unlike solving a crossword puzzle. Sometimes luck enters into it, but that’s true with all games and sports.


I can’t say winning money isn’t a part of the thrill; otherwise, I wouldn’t like craps so much. And I confess that playing online poker with free chips generally bores me. (Though the lack of value to focus my mind is only part of the problem there. It also causes people to play recklessly, like they don’t care about the outcome. Which reduces any enjoyment of the competitiveness aspect.)

I’m well aware of the social cost of compulsive gambling. I know it’s destroyed families and ruined lives. But one could point to a lot of innocuous activities that have done the same thing when there is a lack of moderation and balance.


It’s been a long time since I wrote any fiction (insert cynical journalism joke here), but my publisher is having a 24-hour short story contest this weekend. They announce the theme at noon on Saturday and the story is due by the same time on Sunday. I’m used to cobbling together short narratives under pressure. When I was covering minor league baseball, I had to have the story mostly written by the end of the game since my deadline was usually 30 minutes after the last pitch.

If I was lucky, there was no late-inning rally that would force a re-write. After the final out, I’d hustle down to the clubhouse and stand outside the door, waiting for expiration of the league-mandated ten minute “cooling off” period. (Sometimes I cheated when the game ran long. It wasn’t usually a big deal if I was interviewing players on the winning team; if not, I had to step a bit more lightly.) Then I’d enter the clubhouse and try to quickly find a player who’d affected the outcome.


Unless he’d had a good game, the player would invariably hide in the training room, off-limits to the press. Nervously checking the time, I’d then try to develop alternate questions for another player, and then go try to get the manager to say something interesting. Something other than a) “we just got/didn’t get timely hits”, b) “our pitchers were locating/not locating the fastball”, or c) “I was pleased with the effort”.

I’d then run up to the press box, taking stairs two at a time (the elevator was too slow), type in the quotes, scan the story quickly for obvious errors, and send it. One time on my drive home from the ballpark, I suddenly realized that the whole point of my lead – that a left-handed pitcher had dominated a right-handed lineup – was wrong. Because the pitcher was right-handed. Luckily, that was a day game, so I had time to call the editor, kill the story and re-write it.

So I’m used to writing with strict time limits, but, being fiction, this will be different. I’m looking forward to the challenge, and if I think my story is any good (or if I run out of blog ideas) I’ll post it here. If you’re a writer (or, I guess, even if you’re not) and want to submit an entry, you can enter at for $5. There are cash prizes for the winners, so it’ll be easier to focus. Just like if you were gambling.  


Enough with the sports commentary; let’s talk leaf blowers

I’m often accused of being a cranky old man. Sometimes, the charge is not entirely without merit. But on this one issue, I’m not angry, just mystified.

Why does my leaf blower have more than one power setting?

I can’t imagine any circumstances under which I’d find lower power useful. If I have to use a leaf blower, I’d like the chore to be over with as soon as possible. It’s hard for me to envision standing in the yard during a bright, sunny, autumn day, wearing a flannel shirt and blowing leaves as slowly as possible as a wisp of smoke from the chimney curls up to the cloudless sky. I mean, I’m not making a Lowe’s commercial here. I want to dispatch these leaves quickly so I can get back to the couch.

All I can figure is that the manufacturer put the lower setting on there to make me think I’m getting more power than I really am.  

Scene: A large, windowless room, filled with electrical equipment and tools, parts of lawn mowers, snow blowers, and tractors lying inert on brightly-lit tables, each with an electrical engineer in a white lab coat and safety goggles peering intently at its insides.

Suddenly, an obese, middle-aged man in a brown suit bursts through the double doors, leaving cigar smoke, a secretary, and a vapor trail of impatience in his wake.

“Peterson! Peterson! Where’s Peterson?”, he barks. One of the lab coats turns and tentatively raises a gloved hand.

“Um. Right here, sir.”

“Peterson!” The big man wheels in the aisle, knocking a can of lubricant off a table, and races over, taking long, quick strides.

“It’s almost June, Peterson! We need to ship the new Articulated Scoop N’ Suck Leaf Blowers by July! Where are we?”

“Almost – almost there, Mr. Spacely”, Peterson stammers. “Last step is this power switch, then it’s ready to go to production.”

“Hmmph. Hmmph,” Spacely grunts. He yanks the leaf blower away from Peterson, knocking a glass beaker to the floor that shatters. A long-suffering maintenance man walks over with a broom as Spacely turns the blower upside down, right side up, then sideways.

“How many power settings does it have?”

