Friday, October 11, 2019

Current Topic: Does The Civil War Still Matter? A Publisher Makes His Case

When someone discovers I publish military and general history books for a living, and my focus is the American Civil War, the conversation invariably narrows to some variant of the question about which I was asked to write: “Does the Civil War still matter?” If time (and the interest of the interrogator) remains, the discussion moves to the inevitable question, “Do people still read Civil War books?”
The answer to the both questions is, of course, yes. The Civil War still matters for a legion of reasons I will leave for others to explore. Since I have a rather specialized view of the subject, I thought it best to delve a bit more deeply into the second question (which, of course, relates to the first.)
The state of the Civil War new book market is as vibrant as it has ever been, even as the number of serious Civil War book buyers and readers inexorably shrinks. Why is this?
The second part of that sentence is easier to answer than the first. The core book-reading group is aging and dying off. Attend your average Civil War Round Table meeting and count the heads under 40. There are not many.
One of the ways we have been working to increase interest in the Civil War is by publishing our growing series of Emerging Civil War series of titles (co-founded by series editor Chris Mackowski). These books, with which every reader of this blog are familiar, run 168-192 pages, include a wide variety of illustrations, driving tours/appendices, and well-written informative text. Veterans readers love them, but newer readers do as well because they are wonderful gateways into the literature. It is much less daunting to pick up one of these at $14.95 and read it than a $35.00 heavily footnoted hardcover weighing in at 488 pages.

Why is the market so vibrant? So exciting? Because the way I see it, the market is saturated with books, and the best scholarship Civil War enthusiasts have ever enjoyed is coming out right now. You just have to cull through it.
The last twenty years have radically changed every aspect of publishing. Technological advances, better and faster computers, desktop publishing, and of course, the Internet, are all responsible for the current market. To my way of thinking, the result—which affects everything from how books are researched, written, and printed—is a saturated market.
Not there’s anything wrong with that. (Sorry, I was just watching Seinfield before California cuts off my power.)

Image result for ted savasI was born with DNA that despises control and gatekeepers (the nuns had a hell of a time with me). The fact that it is easier now to be an “author” and put out whatever you wish is just fine with me. With research much easier to conduct, most of the barriers to entry into the publishing world have been removed. Desktop publishing software at home, or companies masquerading as publishers online, will turn anyone’s manuscript into something that at least looks like a book even if it doesn’t always read like one. The result is more titles than you could ever read in your lifetime.
Never has caveat emptor (“Let the buyer beware”) been more important when you spend your hard-earned money.
As readers, we have access to a wider selection of Civil War titles than at any other time since the end of the war. We can order from catalogs, browse and buy in brick-and-mortar stores, purchase directly from publishers, and snag copies from most authors. We can even download them into our Kindles or listen to a book if audio is an option.
No category is lacking for new studies. Even the war’s redheaded stepchild—the Trans-Mississippi Theater—is finally getting some love.

I was speaking with someone not long ago who was irritated by the large number of books that pour out annually. “I know you love beer. Do you ever shop for it?” I asked. “Of course,” he replied cautiously. “Would you rather go into a store that has Coors and Miller Lite,” I continued, “or Coors, Miller Lite, and one hundred other selections—and you get to choose?”

Even though the core buying pool is smaller than it used to be, sales remain reasonably strong, especially for presses with a dedicated following that work hard to market their books AND their authors. Honestly, there are not that many that do both (and some don’t do either). Some presses get grants and don’t have to turn the sort of profit others must in order to survive. Every publisher has different market niches and specialties.

I can state with complete certainty that if you count the number of Civil War titles published annually and examine sales figures, the average Civil War title sells in the 100s of copies, not the thousands. (This almost always surprises everyone.) In most instances, if one of our books sells fewer than 1,000 copies in one year, we do not think of it as a success. Most of ours sell significantly more than that, and some well into five figures.

Related imageOften, however, I will pick up a niche book I know won’t sell all that well because I think it is important and needs to be done. The better-selling books make that possible. Sometimes breaking even (for the right reason) is okay.Like it has always been, however, the subject—coupled with the author attached to it—matters. It matters a lot.

Without fail, the best-selling Civil War topic remains fresh aspects of Gettysburg and the campaign. It is not difficult to find people who grumble that they are sick of the Pennsylvania battle, but sales continue to suggest otherwise. For example, our recent trio of titles—Gettysburg’s Peach Orchard (by Hessler and Isenberg); Too Much for Human Endurance: The George Spangler Farm Hospitals (Kirkwood), and Lee is Trapped and Must be Taken (Ryan and Schaus)—all sold out within weeks and have been reprinted.  Two were national book club selections. Their first printings were not insignificant. Barnes and Noble did not pick up one of these books. It still sold out.
Generally speaking, battles sell. Studies on battles that don’t begin with the letter G also tend to do well, though again, the topic matters. Selling a battle study on Shiloh or Chickamauga, for example, is much easier than Perryville or Chantilly. Selling combats waged in Virginia is much easier than fighting in Kentucky. Map studies, like Brad Gottfried’s military atlas series, are strong steady sellers.
Biographies and unit histories are harder to move since, by definition, they take a small market and essentially cut it in half. This tends to be true for any books focused on one side of the war or the other. Every week I get manuscript queries to publish a history of someone’s ancestor’s company. Alas, that is simply not a viable proposition.

