How Can I Promote My Book?

Friends ask me this all the time. Here’s today’s answer:

To the degree that I have been successful, it’s because I have developed expertise within a niche (women’s sports), then, because of my own passion for that subject, I show up (speeches, conferences, etc) where people interested in that subject congregate. Social media makes that much easier than the old days when you had to get on airplanes… but it’s a much more crowded space now too.

Whether in person or online or (ideally) both, the point of this approach is not to think of it as promoting a book, but as sharing a message. 
So you “go” to the places where those interested in that message spend time. And you continuously re-establish your expertise by blogging, tweeting, or writing a newsletter or articles so when someone thinks of that topic, they think of you. By contributing a steady stream of ideas, advice, insights, research, and commentary, you become known as a thought-leader on that topic, rather than the author of a single book.
Of course, you also identify yourself as the author of that (latest) book, so that if they’re interested in the subject of the article/blog/speech, they’ll be curious about (and MIGHT even buy!) that book.
Photo: I’m on the right (easy to spot in EVERY photo :-)) with good friends and authors Sam Horn and Maggie Bedrosian, at a National Speakers Association event.Image

A Phone for Dad

A Phone for Dad

Three-minute fiction contest by NPR. Read on air by Anne Patchett

Game-Changer: Let Athletes Major in Sports

I sometimes joke that at Stanford University, I “majored in basketball.”

Truth is, I spent hours each day immersed in a highly educational experience involving leadership and team-building lessons that were far more hands-on than anything I might have picked up at the Biz School. I also took those lessons and used them as a foundation for a career as a sportswriter.

The author shooting (#12)

But what if athletes could really major in sports? In today’s Washington Post, always-thoughtful sportswriter Sally Jenkins makes the case that NCAA Colleges Should Consider Offering Sports as an Academic Major.

Jenkins’ proposal is a game-changer because her plan would legitimize sports participation for the educational experience that it is – and encourage universities to create integrated curricula including existing courses such as sport science, sport psychology, sport sociology, sport management, physical education, kinesiology — and the currently missing piece, the connection between theory and practice: varsity participation.

Most athletes are not football players, and most sports do not generate revenue (nor do most football teams, but that’s another story). Her main point has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with challenging the way we think about sports as an educational experience.

Congrats, Sally, for raising a fascinating new subject.

Maybe if I had been encouraged to study sports as an academic discipline, I would have thought of your wonderful idea myself! 🙂

Mariah Burton Nelson now serves as Executive Director of the American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

Pat Summitt R Us

When we talk about Pat Summitt, we’re talking about ourselves.

We’re talking about her, too. Alzheimer’s is a progressive, terminal illness. Unless a cure comes along, the University of Tennessee’s women’s basketball coach was recently handed a fatal diagnosis. Her legendary steely resolve notwithstanding, this is a heart-breaking situation for her, her family, and everyone who cares about her – and millions do.

But when we talk about Pat Summitt, we’re also talking about ourselves. All of us who admire brilliant female leaders are reeling from yesterday’s news. One reason some of us are reeling, I believe, is because we identify with Pat.

This is often true of sports fans. When we celebrate a Women’s World Cup soccer victory by saying, “We won,”  we’re identifying with the team. “We” won because we feel empowered by their victory.

In Pat’s case, we identify with her because she’s incredibly strong and successful. We don’t share her career victory total (no one does) nor her determination or drive (“You don’t know who you’re dealing with!” she told one doctor) but like her, we care about success. We care about young women. We love basketball. We’re athletes.

I have only met Pat a few times, have interviewed her briefly, edited a book (The Summitt Season) about her back in 1988, and last saw her at the 2011 Final Four, where we chatted about the agony of defeat. Yet I feel like I’m taking this news personally – and surmise that others (especially athletic Baby Boomers?) might be as well.

She’s vulnerable; therefore we’re all vulnerable. An unsettling reminder.

