Have you ever written a book review?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Gettysburg: The Best Single Volume Treatment? And the Winner is . . .

That was the most recent poll question on this blog, and the results were interesting (to me), but not completely surprising:.

There were 61 unique votes. This is the breakdown:
The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, by Edwin B. Coddington garnered 42 votes, which translated to 68% of the respondents.
Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, by Allen C. Guelzo, gathered 12 votes for 19%.
Gettysburg, by Stephen W. Sears, earned 6 votes, or 9%
and  Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, by Noah Andre Trudeau, 1 vote for < 1%.
I am curious . . .If you voted and would like to share your choice and why, I would like to hear from you. If you didn't get a chance to vote, but have an opinion, I would also love to learn it.

My choice is Coddington, even though others have more information now that so much time has passed since EBC wrote his lasting and impactful tome. Perhaps my vote has something to do with the fact that I read it first, it deeply impressed me then, I have read it since (ditto), and I find it wears well with time.



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

(Off Topic) The Only Bass: The Rickenbacker 4003

Well, it's not the only bass, but it is the only bass I could ever play.

I come from a musical family, and played classical piano from early childhood through two years of college. I also played bass, which I picked up in high school after seeing Rush in a small ballroom (about a month before they exploded and got huge). That Ric sound! That OMG voice! Wow! Here is the song that did it for me: Bastille Day. (Turn your volume up to 11, give it a listen, piss of your fellow co-workers, and then come on back and keep reading.)

Classic Rickenbacker 4001 (note darker brown tone compared
to replacement 4003 below)

Me with my 4001 in 1980 (l), and my brother Anthony
(r) on his beloved Les Paul. (He also had an SG), in a club.
I found a 4001 Ric in 1976 for $750 bucks (then), and snapped it up, taught myself, and played it in many bands around the Midwest, bus and all. After my last band broke up, some of our equipment was stolen, including my beloved bass. I didn't replace it. Like a heroin addict, if I had picked one up again I would have dropped out of graduate school and eventually left my family to go back out on the road and play.

Fast forward 35 or so years. I finally broke down and decided to buy a new Rickenbacker 4003 bass (the classic Ric bass that replaces the 4001). Black and maple are easier to find than Fireglo (like mine), which is almost always out of stock. Our local music store is on 12- to 18-month back order for Rick 4003s, and the company won't tell you when they will arrive. These basses are handmade (and they don't produce nearly enough to satisfy demand).

I checked American Musical Supply daily, but they were always on back order. And then, with one page refresh, a Fireglo popped up, with a notation that it was "hurt." The price was way below retail ($1,599 including expensive custom case instead of $2,399.) I used online chat and the person said it would be a tiny mar or scratch, would likely not be visible anywhere, shipping was free, and I had 60 days to return it (shipping free back, too). How could I lose?

I ordered it. When it got here, I opened the case and studied the bass. I could not find a thing wrong with it. Nothing. Then I noticed that the case had a small scratch/mar. I think that was the issue. (I have been told by people in the business who know more than me that someone who works in the warehouse combined the SKU numbers, scratched the case, posted it as "hurt" and someone else he knows was supposed to snatch it up and then sell it and pockets the money. I was offered $1,000 more than I paid a week after I got it. And it has only gone up in value.)

The finish is amazing. It feels like silk. If I could sleep comfortably with it, I would.

The new 4003 Rickenbacker bass.
As the online description notes, the 4003 is famous for its "ringing sustain, treble punch and solid underlying bass tones that made Rickenbacker a household name." Indeed. A subtle strip of binding graces the elegantly curved body and the Rosewood fingerboard. Deluxe triangular inlays and stereo capability are standard features. The 4003 has a Vintage Tone Selector, an additional control included standard.

(Prior to 1984, Rickenbacker basses utilized a capacitor in the treble pickup circuit to emphasize treble tones coming from that pickup. However, changes in tone preference and a call for higher output led RIC to discontinue the use of this capacitor in favor of a more balanced sound. Nevertheless many users added this capacitor back into the circuit, experimenting with and sometimes preferring the sound of the older configuration, despite the resulting drop in volume.).

I haven't put the capacitor back in, but with the classic tone selector, I really don't need to. With a simple pull of the treble tone control, the Vintage Tone Selector will allow a player to move between both sounds at the drop of a hat. Pressed in, you'll hear the familiar balanced tone of the 4003, while pulled out to engage the circuit, you'll appreciate the bite and crispness popularized by such artists as Chris Squire and Getty Lee.

Now, if I could only play like I used to. I am currently rehearsing with my brother (who played with me in my last two bands) and another great high school guitarist named Sasha to play this weekend at a recital. We are playing "Hotel California" with my brother's instructor Eddie--who can play well anything with strings. The song includes a great back and forth extended guitar solo session.

We might put a band together for some fun on the weekends, as there are several clubs out here where amateur bands play 4-5 songs each.

I have already named the group: The Hip Replacements.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Reviews and Critiques and Sharp Words (oh my)

Well, I just watched the Wizard of OZ, so . . .

I think the words I used for the post about Dr. Emberton's review of our Hood book were ill-chosen. Going public on this is not my modus operandi in the publishing arena. 

I still think the review is unfair, but Professor Emberton has a right to write whatever she wishes and readers will make their own decisions by reading the book--or not.

