Have you ever written a book review?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Your Reviews Matter—and Help Keep Civil War Publishing Alive

We love reading about the Civil War.

We save our hard-earned money and buy the books on the subject(s) we love. Sometimes we check them out from libraries. Other times, we borrow them from friends or family members.

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, not in newspapers, broadsheets, or emails. And most readers don’t think twice about not doing so.

It’s understandable. Most people are busy, and/or they don’t think they write well enough to leave a public review. Many folks admit the idea doesn’t often cross their mind, or don’t believe a review is really all that important or could possibly make any difference.

They could not be more wrong.

It matters—in more ways that you can imagine.

Here are a few reasons why you should pen a review, however brief or long, however general or detailed.

First, authors need your feedback. They labor alone, often for many years, send a manuscript off to the publisher, and wait for a long while (sometimes years) until it is published. Reviews are one of the few ways they get feedback from the end user: You.

Trust me, authors do not write for the money. They write for the joy researching brings them, and the pleasure of the writing experience. They do it to enrich your life by providing you (hopefully) what you love. Share your honest opinion with them. Your Reviews matter to them more than you know.

Second, publishers (at least those who care) need your feedback. It is important to let us know what you like, and what you don’t like. Some publishers are exceptionally engaged with the reading public and look very much forward to hearing from those who purchase and read their books. (We scour the web for reviews to learn whether what we did worked—or didn’t work.) If we don’t hear from you—how will we ever truly know whether we were successful with a given book?

How was the writing? How was the overall editing? Did you like the footnotes, or do you prefer end notes? Why? What did you think of the quality (or lack thereof) of the maps? Were they helpful? Were there enough of them? Were they placed properly? Ditto on the images. Interested publishers seek out fair and honest reviews and trust me, we pay attention.

Publishers publish for many of the same reasons authors write. Speaking for myself, it certainly isn’t for the money, but for the love of the game. The concept of adding enjoyment to the lives of others and enriching them in a unique way is truly satisfying. So is leaving something worthwhile for posterity.

Your Reviews matter.

Third, other potential readers rely upon and need your honest opinion. Marketing blurbs and jacket copy are important sales tools, but interested readers are more influenced by YOUR opinion. Think about it: Don’t you like to read what others think about a new book in which you have an interest? Of course you do.

If Book X is released and the first several reviews are very negative—no maps, terrible writing, repetitive, sloppy or no editing, etc.—aren’t you glad you didn’t shell out thirty bucks for it? Sure you are. On the flip side, if early reviews are glowing, doesn’t it help you make an informed buying decision?

Your reviews matter.

Fourth, most book readers don’t take into consideration that booksellers and wholesalers follow reviews carefully. Here is a simple example outside the Civil War that makes my point.

The fascinating memoir Steel Boat, Iron Hearts: A U-boat Crewman’s Life Aboard U-505, by Hans Goebeler (with John Vanzo) has been very successful--but NOT because of anything the authors have done (Hans is deceased, and John as a rule does not do events), but because some of our promotions triggered a wave of reviews, that turned into other opportunities.

As the number of positive reviews climbed, more booksellers and wholesalers stocked it, more libraries picked it up, and more readers discovered this gem of a memoir. Foreign rights agents sought us out, as did a major audio rights company. Thousands of readers around the world would never have heard of this book EXCEPT for all the your reviews—which climbed in number from 19 to . . . 501 (as of the date of this post).

Wait a minute, you think, "Why do I want to make money for a publisher?" (Seriously, you thought that?) Well, if your niche publisher goes out of business, who is going to publish what you love to read? If your doctors goes out of business, who will treat you?

Your reviews matter.

Fifth, Amazon—the uncomfortable elephant in the room today—uses reviews and page hits to determine which books are popular, how many to stock, and how to match them with other similar interests. Many people check Amazon first to see how a book has been reviewed (I know many of you are nodding your head, right?) How many of us have glanced at a star rating and thought, “Only a two-star average with 10 reviews? I’ll pass.” Or, “Wow, this has 22 reviews and a 4.5-star rating average. I will get a copy.”

