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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Building a Brand (Part 1)

As the managing director of Savas Beatie, it is my responsibility to brand the company. As with any publishing house, the "brand" that defines us is largely determined by the titles we publish. Deciding which to select is often quite difficult, especially now with the mountain of manuscripts we receive each month. It was not always this way.

The decision making process is akin to standing on the bridge of the ship and looking into the distance. While watching for whales and icebergs, I continually ask myself, "What is our goal? Will this manuscript help us reach it?" "We have a destination. Will this author help us move in that direction?" This process is harder now than it used to be.

When I began publishing with David Woodbury (Savas Woodbury Publishers) in 1990, our small house produced only Civil War titles. We launched the new quarterly journal Civil War Regiments, and we knew the topic very well. Our goal was to produce original titles on largely overlooked topics that deserved scholarly treatment.

We also loved maps. Most publishers avoided the expense altogether, copied something unreadable from Battles and Leaders or the OR Atlas (shockingly, many still do), or hired a third-party to draft a couple expensive pieces. I remember one publisher laughing at us when I told him we were going to use a lot more maps in our books. What he did not know is that we had a secret weapon: our own naivety. David and me learned how to draft them ourselves.

Although we did not have a large "slush pile" to select manuscripts from during those early years, we were blessed with outstanding authors and topics. Since our goal was to produce quality Civil War titles only, selecting the right books was not that difficult.

Producing them, however, consumed endless blocks of time. We met each weekend for 18-hour marathon workdays, worked most evenings, and often neglected our regular professions during the 8-5 shift to meet deadlines. Many times each year one or both of us would also fly across the country from California to the East Coast, attend a book show, and then fly back late Sunday night.

Looking back, I know we are both proud of our accomplishments. Savas Woodbury produced a number of high-quality titles and journal issues that "branded" the company as an independent Civil War publisher of strong titles. Those that come readily to mind include: Last Stand in the Carolinas: The Battle of Bentonville, by Mark Bradley and Mark A. Moore; The Campaign for Atlanta & Sherman's March to the Sea," (2 volumes), Theodore P. Savas and David A. Woodbury, eds; Secessionville: Attack on Charleston, by Patrick Brennan; The Peninsula Campaign, vols. 1-3), William E. Miller, ed.; Abraham Lincoln, Contemporary: An American Legacy, by Frank J. Williams and William D. Pederson, eds; and Capital Navy: The Men, Ships, and Operations of the James River Squadron, by John Coski.

When the first couple of titles sold out quickly through direct mail alone, and Last Stand was selected by the History Book Club (an almost unheard-of event for a small house), we obtained national distribution and the real climb into the world of publishing began.

So, too, did the difficulties in selecting manuscripts.

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