Peterson looks at him quizzically. “How many? Well, um, just the one, Mr. Spacely. We call it ‘On’”

“One!? Are you kidding me, Peterson? How are we going to sell leaf blowers with only one setting?”

“Well, market research tells us nobody ever uses anything but maximum power anyway, sir. And besides, it’s already blowing 600 cubic feet per minute. That’s enough to knock a passing paperboy off a Schwinn.”

“Dammit, Peterson! The actual performance has nothing to do with it! We’re not selling the steak, son; we’re selling the sizzle! What self-respecting suburbanite is going to stand around the gas grill on a Saturday and brag to his neighbors that he has a leaf blower with one setting? That guy’ll be running to the drugstore to fill his Viagra prescription in minutes! He’d be a laughingstock, boy, a laughingstock!

“Now here’s what you’re going to do, Peterson. You’re going to add a lower power setting to this thing ASAP. We’re going to call the lower setting “High” and call the regular setting “Road grader”. Got it? ABC, Peterson, ABC. Always be closing.”

Spacely jams his cigar back in his mouth and turns away quickly, his suit coat knocking a can of soda off a table as he bulls his way out the door. Peterson turns glumly back to his work.

“Well,” he mumbles to himself. “I’m glad I didn’t show him the Breast Cancer Awareness model.”        


Now that we’re getting into basketball season, the signing events are picking up for Thirty-Two Minutes in March. On December 2, I’ll be signing and selling copies during the Southport game at Center Grove.

On December 10, I’ll be at the Southport Shootout for most of the day at the fabled Southport High School Fieldhouse. It’s the tenth largest gym in the state, seating over 7,000. Southport has put together a strong lineup for the day. I’m looking forward to seeing Romeo Langford (probably the 2018 Indiana Mr. Basketball and a high-level D-1 recruit) in person. The schedule is:

Castle vs. Mt Vernon (Fortville)………………………..12 noon

New Albany vs. North Central (Indianapolis)………..2:00 PM

Cloverdale vs. Park Tudor……………………………4:00 PM

Fort Wayne Snider vs. Hamilton Southeastern……..5:40 PM

South Bend Riley vs. Southport………………..…….7:20 PM

With regrets from a former Cubs fan

Don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Chicago Cubs have made it the all the way to the World Serious. That news would have been cause for great celebration around my house fifteen or twenty years ago. I didn’t really even follow baseball until I started watching Cubs games in the afternoons around 1980. I’d get home from work at 3 o’clock, and Theresa wouldn’t be there until after five. So with no kids to tend  and nothing but soap operas and the Cubs on TV, I started watching Milo Hamilton, Vince Lloyd, and Lou Boudreau on WGN.

After a few years I became a big enough fan that I half-seriously tried to talk Theresa into naming one of our sons after Andre Dawson. He’s still one of my favorite players of all time, signing a blank contract for one year with the Cubs, then going out and clubbing 49 home runs. Now THAT’S believing in yourself.

On several occasions I made the trip north with my Dad (and sometimes my brother) to catch a weekend series. Tickets were easy to get, and it was fun to sit in the sunshine and watch a game. Over the years, I took my sons up a few times. Once I missed three Dawson homers because I 1) took Sean to the nurse’s station for a bee sting, 2) took Andrew to the restroom, and 3) fetched beers for myself, Dad, and Dad’s friend Rudy.


One of these scoreboards is not like the others.

Eventually, I drifted away from the Cubs. I started covering AAA Indianapolis Indians games on a semi-regular basis, and when players were promoted to the big leagues, I’d keep following their fortunes. It helped that most of the future Pirates seemed to be good guys. When my sons Conor and Eamon were Indians’ batboys, Eamon once accidentally dumped Gatorade all over Andrew McCutchen. Cutch just laughed and told him it was no big deal. One player offered to pay for the boys’ tuition at his baseball camp. Another time we were in Pittsburgh for a game, and Virgil Vasquez and Garrett Jones had just been called up to the major leagues. We happened to see them in the hotel, and they remembered Conor and Eamon from Indianapolis and chatted with them for awhile.   

I’m also a Diamondbacks fan, but have no heartwarming stories about them. I just went to a lot of games one summer when I was working in Phoenix.

See? Not heartwarming at all. Told ya.

