Which Campaign is the Most Interesting to Sfudy?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Getting Published (Manuscripts): Part 3 of 5

Previous entries in this thread include, in order:

Sorting Through Book Manuscripts. Part 1

Sorting Through (Unsolicited) Book Manuscripts. (Part 2 of 5)

Sorting Through (Unsolicited) Book Manuscripts (Part 2a of 5)

Speaking of (Potential) Authors (Part 2b of 5)

Refer back to the first post, and you will see I described the second way we obtain manuscripts as DEVELOPED. To me, it means we see a need in a particular space and seek out material through a variety of means to fill it.

How can an author use this information? Read through the post, think about it, and I will explain later.

Here are but two examples of titles we have produced that fit this description . . .

The Guns of Independence: The Siege of Yorktown, 1781, by Jerome Greene (2004): A few years ago, except for one book by an author named Ketchum, there was nothing of any worth on the monumental Yorktown Campaign (a decisive series of events and battles, land and sea, during the Revolutionary War that solidified the outcome). And Ketchum's book was not in favor at the national park that tens of thousands of people visit each year.

Someone told me about something Jerry Greene had written about the campaign for internal use of park employees back in the 1970s. I obtained a spiral bound copy and read it. The work was outstanding--but was so filled with minutiae, archaeological references, etc. that it was unsuited for a good entry into the general trade. However . . . one of the few things I do well (there are not many, just ask Mrs. Savas) is visualize the final product. I knew what I wanted, and worked with Mr. Greene to rewrite his earlier effort. We coordinated the development with David Riggs at Yorktown (David is a wonderful, knowledgeable man and was and has been extremely helpful) to ensure the park would carry it, obtained photos from the modern field, added original maps, and so forth, and produced the final product. I am proud to say it has sold extremely well in both the book trade and at the park, was selected by the History and Military book clubs, was sold into a UK edition for Europe, and has now sold out in hardcover. We are making it available this spring in a new paperback edition.

We saw a need for a title, and filled the need.

Steel Boat, Iron Hearts: A U-boat Crewman's Life Aboard U-505, by Hans Goebeler with John Vanzo (2005). U-505 is the captured German submarine on display in Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry. Hundreds of thousands pass through the exhibit each year. Yet, there was not a single full-length title sold there dedicated to U-505, nor was there one in the book trade. Another niche needed to be filled.

I had met Hans and his wife Erika once at a book show, but by 2004 Hans has died. I owned and had enjoyed his memoir, co-written with John Vanzo, but it was available only in paperback and had been privately produced (with most of the usual pitfalls that approach carries with it). Working with Erika and John, we edited the book, added some new material, more photos, a few original maps, and produced a strong selling hardcover edition that sold case after case, month after month, at the exhibit. It also did well in the trade, and reviews are routinely glowing (as they should be--it is not only well written and detailed, but the ONLY full-length work on the U-boat service by an enlisted man). The hardcover edition is now sold out and we have a steady seller in the paperback edition. We also recently sold German rights to a large publisher.

These are but two examples, and we have many more titles in development that follow this line of "birth," if you will.

How can an author use this information? When you know that a house is actively looking to fill empty niches with specific titles, never hesitate to approach the publisher with a good proposal. Once we identify a niche, we look for (1) A title that will sell well outside the trade--typically at a location that routinely draws in heavy foot traffic; (2) A book that is likely to sell well in the book trade (bookstores, Amazon, and so forth); (3) A book that will have appeal to third parties like foreign or overseas rights or book clubs; and (4) An author that will support the book as much as possible.

So if you see a niche to be filled, and you know a house that actively develops projects from within (most do), then pitch it from that angle.



Anonymous said...

History books are in danger of becoming, well, history. So much facts and info are available on the net for free. Does the customer really want to pay $25 for a book telling a story they already know?

History CAN be exciting if the stress is not learning about the Civil War, but what we can learn FROM it.

Too often the author and publisher put the reader THERE, but forget to bring the Civil War HERE.

Publishing history only as 'stuff about dead people'robs the life out it, but unless the most timultuous time in the country's past can serve as vital lessons for our future, we might as well read Wikipedia.


Marty said...

I love this thread.

I am going to start blogging.