My father has Alzheimer’s, and lives nearby. For the past seven years I’ve been visiting him, overseeing his care, and watching as he loses the ability not only to remember, but to read, write, tell time, shave, bathe, dress, speak clearly, understand what I’m saying, and manage the telephone, the remote control, and silverware.

It can be a strangely blessed thing, shepherding someone through the mystifying haze of Alzheimer’s. But for caregivers, it’s also just plain upsetting.

And I identify with Dad and Pat. So I have to wonder: Will Alzheimer’s be my fate?

I’m not alone. Baby Boomers are notoriously nervous about memory lapses that physicians try to assure us are “normal at your age.” A recent international AARP poll showed that Alzheimer’s is the second-most feared disease after cancer – despite the fact that many people polled do not even realize Alzheimer’s is fatal.

Exercise, healthy food, mental stimulation, quality sleep, stress management, and active social engagement are the six “pillars of a brain-healthy lifestyle,” according to researchers. Sally Jenkins tells us in a heart-breaking article in today’s Washington Post that Pat is determined to improve her cognitive abilities through reading, puzzles, and math problems.

But Ponce de Leon was wrong. Ballroom dancing and sudoku will not save us. Yoga will not save us. Nor all the Body Flow classes at the new gym. With each step, we’re descending toward death, just like every other living being.

My friend Kate Cudlipp died last month after a bicycle accident in Rock Creek Park. Kate was an avid cyclist with an inner strength reminiscent of Pat’s.

Kate knew how to ride a bike. But accidents happen, and Alzheimer’s happens. The strongest women in the world are also vulnerable. They (and we!) live in bodies that will decay, or break, and die.

Last week I had lunch with a colleague in her thirties, a committed weightlifter. “After menopause, it’s harder to build muscle,” I told her. “Fortunately you don’t have to worry about that for a while.”

“I don’t think it will affect me, because you’re thin, whereas I’m bulkier,” she responded.

“She doesn’t get it,” an older friend commented later, laughing. I don’t blame my young colleague for not getting it; I didn’t get it either, in my thirties. But each news flash about a friend, relative, or basketball icon who succumbs to death or disease deepens our growing sense of “getting it.”

Like Pat, we are mortal. When Pat gets sick, we all feel sickened – and reminded that we, too, will die.

I hope you don’t think I “should” be focusing only on Pat, and not on myself. I do grieve for Pat. “It’s not going to be a pity party,” she insists. I hope it will be a “compassion party” instead. My heart goes out to her, and I’m sure yours does too. I admire her courage, and feel sure her candor will help raise money for Alzheimer’s research and treatment.

But our feelings about other people are never just about them.

It’s always about us too.

Mariah Burton Nelson played basketball at Stanford and now serves as Executive Director of the American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation.

Civil Rights and Association Leadership

This is a mini-speech I gave in June at the Detroit reunion of Diversity Executive Leadership Program (DELP*) participants.

New York State just legalized gay marriage.

Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, surely everyone here appreciates this as a civil rights victory, right?

One by one, the states (six, plus the District of Columbia so far) are freeing Americans to marry whomever they choose.

“Same-sex” marriage is not really about gay people having the right to marry. It’s about everyone having the right to marry the person of their choice, regardless of gender, skin color, nationality, etc.

The 44 states where gay marriage is still illegal cling to a pattern of discrimination no less unfair than the miscegenation laws, which made it illegal to marry someone from a different race (and persisted in some states until 1967).

So civil rights are on my mind because of New York’s recent victory, and also because the topic came up in some of the educational sessions this morning.

And of course civil rights came up when we toured the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

What an educational — and emotional — experience.

I started asking myself, Is DELP an extension of the civil rights movement?

It’s not promoted as such. It’s a professional preparation program. The focus is on leadership and learning, not politics.

But at its core, DELP is about education and equal opportunity. It’s about helping people achieve their potential, and thus strengthen the whole. Aren’t those core concepts of the civil rights movement?