I don't know Dr. Emberton, but I hear she is a fine lady and an outstanding instructor. I am sure that is true on both counts.

I hope all of my readers had a good, happy, and safe Thanksgiving.



Friday, November 29, 2013

Did Professor Carole Emberton Read the Book She Just Reviewed?

Some book reviews are positive, some are mixed, and some are negative. This is true for nearly all books, and that's the nature
of the beast and goes along with the territory.

All any publisher and author ask is that a reviewer actually read the book before reviewing it, and then assess it honestly for what it is, and what it is not.

John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General, by Stephen Hood, raises the hackles a lot of people because it calls out many academicians and general students of the war by name and produces one example after another of sloppy scholarship, reliance on secondary sources that are themselves incorrect in matters of fact, mistakes, misrepresentations--and in some cases, even worse.

Readers will decide whether the author makes his case or not. It is interesting to note that of the 60 or so reviews floating around thus far, not a single one alleges or points out that the author was wrong in how he cited a historian, or that a footnote (of which there are about 1,000) was wrong, or that a quote was wrong, etc. Not a single one.

Carole Emberton, an associate professor of history at the University of Buffalo (SUNY), recently reviewed John Bell Hood for The Civil War Monitor (an outstanding publication, by the way). Read her review here. It is a strange review brought to my attention by many readers. It made me wonder, "Did this reviewer even bother to read the book--or even the dust jacker?--before going out of her way to slam it?"

Is that a fair question? Here are two very troubling indicator:

1) She thinks it is a biography (all of you who have read this know it is clearly not a biography in any sense of the word), and she thinks the author is a biographer (ditto). 

2) More telling, however, is this little revealing gem:

"In his effort to resuscitate General Hood's reputation as a competent if not talented commander who did his best in impossible situations, the author spends far more time and energy skewering those historians than he does giving the reader a new or at least more nuanced interpretation of General Hood."

Why yes, Dr. Emberton, he does "spend far more time and energy" (note the italics above) on what others have written about Hood. As my teenage son might say, professor . . . DUH! In fact, that is the purpose of the entire book. and the book has absolutely NOTHING to do with the part that is in bold-italics above. Nothing. At. All. If she had read the Introduction, the author explains all this there in deep detail, and he mentions it again and again throughout the book.

She even criticizes the way the book is organized, when it fact, it is organized by topic to present how others have covered the topic in question. Again, discussed throughout.

Even the dust jacket explains it.

Now, I don't really give a damn if someone slams one of our books, so long as they have read it, and have legitimate complaints. Cites are wrong? Major collections not included? Too many typos and other mistakes? Incorrect maps? That is fair, and that is how it should be.

But I question whether this professor read this book, because she went out of her way to produce a hatchet job on a book that does not exist. Did she read it? I don't know with certainty either way. Why did she she write what she did (and I urge you to read the entire review) if she read the book. This book is replete with explanations addressing these very things--on the jacket, on the publisher's website, in the Introduction, and scattered throughout.

The author wrote his own rebuttal, which you can find in the same location below her "review." You will have to be the judge whether or not she read the book and whether or not this is fair review.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

If You Like Independent Military History Publishing, You Can Keep Your Independent Military History Publishing. Period. Well . . .

A love-hate relationship.
In that, I know I am not alone.

Unfortunately, many publishers large and small who were in business a decade ago are no longer in business. The reasons for their demise are legion. Some were poorly run. Others produced a sub par product. Some merged with other companies. For many others (most?), the economics of the marketplace, driven by rapid changes in technology, made it impossible for them to compete.

Most small publishers simply do not have a parachute when their plane takes flak and begins to lose altitude.

"Dude--I didn't see that digital tidal wave coming. Did you?"
"As a matter of fact, yes. I did."
If at all possible, I try to purchase my books directly from publishers (especially smaller ones) because as a publisher I understand what that means: a larger proportion of every dollar goes directly to the publisher and the author. The margins in publishing are RAZOR thin, and it takes an outstanding product, coupled with vigorous marketing, to pay the bills and keep the lights on. And capable employees. And great authors. And the careful and judicious choosing of manuscripts. And good book design. And . . . luck. (Yeah, it's not easy.)

Amazon has made this much more difficult for many people. And I understand why: Raw economics. Do I save a few bucks, or support Small Company X.

The scenario that keeps me up at night every once in a while is what the Civil War book-reading world will look like if and when the quality small publishers are driven out of the marketplace. So many good smaller military houses are simply . . . no longer. (The two that always jump into my mind that I enjoyed the most are Morningside and Sarpedon. There are dozens more.)

Relying on Simon and Schuster for our quality Civil War books doesn't sit well with me. I like my maps plentiful and my footnotes down at foot level. University presses turn out great books, but fewer U presses focus on quality military studies, and then only a handful each season. One or two other publishers I am aware of publish just about anything they can get their hands on (many are Savas Beatie rejects), format the (largely) unedited text, slap on a generic cover, attach a steep price, and push it out there.

I am sure some of you think, "Well, self-publishing is the wave of the future and so there will always be lots of books to choose from." Perhaps. But just because you can turn on a stove top and sprinkle herbs and spices on a steak doesn't make you Ruth's Chris. I regularly get self-published books in the mail. Few, sadly, pass muster. Invariably, after flipping through and looking at the design, leading, type-face, paper, binding, etc. I am disappointed. There is no substitute for knowing what you are doing from the bottom up in ANY business.