Your reviews matter.

I can hear some of you shouting, “But Ted, I am not a good writer!” I hear this almost daily. Here is a dirty secret: It doesn’t matter.

Just write what you liked (or didn’t like) about a book. Post it on Amazon, on Facebook, online somewhere, or maybe in a series of tweets. It can be as simple as, “I liked this book because [the subject is interesting,] [it was easy to read,] [there were lots of good maps,] [the footnotes were informative,] etc.” If you feel comfortable, go in-depth and write several paragraphs. Your opinion matters.

Reviews help keep authors writing, publishers publishing, and readers reading. Your participation with reviews is critically important and likely much more so than you realized.

Help shape YOUR reading future. Your opinion matters.

— Theodore P. Savas

Friday, July 7, 2017

Divining the Past From Recollected Scraps....

It has taken me a while, but I got there. 

After digging into firsthand accounts for 30+ years, and publishing books for nearly that long, I have reached a few conclusions. Sometimes grudgingly, sometimes easily. But I am there now, and there is no going back.

One conclusion I have reached is that what we often believe are “accepted facts” are only “facts” until you research them yourself and check the sources the authors relied upon. 

Far too often, what has come down to us originated from a single pen copying a quote of someone long dead, and was then copied, endlessly, one writer at a time, one book at a time, one article at a time. But each time the "fact" was recorded a tad differently. An extra adjective here, a few extra words there. 

Quoted material is often (not always, but often) flat out wrong and often taken out of context–or in some cases simply made up, or has nothing to do with the conclusions reached. 

Quotes are routinely cherry-picked evidence to grind a particular axe. If you doubt this, think about what happening on today's media front, or for examples from our past, read the meticulously detailed footnotes in John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General, by Stephen M. Hood. This book will make you angry at how some authors manipulated data to affect an outcome in your mind. It sure did me.

Just yesterday I was reading Resolute Rebel, the new biography on Roswell Ripley for a magazine review. Ripley has come down to us as a less-than mediocre and difficult officer who had problems getting along with pretty much everyone and was liked by almost no one. I have accepted and believed that for 40 years. Except . . . the evidence doesn't seem to support it.

One instance noted by the author concerned Ripley's objection to Governor Pickens' constant "interfering" with his troop dispositions around
Charleston in late 1861, the department under Gen. Robert E. Lee. Ripley told Pickens his meddling was causing "confusion and harm." Pickens passed this information on to President Davis and alleged that Ripley said "extreme things" about Gen. Lee, and that Ripley may be calculated to do "great injury" to Lee and his command. The letter exists, yet has nothing in it about precisely what Ripley wrote or said. Nothing. 

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Douglas Southall Freeman seized upon "extreme things" (hearsay, by the way) and elevated that to this: "For some unknown reason, Ripley took a violent dislike to Lee." [R. E. Lee, vol. 1, 617.] 

Violent dislike? 

Others have built upon Freeman's thrust. And so it has come to pass that Ripley was difficult, and despised Gen. Lee. The evidence? None at all. 

Little is as it seems, or as it has been fed to us.

My experience as a former trial lawyer and historian led me to a second conclusion: Eyewitness evidence is wholly untrustworthy MOST of the time–and especially when witnessed under stress. 

Most people do not believe this. I staged a loud fake 30-second argument with a "student" in front of one of my college law classes--I taught in the undergraduate college while in law school--and then asked the class specific questions in writing. They could not agree on the "student's" height, weight, hair color, clothing, or the words spoken. It was incredible. The student were shocked by the outcome.

Here is a link to a few classic examples.  Watch a few of these video tests: http://www.theinvisiblegorilla.com/videos.html. Also read Part III of Greg Michno's new Battles of Sand Creek: In Blood, In Court, and as the End of History. (Michno also explains how each time we think of something from the past, we "add" to it something and then rewrite the old memory like a hard drive. It is still "real" to us, because it is our memory.)

