Tuesday, August 30, 2016

HE + RA = S, or, What Most Authors Overlook

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We hear exchanges like this often:

SB: "How did the speaking/signing event go?"

AUTHOR: "Horrible. There were only 15 people, there and I sold four books!"

Authors tend to count immediate book sales. That is understandable. It is also short-sighted and often dispiriting.

Take that exchange above and plug in any number of people in attendance, and ZERO for book sales, and the event (if you have a publisher who understands marketing) was a success. Why?

Because the event itself (like most single battles of any long war, for example) are irrelevant to the long-term outcome. The goal is sell books, and brand the author.

HE + RA = S. (Stay with me here.)


A speaking engagement, battlefield tour, book signing, etc. is but the pebble you throw into a pond. I don't care about the pebble. I care about the ripple.


The ripple is the "volume" of movement you can create by tossing the pebble into the water. Think of how much more ground a ripple covers compared to the small stone itself.

In our case, it is the newspaper article, media interview, blog post, Facebook post, tweet, etc. that only came about because there was a hard event to announce/promote.

You can only tell folks so many times, "Hey! Here is a new book on X!" before people stop paying attention.

But each book event is in itself newsworthy. Each post, tweet, article, etc. tied to a book, its event, and its author creates something I call "repetitive awareness." (I have no idea if that is already a phrase, but I just thought it up and I like it.)

And you know what I mean. Have you ever bought a book? Or a refrigerator? Or a car? Have you ever paid attention to your purchasing habits? Most of us see an ad and skip over. We see it again, and do not act. We see it a third time, and find ourselves in a position (mentally, financially, emotionally) to want to act, and then we do. Why? We have been reminded. Over and over. And we take action.

The action can be attending the author event itself, OR buying the book online, from a store, or from us, and/or referring it to a friend. And what do you do when you get a new book? You tell others in a wide variety of ways, right? 

HE (hard events) + RA (repetitive awareness) = Success (book sales, branding of author).

It not just the bodies that show up an an event--it is who learns of the event. 

From now on, when your publicist or publishing company wants to book you for an event, realize it does not matter whether you get 5 people or 50, sell zero books or 25. 

It's all about the  . . . .ripple. 

--tps

Monday, August 15, 2016

How Many Authors Realize They Qualify as a Business?

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Color me shocked. 

A few months ago I had a conversation with an author that went something like this:

ME: I appreciate you driving to the Visitor Center to sign books. Make sure you keep track of that mileage and gas expense, and so forth.

AUTHOR: What do you mean?

ME: What do you mean, what do I mean?

AUTHOR: Why would I keep track of that?

ME: So you can write it off.

AUTHOR: I can write that off?

ME: You do file a Schedule C, right?

AUTHOR: What's a Schedule C?

That sound he heard next was my head hitting the desk.

ME: We have to talk....

And then we did.

If you are an author, you should talk to your CPA (I am not a CPA, I don't play one on TV or on stage, and I am not giving firm, actionable advice--but your CPA can and will). Tell him what you are doing, and ask him how to form a DBA (Doing Business as), or if worthwhile given your situation, an LLC or some other entity...and take advantage of the tax loopholes the multi-millionaire crooked lobbyists have been bribing your crooked politicians for decades to implement.

For example, here are some of the things that, in most circumstances, you can write off as legitimate expenses:

1. Home office
2. A portion of your utilities
3. Electronic equipment (computer, cell phone, etc.)
4. Paper, ink, pens, staples, tape, and other office supplies
5. Dog food (okay, maybe not this one)
6. Lunches / dinners (travel)
7. Gas and/or mileage
8. Storage costs
9. Postage
10. Internet costs
11. Thank You gifts for your favorite publisher (Yes, I actually get these, and YES, they are a tax-write off in most instances. And yes, I like good cigars and good red Zinfandel).

And that list? It's not complete.

Now, let's say you earn $1,000 a year in royalties. You are a part time author, you have a full-time other job or are retired, etc. and you do this for fun. I mean really, who writes for the money?