My friend John Fox, who runs Angle Valley Press, just wrote an interesting blog post on all this. I encourage you to read it. His books are among the best, too.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Little Personal History, A LOT of Fun.

David (left), and your truly (right)
My old friend, former publishing partner, and fellow Civil War enthusiast David Woodbury wrote a piece recently about, well, about a lot of things past and present. It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip down memory lane, and I thought some of you might enjoy it. 
So I stole it from his blog. :) And by the way, his blog Of Battlefields and Bibliophiles is outstanding and one you should bookmark and visit often. 
Thanks DW.
Strolling Down Memory Lane: The South Bay Civil War Round Table
Way back in 1988, my wife and I flew from San Francisco to San Diego where I was excited to attend the Annual West Coast Civil War Conference, then organized by Jerry Russell of Civil War Round Table Associates. I had just finished reading McPherson’s, Battle Cry of Freedom, and relished the prospects of listening to some authors hold forth on a variety of subjects. The featured historian was William C. “Jack” Davis, a tremendously knowledgeable and entertaining speaker. He told a story that had the audience laughing so hard, I remember it to this day (maybe some of you have heard it at other events – it involved him traipsing around his house with a Civil War saber, looking for a possible intruder). Bob Younger of Morningside Books was also there, and so I dropped a lot of cash on new reading material.

That conference was also where I met Ted Savas, who was then living in San Jose. He and his wife Carol, and Anne and I, gravitated together -- some of the only people in attendance who were still in their 20’s -- and the only four who had come down from Northern California (or so it seems to me now). We soon learned we had other things in common, such as Ted and I both hailing from Iowa (my mother grew up in his home town, and my father grew up nearby).

Not long after returning to the Bay Area, we got together at the Winchester Brewpub – just down the street from the legendary Winchester Mystery House – and started planning the creation of the South Bay Civil War Roundtable (at that time, there were roundtables in San Francisco, and on the Peninsula, one in the East Bay, but nothing in the area of San Jose, the most populous city in the area).

Our first meeting was held at Ted’s house with about 14 people in attendance. Ted became the first president, and I took up duties as the newsletter editor (and eventually became the 2nd president). At the first meeting, Zoyd Luce spoke on Benjamin “The Beast” Butler. Ted spoke the following month on Longstreet’s Suffolk Campaign, and I spoke at the third meeting on John Hunt Morgan’s Indiana/Ohio Raid. And just like that, we were off to the races, eventually finding a regular meeting place and steadily increasing the membership.

Within the next couple years, our group hosted the West Coast Conference after it had devolved into a moribund affair, and Jerry Russell was imploring the round tables themselves to take turns organizing it. The year after San Diego it was held in a dingy motel in Burbank, with very low attendance. It was in its death throes, and Russell was ready to give up. The following year we hosted the event near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, got the word out far and wide, and saw a great crowd turn out to hear a roster of speakers topped by Robert K. Krick, whose compensation included two tickets to the next 49ers game. That San Francisco conference was also where Ted and I debuted volume 1, number 1 of Civil War Regiments journal, which, along with a number of stand-alone campaign studies, would consume so much of our lives for years to come. After San Francisco, the Long Beach CWRT held a large, well-attended conference with James McPherson, and the meeting has been a rollicking success ever since.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the South Bay CWRT revived and re-energized the West Coast Conference, which today routinely sees 100+ in attendance, in nice venues, and with top-flight historians and authors (Richard Hatcher and Craig Symonds will be on hand next month).

At some point, I don’t remember when exactly, I stopped attending meetings of the South Bay CWRT in favor of the CompuServe forum I have administered for nearly 20 years, effectively an online CWRT whose members discuss the Civil War era all year long, and meet in person every spring to tour a battlefield. I eventually moved on to work at Stanford University Press, and Savas Woodbury Publishers became Savas Publishing, then Savas Beatie, and anyone who loves books on the Civil War knows what a strong presence Savas has been in that arena all these years later.

I’m pleased to say the South Bay CWRT is still going strong as well, compiling over the years a long record of generous donations to Civil War preservation organizations. When I saw that they were celebrating their 25th anniversary (which I calculate to be March of 2014), and that Ted was the guest speaker at the annual summer picnic, I decided to surprise him. We had not seen each other in over 10 years. I wish I could describe the look on his face when he glanced my way for the first time after arriving.

It was a lot of fun, and many memories were refreshed. Ted gave a masterful, no-notes talk on “The Battle of Payne’s Farm, November 27, 1863: Command & Competency During the Mine Run Campaign.” That, in itself, caused many more memories to surface, as I was with Ted at Payne’s Farm when he first began researching that fight, and when, using metal detectors, he established an artillery position by finding canister balls in the woods right where he surmised they would be found. He found the remnants of canister. My metal detector was so poor it literally could not detect a quarter sitting on the surface. I know because I tried.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Articles on Publishing for Industry Magazines

 On occasion, I am asked to write for various book-and publishing-related magazines.

I find it interesting and fun, especially since they let me write about pretty much anything I want. Many others have shared ideas and business strategies with me, so I hope that my own experience and insights help others.

Since most or all of the readers of our books never see these articles, I thought it might be interesting to post one on occasion.