Judging someone’s “attitude” or “demeanor” or basing a conclusion on a couple sentences someone overheard or recalled or saw days, weeks, years, or decades later is in my opinion just foolish and naive. 

I have lived long enough to discover some of my own absolutely precise and specific recollections of events are absolutely wrong. That revelation was unnerving because I would have bet the farm I was right.

Take this Civil War example on General Longstreet's demeanor and attitude at Gettysburg(Hat tip Emerging Civil War post recently by Phil Greenwalt on Old Pete. Clear HERE to read it once you finish this post.)

Based upon what has come down to us that he supposedly said or how he looked and acted, we generally believe today he was difficult, obstructive, harsh, detached, and negative and interfered with Lee's plans to the point of helping lose the battle--right? 

Now, maybe he really was an ass at Gettysburg. I wasn't there. Neither were you. However, this part of the discussion is not really about Longstreet specifically, but about historical recollections generally and how readily we accept them as gospel.

Let's engage in some second-stage thinking, shall we? It is rare today in an age where a bumper sticker is often accepted as truth. But play along...

Ask yourself: 
How many words do you think Longstreet spoke during the three days at Gettysburg? Thousands, right? 

How many different people did he personally interact with? Scores? Hundreds?

How many words do we have that were written down contemporaneously as Longstreet spoke? Other than a couple orders from the saddle, essentially none.

How many people who interacted with him recorded their interactions in letters, diaries, recollections, etc? A very very slim handful. Less than one percent of the total?

How many of these recollections were gleaned during high stress? All of them.

How many of these recollections were penned after the South's first major defeat? Nearly all of them. Or penned after the South lost,
Gettysburg came to be viewed as the turning point, and a villain was needed to deflect from Lee's faults? Most of them.

Or after someone had a falling out with Longstreet? Some of them. 

You can see where this is going.

Despite all these second-stage sorts of questions, we have been taught to readily accept another person’s recollections, accept a sentence or two written often years after the event about what Longstreet supposedly said, etc. 

And from all this . . . we are to firmly conclude for the sake of history what Longstreet's “attitude" was like there, and thus reach sweeping conclusions. 

That has always struck me as ridiculous.

Still not convinced about the process of memory vis a vis history? Personalize it. 

Ask yourself: How many words do you think YOU spoke just last weekend? How many people did you personally interact with? Did you laugh and cry during that same weekend at some point? Did you ever raise your voice? Speak calmly with someone? Speak harshly to another? Show some thin shade of anger or frustration? 

Likely the answer is yes to ALL of those, right?

Now, what if one person who interacted with you during ONE of those moments wrote later (and perhaps many years later) to tell others what your attitude was like that weekend, how you interacted with people, and from that made sweeping conclusions? What if that person was someone you were once close to, but had a falling out over something. Trustworthy?

If accepting sweeping conclusions formed in this manner makes sense to you, have at it. 

It has never made sense to me.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

My New Article (Part 1 of a 2-Part Series) in "Civil War Times" Magazine--and Why You Should Care

Writing articles for magazines is enjoyable, but I stopped doing so some years ago because I no longer had the time.

I am busier now than ever, but one topic in particular had been eating at me. Late last year a new book was published--let's call it the straw that broke the camel's back (see more below).

I pitched Dana Shoaf, editor of the venerable Civil War Times magazine, an idea for a two-part feature article. My pitch intrigued him and he (thankfully) accepted.

Spread from Part 1 of my 2-part series in Civil War Times magazine
Part 1, "Heart of the Southern War Machine" was just published in the June 2017 issue. It is critically important in many ways, and it is impossible to fully appreciate Part 2 without understanding Part 1. Still, but it something of a feint, for it sets up the knock-out punch that will appear in the next issue as Part 2: "Repeated Strategic Failures of Magnitude: General Sherman and the Bypassing of Augusta."

*     *     *

(Only modest spoilers ahead...)

Every author thinks his or her work is important, In truth, it usually isn't. 

An article (or book, for that matter) might be good, interesting, or entertaining, but when the reader closes the cover, that's it. On to other matters. Very few influence the literature on a particular topic.