I have not run any real numbers, but if I had to guess, I would say the print run for the average Civil War title published by Savas Beatie is about 20% smaller than it was a decade ago. Many first editions, however, still demand a robust first printing (equal to, or greater than, a decade ago) and still go into multiple printings. No one has a crystal ball. If we did, every book would be a bestseller.
A large part of any “softness” that exists in the book industry is the result of competition—not with other publishers but with other forms of entertainment. The Internet in general, movies on demand, streaming platforms, our damn phones—all play a role. Given this, paying close attention to what sells and allocating revenue and labor accordingly is especially important in today’s marketplace.

Publishers carefully monitor which titles have “legs,” i.e., are the books that have hard-working authors, generate great reviews, and enjoy steady sales and good word-of-mouth during the first few months of release. Those books (and authors) are reinforced with marketing dollars. Like a breakthrough on a battlefield, publishers reinforce success to widen the breach and seize the day.
Image result for ted savasA classic example is our 2018 breakout book The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, edited by Janet Croon. This is NOT your typical Civil War book by any stretch of the imagination. We thought this would do well because we knew its true worth. Everyone in our office fell in love with the tragic prodigy, his remarkable family, and their incredible story—but would our readers? Could we expand this book beyond typical readers of Civil War history. We pushed it out and held our breath.

The reviews poured in, the books poured out, major news organizations picked up the story—and off it went. We called up the reserves and launched a relentless book tour (thank you, Jan!) with significant marketing behind it. The first printing sold out quickly, and then a large second printing.
The War Outside My Window has generated a life of its own. LeRoy’s story is now in its third hardcover printing, has a new curriculum guide for teachers, parents, and general readers, and a major wholesaler for the school market is helping us craft a young adult version for 2020. LeRoy has also been the subject of a major essay in American Chess Magazine, and we hope to kick off a Georgia chess tournament in his name in 2020
To thousands of people, the Civil War still matters.

Full Text Link: Emerging Civil War

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

News: Antietam Battlefield Receives 1 Million Dollars to Improve Trails

Press Release: Eastern National has received a $1 million gift from an anonymous benefactor. The donation, designated to expand and enhance Antietam National Battlefield’s educational trail program, will help increase access and provide new opportunities for visitors to connect with interpretive resources. 

The transformational gift will support construction of a new hiking trail system, described in the 2018 Visitor Access and Circulation Plan – Environmental Assessment, as well as the development of interpretive resources such as trail guides, trailhead exhibits, ranger-led battlefield hikes and tours, and enhanced visitor experience and resource protection capabilities. 
“We are delighted to have received such a generous gift,” said Antietam National Battlefield Superintendent Susan Trail. “As stewards of the land and its history, we’re excited for a new opportunity to connect visitors to Antietam in meaningful ways.” 

Antietam National Battlefield’s acreage has more than doubled since the completion of the last General Management Plan in 1992. The construction of new trail segments and realignment of existing trails will offer future visitors easier access and interpretive context when they visit these newer sections of the park. It is estimated that the project will take seven years to complete. 
The gift stemmed from an inquiry from an anonymous patron who wanted to support trails at Antietam National Battlefield. Staff from Eastern National and the National Park Service worked closely to formalize the project with a philanthropic support agreement, then submitted a proposal to the prospective donor. With substantial funding in place, park officials will be able to leverage the donation to apply for matching funds from federal sources. 

 “Eastern National and Antietam National Battlefield have a rich history of working together to enhance visitor experiences,” said Kevin C. Kissling, Eastern National president and CEO. “We’re honored to have helped facilitate this substantial investment in the park and its resources.”
Antietam National Battlefield is the site of the bloodiest day of the American Civil War, seeing 23,000 soldiers killed, wounded, or missing after 12 brutal hours of savage combat. The Battle of Antietam, fought on September 17, 1862, ended the Confederate Army’s first invasion into the North and led Abraham Lincoln to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Coincidentally, the donation arrived at Eastern National’s headquarters on September 17, 2019, the 157th anniversary of the battle. 

Full Text Available at  Eastern National.

Monday, September 30, 2019

News: Thaddeus Stevens Moves Back To Gettysburg, Sometime in the Future, Maybe

Thaddeus Stevens Gettysburg statue together S20.jpg

Statue of Thaddeus Stevens commissioned for installation in Gettysburg, Mary Ellen Wright, Lancaster Online, Septemmber 23, 2019 

Before the Civil War, before he became Lancaster’s powerful Radical Republican congressman and before he championed the civil-rights-based Reconstruction amendments to the U.S. Constitution, Thaddeus Stevens lived, practiced law and helped a college get started in Gettysburg.  For years, Ross Hetrick, president of the Gettysburg-based Thaddeus Stevens Society, has wanted to see a statue of Stevens erected in the town where the Great Commoner, as Stevens was known, lived from 1816 to 1842.“I’d like anything named after him in Gettysburg,” Hetrick says with a laugh, “or everything named after him. This place should be called Stevensburg instead of Gettysburg.”  Hetrick hopes to get his wish sometime in the next couple of years, having raised $55,000 in cash and monetary pledges and commissioned a 6-foot bronze statue of Stevens to be placed in an as-yet-undetermined spot in Gettysburg.

