I sincerely hope that this series of posts has shed some light on the issues that those of us who write Civil War history face. First, and foremost, I wanted to share my experiences with those of you who read this blog who are either working on, or are considering, your first book on the Civil War, so that you can gain insight from my ten years’ experience working in the arena. The lessons related here were hard-learned, and if you can gain something from then, I’m glad I undertook the project.

Second, for those of you who are consumers of Civil War history but have no interest in writing something of your own, I hope you gained some insight into the struggles that we all face in an ever-changing marketplace. Most importantly, I hope you now understand that unless we’re fortunate enough to teach Civil War history at a college or university, it’s all but impossible for us to make a living doing this, meaning that it is a labor of love, because we surely don’t get wealthy writing these books.

Third, I hope that those of you who’ve read this series now have a better understanding of precisely what goes into the publication process. Like politics and making sausage, it’s not a pretty thing and is probably best viewed on an empty stomach.

I also want to thank my fellow Civil War authors who contributed to the comments to the various posts in this series. Your insights and comments only add value to the insights for the readers. Thanks for taking the time to do so.

Finally, and as always, I want to thank my readers for indulging this series.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. dan
    Thu 08th May 2008 at 11:59 am

    This has been a very valuable series, Eric. I appreciate all of your insights and valuable advice. Being a long-time student and newbie author I found it all particularly important. Your comment about working in academia as the only way to make a living in Civil War study/writing brings up another point.

    This is something that is on my mind alot and I think is a serious problem in American academia and that is the poor quality of much of history teaching and writing in both high school and university. I think one of the main problems that underlie this ongoing horror is that academics are required to get a Masters in “Education” rather than in their core subject before they can teach. This is my understanding of it, and if I am mistaken, I’d like to know the truth.

    Sol Stein makes an excellent point about a related matter in his book “On Writing”. Academics write for themselves and their colleagues. They don’t seem to care about their audience outside of academia which makes their writing dry and uninteresting. The dryness of academic history is one reason in my opinion why students turn away from history. A good illustration is Faust’s book on Civil War death called “This Republic of Suffering”. I think academics who make very interesting and fascinating subjects like the Civil War boring and dry ought to be held accountable in some way! It’s inconceivable to me that students should be made to loath our exciting and complicated and extremely important history because academics don’t teach it or write it well.

    Good writing should affect the reader in some way, educate him/her while at the same time create an emotional response. Academic historians do not have this approach and rarely succeed when they do. When I studied history in university I was horrified at how boring the professors were, how dry the reading material was, and how much “social science” and political “correctness” hooey was clouding the most simple matters of historical study. Creative writing should be de rigeur for all academic historians. The fact that it isn’t a core aspect of a history degree seems totally bizarre to me since everything is communicated via the written word.

    But I digress, again.

    Thanks, Eric for a great series.

    Daniel

  2. David Coles
    Thu 08th May 2008 at 12:38 pm

    Most professors do not receive a M.A. in education–they obtain an M.A. and then a Ph.D. in their particular discipline, for example, in history. A problem that myself and some colleagues at my institution note is that undergraduates who plan on teaching at the high school level take a “secondary education” concentration that includes fewer content courses in history than their fellow students who do not take this concentration.

    In regards to academics who write history books, I think you’ll find a wide range from the dense, plodding, and unreadable, to some of the most lively, readable, a thought-provoking works available. I don’t agree at all with the comments that Drew Faust’s recent work is “dry and uninteresting.”

  3. dan
    Thu 08th May 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Hi David,

    You’re right, I didn’t mean to say that Faust’s book was “dry and uninteresting”. This would not be entirely accurate, and I apologize for any confusion I’ve caused on this point. To be more precise I should have written that while her book is not as dry and uninteresting as most it is however, for the most part, unfortunate and mistaken.

    Regards,
    Dan

  4. Mike Peters
    Thu 08th May 2008 at 4:41 pm

    As a “meat & potatoes” CW bibliophile, I am partial to the battlefield studies, the regimentals & the bios of those who fought. Isn’t that where the majority of the CW book-buying public puts their money?

    I find Faust’s choice of topics “uninteresting.” But maybe it’s just me.

    Nice series!

    Mike

  5. tomrod
    Fri 09th May 2008 at 9:35 am

    Dan,

    I have to admit the quality of most history professors/teachers in my experience has been poor. It was always my favorite subject and I wanted to learn but most teachers seemed to sleepwalk. Thru High School and College there have only been two teachers that stood out. Most kids I know loathe history and find it boring. My wife and I home school our son and we make sure that history is exciting to him!

    Tom

  6. dan
    Fri 09th May 2008 at 10:01 am

    Tom,
    This is a serious problem in American schools. It oughta be some kind of crime when a teacher makes an exciting thing like history, especially the Civil War and makes it boring! 8^> Education should be fun, challenging, truthful and real, even when the truth is painful.
    Good for you for taking your child out of the waste land that is American education and teaching him yourself. If I could do it myself I would do the same.
    I had the same experience in my own schooling experience with too many professors whose arrogance, personal agendas and abysmal teaching ability turned off the majority of students to the subject at hand and disinclined them to further study.
    Could this be why Civil War book sales are so flat?
    I’d wager it’s a big part of it.
    -Dan

  7. tomrod
    Fri 09th May 2008 at 11:37 am

    Dan,

    The funny thing is a year and a half ago the Civil War was not a part of history that I was interested in. My son actually turned me on to it. My wife and I actually used Eric’s fine book “Plenty of blame to go around” as a discussion center piece and asked lot’s of questions and read more books and visited many sites. Out of that came an understanding of why the Civil War happened, economics of the time and the politics of that era but it was exciting for him and lead to many other discussions. BTW my son is only 10!

    Tom

  8. Fri 09th May 2008 at 12:11 pm

    (Just posted this over on JD.s Wanted to share it with Eric too.)

    Great post JD. Both you and Eric have shared some excellent insights. One subject that I believe is key to being a writer (in any genre) is perseverance. It took me years of writing for free before I was able to become a professional at it. My path was a step-by-step process: newsletters led to websites, websites led to newspapers, newspapers led to magazines, and magazines led to books. Now I do all four, but all of them are tied together as my foundation. Also, don’t be afraid to get out there are speak. (You and Eric know that one for sure.) I used to have a fear of public speaking, now I’m booked up every month until Nov. and I love it. What a privilege it is to share our interests and expertise’s with others. We get the opportunity to meet all kinds of wonderful people (who often by our books) and word of mouth (ours and theirs) is the best marketing tool of all. Once I started doing lectures, I was hooked and as I do more, I get better at it. I look at our work as a product that the public needs to know about in order to enjoy it. Of course it’s not all about the money. None of us would do this it if it was, but the more books that are sold, the more articles published, the more signings and speaking engagements that are booked – the more stories of our nation’s history are shared. I have learned more about the Union cavalry, through your work and Eric’s, than any other outlet and if not for your’s (and his) perseverance, it may have never come to light.

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