I think (and sincerely hope) this two-part series is different. 

Why? Because I believe it can--and damn well might--change the way we look at not only the manner in which the Union high command conducted the Civil War (and three important campaigns in particular), but trigger a reevaluation of these watershed events and, more importantly, of one of the war's leading Union generals--William T. Sherman.

Now you know why I took the time to write these articles.

*     *     *

George Washington Rains, 1865
In the late 1980s, I accidentally stumbled across a Confederate colonel named George Washington Rains in my 128-volume set of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (more commonly known as the OR). He was associated with something called the Augusta Powder Works. What was that? The more I searched the traditional secondary sources, the less I found about Rains and the facility. 

Something was amiss. 

Determined to solve this mini-mystery, I began digging into archives and other repositories with firsthand accounts. Keep in mind there was no Internet back then. As it turned out, Rains designed, built, and operated the South's only (ONLY) major source of gunpowder during the Civil War. How could I have spent decades reading about the war and not known this? 

I determined to write a book on the subject and spent years researching the topic in more than a score of repositories across the country.

I obtained copies of the mill's ledger books, daily operational records, uncovered hundreds of letters, and so much more. Once I thoroughly studied the mill's day-to-day operational records (I believe I am the first historian to have ever done so), and discovered the facility's extensive original colorized blue-prints jammed in drawers on a small museum's third floor, I extrapolated the information and determined to follow the evidence wherever it led.

And then I proceeded to pick myself up off the floor.

After years of careful study and in-depth discussion with a couple other historians I respected, I reached conclusions that ran wholly contrary to what everyone else had ever written about Civil War strategy, General Sherman, the Atlanta Campaign, his March to the Sea, and even the beginning of his 1865 Carolinas Campaign.

How could this be?

Take a look at the bibliographies and indexes of any books on this general or these topics and you will discover the answer--not by what is there, but by what is NOT there.

No other writer, historian, or author had ever bothered to engage in the due diligence required to utilize available archival records relating to Colonel Rains and the true significance of the role the Augusta's Powder Works played in the war--and then employ this information to objectively evaluate the impact of various decisions and their influence on the course of the Civil War.

Other than a few lectures (at which audience members routinely say to me, "My God, why have I never heard this before?!") and one article many years ago that touched on the subject, I kept this to myself because I wanted to conduct more research.

In the mid-2000s, I was asked by Chip Bragg, a Georgia MD and fellow Rains enthusiast, to team up with several others of various backgrounds (engineering, logistics, architecture, etc.) to publish Never for Want of Powder: The Confederate Powder Works in Augusta, Georgia (U of South Carolina Press, 2007). I didn't reveal much of my own research there, but contributed two lengthy sections on Rains and the Works. It is a fine book, but the press didn't spend much time marketing it. Few people read it, and Rains and his accomplishment remained in obscurity. 

The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back

The last straw was the publication of William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life (2016) by James Lee McDonough. This author is best known for a case of plagiarism so egregious that his former publisher pulled his Atlanta Campaign book off the shelves. His new Sherman book has been hailed as a masterly work of scholarship, the reviews are glowing, and sales appear brisk.

McDonough's 832-page homage to Sherman touts his genius, his impeccable strategy, his stellar generalship, and essentially claims his actions helped bring the war to a quicker close. To McDonough, Sherman's March to the Sea is--of course--a brilliant masterpiece.

(Understand I used to believe this, too. I have no dog in this fight and I always let the evidence lead me to logical, reasonable conclusions.)

But guess what? You won't find anything in McDonough's book about George Rains, the Augusta Powder Works, the importance of Augusta, etc. and Sherman's decision-making vis a vis the city and its ordnance complex.

A reasonable person might ask, "How did McDonough reach his conclusions?"

The dirty little secret is that most (not all, most) historians and writers are lazy. (Keep in mind I have been a publisher for more than 25 years. I know how the sausage is made.) They copy one another, add adjectives and sterling prose, slap a pretty dust jacket on the package, and then sell it to you. They repeat one another in a heady rush to heap encomiums upon
Sherman without engaging in original thinking and research.

