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

Saturday, November 5, 2016

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

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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

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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?

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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?

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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