Here is the first, an article I called "Can I Sizzle You a Cigar?" It appeared in Book Business magazine.
I hope you enjoy it.



Thursday, October 10, 2013

A slew of new books arrived just yesterday, which as you can imagine is always a fun day at the office. Opening those boxes is a lot like Christmas--many times a year.

The Civil War Lover's Guide to New York City
, by Bill Morgan;

Battle of Big Bethel: Crucial Clash in Early Civil War Virginia, by J. Michael Cobb, Edward B. Hicks, and Wythe Holt; and

Robert E. Lee in War and Peace: The Photographic History of a confederate and American Icon, by Donald A. Hopkins, M.D.

I am of course excited by all three, but the Lee book intrigues me for many reasons, and one in particular.

As a kid I spent hours laying on my bedroom floor studying Roy Meredith's The Face of Robert E. Lee in Life and Legend (1947). It simply fascinated me. I recall usin
g a magnifying class to study the details (I used that same glass on the same floor to try and make sense of the ridiculously small map details in Murfin's Antietam study Gleam of Bayonets (which I loved, and still do to this day.)

Meredith's study is now 60+ years old and as I discovered from Dr. Hopkins's work, loaded with mistakes and woefully incomplete. Little did I know that one day I would publish what I sincerely believe is the definitive book on this topic.

Hopkins's new tome has every known Lee image, with tons of info on the photography, Lee himself, his history, and much much more. It is also professionally designed inside on photo-matte paper by Mason City friend Jim Zach, who has done many of our jackets and the inside of several books). It is also oversize at 7 x 10.

I sincerely hope you enjoy it.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Publishing Choices. Which Publisher? (Part 1)

It is time to discuss this aspect of publishing once again, in greater depth.

This a post is a variation from one I wrote many years ago. I will expound in detail on a wide variety of matters authors must consider before selecting a publisher. We have plenty of manuscripts coming in, so I am not hunting for more material. So what is driving me? Watching authors make clear "rookie" mistakes in choosing publishers that all but guarantee a mediocre (at best) product, low royalties (or no royalties--a couple publishers out there are crooks who do not pay), and a waste of years of hard work.

If you care about your manuscript, READ ON. 

A Cautionary Tale: A well-known Civil War author worked on a Civil War biography for many years. In the early 1990s, he placed it with a well known university press. The press made a few demands, he modified his text accordingly, and that was it. There was little or no further input on anything else of real substance.

When the finished books arrived, he opened the box with eager anticipation. The first thing he saw was the dust jacket. It was, to use his adjective, "hideous." He skimmed through his labor of love and discovered the paper was heavy but cheap, and that advertised "cloth" was not cloth at all. The binding was also inexpensively done, and glue was visible between and around the signatures. He stuck the book on his shelf and, according to him, never opened it again. Five years of research and the disappointing finished product was something he would have to live with forever.

He was never offered a chance to see the jacket design or the interior design.

But it did not have to be this way.

By this time, some of you are likely wondering why I am sharing a story like this. The answer might be posed as a question: Would you marry a girl you have never seen? Would you buy a car you have never driven? For most of us, the answer is obvious. And yet, authors often jump at the first press that says "yes" to their manuscript.

The acceptance minuet performed prior to signing a contract should not simply consist of a press accepting your manuscript, but must include a thinking author willing to "accept" the press--and all that entails. It is a bilateral arrangement, one both sides should enter with eyes wide open. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, a partnership (at least, that is how we think of it at Savas Beatie.)
If you have a manuscript ready, before you submit it to a publisher I strongly suggest a trip to the local bookstore (or to your own local or home library). When you find a publisher that produces books in your genre, study as many as you can with deliberate care. Pick them up, read them, feel them, sleep with one under your pillow.

Is it well designed? Does it have a dust jacket? Is the jacket professionally designed? Look at the flap credits and try to determine if the designer is an outside professional. Is the interior formatting pleasing, readable, and cleanly presented? Is the paper appropriate and of good quality? How is the binding? Tight and square, or loose and inexpensively done? If applicable, does this press use maps, photos, footnotes, or end notes? If so, are they plentiful, well done, and helpfully displayed? Is the text well edited? Generally speaking, look to see if the books by this press are reviewed positively or negatively by readers. Is the company brand (think r-e-p-u-t-a-t-i-o-n) strong and well respected within its publishing niche? Will the company give you the names of 3-4 authors and allow you to contact them?

Books are not an exact science; human eyes and hands create them. However, a good sampling of a publisher's titles will give you a strong sense of what your finished manuscript will look like.

The submission process is, in many respects, caveat emptor--buyer beware. When you go onto a car lot and open your wallet, you know whether you will be driving away in a Mercedes or a Chevy. If your eyes and ears are wide open, you will have a pretty good idea what your final product will look like before you sign on the dotted line.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

How deeply imbedded is the now thoroughly disproved myth about General John Hood's addiction to drugs? [Read General John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General, by Stephen M. Hood (Savas Beatie, 2013) for a complete examination of this slanderous issue, how it originated, and what recently discovered medical reports tell us today.]

Well, as friend Craig Swain brought to my attention, here are the optional rules from the old board game "Embrace an Angry Wind" (published in 1992, the same year Wiley Sword's book of the same name appeared).