Let's say in the year you got that stack of Benjamins you did a lot of research, some travel, had to buy a new printer, etc. Maybe your expenses are $800.00. That means you would only pay tax on $200.00. OR if your expenses are higher than royalties, you might actually have a legitimate LOSS to set off against other gains, or use as your CPA advises.

Once I explained this to an author, I could "see" almost as much as I could "feel" his shaking head in his hands wondering just how much money he had left on the table over the years.

WHAT TO DO?

1. Call your CPA immediately and schedule an appointment;

2, Take in whatever he asks for, including a copy of your published books (or if new, your most recent manuscript) to prove what you are doing, tangibly so.

3. Find out what you can write up, what business form to create (DBAs do not require formal corporate filing; you use your SSN. For example, Savas Beatie LLC is a formal corporate entity; Theodore P. Savas is an author, DBA as Savas Publishing Company.

This is easy, and you will quickly find out how much money you can save. There might also be a way to amend your previous returns to include expenses from prior years you failed to claim. Ask your CPA and find out what is right for you.

Go for it.

--tps

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How Do we "Grow" the Civil War?

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As one of the great lyricists of all time wrote

"He's not busy being born is busy dying."
-- Bob Dylan, "Its Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)"

I am hip-deep in this business, and see it from every angle and have for decades. It is obvious that the average age of conference attendees, readers, and so forth is getting older. At least some of this is our own fault.

My approach to life, regardless of the issue, is to try and find the route to success over a blockage, around it, through it, or under it. There is always a way.

And WE (all of us) hold the solution in our hands, sort of like Dorothy not knowing she has all this power, and only has to click her heels together. Let's all do it together.

How many of you reading this have know folks younger than you? Answer: All of you.

How many of you have given some of the best prospects a book to read and strong encouragement to do so? The number of hands just fell to nearly zero.

BOOKS

We created and published Mark Hughes' Civil War Handbook to make the study of the war easier and more accessible than beginning with a more expensive and difficult to understand study like, say David Powell's 796-page battle studies on Chickamauga.

Hughes' "Civil War Handbook" is heavily illustrated, and the short sections and photos include detailed captions and various galleries, lists, charts, tables, etc. to explore many areas of the war (infantry, navy, the various theaters, civilians, hospitals, artillery, battles, etc.) Most of the war, in some fashion, is covered, albeit lightly, but it invites readers to wade shoe top-deep into the subject, discover what triggers a special interest, and then start digging from there. And boy has it been successful.

The books in the Emerging Civil War series are more focused (Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, Wilderness, etc.), inexpensively priced, jammed with photos and maps, well-written, and include a simple touring section at the back. Each is a PERFECT entry point for younger or less experienced readers of any age. They are a couple levels deeper than Hughes' handbook, but still very accessible, with enough meat and heft to satisfy even experienced readers of the Civil War (as we hear all the time).

Why are these titles important?

They grow the Civil War, which essentially is no longer taught in American schools. That, in and of itself is a crime, especially given all the crap they teach today instead. But I digress.

What do we do?

I strongly encourage you to give these titles as gifts to nephews, nieces, grand kids, neighbors, employees, their kids, etc. If you don't want to buy another copy, that's okay--read yours and pass it along and encourage someone else to get the virus.

If you want to buy in bulk to give as gifts, give us a call and we will work something out with you to make it as affordable as possible.

If you have a business, it is also likely a tax write-off.

This strategy works!

We have many new customers who began their journey with the Civil War Handbook or an ECW title picked up at a battlefield bookstore or received as a gift. These new readers are now on our mailing list, and they are adding new titles to their library and visiting more battlefields.

Isn't that what we all want?

I always have several copies of Hughes' Civil War Handbook with me at home and office, and I hand them out like candy. I have even done that with Shaara's Killer Angels (a novel on Gettysburg) for some adults.

Do you? Can you? Will you?

Recently, my newly retired and very well educated step brother admitted he knew almost nothing about the Civil War, and that he wanted one book to get a feeling for "the whole thing." I recommended Shelby Foote's massive, but very readable The Civil War, A Narrative trilogy. Tom is now finishing vol. 2---and LOVING IT. He found that he has a deep interest in the Western Theater, wants to visit Shiloh and Vicksburg. He also wants to know what to read next. Without my encouragement and suggestions, none of this would have happened. He is now HOOKED.

