03 November 2005 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 7 comments

I’ve already unleashed a fair number of rants about publishers on this blog. It turns out that I’m not finished.

I have some strong ideas about what I do and do not like about books. Here are a few general rules:

1. More pictures/illustrations are preferable to less.
2. There can NEVER be too many maps.
3. Footnotes are preferable to end notes.
4. If end notes are the only option, then do not use one for an entire paragraph and lump a bunch of different sources together.
5. Any book without a bibliography is not a book that I will buy.
6. The same holds true for an index.

Those are my general rules for what I look for in books. The obvious exception to this rule is if it’s something that I need for one of my research projects. Then, I will buy it even if it doesn’t meet my criteria. So, it’s not a hard and fast rule.

I have spent about ten years researching and writing a new regimental history of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry, also known as Rush’s Lancers. In the course of gathering material for this book, I have accumulated about 75 photographs of members of the regiment, about half of which come from private collections and which have never before been published. There are other photos as well, such as the regimental monuments on the battlefield at Gettysburg that will need to be included, and several reunion photos. In short, there will be close to 100 illustrations when it’s all said and done. I also expect to have between 15 and 20 maps; this unit was involved in dozens of engagements over the course of the war. I’m also in the process of putting together a roster of the more than 1000 men who served in this unit that will be a cornerstone of the overall project. Using all of these items is important to me, so finding a publisher that shares my philosophy about them is critical.

The book was originally supposed to be a joint venture between Ed Longacre and me, but Ed withdrew from the project due to conflicts with his other book projects. We had originally signed a contract for the book with Combined Books, which has published a number of Ed’s books. Combined was a Philadelphia company, and the Lancers were a Philadelphia unit, so it was a logical connection. However, Combined was sold to Perseus Books and made a part of its DaCapo impression. Instead of a small Philadelphia-based publisher, suddenly, I was faced with the prospect of having a megapublisher do my book. I quickly decided that DaCapo was NOT the right place for my modest regimental history, even though they were prepared to honor the contract. If I got 20 of my illustrations included in the book, I would have considered myself lucky. The roster–forget it. It wasn’t going to happen. I terminated the contract, repaid the miniscule advance (a whopping $250), and got my freedom from DaCapo.

The problem, of course, is finding someone to publish it. I have a few ideas, and have had one conversation with a publisher that shares my philosophy. I’m going to submit the manuscript next week, and we will see where it leads. I hope that this particular publisher wants the book, as I really believe it’s the best possible opportunity for the book to be published in accordance with my vision for it. We shall see what happens.

I just wish that more publishers shared my philosophy about what makes up a good history book. However, in a shrinking industry where many publishers aren’t interested in including lots of illustrations and rosters, the range of candidates is slim and growing slimmer all the time. And therein lies the tragedy.

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Comments

  1. Dave Kelly
    Fri 04th Nov 2005 at 9:58 am

    What is the publishing industrys problem with graohics exactly? I assume you have no usage fees attached to what you’re including?

    Not wishing to drop a dime, But have just finished reading Wentworth’s Nothing But Victory. Any claim that it is an organizational history of the Army of the Tennessee is spurious. It is an annecdotal litany of battles.
    No maps or org charts. I gather Knopf dictated some of this…

  2. Fri 04th Nov 2005 at 10:59 am

    Dave,

    It’s all about the number of pages in a book. The more pages, the more it costs to produce the book. Bottom line.

    I haven’t read Woodworth’s book. I’ve liked some of his prior books, but my guess is that he’s a victim of what I’ve described above.

    Eric

  3. Eamon Honan
    Fri 04th Nov 2005 at 7:37 pm

    Maps. Maps. Maps thrice I say. Being an idiot who navigates like a hamster at the best of times, I can never have enough maps. I’ve bought several dozen of the Osprey campaign series on the strength of the maps alone usually so that I refer to them while reading a more indepth history. I don’t have the spatial imagination to understand a battle without them. I doubt I’m alone in this.

  4. Sat 05th Nov 2005 at 12:11 am

    Eamon,

    Certainly not wrong. In fact, I agree with you. As I said, there can be too many maps in a book.

    Eric

  5. Stefan Papp, Jr.
    Sat 05th Nov 2005 at 2:53 am

    Yes, Dave is right. Woodworth’s book is a “anecdotal litany of battles”. But even the Arkansas Post Campaign, part of the army’s legacy, is pressed into one sentence! Guess, why…

    Best from Germany

    Stefan

  6. Sat 05th Nov 2005 at 2:30 pm

    Eric:

    After reading posts by you and Mark Grimsley about the ordeal a writer (particularly a military historian) has to go through to get their labor of love even published, much less published in the way they intended, it’s enough to almost make an erstwhile historian start casting about for a new major. One is struck by the cowardice of publishers, who seem to have let their fear of losing money keep them from taking any risks whatsoever. So what we are left with is boring academic monographs and poorly-researched fluff by the likes of Carhart, none of it priced below $45!

    An army officer recently wrote that a man like George S. Patton who took risks wouldn’t be able to get very far in today’s conservative military establishment. By the same token, I seriously doubt that if a book like Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy” or Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy” were offered to a publisher today, it would never see the light of day. And yet these are both classics of English literature. Modern book companies should start listening to authors.

  7. Sat 05th Nov 2005 at 4:41 pm

    Will,

    Sadly, that’s the truth. The bottom line is that publishing is a business, and publishers are only going to do things that make business sense. Unfortunately, crap like Carhart’s book sells, and that which sells gets published even if it is poor history.

    Book sales are shrinking and so seem to be markets. That means that more and more worthy titles will get short shrift.

    I’ve done several books with Potomac Books, which used to be known as Brassey’s. Brassey’s had two huge best sellers–both went to number 1 on the New York Times list–by Michael Scheuer on current affairs. That was obviously a very good thing for Brassey’s, but it also means that they have made a business decision to pretty much stop doing history and focus on that which sells, which in this case, is current affairs.

    I can’t really blame them–it is a business after all–but it means that an outlet for my work which I enjoyed, and which allowed me the latitude to do books pretty much the way I wanted the done, is no longer there for me. And that saddens me a great deal.

    Eric

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