The game covered the battles of Spring Hill and Franklin and boasts . . . ready for it? . . . a "Hood Addiction Table."

Wrong history leaks in many directions.

-- tps

Friday, September 13, 2013

"Grant and the Rewriting of History" Chapter Excerpt: "The Relief of Rosecrans"

According to our marketing department, we are offering a FREE with a signed author book plate if you stand on your head and drink a beer through a straw. Or something. (See below for details).

We have posted a chapter excerpt from General Grant and the Rewriting of History: How the Destruction of General William S. Rosecrans Influenced Our Understanding of the Civil War, by Frank Varney (Savas Beatie, 2013). We think you will find this very interesting reading. As professor Varney has told me,"I don't care whether everyone agrees with me or not. I just want them to think about the sources and think for themselves about what they tell us."

Here is the link on Facebook. We encourage you to copy the link, the excerpt, download it, print it, and share it with others via email, Facebook, Twitter, and all the social media outlets. 

If you have read the book, please review it on Amazon.

I am curious as to your thoughts, observations. Slings and arrows are also welcome.

FREE BOOK CONTEST: Spread the word. If there are 20+ shares on FB with 20+ comments about some substantive aspect of the excerpt, we'll select one lucky winner for a free copy of the book! 

Have a great weekend. Go Vikings. 

-- tps

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Why We Publish What We Publish . . . and How We Market.


This will be fairly brief and I hope unconditionally clear.

We publish because we love what we do, and we do it with the intent of being the best in the business in general, and in the American Civil War arena in particular.

The buying decisions of our readers and supporters around the world, the decisions of committees that assign awards, the national book clubs that select our titles, and the quality of the authors who ask to publish their work with us (often over and over) tend to be a good barometer of how we are doing. We don't always succeed, but we work hard with high goals and aspirations.

We only select books that offer fresh, original, solid research and topic coverage that is well written and attractively presented. (Generally speaking, we accept about one in 30 submissions.) We do not shy away from well-presented arguments and contrarian views-- even if it provides some readers with anxiety, a mild panic disorder, additional insomnia, or even some mild depression and rage while curling up in the fetal position. Pop a Xanax and wash it down with a couple fingers of Maker's Mark and enjoy it for what it is: a different perspective.

Finally, we market aggressively inside and outside the book trade. Our authors know this and appreciate it when they get their royalty checks. Recently, however, I read someone who claimed that I intentionally over-hyped a title just to sell it and admitted to him that I had done so. I also had someone tell me a person emailed him and claimed the same thing. People who know me, know our program, and know our books understand that is complete baloney.

Several people are involved in writing, proofing, and approving marketing copy, from the author and myself to our marketing director; sometimes the copy editor and even the developmental editor occasionally have a say. Even our accounts manager reads the copy and comments. We know our books inside and out before a single word is published, and the entire purpose is to inform you of what we believe is inside the book, and what you can expect in exchange for your hard-earned dollars. We stand firmly behind our marketing campaigns, dust jacket copy, and advertising blurbs. Period.

Thank you for your continued support.

Happy Opening NFL day. Happy continued reading.

-- tps

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

HISTORIANS vs. HOOD. Entire Chapter Excerpt Below.

 Frankly, I am saddened and a bit frustrated by so-called "students" of the Civil War (substitute history there if you like) when they announce they don't have to compare sources or read and think for themselves. One poster on Facebook let us know that "
Sword wrote a good biography of Hood. He is critical of Hood but if you know about the Battles of Nashville and Franklin the criticism is justified." He later wrote this: "Sword treats Gen Hood sympathetically. After Gen. Hood's experiences and physical pain that he became hooked on pain killers only makes the general human."

I think it matters whether what you "think" you know something, and have solid evidence of that. In this fellow's mind, no historian of any standing could ever misuse sources (accidentally or intentionally), and once an author writes an award-winning and/or "bestseller" and/or "really good authoritative book" on a subject, there is nothing left to say. I know Wiley Sword personally, and I like his work. I love his Shiloh volume. I don't know what he was thinking when he wrote and sourced what he did, and readers will have to decide for themselves. He wields a hell of a pen and is one fine writer.

This Chapter 11 excerpt, entitled "John Bell Hood and the Battle of Nashville" is from our new book "John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General," by Stephen Hood (Savas Beatie, 2013). 

You can also find it here: http://www.savasbeatie.com/books/pdf/Hood_Nashville.pdf

We suggest a careful reading to fully appreciate what you will find near the end on pages 196-199. Tragically, this is how falsehoods and exaggerations become cemented in the public mind and popular history as “truth.” There are 19 chapters like this. N-I-N-E-T-E-E-N.

We ENCOURAGE you to copy this, print it, and share it with others via email, Facebook and the various social media outlets. 

Enjoy and thank you for your continued support.

-- tps

Monday, September 2, 2013

Did Another Prominent Historian Resort to Photocopy History?

Is historical curiosity dead?

Dr. Allen Guelzo has a good and well-deserved reputation as a historian, and he is a fine writer. I have never met him, and I do not believe I have ever corresponded with him. I am reading his new Gettysburg book, and it is a good single volume on the campaign/battle.

But . . .