ROUND TABLES

I am at heart a marketing guy. It drives me nuts to watch RTs wring their collective hands about the age of their membership. When I ask what they are doing to bring in new members--all I usually hear is crickets.

No one is going to FIND YOU if you don't have a Black Box sending out signals that say "COME JOIN US!" You have to find them or make it a lot easier to find you.

Today, the best and easiest and most cost-effective way is to useMeetup. Click here: MEETUP:

Get on there and get a Round Table page, make it exciting, etc. Announce your meetings. People will find you and you will get new members.

It. Is. Easy.

BE FUN: Now . . . are your meetings even remotely interesting? I have attended groups around the country, and some of them are so boring I would rather have my eyes scratched out by an irate cat than suffer through another 90 minutes of time I will never get back.

WHERE DO YOU MEET? Do you meet in a bright, cheery place with food and drink, or a dark dingy small room in the back of NoOneGoesHere Grill that smells like an old man's coat you found in an ally?

RAISE MONEY: Make sure you have raffles to raise money for a cause. Do something important to be important. (The San Jose Group I founded with Dave Woodbury in my living room has probably raised about $10,000 over the years for battlefield preservation.)

WHO IS YOUR BOOK REVIEWER? Do you have a book reviewer on staff? What? No?! Why the heck not? That reviewer (credible, articulate, and knowledgeable--not an old person with a stained shirt who mumbles through his false teeth), should bring in 2-3 NEW titles each meeting, hold them up, and talk about each book for a minute or two, and then pass them around so others can see them. Touch and a connection to the ongoing CW world is important.

GIVE BOOKS AWAY TO BRING YOUNGER PEOPLE IN: If you want to buy in bulk (Say 6 or more) to give as gifts, give us a call and we will work something out with you to make it as affordable as possible.

LIBRARY INSERTS: Go to local libraries and slip pieces of paper inside the popular Civil War books with your name, meeting times, and contact info! Don't ask permission. Just do it. We got several members this way.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO DO: Stop using boring speakers as "placeholders" at your meetings because you can't find someone else. That is a lazy excuse and I don't like excuses. I like results. A boring speaker who reads his talk and cannot relate and engage an audience is the fastest way to drive new folks away.

Work hard to bring in good speakers! Share them and the costs with other RTs, hit the local colleges and ask history profs to come and speak.

PANEL DISCUSSIONS: When you have months you can't fill with a decent presenter, organize a panel discussion--but put your BEST folks on it and then pick a good topic. Show a clip of a movie (Glory, Gettysburg, etc.) and open that up to debate at another meeting. Have the attendees read a relatively short book and two month later make that the subject of the panel discussion.

As you can see, you don't have to do the same old, same old, every meeting because you always have.

Those who stand in the way of making an organization better are the kiss of death. I guarantee you folks in your RT will throw up roadblocks. Ignore these naysayers. I deal with the every day. I have dealt with them all my life (you can't play classical piano; you can't play in a rock band; you can't go to law school; you will never get published; you can't start a publishing company on the Civil War from California, etc.) Smile and push on past and get it done. Work with the "get it done" folks.

If you are not growing, you are dying. But you are CHOOSING to die. I choose to live and thrive.

Be active, be encouraging, be creative, and PLAY A ROLE. Look at everyone you meet as a new Civil War reader and enthusiast.

GROW THE CIVIL WAR.

Onward.

--tps

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Golden Age of Civil War Publishing is NOW.

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I was asked recently to write an editorial for Civil War News about the state of Civil War Publishing. Here is the article, which made the front page. I hope you enjoy it.

--tps

---

Advances in technology in general and the advent of faster computers, better software and the Internet in particular have turned every aspect of publishing inside-out.

The past couple of decades have witnessed radical change in the world of book publishing. Nothing has been left untouched, from how books are researched, written, designed, submitted, printed and proofed to how they are marketed, purchased, delivered and even how they are read.

