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HokieFootball Annual Writer Chris Colston's Interview With Gobbler Country

This week Chris Colston was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk about his latest Virginia Tech undertaking, the HokieFooball Annual 2012.

For those of you who don't know what the HokieFootball Annual is, or would like to know more about it, here's your chance. The interview begins right after the jump.

(Since both parties in this interview are named Chris, Chicagomaroon will be CM and Chris Colston will be CC)

CM: Now this is the third year of the HokieFootball Annual, correct?

CC: Correct, Chris, this is the third year, which is usually when you know if a venture is going to work or not. I'm seeing progress. Last year single-copy sales were up 153% over Year One. This season, the advertising income increased 400% from Year Two.

But there is still a lot of work to do. Virginia Tech sites like yours do a great job of getting out the word, but a lot of people still don't know the HokieFootball Annual exists. For the HFA to continue, I'll need to secure more financial support. I'm hopeful that can happen. Hokie fans are telling me they appreciate the quality of the book and word of mouth is helping it grow.

CM: What inspired you to write these annuals and what made you want to publish them yearly?

CC: The HokieFootball Annual is a product of my pure, unadulterated passion for Virginia Tech football. I grew up watching players like Don Strock, Mike Burnop, Ricky Scales, Phil Rogers and Roscoe Coles. I graduated from Virginia Tech and produced the Hokie Huddler for 11 years (1985-96). I worked with coach Frank Beamer on autobiography. Three different publishers have asked me to write books about Tech football. So I'm deeply steeped in it.

Even after I left Blacksburg and traveled across the country covering MLB, NFL and NBA for USA Today and Sports Weekly, I always tried to squeeze a Hokie football game into my schedule. When I left USA Today, I finally had the time to do it. I hope my connections with the football staff and my sports writing experience make the HokieFootball Annual a unique reading experience.

CM: What kind of undertaking is the publication of these annuals? How much time do you spend on them every year?

CC: Oh, Chris, it's nuts. I work on some aspect of it year-round, be it marketing, sales, layout, interviews, design or what have you. It's basically just myself working with my designer. But since I want the content to be as fresh as possible, the bulk of the production takes place in a four-month period from February to mid-May. I wrap up the content shortly after the Spring Game, and try to have it available by June 1.

CM: Do you ever think you will get burnt out on doing them yearly?

CC: Burnout is a very real possibility because I put so much effort into the book. I demand a certain standard of quality of myself, and the workload, particularly in March and April, is mind numbing. I'm talking about 16-hour days, seven days a week, for two consecutive months.

CM: In this year's edition of the HFA, I believe all three members of your media panel (David Teel of the Daily Press and Jimmy Robertson of Inside Hokie Sports) picked the Hokies to go 12-1 in 2012. Most predictions have the Hokies a little lower than that, ranked anywhere between 15-25. Would you like to offer any insight to our readers why you think the Hokies will do better than predicted elsewhere?

CC: When we finished the exercise, we were all a little surprised we all predicted a 12- 1 mark. David Teel is probably the most even-keeled and informed columnist in the ACC, and Jimmy Robertson sees the program-warts and all-on a daily basis. But we went through each game and that was the record we came up with individually.

First of all, it's not like Virginia Tech is playing an SEC-type schedule this year. The Hokies will probably be favored in all but two games (Clemson and perhaps Florida State). So if they take care of business, an 11-1 regular-season mark isn't far-fetched.

Secondly, if players such as Bruce Taylor, Antoine Hopkins and others can return to full health, the defense should be the strongest since 2007, when it finished ranked No. 4 in the nation.

And thirdly, the Hokies have a really, really good quarterback. If Logan Thomas can continue to progress this year like he did as a sophomore, then he'll have a chance to be a Top Five NFL draft pick come April 2013. If you have a quarterback and a defense, you have a shot at a special season. The Hokies must shore up their offensive line and kicking game, but if they can do that, they could have a special season.