Did he lapse into photocopy history mode by following Wiley Sword and Company in their interpretation of General John Bell Hood? It appears so. This is what he wrote about General Hood:

"John Bell Hood, an aggressive Confederate field general who suffered a mangled arm and an amputated leg, sustained himself on alcohol and opiates, and they in turn probably helped him lose his luckless campaign in Tennessee in 1864 by sapping his strength and deadening his judgment." 

Source: Guelzo, Allen C. (2012-04-20). Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction (Kindle Locations 5317-5319). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. [Submitted to me by a reader.]

And what credible sources did Dr. Guelzo use to conclusively state that Hood "sustained himself on alcohol and opiates"? Answer: None.  Others had written it, so it must be true, right?

Note thereafter Guelzo's eyebrow-raising qualifier "probably" [one of Sword's favorite words] as to how this combination of mind-altering substances sapped Hood's strength and deadened his judgment. Really? Ah . . . no. None of this is remotely accurate. And it is not subjective and no longer even arguable on any level. 

General Hood did not sustain himself or even use alcohol or opiates as Sword and others continue to endlessly prevaricate about, and historians who should know better copy without curiosity or question.

Stephen Hood's John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General (2013) unhorses these (and other) untruths and buries them under a flurry of stomping hooves. He does this in two ways: with newly found original firsthand sources, and a simple if time-consuming comparison of the "sources" originally used by Sword and others to characterize Hood as a drunk, crippled, drugged, hack of a leader. 

This new book conclusively demonstrates that, even WITHOUT these newly discovered documents, the sources used by Sword and others were, in the author's opinion, hearsay or misread or intentionally misused (readers can decide, and the plentiful reviews on Amazon and elsewhere demonstrate that they are shocked by the mountain of evidence). The record is one secondary mistake built upon another, piled upon a third, each with its own new purple adjectives thrown in for good measure. If Stephen Hood had left this subject alone, there is no doubt some author would have soon described an inebriated General Hood selling crack and meth in an Atlanta ghetto during leave.

Even good historians make mistakes. This is but another example. Hopefully, at least regarding General Hood, it is the last one.

(And if you would like to see the Hood book trailer, click HERE.)

-- tps

Friday, August 23, 2013

Varney's "General Grant and the Rewriting of History" Scrutinized by the Contrarian

Not to put too fine a point on it, but those of you familiar with me and with Savas Beatie know we only publish fresh original well-researched books that offer our readers something to set their teeth into. We leave the baloney and other assorted sorts of crap between the covers to other houses (who routinely publish, usually without editing) what I turn down.

Two of our recent books are garnering a lot of attention because they swim upstream, against the current historical thought that has come to dominate so much of Civil War history. I am referring to John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General, by Stephen Hood, and Frank Varney's General Grant and the Rewriting of History How the Destruction of General William S. Rosecrans Influenced Our Understanding of the Civil War.

Dimitri Rotov, no friend of the poorly researched or reasoned tome, has reviewed the Varney title and produced an interesting, longish post about it. It is mostly quite positive, with a few minor negative observations. He explains:

"Mr. Varney makes hay with a problem we have bemoaned in this blog from day one. Historians, mainly pop historians, summarize historical problems in a single statement attached to a single source. (For this sin against history, see especially anything by McPherson or Goodwin). Not to flog a dead horse, but an event shrouded in controversy is resolved by “that’s the way it is” and a note citing a single source that summarizes the author’s position. This is terribly offensive to the deep reader and what Varney has found is that Grant’s memoirs are single sourced repeatedly to put paid to messy history."

You can read the entire long and interest post HERE. It is well worth your time.

PS: Someone might let Levin know that some "real reviews" on the Hood book have appeared on Amazon.

-- tps

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Swing and a Miss: A Missing Antietam Manuscript--and a Second Shot at a Great Book

Alas, there is always too much acquisition work to get a firm grip upon, and my work in that arena is never done. (To be so, quite honestly, would to be out of business.)

Usually when good manuscripts slip through the cracks I don't see them again until they are announced in a competitor's catalog or I spot it already published somewhere. Sometimes it works out otherwise.

A couple years ago a Gettysburg-based independent film named Brad Graham sent me a manuscript query called "The Antietam Effect." It was not a history of Antietam. Rather, it was a series of meaty essays on a wide variety of subjects, all of which commented uniquely on the human element and dimension of action and reaction, etc, and the impact rations, weather, exhaustion, and so forth had on decision-making. (That might not be precisely how Brad would describe it, but it is early Sunday morning and I have only had one cup of coffee, and I don't have his book handy; the description is close enough for horseshoes--which I played the other night and lost. Again.)

I replied back that I had some interest, and he shot back most or all of the manuscript. I read one of the digital essays, loved it, and then . . . forgot about it. Too much on the plate, too many submissions, too many books, new employees, and life in general eased this through the cracks and into the slush pile of oblivion.

Fast forward a year or so. One day Yvette plopped a book down on my desk. "This looks interesting," she added. The Antietam Effect. Hmm. That sounded familiar. Brad Graham. I know that name, I thought. I glanced more carefully at the jacket and saw that it boasted a Foreword by D. Scott Hartwig, one of Gettysburg's premier historians. Inside the book was a nice letter from Brad and it the book itself was inscribed to me.

"Ah, no," I said aloud. It all came back to me.