Many people I speak with in and out of the publishing industry lament these changes, but I am not one of them because I believe readers have benefited the most from this technological tsunami.

Today, we readers have at our fingertips access to the broadest selection of Civil War titles we have ever enjoyed. We can order them from catalogs, purchase them in brick-and-mortar stores and at battlefields, buy directly from publishers, authors, or online stores with a few clicks.

We can even download them into our reading devices. We can read them in traditional print, listen to some on audio, or access them through digital handheld devices or on our home or office computers.

The breadth and depth of the subject matter has never been richer. Indeed, the giant smorgasbord of titles at which we feast adds credence to the slogan “So many books, so little time.” Gettysburg continues to overwhelm, but many of the titles on that well-tread subject break new ground.

The Western Theater is finally getting some of the attention it deserves with fresh studies on Shiloh, the battles around Atlanta, Stones River, and a wide variety of studies on the various commanders and regiments that made it all possible.

Even the Trans-Mississippi Theater, the war’s redheaded step-child, has been the subject of fresh studies. Indeed, no category under “Civil War” is lacking for new books.

This plethora of titles is the result of Internet —related technologies that have made research substantially easier and cheaper, created desktop publishing and its related software and spin-offs, and thus have removed entry barriers into the publishing world.

In the past, the only viable way to conduct adequate research was to personally visit the repositories of primary material (National Archives, Library of Congress, state historical societies, and so forth). Although I do not believe there is a substitute for personal research “in the stacks,” much of what we need is now available at our fingertips through the Internet.

Entire books (including many of the hard-to-find regimental histories) are now available free online, as are the Official Records and many other databases, documents, photographs, roster data and genealogical sources.

Combine this steep reduction in time and money regarding research with desktop publishing software that turns whatever you produce into at least something that looks like a book. The result is more books than you could ever read in your lifetime.

The spigot really opened with the advent of print-on-demand (POD). Traditional printing injects ink into the paper and requires a sizable number of copies to make it worthwhile to set up the press (1,500 or higher). POD, however, is a high resolution copier that puts toner on the paper.

With POD, you can produce a single copy or 1,000 copies, as needed. The expense per copy can get pretty steep, but there is no need to tie up thousands of dollars and warehouse space on inventory.

In addition, POD quality has improved so dramatically over the past half-dozen years that most people can no longer tell the difference. The physical quality of a book, however, has no relationship to the quality of the research, the writing, the editing, the organization or the presentation.

The merger of these technologies has been tremendous for readers of Civil War history. The rapid expansion of available titles, however, makes the Latin warning caveat emptor (“Let the buyer beware”) all the more relevant.

Anytime something is easier to do, more people will do it. This is overwhelmingly true in two publishing areas: any fiction in any genre — and anything related to the Civil War.
 


Without many of the traditional “roadblocks” in place, like agents, acquisition editors, developmental editors, copy editors, peer review, and so forth, it is more important than ever to exercise discretion before purchasing a book. If, in your opinion, the publisher and author have a good track record, a catalog description and announcement could be enough. 

Track records matter, whether it’s a car brand or a publisher. If this relationship is not present, and good research is important to you, then what’s in the bibliography?

Is the book footnoted? Is the material edited well and presented in an attractive, organized readable format? Is the book indexed? Is it well written? Can you read an excerpt before purchasing it?

  

What is important to you? This question is more important today than it has ever been.


With all due respect to the giants of yesteryear, Civil War books (in terms of research, writing, design, printing, and binding) have never been better. Indeed, the best material (in a secondary sense) is being published right now.

We are living through the golden age of Civil War publishing. Pull down one of your favorites from the 1940s, 50s or 60s, and compare it to one of your favorites of today, and you will immediately see what I mean.

There are always exceptions. The pens of many brilliant writers and thinkers we hold dear went still many decades ago. Douglas Southall Freeman, Allan Nevins, Edwin Coddington, and Bruce Catton, among others, leap readily to mind. These men will always be in the pantheon of the magnificent. Indeed, all of us stand on their shoulders and owe them a debt of gratitude we can never repay.

