Is the 'Golden' Age of Civil War Publishing Now?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

My New Article (Part 1 of a 2-Part Series) in "Civil War Times" Magazine--and Why You Should Care

X
Writing articles for magazines is enjoyable, but I stopped doing so some years ago because I no longer had the time.

I am busier now than ever, but one topic in particular had been eating at me. Late last year a new book was published--let's call it the straw that broke the camel's back (see more below).

I pitched Dana Shoaf, editor of the venerable Civil War Times magazine, an idea for a two-part feature article. My pitch intrigued him and he (thankfully) accepted.

Spread from Part 1 of my 2-part series in Civil War Times magazine
Part 1, "Heart of the Southern War Machine" was just published in the June 2017 issue. It is critically important in many ways, and it is impossible to fully appreciate Part 2 without understanding Part 1. Still, but it something of a feint, for it sets up the knock-out punch that will appear in the next issue as Part 2: "Repeated Strategic Failures of Magnitude: General Sherman and the Bypassing of Augusta."

*     *     *

(Only modest spoilers ahead...)

Every author thinks his or her work is important, In truth, it usually isn't. 

An article (or book, for that matter) might be good, interesting, or entertaining, but when the reader closes the cover, that's it. On to other matters. Very few influence the literature on a particular topic.

I think (and sincerely hope) this two-part series is different. 

Why? Because I believe it can--and damn well might--change the way we look at not only the manner in which the Union high command conducted the Civil War (and three important campaigns in particular), but trigger a reevaluation of these watershed events and, more importantly, of one of the war's leading Union generals--William T. Sherman.

Now you know why I took the time to write these articles.

*     *     *


George Washington Rains, 1865
In the late 1980s, I accidentally stumbled across a Confederate colonel named George Washington Rains in my 128-volume set of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (more commonly known as the OR). He was associated with something called the Augusta Powder Works. What was that? The more I searched the traditional secondary sources, the less I found about Rains and the facility. 

Something was amiss. 

Determined to solve this mini-mystery, I began digging into archives and other repositories with firsthand accounts. Keep in mind there was no Internet back then. As it turned out, Rains designed, built, and operated the South's only (ONLY) major source of gunpowder during the Civil War. How could I have spent decades reading about the war and not known this? 

I determined to write a book on the subject and spent years researching the topic in more than a score of repositories across the country.

I obtained copies of the mill's ledger books, daily operational records, uncovered hundreds of letters, and so much more. Once I thoroughly studied the mill's day-to-day operational records (I believe I am the first historian to have ever done so), and discovered the facility's extensive original colorized blue-prints jammed in drawers on a small museum's third floor, I extrapolated the information and determined to follow the evidence wherever it led.

And then I proceeded to pick myself up off the floor.

After years of careful study and in-depth discussion with a couple other historians I respected, I reached conclusions that ran wholly contrary to what everyone else had ever written about Civil War strategy, General Sherman, the Atlanta Campaign, his March to the Sea, and even the beginning of his 1865 Carolinas Campaign.

How could this be?

Take a look at the bibliographies and indexes of any books on this general or these topics and you will discover the answer--not by what is there, but by what is NOT there.

No other writer, historian, or author had ever bothered to engage in the due diligence required to utilize available archival records relating to Colonel Rains and the true significance of the role the Augusta's Powder Works played in the war--and then employ this information to objectively evaluate the impact of various decisions and their influence on the course of the Civil War.

Other than a few lectures (at which audience members routinely say to me, "My God, why have I never heard this before?!") and one article many years ago that touched on the subject, I kept this to myself because I wanted to conduct more research.


In the mid-2000s, I was asked by Chip Bragg, a Georgia MD and fellow Rains enthusiast, to team up with several others of various backgrounds (engineering, logistics, architecture, etc.) to publish Never for Want of Powder: The Confederate Powder Works in Augusta, Georgia (U of South Carolina Press, 2007). I didn't reveal much of my own research there, but contributed two lengthy sections on Rains and the Works. It is a fine book, but the press didn't spend much time marketing it. Few people read it, and Rains and his accomplishment remained in obscurity. 

The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back


The last straw was the publication of William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life (2016) by James Lee McDonough. This author is best known for a case of plagiarism so egregious that his former publisher pulled his Atlanta Campaign book off the shelves. His new Sherman book has been hailed as a masterly work of scholarship, the reviews are glowing, and sales appear brisk.