Of course, civil rights goes by many other names, such as the women’s movement (does anyone remember feminism?), the gay rights movement, and the disabled rights movement. All are about education (including but not limited to consciousness raising) and opportunity.

I once heard this definition of the difference between politics and spirituality: Politics is about what divides people, and spirituality is about what unites us.

Politics is about what keeps us separate, and spirituality is about what brings us together.

Seems to me that perhaps DELP is not just professional, but also political and spiritual.

Because it’s enfranchising disenfranchised groups, it’s political.

Because it’s bringing diverse people together as a professional family, it’s spiritual.

As I look around this room, I see a lot of smiling faces: not only in my “newbie” class of scholars, but also on the faces of the alums who return to Detroit each year for a reunion.

I feel so welcomed by this group. It occurs to me that this is what everyone wants, in any group: to feel welcomed; to feel accepted and even celebrated for our unique talents and contributions; to feel a part of something larger than ourselves.

We want to associate with each other without prejudice or discrimination.

Here’s what ASAE is doing, with support from Detroit: Supporting diverse association leaders who are raising consciousness, opening doors to new opportunities, bringing people together, demonstrating inclusion, and facilitating productive associations of all kinds.

Whether we think of this as a professional program or also a political or spiritual one, I’m sure of this: It’s quite an honor to be on this team!

Each year, the American Society for Association Executives selects twelve members from underrepresented groups (gay people, racial minorities, and people with disabilities) for a two-year fellowship that provides education and training in association leadership. The ten-year-old program is sponsored by the Detroit Convention and Visitors BureauThe goal is to develop a more diverse leadership pool. I was delighted and honored to be selected in the 2011-2013 class of DELP scholars.

The Art of Excellence (Interview)

The following interview appeared in the May 2011 edition of Sport Management Academy Newsletter.

An award-winning athlete, author, journalist, speech writer and speaker, Mariah Burton Nelson has played a leading role in redefining what it means to be a success in the sports industry. She currently serves as Executive Director of the American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation.

Q. What do you feel is your greatest achievement?

A. Populating the world with more female athletes. When I ride my bike (in the Washington DC area), and see trails full of female cyclists, runners, walkers, and in-line skaters of all ages, I feel gratified that I have played a small role in creating those opportunities. I reflect on how far we’ve come from my childhood.

My mother was a swimmer (and still is, at 87,) but she and her friends never ran or rode bikes or played team sports. When I was growing up, people expected “tomboys” to “grow up and be ladies.” Now girls and women take for granted their right to move, and they understand the relationship between exercise, health, and happiness.

Many women have told me, “You inspired me to be an athlete.” That was not my initial intent — I just wanted to write books and give speeches about women’s sports experiences — but what a satisfying result!

Q. What qualities do you think are key to professional success?

A. Discipline. We do so many things because we’re in the habit of doing them. And those habits — the good ones — are what lead to success. I swim or lift weights or ride my bike or do yoga every day because I made a decision many years ago to be an athlete, and that’s what athletes do. I don’t need to re-decide every day. That’s the good news: Discipline itself becomes a habit. You become the kind of person who does the right things, over and over again.

The same is true for discipline at work. After a while, you dispense with the inner dialogue about whether or not to work, or work harder. You write the proposal, then polish it until it shines, because you made a deal with yourself a long time ago. You might not even remember why or when you made that deal, any more than you recall your original tooth-brushing agreement.

Another word for discipline is practice. This is more good news: When you do something repeatedly, you get better at it. You feel increasingly competent, and confident, which leads you to try even harder.

I just submitted a proposal, and the recipient told me that in the 25 years he’s been writing and reviewing proposals, he’s never seen a better one. I was happy, but I wasn’t really surprised. I’m sure that much of my own professional success is largely due to the fact that I work harder, and have higher standards, than most people.

I think this is rooted in self-discipline. I learned it in sports, and continue to benefit from the daily discipline of sports, but discipline begins with commitment. Anyone, even someone without athletic training, can start there.