Despite leaving the Cubs for other teams, I thought I’d always love Wrigley Field, no matter what team I was rooting for. Besides the hole-in-the-wall taverns and restaurants that surrounded the place, it’s in a real neighborhood. As much as I love PNC Park in Pittsburgh, you’d have to walk thirty minutes to find an occupied residence. Around Wrigley, there are actual urban houses four times as tall as they are wide, with front porches where a guy can sit after work with a cold one and the newspaper. Right outside the left field wall is a fire station, and I remember radio broadcasts being interrupted by sirens. I always felt like Wrigley, more than any other ballpark, was woven into the fabric of the city, and had been for a hundred years.

This September, on a sunny, cool day, I met up with my sons Sean and Andrew to take in a Sox-Cubs doubleheader. First, we took the red line train down to U.S. Cellular Field to watch the White Sox against Cleveland. With the Sox out of contention, great seats were cheap. The beer selection was outstanding, and we lucked into a compelling 2-1 game with Chicago plating the winner on a walk-off hit.

Then we took the train back to the North side, where the Cubs were playing a night game with a chance to clinch the Division. We got there about an hour before first pitch and waded into blocked-off streets choked with pedestrians. I’m pretty sure the average blood alcohol level approached double digits.

A lot of the small businesses – bars, souvenir shops, restaurants – have been cleared away by new construction. My Chicago-based son told me that Cubs, Inc. had been aggressively buying up property around the ballpark and plan new offices and a “plaza”. I was disappointed, but not especially surprised. There’s no law requiring team owners to be less avaricious than your average ticket scalper.

We entered the ballpark to jam-packed concourses and long lines for concessions and restrooms. Again, nothing new. It’s an old ballpark. Fans didn’t expect swimming pools and playgrounds at a baseball game (or rather, in the vernacular of the time, “base ball”).

So I wasn’t annoyed at narrow-gauge seats (some with a partially obstructed view), crowded concourses, and cramped restrooms. But when I get all the old-timey inconvenience, I expect the object of attention –  the field – to continue the theme.

Instead, what I got was two gaudy, low-definition video boards with muddy sound. I don’t even think the primary purpose of Cubs, Inc. was to enhance fan experience. They just wanted to block the view of people who own the high rises across the street.

The beer selection was unworthy of a college wood-bat team. Budweiser, Miller Lite, and Blue Moon were about it. Unless you consider Old Style a craft beer.

So Cubs, Inc. apparently finds itself bound and gagged when it comes to giving fans a better experience. But when it comes to wringing more cash out of this nostalgia business and running everybody else out of the neighborhood to increase ROI, they’re freewheelin’, hard-chargin’ entrepreneurs. The Cubs lost to Milwaukee that night, but backed into the Division crown when St. Louis lost a few hours later. Which seems about right.   

So congratulations to all the Cubs fans, and good luck against Cleveland. I hope the Cubs win, but only because of my long-held resentment against the abomination that is the designated hitter rule. The team lost me through no fault of its own. Wrigley lost me by trying to be two things at once, and doing neither particularly well.  


Cubs fans rising in anticipation of another beer.

Speaking of shameless commercialism…I have a couple of book events coming up:

Book release party….I’ll be signing (and, hopefully, selling) copies of Thirty-Two Minutes in March at Fountain Square Brewery, 1301 Barth Ave, Indianapolis on November 9 from 7 PM-9 PM. Buy a copy of the book and I’ll buy your first pint of tasty craft beer. Or, just come have a beer, listen to some jazz and make it look like I have friends.

Indy Author Fair….on October 29 at the Indianapolis Central Library I’ll be joining dozens of other Indiana writers from 12 noon – 2 PM, signing and selling books. There are also a lot of talks by successful writers and writing workshops, all for free. See for details.

You oughta write a book

I used to think that if you published a book, you could count on spending a lot of time in limousines going to interviews, attending signing events, and leveraging studios against each other for the movie rights. In my case, I think I’d insist on filming the the whole thing in Aruba. A really creative director could overcome the obvious obstacle that the book is set in Indiana.

But when I started researching the marketing process, I quickly found out that unless you’re already famous, most of the responsibility for selling books falls on the author. Actually, since Thirty-Two Minutes in March was produced by a print-on-demand publisher, all of the responsibility falls on me. But friends who’ve worked with traditional publishing houses tell me their marketing support is minimal. The publisher might set up a couple of signing events and send out a press release, but unless you’re John Grisham or Lady Gaga, you’re mostly on your own.

(Note to self: email Lady Gaga about ghost-writing her autobiography. If successful, insert obscure references in the text that make fun of Purdue basketball.)

It’s hard to fault the publishing companies for their lack of support. There are something like a million books printed every year. If they aggressively marketed every product, they’d need thousands of salespeople for the effort. And books aren’t the primary entertainment source they used to be, so each tome competes for an ever-shrinking audience.