McDonough's 832-page homage to Sherman touts his genius, his impeccable strategy, his stellar generalship, and essentially claims his actions helped bring the war to a quicker close. To McDonough, Sherman's March to the Sea is--of course--a brilliant masterpiece.

(Understand I used to believe this, too. I have no dog in this fight and I always let the evidence lead me to logical, reasonable conclusions.)

But guess what? You won't find anything in McDonough's book about George Rains, the Augusta Powder Works, the importance of Augusta, etc. and Sherman's decision-making vis a vis the city and its ordnance complex.

A reasonable person might ask, "How did McDonough reach his conclusions?"

The dirty little secret is that most (not all, most) historians and writers are lazy. (Keep in mind I have been a publisher for more than 25 years. I know how the sausage is made.) They copy one another, add adjectives and sterling prose, slap a pretty dust jacket on the package, and then sell it to you. They repeat one another in a heady rush to heap encomiums upon
Sherman without engaging in original thinking and research.

In this manner, the bronze medal “March to the Sea” has been declared a brilliant far-sighted gold medal achievement for everyone to admire.

Pardon me while I disagree.

*     *     *

My essay, as noted above, is divided into two sections: Part 1 sets the foundational importance of Augusta and its war industries, and Part 2 combines the objective data balanced against Union decision-making).

My research forces me to disagree with essentially everyone else.

Sherman's mistakes (he made the same one over and over, and then lied about it after the war) were so egregious, so impactful, and so inexcusable that they lengthened the war and resulted in tens of thousands more deaths.

And I have the documentary evidence that proves it. It is not guess work; it is not a "revisionist" alternative reality theory. It is demonstrable beyond doubt.

Let's call it the smoking gun that has been sitting in plain sight for 150 years.

I know my conclusions will generate some hate-mail, argument, name-calling, and so forth. Good. People who know me well know I don't give a damn about any of that.

As a researcher, trained historian, author, attorney, and publisher, I sincerely hope that this interpretation/argument convinces those who come after me to, at the very least, fully examine ALL available archival materials and then--and ONLY then--write about the subjects at hand.

After all, isn't that what good history is supposed to be?

--tps





Friday, January 27, 2017

Author Fraud also Tars the Publisher

x
I published an author one time. I will never publish him again.

Why?

He is a fraud.

Now, I have been associated with Savas Beatie, published widely under Savas Publishing, and have assisted many other agents, publishers, etc. so I am not sharing which outlet this man/woman wrote for, or the genre. I will refer to this author as a "he" for convenience sake. It may be a woman. But the gender is irrelevant. It is WHAT do you as an author that matters.

His work is barely mediocre but tends to sell. His writing is pretty awful, and needs to be rewritten from soup to nuts, and cut by about 40% to remove the repetitious filler and chaff to find the wheat. Sort of like taking a shovel to a pile of manure to find the pony hidden in there somewhere.

One publisher who had also released one of his books called him a "one-man editorial wrecking crew." I can vouch for that. One of my hired editors made it through three chapters before throwing up her hands to scream "no mas."

At that point I hired another, told him to completely rewrite and cut whatever, and he did. And the author never said a word. I don't even know that he read the galley proof. He really didn't give a damn as long as he had yet another book out with his name on it.

So you are are thinking, "What does the fraud part come into this?" right?

Another publisher who had suffered through one of his poorly written repetitive manuscripts to produce a book, demonstrated the perfidy to me some time ago. "This guy posts fake reviews on Amazon, either directly or through accounts of others. And I think he also hires fake reviewers, which is not hard to do. He has done it for several books."

Then my publishing acquaintance pointed out about half a dozen of these "reviews". We read them together on-line. They all had something in common, and you can find these commonalities here:

http://www.wikihow.com/Spot-a-Fake-Review-on-Amazon

The kicker for me was when I later discovered one "reviewer" who reviewed two of this author's books on the same day, writing almost entirely the same thing.

After I poured a gin and tonic and burned through a good cigar to relax, I called this author on it and told him that, as his publisher his fraud taints MY company. MY name is on the spine, copyright page, title page, etc. I made it clear he had 24 hours to remove the bullshit review on the book I had published, or I would report him publicly.

Of course he vigorously denied it. I told him the clock was running. The review remained. I published a comment to the review under my own name, called him out publicly, and apologized to anyone who had bought the book.

