AUTHORS! Why do you write?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Campaigns and Battle Studies Win Out

I had hoped for a higher vote total, but the result is about what I suspected it might be, if book sales and reviews are any indication (and they are).

Our recent poll asked Civil War readers what genres they most enjoy reading about. Here was the breakdown:

Campaign / battles 9 (56%)

Regimental histories 4 (25%)

Biographies 2 (12%)

Fiction 0 (0%)

Other (send an email and tell us) 1 (6%)

(The other was specialty aspects of the war--medicine, railroads, and so forth.)

By more than 2 to 1, Campaigns and Battles carried the day. It should come as little surprise that these also sell substantially better than most other Civil War titles. And I am not talking about a little better, but by a factor of three to six times more than, say, the average biography or regimental history.

We have always done well with battle studies, beginning with the Atlanta Campaign series (2 vols.), edited by Savas and David Woodbury in 1993, The Battle for Bentonville, by Mark Bradley, and all those that followed. People cannot get enough of this aspect of the Civil War. By and large, campaign/battle studies today are more deeply researched, better sourced, and include better maps than similar books produced just a decade or two ago.

I am pleased to say we have several more campaign/battle manuscripts in-house under contract, awaiting contract, or already signed and being prepared for publication. These include Lance Herdegen's new "Those Damn Blackhats!" The Iron Brigade at Gettysburg, slated for the Spring of 2009 (though to be fair, this is so much more than a battle study), and a stellar piece of work on South Mountain.

I am anxious to share with you information about a two-volume campaign set--a pure "fix the bayonets" sort of battle study from the first page to the last--in the near future as soon as the signed contract comes back. I am confident it will find many interested readers.

So here's to the gunsmoke and steel crowd. Maybe we always publish books you enjoy.

-tps

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Borders' New Website--Still Invisible

We live in the Internet age. If you do not have a powerful website, you don't exist.

According to reliable sources, Borders, Inc., has spent many, many millions on a website that is supposed to be cutting-edge, informative, easy to use, and drive sales directly through Borders (or some subsidiary arrangement they have crafted). As of this writing, it has still not launched.

If you want to visit a Borders website today, where do you think it would take you? In case you have never clicked www.borders.com to see where it goes and where it has been sending business--try it.

--tps

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sadly, Borders is in Real Financial Straits -- Might be Sold.

Facing a liquidity crisis--unable to borrow in today's nervous and restricted credit markets, with a plunging stock that valued the entire company at about $400 million yesterday (and far less in today's markets)--Borders has gone to the loan shark and is considering a "wide range of alternatives including the sale of the company and/or certain divisions."

If you have the stomach for it, read more here, and here.

--tps

Preparing for Book Expo 2008 In Los Angeles

Although many or even most book readers have never heard of it, Book Expo is the book world's largest North American gathering of industry professionals. While members of the public attend (tickets are expensive), it is largely a pow-wow for insiders to meet and discuss publishing issues, sell rights, promote and cross-pollinate forthcoming titles, schmooze--and drink and eat too much with friends you often see but once or twice a year.

The Book Expo experience is also utterly overwhelming the first time or two you attend because literally thousands of publishers and other professionals display their wares. Many offer free books and other premium items, author signings, and much more. For book lovers it is akin to a kid stepping into Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory with a free pass to taste, touch, smell, and eat as much candy as you like.

Many publishers do not require a booth there because the price is very expensive, and good walking shoes and some energy can put you wherever you need to be. However, we have grown substantially over the past few years and have done so with the right national-interest titles to necessitate the reservation of part of Casemate Publishing's space. Casemate is our distributor into the book trade. The table space and booth area allow us to schedule meetings with authors, media people, foreign rights professionals, and others.

In 2006 in Washington, DC, we kicked off a major signing of galleys with Gary Moore's Playing with the Enemy. He signed 250 galleys, met reviewers and media professionals, talked with sales reps, and more.

This year in Los Angeles we will feature another significant book and author. He will sign galleys, meet and greet a host of industry professionals, and kick off what we believe will be a major release, tentatively set for September 15, 2008.

More on the author, his book, and the campaign in a later post.

--tps

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Outside Reading

The results are in, and they are about what I expected:

World War II: 12 (42%)
Napoleonic Wars: 2 (7%)
American Revolution: 9 (32%)
Ancient History: 4 (14%)
Other: 1 (3%)

The expansion of World War II titles in the chain stores reflects these numbers.

--tps

Friday, March 14, 2008

What are the Best Lines from Civil War Books?

American Book Review published what it believes are the 100 best last lines from novels. Click here for the list.

Do you have a favorite last line from a Civil War book? Or even a favorite single sentence from a Civil War book?

--tps

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Borders Tries About-Face on Shelves

Better late than never, I suppose.

I have been telling managers of chain stores for years that they should tell corporate to reduce inventory as needed and turn as many titles as possible FACE OUT. The Wall Street Journal reports the idea (not mine, of course), has struck someone as viable. Click here for the story.

The average customer walks into a store and is faced with thousands of books spine-out. How many does he remember once he leaves? How many titles would he have picked up if he had seen the full front of the jacket and title?

Some managers thought this was a good idea. Most shook their head and told me that would never fly.

Most publishers cannot afford to pay for face-out display on front tables and end caps, and yet these same publishers often produce better books than the bigger NY-based houses.

Maybe this idea will help boost Border's revenue and its sagging stock price. Maybe not. They still have to do something about this problem, however.

--tps

Friday, March 7, 2008

Maintaining a Vibrant Publishing Program

Running your own business is not for the faint of heart. Running a publishing company--especially in today's marketplace--is challenging. However, the daily challenge is what I find particularly exciting. It gets me out of bed each morning.

