22 November 2005 by Published in: General musings 9 comments

There’s my job, which is how I support myself and my family. And then there’s my avocation, which is researching, writing, and publishing books. The two things are, for the most, not terribly consistent with each other.

My job: I’m a partner in a law firm with a pretty busy practice. I’ve made a career of avoiding domestic relations work, which is all about emotions and almost never about what makes business sense, and criminal defense work, with which I have fundamental philosophical issues. My bent is, and always has been, what makes business sense? The legal issues are what they are, and they have to be factored into the process of making decisions, but my fundamental issue has always been doing things that make business sense. If the legal implications are equal, I will always advise the client to do the thing that makes the most business sense for them.

There are some things about my job that I have always found rewarding. I have always enjoyed the intellectual challenge. I’m a good strategist and a decent tactician, and I love developing and implementing strategies. I enjoy creative solutions to problems. And I do find helping people to be rewarding. At the same time, there’s lots about my job that I absolutely despise. I hate chasing people to get paid. I hate feeling taken advantage of, and that happens much more often than I might otherwise like. It frustrates me to no end and really sours me toward the field. There are too many lawyers who decide that every case is worth fighting to the death over–even if it doesn’t make economic sense to do so–and they make life miserable for all of us. There are way too many lawyers and not enough good work, so a lot of bad lawsuits get filed. It makes all of us look bad, and it means that legitimate claims are often swept under the rug. It’s a very stressful existence, and I don’t bounce back from it the way I did when I was younger.

On the whole, after 18+ years of doing this for a living, I’m soon going to reach the burn-out point. The problem is that it pays well, and we have become accustomed to a nice standard of living. The term for my situation is “golden handcuffs”, and I wear them. Until I can figure out how to support myself at something close to the accustomed standard of living, I’m stuck here, and I’m stuck practicing law.

Which brings me to the point of this post–which is NOT looking for sympathy. Unlike the likes of J. K. Rowling, the most I have ever made in a given year from all of my historical work combined is about $10,000, which is certainly nothing even remotely close for a family to live on. If only there was a way that I could make a decent living with my historical work, I would certainly be a much happier guy. I really love the publishing business. The work we do at Ironclad is some of the most rewarding work I do. However, it’s the same story….we simply don’t make enough money to be able to take a dime out of the company. So, what we have is a company that does really good work–we publish some real quality works–but that is severely limited in what we as a company can do, and whatever we accomplish with it is basically a labor of love, because we certainly haven’t ever gotten paid a dime for anything any of us has done on behalf of the company. And, the trend in the publishing industry is shrinking sales–which will probably shrink even more if Google’s reprehensible copyright infringement scheme is permitted to proceed–meaning that there’s not a lot of opportunities for Ironclad to really expand or take on a really significant place in the market. So, as much as I love the process of giving birth to a book, both as author and as publisher, the money’s just not there for it to be financially viable.

However, it is what it is–history is something that gets short shrift in this society, which is much more interested in bling and in pop culture than learning from the lessons of history. I personally find it appalling that an airheaded bimbo whose sole claim to fame is genetics such as that moron Paris Hilton sells hundreds of thousands of copies of the crap that is ghostwritten for her, but people don’t buy history books except every great once in a while when the likes of David McCullough turns out a great book, but that’s definitely the exception and not the rule. Jessica Simpson’s marital issues and Britney Spears’ baby are far more important to the vast majority of Americans than understanding our historical heritage and what that means to the rest of us. Until that changes, it means that guys like me will continue to have to be amateurs who work at history as an avocation and not a vocation. And that’s sad.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Tue 22nd Nov 2005 at 1:23 pm

    Eric,
    I couldn’t agree with you more. I would go further. I’ve always maintained that, contrary to popular belief, real interest in the Civil War by the public is really quite shallow… and dwindling. 99%+ of the people who consider themselves “buffs” just pay lip service to the notion and obviously don’t buy ‘specialized’ books on a regular basis–to me, the gold standard of measuring whether one is really interested or not. The majority of the best researched and written CW books sell maybe a few hundred copies up to a couple thousand. This puts the lie to the popular notion that there are legions of Americans interested in the serious study of the CW.

    On the other hand, preservation efforts for CW related subjects seem to dwarf other historical or socially significant sites, so maybe the money is willing to be spent but people just simply don’t like to read. I think there is something to be said for that sad, sad notion.

    Drew

  2. Tue 22nd Nov 2005 at 2:21 pm

    Drew,

    Sadly, I have to agree with you. I live in Columbus, OH. This particular state produced some of the most important figures of the war–Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Rosecrans, and yes, even Custer. Our CWRT was founded by Dave Roth, the publisher of Blue & Gray magazine, who’s certainly very well known in the field. Yet, in a metro area of 1.4 million or so, our CWRT has less than 100 members. Go figure.

    At the same time, people have been unfailingly generous with their money for preservation, as you point out. So, I guess that there’s a silver lining to the cloud.

    But it also means that I’m not going anywhere in terms of changing careers for a long time…..