In this manner, the bronze medal “March to the Sea” has been declared a brilliant far-sighted gold medal achievement for everyone to admire.

Pardon me while I disagree.

*     *     *

My essay, as noted above, is divided into two sections: Part 1 sets the foundational importance of Augusta and its war industries, and Part 2 combines the objective data balanced against Union decision-making).

My research forces me to disagree with essentially everyone else.

Sherman's mistakes (he made the same one over and over, and then lied about it after the war) were so egregious, so impactful, and so inexcusable that they lengthened the war and resulted in tens of thousands more deaths.

And I have the documentary evidence that proves it. It is not guess work; it is not a "revisionist" alternative reality theory. It is demonstrable beyond doubt.

Let's call it the smoking gun that has been sitting in plain sight for 150 years.

I know my conclusions will generate some hate-mail, argument, name-calling, and so forth. Good. People who know me well know I don't give a damn about any of that.

As a researcher, trained historian, author, attorney, and publisher, I sincerely hope that this interpretation/argument convinces those who come after me to, at the very least, fully examine ALL available archival materials and then--and ONLY then--write about the subjects at hand.

After all, isn't that what good history is supposed to be?


Friday, January 27, 2017

Author Fraud also Tars the Publisher

I published an author one time. I will never publish him again.


He is a fraud.

Now, I have been associated with Savas Beatie, published widely under Savas Publishing, and have assisted many other agents, publishers, etc. so I am not sharing which outlet this man/woman wrote for, or the genre. I will refer to this author as a "he" for convenience sake. It may be a woman. But the gender is irrelevant. It is WHAT do you as an author that matters.

His work is barely mediocre but tends to sell. His writing is pretty awful, and needs to be rewritten from soup to nuts, and cut by about 40% to remove the repetitious filler and chaff to find the wheat. Sort of like taking a shovel to a pile of manure to find the pony hidden in there somewhere.

One publisher who had also released one of his books called him a "one-man editorial wrecking crew." I can vouch for that. One of my hired editors made it through three chapters before throwing up her hands to scream "no mas."

At that point I hired another, told him to completely rewrite and cut whatever, and he did. And the author never said a word. I don't even know that he read the galley proof. He really didn't give a damn as long as he had yet another book out with his name on it.

So you are are thinking, "What does the fraud part come into this?" right?

Another publisher who had suffered through one of his poorly written repetitive manuscripts to produce a book, demonstrated the perfidy to me some time ago. "This guy posts fake reviews on Amazon, either directly or through accounts of others. And I think he also hires fake reviewers, which is not hard to do. He has done it for several books."

Then my publishing acquaintance pointed out about half a dozen of these "reviews". We read them together on-line. They all had something in common, and you can find these commonalities here:


The kicker for me was when I later discovered one "reviewer" who reviewed two of this author's books on the same day, writing almost entirely the same thing.

After I poured a gin and tonic and burned through a good cigar to relax, I called this author on it and told him that, as his publisher his fraud taints MY company. MY name is on the spine, copyright page, title page, etc. I made it clear he had 24 hours to remove the bullshit review on the book I had published, or I would report him publicly.

Of course he vigorously denied it. I told him the clock was running. The review remained. I published a comment to the review under my own name, called him out publicly, and apologized to anyone who had bought the book.

The review came down within hours.

The same author offered me other manuscripts to publish. Breathtaking, I know. I told him what I thought of that idea. He went elsewhere to peddle his junk.


Your behavior as an author reflects upon your publisher.

As a man and a publisher who values his reputation (and the reputation of my partners--i.e, our authors), if you ever pull that stunt with me and I find out, I will name you to the world and tar and feather your behind to Kingdom Come. And trust me, Ted's will WILL be done.

Your work will stand or fall on its own merits. When you put yourself out there, you will get some bad reviews. It is the nature of the beast.