Hetrick still must figure out a place for the statue to rise in Gettysburg, and must get permission to erect it on a pedestal somewhere in the borough.And he must collect the monetary pledges people have made to the project.“We hope (the statue) will be completed in late 2021 or early 2022,” Hetrick says. “We’re hoping to dedicate it in April 2022, which is Thaddeus Stevens’ 230th birthday.”

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, Hetrick found the artist, Alex Paul Loza, who will sculpt Stevens’ bronze image over the next couple of years.  “What we did was we posted a request for proposals on a website called Public Artist, and we got 20 responses” from artists across the country, Hetrick says.
Those 20 artists wrote statements that described their thoughts on Stevens and on how they sought to recreate him in metal. “And the responses were submitted to a three-person committee that we formed, consisting of two historians and one artist,” Hetrick says, “and they made the selection from those 20 submissions. Mr. Loza’s was the best one.”

Loza says when he read about the statue project, “I felt very connected to (Stevens), and I asked myself, why don’t I know more about him? “Reading about him having a club foot,” Loza says, “I felt that’s where his strength came from. I put that club foot up front, as well as the cane, because I feel (Stevens) was always moving forward. And then his shoulders are leaning forward to strengthen that idea.”

Throughout Stevens’ young life in Vermont, he was mocked for his club foot and the limp for which he used a cane. But many have suggested it made Stevens empathetic to the downtrodden, which, in turn, made him a champion for the civil rights of African Americans and other disenfranchised minority groups.  Loza sculpted a maquette, or miniature clay model, of how he intends the statue to look.

The model shows Stevens taking a step forward, his open coat seemingly flowing out behind him.
Hetrick says the committee liked the sense of “dynamism” and movement Loza was able to capture in Stevens’ stance.  Stevens seemed “like he was never standing still,” Loza says. “He needed to work” and continue moving forward in his fight for social justice, he adds.
The artist, who is a painter as well as a sculptor, says he appreciates Stevens’ ability to “speak for those who had no voice.”

Loza says he needs to adjust his initial image of Stevens to shift the cane from Stevens’ left hand to his right, and must do some anatomical studies to make sure the statue’s weight is properly distributed to reflect that change.The artist, a native of Peru who has lived in the United States since 1989, plans to travel to south-central Pennsylvania next month to tour the sites where Stevens lived and worked.

There’s a Stevens statue at the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, a school which money from Stevens’ will helped found. Stevens is buried beneath an inscribed tomb in Lancaster’s Shreiner-Concord Cemetery, and the home and law offices he shared with Lancaster businesswoman Lydia Hamilton Smith and her children is being developed by LancasterHistory as a historic downtown Lancaster site.

Full Text and Image Source--Lancaster Online

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

News: Another Battle of Gettysburg Farm Hospital Purchased In the Hope of Preservation and Interpretation

Image result for plank farm gettysburg paAt the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, the land was known as the Plank Farm after its owner, J. Edward Plank. Soldiers from each side tread these 143 acres on all three days of battle, and one of the largest Confederate field hospitals in Gettysburg was based here.These 143 acres witnessed every stage of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg – including its aftermath.

On July 1, 1863, elements of the Union First Corps under General John Reynolds double-quicked across this property as they moved to the sound of the battle’s opening shots. Biddle's brigade crossed this farm on the way to The Seminary.  Reynolds himself fell victim to a Confederate bullet that day – about a mile north of this property – but his timely arrival allowed the Union army to hold the favorable ground that proved so crucial to their success in this epic battle. 

Image result for plank farm gettysburg paOn July 2, Confederate General James Longstreet’s divisions, under General John Bell Hood and General Lafayette McLaws, marched across this property as they sought to discover the Union left flank. Their advance culminated with the legendary attacks on Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, and the Peach Orchard. Longstreet called this “the best three hours’ fighting ever done by any troops on any battlefield,” but these two divisions suffered terrible casualties, many of whom were taken to the field hospital at the Plank Farm.

On July 3, Confederate General George Pickett led his division over this land, up the slope to Seminary Ridge, and onto the battlefield where the charge that came to bear his name would be bloodily repulsed.

On all three days of the battle, and for many weeks after Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia made its retreat, this farm served as one of the biggest hospitals in all of Gettysburg. More than 1,500 soldiers were treated on this property, including General Hood. There were more than 60 documented burials on the property. The soldiers who were buried there were later reinterred in proper cemeteries.

Both The Seminary Ridge Hospital and The George Spangler Farm Hospital have their histories written. Possibly Ronald Kirkland, the author of the Spangler Farm History which was published this summer, may have an interest in writing the Edward Plank Farm Hospital's history (I am hoping). The Adams County Historical Society has a Confederate surgeon's kit that was left at the farm during the retreat.

Offered above, the maps of the location are at the American Battlefield Trust online. Also, some text above was taken from the American Battlefield Trust.