However, a large percentage of the rest of the titles published in their day — some of which we still regard as “classics” — are, like many of the movies of our younger years, not quite as good as we remember them to be.

Hundreds of Civil War-related titles will be published this year and hundreds more next year and the year after. Because it is easier now than it has ever been to research and produce books, the smorgasbord table from which we read will always be a bounty of riches for those with the patience to choose wisely.
 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Being an Author Means Never Having to Say . . .

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. . . I can't write off a lot of expenses from my taxes.

But do you?

Here is the other title to this article: Get books from your publisher and SELL THEM, and keep track of all your expenses.

I am not a CPA. I don't even play one on TV. But here is what I know: As a published author, if you set up a dba (doing business as) entity, you can file a Schedule C and itemize your deductions.

Now, before you do anything, it is imperative that you speak with your tax adviser first. (I am not giving you any financial or legal opinion here upon which you should rely, because every situation is different.)

However . . .

As a published author, long ago I spoke to my CPA about how to make that aspect of my life a business and write off my expenses. It was simple, and essentially free.

What it means is that I can write off the cost of the computers I use to work on, research, ink, paper, toner, folders, some gas and food, some utilities, some of the cost of research trips, photocopy charges, marketing and promotion efforts, business cards, stationary, and . . . the books I purchase to sell. Those books are my "inventory," if you will.

How many of authors do this?

I took a very rough survey once a few years ago and discovered it was fewer than  . . . one in ten. When I explained to one author at a trade show just how much money he could write off each year (and he had several books and a lot of years behind him), he did his best imitation of Fred Sanford by grabbing his chest like he was having a heart attack, staggering around threatening to join Elizabeth.

Then he and I discussed self-employment tax. When you get a 1099 for royalties, you get to pay double taxes on that amount (that's right, and your CPA can explain it to you). And most do, without really realizing all the deductions waiting at their fingertips.

Just pencil out how much you spend to produce the manuscript that will become your book. Then your after publication costs. Your ongoing costs. Do you drive to events? Write off the gas. Do you eat away from home? Sleep away from home? Postage? Phone costs? Even wear and tear on your car might be a tax write-off. Home office? Don't be a afraid of triggering an audit. If your deduction is legitimate, it is yours to take. It is, after all, your money.

Books as inventory: When you purchase X numbers of books and pay your publisher at your 50% author discount before the end of the tax year, you can take that expense and write it off that year's taxes. As noted earlier, situations differ, so I am offering a general layman's opinion and you should speak to your tax person.

But I know of what I speak and I keep meticulous records for every penny spent on my own writing career. (This is separate, of course, from my corporation Savas Beatie, which is a publisher.)

Here is the bottom line: You are a business. Treat yourself like one. Keep track of your legitimate expenses, work with your CPA, file a Schedule C, and save money.

We are moving into the last quarter of the year.

DO IT NOW.

--tps

Saturday, July 4, 2015

I Will Not Publish Gettysburg Books. (Yeah, Right.)

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“I have to tell you,” texted a customer through Facebook yesterday. “You are officially my Gettysburg publisher of record.”

That was a humbling statement. I thanked him for his support and the kind words, of course. But that statement triggered a little flash of a decade-old memory and a deep chuckle.

In 2003, Russel H. “Cap” Beatie, the author of the multi-volume The Army of the Potomac study (cut tragically short by the silencing of his exceptional pen), reached across a continent to lasso me back into the world of independent publishing.

We had never personally met. With Savas Publishing I had accepted his first two volumes, but I didn't publish them because the company was sold in 2001. We remained in touch with his weekly call to me to discuss everything from publishing to Popes and politics, to medicine, the Medici's, and medieval warfare. In that regard we were certainly kindred spirits. We were also both attorneys, though I was (hopefully) on the path to redemption, while he was tramping along the other one.

I resisted getting back into publishing as an owner because I loved what I was doing—ghost-writing books for agents, authors, and other publishers, working on my own research, and coaching little league. Life was good and calm.