The review came down within hours.

The same author offered me other manuscripts to publish. Breathtaking, I know. I told him what I thought of that idea. He went elsewhere to peddle his junk.

BOTTOM LINE:

Your behavior as an author reflects upon your publisher.

As a man and a publisher who values his reputation (and the reputation of my partners--i.e, our authors), if you ever pull that stunt with me and I find out, I will name you to the world and tar and feather your behind to Kingdom Come. And trust me, Ted's will WILL be done.

Your work will stand or fall on its own merits. When you put yourself out there, you will get some bad reviews. It is the nature of the beast.

Learn to live with it.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

How I Came to Discover Douglas Southall Freeman....

X
This appeared as a newspaper editorial some fourteen years ago. I thought readers of this blog might enjoy it. 

Happy New Year.

--tps
-------------------

A DIME WELL SPENT

(published El Dorado Hills Telegraph, 2002)


I don’t think there is a better way to spend an hour on a Saturday morning than with your children perusing old books at one of the sales at Oak Ridge High School.

My ardor for books is boundless. When I was a kid my friends carried around sports cards; I was a card-carrying member of the HBC (History Book Club). They went fishing; I went to the library. They hung around school lockers and talked; I ducked into empty classrooms to finish  reading (or writing) a short story. If there was a book sale within 50 miles, I was there. Naturally, one of my adult obsessions has been whether my kids would be as smitten with dusty old books as is their papa.

Whole trees fall to the ax to satisfy my 11-year old daughter Alex's unquenchable thirst for ink-based adventure. And my polar opposite 7-year old son Demetrious? He loves it when I read to him—but picking up a book on his own and losing himself in another world seemed a lost cause.

For two years I have taken him to every Oak Ridge book sale. Recently he spotted a sign announcing another and demanded we attend. “I’ll pay for my own books,” he informed me. Like a warrior on a mission he zeroed in on the children's table. After amassing a sufficient stack of titles, he presented them for check out. I stood well behind him.

A kind lady with a warm smile tallied up the damage. She held up one book suitable for a teenager and commented to my son, “This is for older kids. Can you read it?” Something gently tugged at the back of my mind. Demetri offered a shrug in response. She continued sorting until she came to a not-so-gently read Amelia Bedelia book.

“How about a dime for this one?” she asked.

“A dime.”

A flood of memories washed over me. Demetri began fishing in his pocket for money as my mind wandered some three decades into the past . . .

*     *     *

One summer day my grandfather brought me a pummeled rummage sale copy of the first volume of Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command, by Douglas Southall Freeman. My grandpa charged me a dime and a kiss on his shiny bald head.

It was my first Civil War book. I was eleven or twelve. Who knew.

I read it aloud walking along the lilac-studded northern boundary of our Iowa property line. After a steady barrage of questions, my mother tired of the game and dropped a dictionary on a basswood stump. I got the message. Do your own research....

I spent the next week living with a cadre of men I would never meet, challenging myself as I flipped through Webster’s all while imagining another time and place. To this day I still smell pungently sweet lilac whenever someone mentions the Battle of Malvern Hill.

I remember how excited I was when I discovered there were three volumes in the series, and how the librarian with a freshly‑sharpened yellow pencil stuck deep into her beehive hairdo tried to discourage me from checking them out because I was “far too young to read and understand Freeman.”

I opened a book and read aloud. That convinced her.

With the second volume under my arm, I peddled my green Stingray bike (with the long cool banana seat) across town to the Union soldier’s memorial obelisk in Central Park, where I leaned against the sun‑warmed polished granite and devoured the stirring Introduction and first chapter.

I finished the book in the back of a Dodge station wagon on the way to New York City with the family, and the third installment on the stoop of an apartment complex in Brooklyn ten days later.

The colossal scope and breadth of books in general, and the Civil War in particular, finally began to dawn on me. My grandfather’s dime stirred a lifetime of passion. . . .

*     *     *

I stopped my son as he pulled a few coins from his pocket to pay for his books. “I’ve got it,” I told him with a smile he returned in kind. Before we arrived home, he had the torn paperback out of the sack and was reading for all he was worth.

“Wanna play some catch?” I asked, hoping I knew the answer.

“No, I want to read,” he replied without looking up.

Without another word, Demetri walked upstairs and flopped down on his bed. I walked into my library, pulled out that battered first volume of Lee's Lieutenants, trotted up the steps, and asked him to scoot over.

