Paul Taylor, whose biography of Civil War Union General Orlando Poe is due out this October, published by Kent State University Press, posed an interesting question in his longer comment to this post. Here is Paul's question:
"[W]hich got me thinking, with regards to the Civil War, can you give a brief overview as to what type of subjects you're interested in - and for that matter, not interested in?"
Savas Woodbury (and then Savas Publishing), ca 1991-2001, was focused on Civil War titles. We did a few others, but our bread and butter and expertise was the American Civil War. Savas Beatie began with an emphasis on Civil War titles (again, our expertise and deep knowledge base), but I always intended to expand into several areas of history including Current Events, one of my favorite areas of study.
We worked hard from 2004 to the present day to firmly establish our bona fides in the American Civil War with several award-winning titles, many national book club selections, and a ground-breaking map study we call the Savas Beatie Military Atlas Series. We are thankful our customers have supported and welcomed our books.
We believe (and hope) we are now well entrenched with a firm foothold in several other areas, including the American Revolution, Napoleonic history, and military science/self-help. The latter category overlaps into Current Events. The successful publication of Once a Marine, by Nick Popaditch, and the forthcoming New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah, by Richard Lowry (Spring 2010) is our effort to announce that we intend to compete in that arena. (Note the New Dawn cover that appears where Mr. Lowry blogs is a placeholder only, and not the cover we will be using for his book).
Now, back to Paul's question: What are we interested in, and what are we not interested in?
My standard general answer is this: I am always seeking original, deeply researched manuscripts on topics that have not been covered well, or at all.
Once that threshold is met, we have to access whether we can sell the book. We do very well inside and outside the book trade, but selling books today for a profit, with the publisher and author at the bottom of the food chain, is a real challenge. So . . . can we sell it? Here is what I have to ascertain:
1) Can we sell X number in the general book trade within twelve months?
2) Can we sell another Y number outside the book trade (to the author for resale, to specialty markets, to the state and federal parks, museums, etc.).
3) Can we sell it to one of the national book clubs?
4) Can we sell Z copies overseas in the UK and Australia?
5) Finally, can we sell it into a foreign language?
It is not necessary that the answer to all these questions be yes, but we need a combination of these possibilities to convince us that if we put what amounts to the cost of a car into an author's book, we can get our money back and turn a profit. If so, we move on to the next level of inquiry: do we want to work with this author.
Publishers not only have to sell the book, they have to sell the author, and by extension, work WITH the author closely to make a successful partnership. I have said this over and over: Publishers and authors are joined at the hip in their interests. Publishers take the vast bulk of the risk to forward a large amount of time and money. If an author stumbles, refuses to promote his or her book, becomes difficult to work with, unpredictable, etc., it can and often does become a disaster for sales--and for the credibility of the publisher. So the author's credibility, likability, attitude, general demeanor, and so forth becomes very important to publishers. Many people and authors never consider this important angle. (Keep in mind that authors need to consider the same thing before choosing a publisher: do they have a good reputation, do they market their books, are they easy to work with, do their books win awards, do the authors have good things to say about them, etc.)
In the end, I am sometimes forced to go with my gut. For some reason I have developed the ability to sniff out good manuscripts and authors quickly. I can see what the final book looks like, and see how it will read from a digital manuscript on screen after a few minutes of perusing it. It's just intuition, and I have been very fortunate in that regard.
And, on occasion I will accept a book that almost certainly will not turn a profit, but is one I think we need to flesh out our brand and our line. Consider it the long term view.
In terms of specific topics, I think we do battle books and biographies the best. I prefer the former to the latter because they generally sell better and I like them.
I hope that helps answer your questions, Paul. Thank you for asking.