He finally flew out for two days of face-to-face discussion. When we were about ten seconds away from a handshake across the table, I made this na├»ve stipulation: “I will not be doing Gettysburg books. I want to make that clear,” I insisted. “It has been done to death. There are a lot of other topics in that war that need to be explored.”

Cap was fine with that since he pictured Savas Beatie as a general military history publisher. He knew I wanted to produce Civil War books and that my following was in that genre, but he wanted to do more ancient material, Napoleonic, Indian Wars, and so forth. Gettysburg was irrelevant to him.

As it turned out, it wasn’t irrelevant to readers, researchers, writers, or the bottom line. Manuscripts and queries from exceptional authors began pouring across the digital transom. My first inclination was to get out a Bic lighter and ignite the stack, puff a cigar, and enjoy the glow.

Thankfully, good sense and a little patient reading convinced me otherwise. And boy was I wrong. The original material was staggering, the insights and research fresh and invigorating. Rather than “stop the madness,” I was more inclined than ever to ramp up the Pennsylvania insanity. And so it has come to pass.

Below, in very rough order of appearance, is our Gettysburg-related list of books that have either appeared in print or are in the final stages of development. (I have the nagging feeling that I have missed one or two, and if so I apologize in advance and please leave a comment and let me know.) Off the top of my head, we have another six or so under contract as I write.

I welcome your thoughts on this list. Favorites? Any you are looking forward to reading? Any here you had never heard of?

As always, thanks for your support.


*     *     *

Silent Sentinels: A Reference Guide to the Artillery at Gettysburg, by George Newton

The Maps of Gettysburg: An Atlas of the Gettysburg Campaign, June 3 - July 13, 1863, by Bradley Gottfried

The Rashness of That Hour: Politics, Gettysburg, and the Downfall of Confederate Brigadier General Alfred Iverson, by Robert Wynstra

The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses: Synopses, Orders of Battle, Strengths, Casualties, and Maps, June-July 1863, by J. David Petruzzi and Steven Stanley

The Complete Gettysburg Guide: Walking and Driving Tours of the Battlefield, Town, Cemeteries, Field Hospital Sites, and other Topics of Historical Interestby J. David Petruzzi and Steven Stanley

AUDIO / cd: Complete Gettysburg Guide: Audio Driving and Walking Tours, Volume 1: The Battlefield, by J. David Petruzzi and Steven Stanley

Sickles at Gettysburg: The Controversial Civil War General Who Committed Murder, Abandoned Little Round Top, and Declared Himself the Hero of Gettysburg, by James Hessler

Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride to Gettysburg, by Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi

One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4 -15, 1863, by Eric Wittenberg, J. David Petruzzi and Mike Nugent

Protecting the Flank at Gettysburg: The Battles for Brinkerhoff's Ridge and East Cavalry Field, July 2 -3, 1863, by Eric J. Wittenberg

Gettysburg's Forgotten Cavalry Actions: Farnsworth'sCharge, South Cavalry Field, and the Battle of Fairfield, by Eric J. Wittenberg

Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Confederate Expeditionto the Susquehanna River, June 1863, by Scott L. Mingus, Sr.

The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook: Facts, Photos,and Artwork for Readers of All Ages, June 9 - July 14, 1863, by J. David Petruzzi and Steven Stanley

Those Damned Black Hats! The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign, by Lance J. Herdegen 

Confederate General William "Extra Billy"Smith: From Virginia's Statehouse to Gettysburg Scapegoat, by Scott Mingus, Sr.

“The Devil’s to Pay”: John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour, by Eric J. Wittenberg

"Stand to It and Give Them Hell": Gettysburg as theSoldiers Experienced it from Cemetery Ridge to Little Round, July 2, 1863, by John Michael Priest

Fight Like the Devil: The First Day at Gettysburg,July 1, 1863 (Emerging Civil War), by Chris Mackowski and Daniel Davis

Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg: A Guide to the MostFamous Attack in American History, by James Hessler, Wayne Motts, andcartography by Steve Stanley

The Gettysburg Cyclorama: The Turning Point of the Civil War on Canvas, by Chris Brenneman, Sue Boardman, and Bill Dowling
In the Bloody Railroad Cut at Gettysburg: The 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade and its Famous Charge, by Lance Herdegen and William Beaudot


Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign: How the Critical Role of Intelligence Impacted the Outcome of Lee’s Invasion of the North, June –July, 1863, by Tom Ryan


Out Flew the Sabers: The Battle of Brandy Station,June 9, 1863--the Opening Engagement of the Gettysburg Campaign, by Eric J. Wittenberg and Daniel Davis

The Second Battle of Winchester: The Confederate Victory that Opened the Door to Gettysburg, by Eric J. Wittenberg and Scott L Mingus, Sr.

