Have you ever written a book review?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How Do we "Grow" the Civil War?

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.


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.


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.





Dave Powell said...

Some damn good ideas here.

Scott Manning said...

Ted, great ideas. Another approach I would add is to drag folks to battlefields, if you’re nearby of course. I do this with friends and coworkers throughout the year with Gettysburg and occasionally Antietam. Civil War enthusiasts should be as enthusiastic as possible. Don’t hide your passion as you drive them around. Tell them what got you interested. Give them your own personal stories of discovery. Your enthusiasm is contagious. It gets people interested and a great follow-up is to share a book.

Scott Manning said...

Ha, I was trying to remember the book I was handing out to folks I dragged to Gettysburg last year. Turns out it is in the catalog--The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook. Great book and similar to the Civil War Handbook. Everyone who I've given a copy loves it.

TPS said...

Thanks guys.

Scott, good to see you here. You know I love your blog. Read it all the time and always learn a lot. Battlefields. Yes. Terrain persuasion. :)

The New Gettysburg Handbook is terrific and thanks for saying so. Shake up your round tables, and let's grow this thing.


Kevin Campbell said...

Great thoughts and ideas Ted. One thing I do every day is take a Civil War book to work and while eating lunch in the cafeteria make sure I am reading it close to the door so the folks I work with can see it. You would be surprised how many people ask what I am reading and is it any good. I always tell them sure and provide information on where they can get a copy. They all know I am a student of the war and have written my own stuff so for whatever reason they consider me an expert. Many of these folks are younger, late 20s and thirties.
I think we owe it to the men and women who lived through the event to make sure that their stories do not end up on the ash heap of history. Unfortunately, it is getting tougher to pass the history on. Especially when young people these days are not taught it in school and seem to be more interested in what Beyoncé is waring to the Super Bowl.

John Banks said...

Tremendous, Ted. I got hooked on history when my dad bought me, my sister and brother a sleeve of minie balls at a tourist trap on Baltimore Street in Gettysburg. (After all these years, that tourist trap is still there.) Neither of my siblings was interested in the mini-relics, but I was captivated because they were a tangible connection to the past, something I could hold and wonder about. I was 12 years old. So when I give Civil War talks in Connecticut and elsewhere, I always make a point to carry with me a minie ball or Union button or some other small artifact. If I see a kid in the audience -- and sadly that's very much the exception rather than rule -- I'll give a piece of the past to him/her (with their parents' permission, of course). "Remember to pay it forward," I tell them. For those of us who love history and want others to care as much as we do, it's a great place to start.

TPS said...

Thanks John Great story, and good for your dad. I have taken my son to Shiloh (anniversary, 2007 and our Shiloh book release there), and Gettysburg and my daughter to the latter also. Neither have an interest at all. Grrr..


Meg said...

Ted--Meg Groeling here! So--we needed to have a CWRT in the Gilroy area. A friend, Dwight Green, read your column (which I sent him), and he agreed. We got on MeetUp, started a group (Morgan Hill CWRT) and got a place for it (in MH--hence the name). We did this a week ago--and we have 9 members so far!!

Our first meeting is in January, 2017--everyone is way too busy until then, but we will be working the MeetUp site for all it is worth--maybe some prizes, or a quiz--so folks don't forget us. Please check the MeetUp site & drop a note--that would be grand!

Also, any ideas for a fantastic first meeting? We will basically be following your script, adding in some tweaks (music) and whatever else we can come up with. We thought that, perhaps next July 4 we could have a BBQ in the parking lot, etc. Since we have never had a meeting, we are pretty much free to throw a party every month, I guess.

Anyway, let me know what you think, and prepare to get invited as a guest. BookSmart is a clean, well-lighted place, and family friendly. I bow to you, oh Leader!!

(Please email me at bloodnight@aol.com. The google account is my work account)

Matt Kenney said...

I would add that there are opportunities to get younger folks interested in history in general, to include CW history, through more aggressive use of personal media devices, with emphasis on cell phones. I have three kids--19,23, 26--and they and their friends, to my optic, get 90% of their information on-line, with most of that "take" coming through their cells. What if the RTs and associated organizations audio-taped their presentations and put them out as pod casts? This might be a better way to provide interesting information and hopefully whet appetites for more (see a recent Wall Street Journal article on podcasts supplanting traditional radio listening). The history teachers at every educational level would be, I am guessing, a great place to advertise to students the availability of stuff via podcasts and of course e-mail, websites, etc as well. Would it take resources to do this (create pod casts, etc)? You bet. But I am guessing it wouldn't be that costly, especially if historical organizations (CW related and otherwise) shared resources. This idea is not to disparage the good things going on at RTs and elsewhere, and I see that in Northern Virginia where I live, but like others I am struck by the age distribution at events I attend and wonder where the next generation of historians and history enthusiasts will come from. My sense of my kids'generation is that if stuff of historical interest isn't known to be accessible through a cell phone, and isn't so accessible (not to ignore "traditional" computers too), it won't get an audience and won't excite interest/participation. Something to think about.

TPS said...

Hi Matt

A very valuable observation and thanks for sharing.