CM: You wrote "The Virginia Tech Vault: A History of Virginia Tech Football" in 2009, and it was about the most comprehensive book on Tech's football history I can remember reading. However, it ends with the 2008 season. Are there any plans to update it like you have with "Tales From the Virginia Tech Sidelines"?

CC: Unlike the HokieFootball Annual, which I create from scratch under my own publishing company (James Doctor Press Inc.), Whitman Publishing produced the Vault. I just wrote it. So any decision on updating it would be Whitman's decision.

But the 2010 HokieFootball Annual picks up where the Vault left off, with a very detailed account of the 2009 season. I think if you had the Vault and then the full collection of HokieFootball Annuals, then you'd have a pretty solid continuous record of the program. And we do have a few back issues left for readers who want to complete their collection.

CM: More on the "VT Vault", it was more than just a read, with all of the pictures and pullouts it was an experience. Did you have as much fun finding some of that stuff as much as your readers did when they dug into (literally) the "Vault"?

CC: Whitman Publishing sent somebody to Blacksburg to compile all of that; I had nothing to do with that aspect of it. So I was just like you when I saw the finished product. I loved it, seeing all that great old memorabilia. I thought Whitman just did a fabulous job producing that book. It was first-class all the way, and they were wonderful people to work with. It was the best experience I've ever had with an outside publisher.

I do, however, hand-pick everything you see in the HokieFootball Annual.

CM: What would you tell someone on the fence about buying the HFA?

CC: Chris, honestly, at the price we're selling it for ($9.99), if someone is on the fence about buying it, there's no hope for them! You can spend more than that on a burger or a T-shirt.

I think I can honestly say, if you're a Virginia Tech football fan, buying the HokieFootball Annual is the best ten bucks you'll spend this year. People are telling me this year's book is, by far, the best one yet, written in chapters, covering the past, present and future of Virginia Tech football. There's meaty reporting in it, a ton of information, but also some light, fun interviews with the coaches and players. When you're done reading it, you're going to feel like you really know Virginia Tech football from the inside out.

I mean, you've read it. Is there a single more comprehensive piece of literature about Tech football out there? Or about any program, for that matter? Most big-time programs don't even have a publication quite like this. I'll put this book up against anything.

On top of that, it's of collectible keepsake quality, something you can refer back to for years to come. People pay $7 for a college preseason magazine and they get, what, two or three pages about Virginia Tech? The HokieFootball Annual gives you 128 pages packed with great stuff. And we also have a downloadable Digital Edition available for $7.99 for people who also want to save on postage.

So, yeah, at that price, if somebody is still on the fence about buying it, then all I have to say is, "Oh my..."

CM: For all the readers you just convinced to jump up and go out and get the newest HFA with your last answer, where can they find it?

CC: If you live outside Virginia, you can order the hard or digital copy at In Virginia, the HokieFootball Annual is available statewide in Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble. It is also available in Stop-In Food stores, Gobbler Gear in Salem and, in Blacksburg, at University Bookstore, Volume II Bookstore and Tech Bookstore.

Chris Colston (Marketing, 1980) produced, directed, managed, edited and provided content for the Hokie Huddler from 1985-96. From 1996-2009 he wrote four books about Virginia Tech football, five if you include the paperback versions. His works include The Hokies Handbook (1996), Frank Beamer's autobiography Turn Up the Wick! (2000), Tales From the Virginia Tech Sidelines (hardcover 2003; updated paperback 2007) and The Virginia Tech Vault: A History of Virginia Tech Football (2009).

From 1996-2005 he was an editor and reporter for USA Today Sports Weekly and from 2006-09 he covered the NFL and NBA for USA Today. In 2007 he won first place in the Pro Football Writers of America national features contest. His work has been mentioned in the Best American Sports Writing series. Colston spent his first two years on the Virginia Tech campus living on the former site of Miles Stadium (Lee Hall). Today he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, Melanie, and their children Kevin and Danielle.