Now, a few authors whose books I had ignored or turned down had sent me finished copies--usually in the form of a sharp stick in the eye: "See! Someone else knew this was good, so SB can go to H---." Like that.

Not Brad. His letter was gracious, his book kindly inscribed. I took The Antietam Effect home that evening and began reading it. I could not put it down. It was fascinating--a very different way of looking at otherwise well-known events. I emailed Brad the next day to congratulate him and apologize for not accepting his book. His reply: "I sent it to you because I really still want Savas Beatie to publish it. I only printed a very small number of copies."

The result after a few more emails and telephone calls is a signed contract, a new Savas Beatie author, a wonderful manuscript in development with Thomas Schott, one of our developmental editors (a former T. Harry Williams graduate student), and a slot for a Spring 2014 release of an SB-driven The Antietam Effect.

Oh, and Brad's view is unique and insightful enough that he has taken his eye and pen a bit north to Gettysburg, where he has done the same thing for Day 1. I had never viewed Heth's approach that morning in that manner . . . and when Lee . . . well, you have to wait a bit longer for that one.

Stay tuned.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Our John Bell Hood book---A Real Review? And do you need a Ph.D. to Produce True Scholarship?

A blogger and a few commentators have launched shots across the book bow that our recently released John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General by Stephen Hood has not really had "real reviews." I think one can argue this assertion has a patina of validity. Sales, emails, calls, and the large number of 4- and 5-star "reviews" on Amazon and word-of-mouth is strong anecdotal support for the quality of the work. I have been in the business long enough to know. Reading these sorts of tea leaves is my business at this stage of a release.

Lo and behold, a reader posted THIS OPINION on Amazon recently. I wonder whether this qualifies as a "real review" in the mind of those who follow such things? I am assuming the poster is a real reader. (Eric Wittenberg shot me a note that he knows "Dan" and he is a serious CW student. If memory serves, Eric has written a few books and has actually had some of them evaluated in "real reviews.") I am thus assuming that "Dan" thinks, breathes, reads, evaluates, checks sources, and reaches conclusions. Or is this simply an opinion tossed up by one of the great unwashed because it did not originate from one of the holy esteemed publications of academia or flow from one who pontificates armed with a Ph.D.?  (The publishing stories I could share with you gleaned behind the scenes on this score would keep you from wasting some of your money on a college education.)

Speaking of which, participate in the poll above, which is at least the cousin of this blog post.


Friday, August 9, 2013

E-Book Sales Growth and its Future


We at Savas Beatie saw the move into digital fairly early as far as smaller independent publishers are concerned.

(Funny, a reader on another blog questioned my use of the word "independent"--more on that in another post).

I sat by and watched many smaller publisher rend their garments and throw salt over their left shoulder as if the end was near and demons had sprouted amongst us. Many sat on their hands, as if doing nothing would put the toothpaste back into the tube. The genie is out of the bottle, I told several in the business, and if you sit and watch long enough, that wave you can see in the distance with binoculars is one day going to drown you. Sadly, many did not listen. Even some of the big boys waited longer than was prudent.

We jumped feet first in the e-world back in late 2009, and I am pleased to say that today ebooks make up a healthy share of our overall gross income. Nearly every title we have in print is also available as an e-book in all formats. Many of our authors are quite pleased with this result, too.

I am also pleased to inform readers that in our history niche, e-sales generally speaking are not cannibalizing print sales and in some instances are increasing print sales. (More on that in another post).

The explosive growth in e-book sales, however, is rapidly slowing. Why?

According to The Association of American Publishers, in the first quarter of 2013, American trade market e-book sales expanded by about five percent (5%) when compared to the same period last year (2012). Note that the sales increased, but the volcanic growth we have witnessed over the last three years has dramatically slowed down.

Expressed as a percentage of the overall market of total book sales, e-books represent roughly twenty-five percent (25 %). That’s one in four books now sold, folks. In many respects that is eyebrow-raising impressive, but it is in no way a threat to the existence of print--yet. The genre that is most impacted is fiction, which is much more suitable (in my view and the view of others) to e-readers. Nonfiction can be read on e-readers, of course, but it is more work to incorporate the maps, images, charts, notes, and harder to fully grasp the full impact of the scholarship on a Kindle or an iPad than it is to understand a Stephen King plot. Still, we have plenty of readers who take the Kindle or iPad into the field, where they can take immediate photos, put comments into the ebook, and so forth, and leave their hardcovers in the car or hotel or at home. I get that. It makes good sense. (Hence part of the reason e-books help some of our print titles.)

One blogger postulated that the decline in the growth of e-book sales is the result of the tablet. I think his thesis has merit. "Is the possible link between the decline in dedicated e-readers (as multitasking tablets take over) and the softening of e-book sales because tablets less conducive to book buying and reading than e-readers were?"

With dedicated readers, he continued, "pretty much the only thing you can do is buy and read books." With tablets you can do many other things just like a normal PC. He puts it another way: "On an e-reader, the e-reading app is always running. On a tablet, it isn’t."



Wednesday, August 7, 2013

First Annual Savas Beatie Authors' Conclave in the Books. In a Word--Wonderful.

We finished our three days at Gettysburg, Antietam, and Ball's Bluff, where as many as 15 Savas Beatie (and soon-to-be) authors joined us and dozens of customers on a series of micro-tours of select slices of these engagements. Friend us on Facebook (Savas Beatie) and read about it, see some of your favorite writers in action, and go to our home page on the website at www.savasbeatie.com and sign up for our free e-letter to stay abreast of all the exciting thing happening here. 