Pete Cava has two books out through traditional publishers, and while I was writing the book we met for lunch a few times so I could get some advice. Every time we discussed marketing, Pete would pause, look over his glasses at me and say “Matt – you gotta put yourself out there.”   

For a closet introvert like me, this doesn’t come easily. (A closet introvert being somebody who is embarrassed about being an introvert.) I went to one of Pete’s signing events, and he graciously introduced me to the owner of the store and told her about my book. She gave me a business card and asked me to email her with the details. I just nodded, said “OK, I will. Thanks.”

When we were out on the sidewalk, my wife Theresa turned to face me.

“Why didn’t you talk to her and tell her about the book? She was interested. You could have set up a signing right then…”

She’s right, of course. I’m just not used to selling a product, especially on the spur of the moment. And I’m probably overly sensitive to rejection. It’s easy for me to talk to dozens of people in a group setting and make jokes about buying the book as a shower gift. It’s much harder to stick out my hand, smile, make eye contact and ask a stranger to fork over $18.95 or make arrangements for me to hold an event.

The good news is that I’m getting used to it. I’ve found that I get a little jolt of satisfaction every time I sell a copy. Especially when a stranger buys one. Not that I don’t appreciate the family and friends who bought a copy. It’s just that I feel like they’re mostly doing me a favor. But when a stranger buys a copy, I mentally note a reduction in the gap between my costs and sales, and it really buoys my spirit.

My publisher ( provides authors with a 90-day plan for marketing books, which has been a big help. My family has also given me some great ideas.

Theresa suggested holding an eventfeaturing-the-center-grove-trojans at a coffee house near one of the schools, and I’ve set that up. My son Conor suggested a book release party at Fountain Square Brewery (where my son Patrick works), and that’s now on the schedule. (Buy a book and get a free pint of craft beer!) I’ve got other events at various stages of development, and I’m sure at least some of them will pan out. It’s gradually getting easier for me to “put myself out there”.

When I was getting started on this project, I told myself that I didn’t really care about sales. I was writing the book for my own satisfaction, and publishing it as a retirement gift to myself. Just seeing the thing in print was enough for me, and if, by chance, I sold enough copies to break even, I’d be gratified. As long as I could somehow arrange a tax-deductible trip to Las Vegas. (See you at the Nike Basketball Coaches Clinic in April!)

But it’s gradually become more important to me to sell copies. And it’s not even mostly about the money. I think it’s more about overcoming my reluctance to engage strangers and developing new skills as I age. Like Bill Farney said, “If you sit around, you get old.”

Well, the book is finished. What now?

Over the past two years, I’ve spent many hours researching, writing, revising, and publishing Thirty-Two Minutes in March. I could say it’s been an all-consuming task, wrenching me away from things I’d rather be doing, like charity work, babysitting grandkids, or perfecting my table tennis serve. But here’s a dirty little secret….. I’ve been using it to duck home improvement projects.

When I retired from my real job in 2015, I had already started on the book. Which means I was watching high school basketball games and interviewing coaches, players, and officials. And I was refereeing some basketball. Whenever I got the stinkeye from my still-employed wife Theresa about finally finishing up the flooring project, or touching up a paint job, or replacing the shutters, I had the book to fall back on.

When I heard the garage door open I’d jump up off the couch, change the TV channel from a Bar Rescue rerun to the local news, and try to get the faucet turned on in the kitchen  before Theresa got in the house. She’d walk in, struggling to get in the door with her computer bag, purse, and coat. Dumping her stuff on the table, she’d turn to me.

“So what did you do today?”

“Pretty hectic. Worked on the book all morning.”

“Any progress on the floor?”, she’d ask hopefully.

I’d shake my head and frown in regret as I industriously washed a cookie sheet.

“Naw, just ran out of time. This book and all, you know…”

So now, the book is done. I still have to try to sell it, but that’s mostly  evening and weekend work. How do I fill the days now? I know…..another book! A brand new, shiny project that won’t involve manual labor!

But writing books is hard. Somebody smarter than me once said that writing one is simple; all you have to do is stare at a blank piece of paper until tiny drops of blood form on your forehead. It’s not quite that bad, but still takes a lot of focus and energy. But a blog…..yeah….. a blog.

So here it is. I’ll mostly be writing about sports, but also other things that I hope interests other people. If you’d like an email alert when new posts are….uh….posted….click on the link below. You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook and see post alerts there. I hope you’ll join me for this ride. Because we all know what a pain in the ass it is to paint ceilings.