Have you ever written a book review?

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.