And as always, thanks for your support. We deeply appreciate it.
At the Bloody Angle. (Left to right: Mike Priest, Matt Lively, Scott Patchan, Dave Powell, Brian Jordan, Dave Shultz, Ted Savas, J.D. Petruzzi, and guide/speaker/author George Newton. We finished a good long first day on the field and headed to O'Rourke's to drink and break bread. Lots of photos from there on Facebook.

Friday, August 2, 2013

General John Bell Hood and Drive-By Blogging

I was and continue to be pleased by the response and interest our two new "revisionist" titles are generating within the Civil War community.

The advance publicity and dust jacket (and book trailer) for John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General, by Stephen Hood (a distant relative) promises quite a bit. Click HERE to see the book on our website or jump to Amazon and read about the book for yourself. 

Or, just ask Kevin Levin, who blogs widely on a variety of subjects. Way back in February he took the time to create a post entitled "Your Book Better Deliver On Its Promises." The post implicitly challenges the author and publisher (me) to put up or shut up. Many challenged him on his post (as well as one of his comments, which I found rather silly and a direct shot against me and my company), and eventually Kevin essentially shut down the conversation by writing that he was simply too busy and was unlikely to ever read the book. Pardon me, but . . . huh? 

I guess to him it is fair game to take the time to pull the trigger on a drive-by post, and then, well, close your laptop. The least he could do is comment on all the reviews, which thus far have been very favorable. (I just returned from our Savas Beatie Author Conclave in Gettysburg, where one customer told me he bought the book after reading Levin's blog post (and author Hood's reply) and came away completely convinced by its premise; he looked up everything the author wrote--OR cites, secondary sources, etc. and was "flabbergasted"--his word--by the lies and deceits written by so many for so long.) Amazon reviews are also strong. 

Still, because this book challenges establishment writers (not all of whom are professional historians), I am expecting blow back from the elites who look down on independent publishing and authors who don't hold a Ph.D. (Spoiler alert: Generally speaking, many who hold doctorates can't write to save their lives, but they do have damn good editors who make them read like Faulkner. Some day I will post about that.)

Kevin, what about a post asking your followers who have read the book whether it "Delivers On Its Promises"? You know, fair and balanced coverage. Just a thought.

Frank Varney's General Grant and the Rewriting of History: How the Destruction of General William S. Rosecrans Influenced Our Understanding of the Civil War, is a similar book (click HERE to read about it). But that will have to await another post. A good cigar is calling my name.



Saturday, July 20, 2013

The First Annual Savas Beatie Author Conclave--An Opening Salvo in an Exciting New Campaign.

As the managing director of a niche publishing company, it is my job to make sure we continue to generate the revenue to produce the quality books that our customers have come to demand and expect (and enjoy) from Savas Beatie. It is no easy task, especially given the economy of the last five or so years and how that has also affected other aspects that have had a direct impact on operations. But, I have always refused to participate in a recession.
Still,  . . . Borders has shuttered its doors. Barnes and Noble is struggling, mightily. It might be the next major casualty within a few years. There are many different outlets available that, in one way or another, compete with our old fashioned books (truly one of our favorite loves), including the Internet, social media, streaming movies, and so forth. In the end, this hurts all of use, including authors. Today, it is more important than ever that authors take an active role in the success of their book.

As Sarah Keeney, our marketing director mentioned the other day on Facebook (Savas Beatie LLC), we are fairly well known within our industry for good solid marketing. We have never been the company that  pretends it is marketing well by throwing a few dollars into a display ad, sending out a PR, and then moving on to the next book. We have always been dedicated to the proposition that authors deserve our support, and there are many ways to promote and sell books (the worst of which is in a traditional bookstore--grist for another post).

To that end, with the problems stacking up against our industry as noted above, I decided to add "muscle" to our marketing arm by doing more to help "market and brand" our authors. To that end, we have created an entirely new position by hiring an Author Liaison Specialist, someone gifted in communications and marketing whose sole task is to “market and brand” our authors. That’s all she will do. "Michele" begins with us on August 5, a few days after the conclusion of the First Annual Savas Beatie Author Conclave. She will work closely with our authors on all related matters--blogs and content, article placement, signings, radio and TV, help develop content for marketing, and much much more.

Pulling back the curtain a bit more . . . the
First Annual Savas Beatie Author Conclave is the opening shot in this new and exciting campaign. Sarah (marketing manager), Helene (accounts manager), and your humble correspondent (chief custodian) will be explaining this to our authors and a few others next week in Gettysburg. It promises to be interesting. Stay tuned.

Have a great weekend.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Back to Work. Finally.

Hello friends,

I know it has been a long, long while since I posted. I won't bore you with the details, but I fell ill near the end of last year, and it threw me for a loop and lasted for several months. And then again, same thing, this March-April. Needless to say, it left me with a mountain of other work, at home and in the office, that required my attention and the one thing that I could put on hold was the blog.

But . . . that is behind me and it is time to get back to writing again.

We have so many books, projects, and exciting new developments here at Savas Beatie, and I am excited to share them with you.

Thanks for staying patient and for all your queries and best wishes.