He smiled and wiggled closer to the wall. I dropped down next to him. And we read together. And then we fell asleep together . . . reading.

A dime well spent can still buy you everything that really matters.



Copyright 2002, Theodore P. Savas

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Got Reviews? Why Publishers, Authors, Booksellers, and Other Potential Readers Need to Hear From You

X
We save our hard-earned money and we buy the books on the subjects we love.

Sometimes we check them out from libraries.

 Sometimes we borrow them from friends or families.

(Or, if you are Mark Wade, you attend my exclusive dinner parties, sneak down the hallway, ride the secret elevator to my private lair, and snatch them from my personal library.)

However, the vast majority of book readers never leave public reviews of the titles they read. Not on blogs, not on Facebook, and not on Amazon. Not in newsletters, or in magazines, or in newspapers. And they don’t think twice about not having done so.

And I understand why. People are busy, and/or they don’t think they write well enough to leave a public review.

Here are a few reasons why you should pen a review, however brief or long, however general or detailed  …

1) Authors need your feedback. They labor alone for many years, send a manuscript off to the publisher, and wait for a long while until it is published. Reviews are the only way to really get feedback from the end user: YOU. Trust me, authors do not write for the money. They write for the joy of researching and writing, and to enrich your lives by feeding you (hopefully) what you love. Tell them your opinion.

2) Publisher’s need your feedback. It is important to let publishers know what you like, or don’t like. Footnotes or end notes? How are the maps? Are there enough, and are they placed properly? Ditto on the images. We publish for many of the same reasons authors write. It ain’t for the money; it’s for the love of the game, to add enjoyment to the lives of others, and to leave something worthwhile for posterity (at least for me).

3) Other readers need YOUR opinion. Folks can read our blurbs and jackets and ad copy until they are blue in the face, but potential readers are more influenced by YOUR opinion. Think about it. Don’t you like to read what others think about a new book? Sure you do. So does everyone else.

4) Booksellers and wholesalers follow reviews carefully. Here is a simple, if extreme example to make my point. The simple memoir Steel Boat, Iron Hearts: A U-boat Crewman’s Life Aboard U-505, by Hans Goebeler, with John Vanzo is a remarkable book, but its success isn’t because of author promotion (Hans is deceased, and John does not do events), but because some of our promotions triggered a wave of reviews. (Most u-boat titles have single-digit reviews on Amazon; Steel Boats has 484—the most of any u-boat book ever published; at last count and the next closest is in the 200s). As the number of positive reviews climbed, more booksellers and wholesalers stocked it, more libraries picked it up, and more readers discovered this little gem. Foreign rights agents sought us out, as did a major audio rights company. Thousands of readers around the world would not have never of this title except for the reviews. They matter.

5) Amazon uses reviews and page hits to determine which books are popular, and how to match them with other similar interests. Amazon reviews, especially, matter. Many people check there and glance at a star rating. How many of us looked at a book and thought, “Only a two-star average with six reviews? I will pass.” Or, “Wow this has 22 reviews and a 4.5-star rating average. I will get a copy.”

“But Ted, I am not a good writer!”

I hear this all the time. It. Does. Not. Matter.

Click your star rating (5 stars for SB, of course), and just write what you liked (or didn’t like) about a book. It can be as simple as, “I liked this book because the subject is interesting, it was easy to read, there were lots of maps, the footnotes were informative, and I learned a lot.”

If you feel comfortable, leave several paragraphs and go in-depth. If not, leave a sentence or two. It is the overall star rating and the fact you felt compelled to leave a review that matters most, even if your review is not detailed.

Your participation with reviews is critically important and likely much more so than you realize. We scour the web and magazines for reviews to learn whether what we did worked—or didn’t. So do authors and booksellers and wholesalers and agents. Your collective opinion counts.

Hopefully, your SB stack looks like this....
If you have read one or more of our titles and have not posted a review, would you consider taking a few minutes and doing so? Maybe find your SB books and stack them on the corner of your kitchen table or office desk. Whittle down that stack one a day until you finish. It is easier and faster than you think. 

Also, if you belong to a Facebook Civil War- or military-related page, post a review there.

Let us, the authors, other booksellers, and more importantly, other readers, HEAR from you.

Thanks as always for your support. Independent publishing could not exist without you.

-- tps

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

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

X

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?

X
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?

X
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