Second Day at Gettysburg: The Attack and Defense ofthe Union Center on Cemetery Ridge, July 2, 1863, by David Schultz and Scott L. Mingus, Sr.

The Last Road North: A Guide to the Gettysburg Campaign 1863 (Emerging Civil War series), by Dan Welch

Double Canister at Ten Yards: The Federal Artillery and the Repulse of Pickett's Charge, July 3, 1863, by David Shultz

The Gettysburg Encyclopedia, by Bradley Gottfried and Theodore P. Savas. (Yes, this is not a rumor and is very close to being finished.)

*     *     *

And there you have it.

--tps

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Work With and Trust Your Publisher. Otherwise—What’s the Point?

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I am going to begin with the punch line: the quality award-winning book you are currently reading did not start out that way, and is almost always quite different than the original submitted manuscript.

This post was prompted by a couple recent exchanges between one or our developmental editors and an author, and myself and an author. One of these turned out positively, when the author listened, respectively disagreed on an issue, but understood our expertise and appreciated our time and guidance and graciously dug in to make his manuscript better. The other author, well, his ego got in the way of his work (more on ego below). One got the feeling he was used to telling people what was what, rather than listening and cooperating with people who knew more than him. He is no longer with us (his request, happily granted).

Both experiences ended up well for Savas Beatie.

As an author myself who has produced a number of books with several publishers foreign and domestic, I know how this game works from both sides of the fence, up close and personal.

Seeking out a specific publisher in the hope of the acceptance of your manuscript is an important step for any author. It is often a daunting and lengthy process that usually ends in rejection. The purpose of this post is not how to go about the submission process, but what you, as an author, should do once your book is accepted. The answer is simple: cooperate in every regard. Leave your ego at the door and listen.

Those who do, succeed. Those who do not usually fail in demonstrable ways.

Few if any successful marriages begin by picking a random stranger out of a crowd and proposing. Assuming you care about your manuscript’s future prospects, choosing a publisher is not that much different than choosing a spouse. You find someone you like and have things in common with, including a compatible vision of your future course. You watch them in action in a variety of settings, and judge accordingly. In other words, you select a publisher with a winning track record of stellar (and repeat) authors, award-winning titles, outstanding book design, aggressive marketing, quality customer service, and so on. And then you follow their advice.

Once you find that publisher (“spouse”), how do you handle your relationship going forward from acceptance of your manuscript through editorial development, design, publication, and beyond?  Do you view it as an adversarial relationship or a partnership with someone who knows more than you and has your best interests at heart because both of your are joined at the hip?

Do you really listen (as in to listen to understand?), or do you listen only so you can formulate a push-back argument? Do you resist most substantive suggestions, argue about key points, get heated when your editor offers ways to improve your work, and then knock the board game to the floor? Surprisingly, some authors do. This is not only a good way to end up in divorce court rather quickly, but also to never be accepted by that publisher again and earn a negative reputation in what is really a very small community.

Editors and publishers talk. A lot. Especially after the second gin and tonic. When books leave us, I often get an email or a phone call asking, "What's wrong with this author? Or is there an issue with the manuscript? Why didn't you fight to keep it? Should I accept it?" On occasion, I make those phone calls, too.

Pull up a chair and let me explain.

Think of your publisher as you might an architect or engineer. Do you hire an architect with decades of experience to design your house and then argue about where support beams go? Or what building materials are up to code? Or whether too many windows weaken a wall? Do you insist on a roof the architect repeatedly tells you is too heavy? Or demand a design the expert explains will destroy the resale value of your dream house?