    Eric

  3. Paul Taylor
    Tue 22nd Nov 2005 at 4:08 pm

    Eric,

    I read your post and saw a lot of myself in it. I’ve spent close to 20 years in the Financial Services field, and like you, can see burnout looming on the not-too-distant horizon. Admittedly, it’s provided my family with a nice lifestyle over the years; nevertheless I can’t begin to count the number of hours I’ve spent trying to figure out a way to make a living doing what I truly love. Being an avid book collector in addition to an amateur Civil War historian, I once came up with the idea of trying to publish a magazine targeted specifically at the Civil War book collector. However, everybody I spoke with tried to talk me out of it — and I guess they succeeded. A dear friend who is a mail-order bookseller and who was at one time a small press publisher told me it would be like throwing money down a dark hole. Another well known Civil War bookseller advised me not to do it, that, in his opinion, the market for collectible OP Civil War books is shrinking rapidly. Not enough new collectors/readers to make up for the older ones who are passing away.

    Oh well. Not everybody gets to see their name on the spine of a book, and if having to keep the day job is the price we pay in order to continue doing what we love late at night, then so be it.

    Cheers,
    Paul Taylor

  4. Sam Elliott
    Tue 22nd Nov 2005 at 4:13 pm

    A lawyer who’d rather spend his time writing on the Civil War? Unimaginable.

  5. Tue 22nd Nov 2005 at 5:02 pm

    Paul,

    Unfortunately, I fear that your friends were right.

    We got a tremendous deal at one point. I purchased the entire inventory of a used book store–10,000 books–for $1000. We’re getting ready to put it all up on line to sell. Hopefully, it will make us some decent money. At $.10 per book, it should. Or so I hope.

    Thanks for writing and reading.

    Eric

  6. Tue 22nd Nov 2005 at 8:52 pm

    Sam,

    Yes, I know it’s hard to believe. 🙂

    For my readers who don’t know Sam, this is a bit of an inside joke. Sam is also a fellow member of the bar who shares the same affliction I share.

    Eric

  7. Wed 23rd Nov 2005 at 11:28 am

    Eric,

    Your point about the public being apathetic about its history was right on. I live in a rural area of NW Pa, and we have only one chain bookstore within 20 miles – a Walden Books at the local mall. For the past 15 years, the History section was right up front. A few months ago, during their remodeling, the History section was moved to the back – the VERY back. I mean, the very last aisle. Now, up front, is all fiction, pop culture, and occultist crap like LaHaye puts out.

    During my first visit after the change, I remarked to the girl behind the counter about the change, and that apparently the company sees Paris Hilton’s autobiography, and Larry the Cable Guy’s tripe, as much more important than American History. She said that historical stuff doesn’t sell, so they had to put the stuff up front that does. I suspect it’s the same story all over.

    We’re becoming a generation of apathetic, in-the-now, fickle people who delight more in gossip about celebrities than in learning about our roots. We have short attention spans, and we want to be constantly entertained. Harry Potter sells millions and millions of books – if even a highly publicized wonderful book on Gettysburg sells a few thousand copies, it’s considered a rousing success.

    I dare say that if a museum were put up to Harry Potter, it’d get more visitation than any of our battlefields or historical sites. Now that wouldn’t cause us to raise a generations of mush-heads, would it?

    Lord help us. And I mean that.

    J.D. Petruzzi

  8. Wed 23rd Nov 2005 at 11:37 am

    J.D.,

    Right on, bro. Well said.

    With all due respect to J. K. Rowling–who is a terribly creative woman to come up with the stuff that she creates–I’m not sure that what she does is worthy of her being one of the wealthiest women in the world, but good for her.

    Sadly, though, you’re right on.

    There’s a cliche that goes, “those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.” Things don’t get to be cliches unless they’re true. And that one, in particular, is absolutely true.

    Eric

  9. Barbara Siek
    Thu 22nd Dec 2005 at 4:55 am

    Hello, All,

    Here’s a reverse scenario which I hope will add a note of cheer that a love of history and particularly of the Civil War is not uniformly on the decline. Before I lived in Northern Loudoun, Virginia, I was never a history buff of any war, civil or uncivil. But a reading, curious person cannot stay long in Northern Loudoun without becoming interested in and finally immersed in the history of the Civil War. There are two active CWRT, one at Harper’s Ferry and the other at Leesburg, both of which schedule interesting monthly talks, always well attended by a cordial and knowledgeable group. Gettysburg, Antietum and other battlefields are easy to get to, and reenactments, especially in the summer, abound. I think it was the reenactments that really drew me in. Walking the camps, talking to the reenactors, feeling the ambiance of the CW did it for me. I’ve even attended a War of 1812 one in the vicinity. I spent a memorable 4th of July at a Gettysburg reenactment and another at a fabulous CW ball right out of Gone With the Wind at Charlston, WVa.

    The local libraries and especially The Thomas Balch Library in NLoudoun are rich goldmines for CW books, and the Borders in Leesburg has the most comfortable armchairs and coffee for those stolen hours whiled away reading their latest CW books. I realize it’s not uniformly like this, unfortunately, but I always fondly remember Northern Loudoun for introducing me to the CW. In an environment like that, history lives on.

    Best,

    Barbara.

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