The odyssey that began as Savas Woodbury morphed into Savas Publishing, and was eventually recreated as Savas Beatie LLC. The first two were crafted as niche companies--designed to produce books almost exclusively for the Civil War. The latter was designed to begin that way. I say "begin" because it was always our intention to move beyond that niche. I believe we have, finally, reached that point.

A friend told me last week, "You are not the same company any longer. Things have changed. I mean that in a good way," she added.

I think she is right.

Our history program (primarily Civil War, with a smattering of other military subjects) remains vibrant and defines us (more on that in a follow up post). The acquistion of Sgt. Volkin's The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook, followed by his very successful Workbook on the same subject, broadened that reach. The development of our Sports by the Numbers series expanded our program in several exciting ways (2008 will witness the publication of a dozen more titles in that series). Robert Taylor's Paradigm (which hit number 35 on Amazon) and Gary Moore's smash hit Playing with the Enemy (the movie is now set to shoot beginning April 1) kicked us up several notches in terms of visibility.

The trade paperback for Playing with the Enemy has just been released by Penguin, and the audio book will be available next week. The future looks very bright on those fronts.

[Go to the website for Playing With the Enemy and listen to one of the songs professional musicians have written after being inspired by the book. There are several, so reload to hear each one. I especially like the twangy guitar song that starts out, "Son of a Working man . . ." You can also see the new cover!]

Together, these recent successes have triggered wonderful opportunities--and a host of new pitfalls. The business of running a publishing business has now gotten in the way of running a publishing business. (Think about that for a second.)

One of the most interesting questions we face is, Where do we go next? Do we continue to focus as much time and energy on niche history, or do we par that aspect of our company down and seek out books like Paradigm and Playing with the Enemy in an attempt to double down on our more easily recognized national brand? The quality and quantity of manuscripts similar to those two titles have been flowing in recently.

Decisions await.

--tps

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Publishing 2020 Blog

Joe Wikert, an influential vice president with a major U.S. publisher and the author of the Publishing 2020 blog, was kind enough to mention my last post The Right Way to Build a Book to Success. Click here to read Joe's observations.

And I highly recommend you bookmark and read his words regularly. You won't be disappointed.

--tps

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Right Way to Build a Book to Success

I flew to Texas last week, met Gary Moore (author of Playing with the Enemy), and together we drove into Louisiana to attend a host of events. I posted a short blog during one of them. My days with Gary are always enjoyable, and these in particular confirmed once again what authors must do if they want to be successful.

I know some of you are thinking, "Well, that guy has a movie deal. His book is different than mine." That mindset is so shortsighted it makes a publisher pull his remaining hair out.

The fundamentals for selling any book are essentially the same. Here is the secret: talk about your book as often as you can, with as many people as you can, for as long as you can, wherever you can, even if you don't sell a single copy when you do. Oh, and there is a follow up: REPEAT--REPEAT--REPEAT.

A few months ago, Gary ended up in Northern California for a few events that included one book signing (which was moderately successful) and addressing a handful of schools where we did not sell a single book. And we did not think we would. So why bother flying across the country on Southwest Airlines and going through the hassle? Because Gary gets it. He knows what I know, and what I tell all our authors: you never know who is listening, who they know, or what they can do for you.

After a talk in a middle school in Placerville, California, one of the teachers told us she had a niece who teaches in a very poor school in Louisiana where some of the book takes place. On her own, she called her niece and recommended Gary as a speaker. That, in turn, led to the development of a very lucrative three days for not only the author and publisher, but for a lot of kids whose lives were enriched by hearing Gary speak.

Sarah Keeney, our marketing director, worked with the Louisiana teacher, Gary, and other outlets to craft a whirlwind tour that included two paid addresses in front of the Shreveport, Louisiana, Bar Association, a TV interview, two radio interviews, a half-dozen presentations to various schools, a wonderful book signing with other Savas Beatie authors including Gary Joiner (Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862) and Terrence Winschel (Triumph & Defeat: The Vicksburg Campaign) at Windows, A Book Shop (in Monroe, LA), and more.

The "and more" included outstanding connections with Louisiana Tech officials interested in bringing his book into the school's curriculum--but only after they came and heard him speak. Sales of Playing with the Enemy--and many other Savas Beatie titles--were exceptional, and the network we developed in Northern Louisiana will be a goldmine for everyone in the future.

None of this would have been possible if Gary had not traveled a long way to gamble on who might be listening as he talked about his book for the 1,000th time to a group of (often) uninterested school kids in Northern California.

And in case some readers are wondering, Gary's book came out in 2006! He is now planning for next week, next month, and for the next three years (no, I am not kidding).

I know many of the readers of this blog have a book (or soon will) with Savas Beatie or another publisher. Do you have copies with you all the time? Have you sent a letter to everyone you know telling them about your book? Are you talking about your book as often as you can, with as many people as you can, for as long as you can, wherever you can, even if you don't sell a single copy when you do? Are you asking people who they know in the media that can help you?

The honest answer to that question will explain a lot the next time you open a royalty statement or read in the news about some author who has a bestseller that is no more interesting than the book you spent years working on. What does he know that you do not? What is he willing to do that you are not?

-- tps

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Maps, and More Maps

The last poll question I asked was this: "Which major Civil War campaign is most deserving of a new major map atlas?" The result was interesting.

Fifty-three individuals voted, which is a fairly significant number in my estimation.

I was convinced the Maryland Campaign would win pulling away. I was wrong. Here are the results:

Maryland: 13 (24%)

Atlanta 12 (22%)

Shiloh 5 (9%)

Petersburg 23 (43%)

Now, what does this mean?