Learn to live with it.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

How I Came to Discover Douglas Southall Freeman....

This appeared as a newspaper editorial some fourteen years ago. I thought readers of this blog might enjoy it. 

Happy New Year.



(published El Dorado Hills Telegraph, 2002)

I don’t think there is a better way to spend an hour on a Saturday morning than with your children perusing old books at one of the sales at Oak Ridge High School.

My ardor for books is boundless. When I was a kid my friends carried around sports cards; I was a card-carrying member of the HBC (History Book Club). They went fishing; I went to the library. They hung around school lockers and talked; I ducked into empty classrooms to finish  reading (or writing) a short story. If there was a book sale within 50 miles, I was there. Naturally, one of my adult obsessions has been whether my kids would be as smitten with dusty old books as is their papa.

Whole trees fall to the ax to satisfy my 11-year old daughter Alex's unquenchable thirst for ink-based adventure. And my polar opposite 7-year old son Demetrious? He loves it when I read to him—but picking up a book on his own and losing himself in another world seemed a lost cause.

For two years I have taken him to every Oak Ridge book sale. Recently he spotted a sign announcing another and demanded we attend. “I’ll pay for my own books,” he informed me. Like a warrior on a mission he zeroed in on the children's table. After amassing a sufficient stack of titles, he presented them for check out. I stood well behind him.

A kind lady with a warm smile tallied up the damage. She held up one book suitable for a teenager and commented to my son, “This is for older kids. Can you read it?” Something gently tugged at the back of my mind. Demetri offered a shrug in response. She continued sorting until she came to a not-so-gently read Amelia Bedelia book.

“How about a dime for this one?” she asked.

“A dime.”

A flood of memories washed over me. Demetri began fishing in his pocket for money as my mind wandered some three decades into the past . . .

*     *     *

One summer day my grandfather brought me a pummeled rummage sale copy of the first volume of Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command, by Douglas Southall Freeman. My grandpa charged me a dime and a kiss on his shiny bald head.

It was my first Civil War book. I was eleven or twelve. Who knew.

I read it aloud walking along the lilac-studded northern boundary of our Iowa property line. After a steady barrage of questions, my mother tired of the game and dropped a dictionary on a basswood stump. I got the message. Do your own research....

I spent the next week living with a cadre of men I would never meet, challenging myself as I flipped through Webster’s all while imagining another time and place. To this day I still smell pungently sweet lilac whenever someone mentions the Battle of Malvern Hill.

I remember how excited I was when I discovered there were three volumes in the series, and how the librarian with a freshly‑sharpened yellow pencil stuck deep into her beehive hairdo tried to discourage me from checking them out because I was “far too young to read and understand Freeman.”

I opened a book and read aloud. That convinced her.

With the second volume under my arm, I peddled my green Stingray bike (with the long cool banana seat) across town to the Union soldier’s memorial obelisk in Central Park, where I leaned against the sun‑warmed polished granite and devoured the stirring Introduction and first chapter.

I finished the book in the back of a Dodge station wagon on the way to New York City with the family, and the third installment on the stoop of an apartment complex in Brooklyn ten days later.

The colossal scope and breadth of books in general, and the Civil War in particular, finally began to dawn on me. My grandfather’s dime stirred a lifetime of passion. . . .

*     *     *

I stopped my son as he pulled a few coins from his pocket to pay for his books. “I’ve got it,” I told him with a smile he returned in kind. Before we arrived home, he had the torn paperback out of the sack and was reading for all he was worth.

“Wanna play some catch?” I asked, hoping I knew the answer.

“No, I want to read,” he replied without looking up.

Without another word, Demetri walked upstairs and flopped down on his bed. I walked into my library, pulled out that battered first volume of Lee's Lieutenants, trotted up the steps, and asked him to scoot over.

He smiled and wiggled closer to the wall. I dropped down next to him. And we read together. And then we fell asleep together . . . reading.

A dime well spent can still buy you everything that really matters.

Copyright 2002, Theodore P. Savas

Saturday, November 5, 2016

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

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


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.