One would hope not. These are all fundamental matters that go to the heart of the viability of your building, whereas adjusting the width of a hallway or making your kitchen a little larger do not. You have seen this architect’s successful and award-winning work before—that is why you hired him. Signing a contract with him does not magically give you a degree in that subject or the decades of experience he has under his belt in the pond you now wish to wade into.

A publishing company puts its own time, expertise, and money—lots of it—on the line with your manuscript. You selected that company because you know the quality of the final product. Those great books don’t magically end up looking and reading as they do. There is a process along the way that is often grinding and time-consuming. And well worth it.

The Schedule.

When the publisher sets a schedule, or asks you to wait patiently because the company has its own internal ways of doing things—listen. Patience is a virtue. You have one book that consumes your thoughts. The publisher has scores of them in various stages of acceptance and production. You send one email to a publisher and don’t get an immediate reply, but the publisher gets 150 a day—and deals with everything else. Everyone at the company who needs to know, knows you exist. When your turn comes in the schedule, rest assured you will hear from your publisher.


The Development.

Most publishers assign a developmental editor (they have different labels at different companies) to craft your manuscript into a book. This includes everything from the length of chapters and chapter order, to what should go into the footnotes, proper transitions, what belongs in the appendices—the works. When they speak--LISTEN to what they tell you. If they tell you there is too much “fat” in your book—LISTEN. If they suggest cutting your work from 150,000 words to 120,000 words because of redundancy—LISTEN. They understand the pitfalls most authors cannot see—and will warn and advise you accordingly.

When an editor explains that your manuscript isn’t grounded in enough firsthand sources—he is telling you your structure does not have enough of a foundation to stand on its own. He is your architect. To argue is akin to replacing your brain with your ego. When expert readers review your manuscript and think it is confusing or difficult to follow, or poorly structured or reasoned, and offer key substantive suggestions on how to improve it—are you listening, or is your ego pushing back against the very expertise you “hired?” Work with them, not against them. Cooperate.

Cooperation, however, does not mean bow down and always say “yes.” It means know how and where to pick your battles. Make your own respectful suggestions and do your best to work hand-in-hand as you would with your spouse on matters of import to you and your family. Never forget (there is that “ego” thing again) that your experienced developmental editor crafts rough manuscripts into polished books on a daily basis. You don’t. He has gone through this same process dozens of times. The odds are, you have not. He understands weight-bearing walls and inspection codes better than you do.

Here is another way to look at it: Who is more likely to be the better judge of the end product, someone working with editors and outside reviewers, all of whom agree on X, or an author who does something entirely different for a living digging in his heels and demanding Y. The author is betting his ego, while the publisher is betting his livelihood. Clarifying, yes?

Now think of what you, as an author, do for a living. Now, whatever that is, imagine someone who does not do what you do asking your advice, and then arguing with this and with that and then rejecting it. No one is always right, but if you are advising on matters within your area of expertise, the odds are pretty good that your advice is sound--especially if you have a long track record of success.

Ask any person who has achieved success in their chosen field how they became successful. Nearly all of them will candidly tell you they sought out people who had already done what they want to do—people who knew more than they did. They then put their ego aside, listened, cooperated, and followed their advice.

My mentors were Tom Broadfoot, Bob Younger, and a friend who worked in high places in publishing in NYC. I was a lawyer and had written a few things that had manged to get into print--but I was not a publisher. But I wanted to be one. So when experts like Tom and Bob told me things--I LISTENED. I LEARNED. I COOPERATED. I put my ego aside and used my brain to think. Success heals any bruises your ego might suffer along the way.

If there is a true roadblock on a key matter, you might respectfully ask for another set of eyes on that issue in particular. Maybe like this: “On this issue we see things differently and it is very important to me. Before you make your decision, would you mind if the managing director or another editor takes a look at this one issue? I would appreciate that.”

I don’t know of a single publisher or editor who would not honor that wish. That is much better than getting heated, pushing back, complaining, and leading with your ego instead of your brain.

Leave your ego at the door. Enjoy the journey. Reap the rewards.