Q. What role do you feel mentors play in achieving career goals?

A. I’m reading a new biography of Babe Didrikson called Wonder Girl (coming out in June 2011). She died the year I was born, but I read her autobiography as a young girl, and she inspired me by being so incredibly disciplined, hard-working, passionate, competitive, and successful. I also looked up to my mother, an exuberant swimmer and physician who was openly, playfully competitive. They were my two role models: Babe and Mom.

But I did not have any mentors per se because so few women were playing sports when I was growing up (I was born in 1956), and so few people were writing about women and sports when I started doing that, in 1980. Basically, I invented my career (as a sportswriter focused on women and gender issues.) I admired Frank Deford and George Leonard and other male sportswriters, but I didn’t know them personally, and often wished that I had a mentor I could turn to for advice. Perhaps I would have made fewer mistakes. Given a chance, someone certainly would have taught me something about respectful silence and tact. Sometimes I’ve been too outspoken for my own good.

So I can’t really comment on mentors from personal experience, but I’ve heard good things about them, and try to be what I think of as “the kind of person who’s worth looking up to, in case anyone’s looking.”

Q. If you could give one piece of advice to today’s sport managers what would it be?

A. Actively seek diversity. Birds of a feather flock together, so we must consciously transcend our natural tendency to hire and promote people who look and sound and think as we do. My current staff of nine includes people of Indian, Korean, African, European, and Iranian descent, someone who is legally blind, and someone who is gay. (That’s me.) Do we talk about those differences? Rarely. We’re too busy talking about how to promote physical activity, and how to best serve our members. But does our diversity make us stronger as a team? Surely. To achieve this sort of diversity, one must recruit widely, and make a commitment to putting aside personal prejudices in order to get to know people as people. The rewards – personal and professional – can be great.

Open Letter to Stanford Women’s Basketball Alums

The following article appeared in the Stanford Women’s Basketball Alumnae newsletter, May 2011.

Today I gave a speech about nonprofit management. As soon as I finished, a man eagerly raised his hand. “Did you play for Tara?” he asked.

This happens all the time. Everywhere I go, people want to talk Stanford hoops. Kate Starbird. Candice Wiggins. The Ogwumikes. Beating UConn’s streak. Even that scary tree.

It’s my own darn fault. I proudly include my Stanford basketball story in my bio. I’ve written about sports at length. My body itself – at six-two – makes its own bold statement, prompting the question, “Did you play basketball?” – or, when I was younger, “Do you play basketball?”

But this is also your fault, my Stanford sisters. You’re the ones who made Cardinal basketball famous. My teammates and I pried the “Men Only” signs off the Maples Pavilion doors, then marched defiantly inside. You blew those doors off their hinges. Thousands of fans (and one dancing tree) streamed into that merry arena, eager to celebrate your many achievements.

That’s who I meet: your fans.

Funny, we never thought about fans in the seventies. We never anticipated your popularity. We just wanted access. Equal coaching, training, recruiting, scholarships, uniforms, and travel. Equal rights. Equal respect.

In an era of daily insults and exclusions, sports were becoming a symbol of women’s nascent power. When I arrived at Stanford in 1974, Billie Jean King had just beaten Bobby Riggs in a nationally televised tennis match (1973). Title IX had just passed (1972). A poster in my dorm (Larkin) showed a photo of women running, swimming, and cycling. “Women in Sports,” it read. “WE CAN.”

Yes, we can, and yes, you did. Because of you, I meet people all over the country whose lives have become more exciting, hopeful, and inspired. They tell me about watching you, admiring you, wanting their daughters – and sons – to be like you.

I, too, am a fan of yours – and not only because you make my resume look good. You have taken the Stanford program farther than we pioneers dreamed possible. You probably played (as we did) for the love of the sport, but because of your strength, spirit, and success, you helped transform the way society perceives women, and how we all perceive ourselves.

Thank you!

Mariah Burton Nelson

More from Mariah about Stanford women’s basketball history.