Sunday, December 29, 2013

Publishing your regimental history

Over the past few weeks, I've endeavored to share what I have learned in writing regimental histories. As you probably know, I've written two, one on the 37th NCT (ANV) and one on the 58th NCT (A of T). Both of these received several good reviews.  And right now, I am working on my first brigade-level history. In many ways, it is harder. I now have five regiments to keep up with, instead of just one. It has been my hope through this blog series to help you realize the amount of background work that goes into the process, and maybe inspire one or two folks to try their own hands at writing regimental histories.

So, supposedly you decide to write a regimental history. First, make sure no one has written about that regiment in the past twenty or thirty years. If they have, it will be hard to pitch it to a publisher. We'll talk more about that in a minute.

I'll not comment much on the actual writing process. When you write and how you do it is up to you. However, I will make these two observations. Back up  frequently. Go invest in some type of external hard drive - if something happens to your main computer, you'll be glad that you did (I learned this the hard way). Second, notes, like end notes or footnotes, are mandatory!!! We readers want to know where you got your information. A regimental history without these tools is worthless. If you cannot take the time to document what you are dong, please do not even start. Personally, I create a note for almost every paragraph that I write. And, I create the note while I am writing the text. I simply stick the documentation in brackets at the end of each paragraph. Right before the book goes to the publisher, I go back and take the information that is in brackets, assign the note a number, and drop the note into a separate document. Once I have all of that done, I copy the document and drop it into the end of the manuscript.

At some point in the writing process, you'll need to start thinking about a publisher. You can either go a traditional route with a "real" publisher, or you can publish it yourself through a Print on Demand (POD) company. The traditional publisher offers some advantages, like catalogs that go to libraries and the ability to get your book into distribution companies that serve places like Barnes and Noble. They will also do the set up and provide some level of editing and proofreading. They should also send out review copies, and might occasionally run an ad in one of the glossy magazines. All of that sounds great - except, there are very few publishers who will want to publish a regimental history. These types of books have small interest among readers, and many publishers will shy away from publishing them. Another problem is that most traditional publishers only pay authors 10% royalties on the price for which they sell the book. If your book has a $21.99 list price, then the wholesale price is $13.20. You as the author make $1.30 per book sold at Barnes and Nobles. Most  publishers will sell you the same book for 40 percent of the list price, meaning you now make more $$$ (but you usually only get the 40 percent if you buy in bulk).

Considering that you will need to do the majority of the work when it comes to marketing and selling your book, PODs can be an alternative.  (In the publishing workshops that I have taught, I tell folks that writing and publishing a book is the easy part; selling is the hard part!) A disclaimer - while I have used PODs on a couple of small projects, I have never tried to POD a regimental history. With POD publishers, you can either do all of the work (layout, covers) yourself, and upload it to the company, or, you can purchase a packaged deal that will design and layout the book for you. Most PODs sell from their own storefronts, and most PODs will get your book listed on Amazon. Unlike the old vanity presses, you can order one book from a POD company, or you can order 1,000 books from a POD company. And you can order at any time. In the long run, you will make more money, but you also have to send out your own review copies and do your own marketing.  The problem that almost every reviewer has with POD book is poor proofreading, or the lack of editorial services.

So I guess this leads me to my final point in this series. Regardless of whether you choice a traditional press or a POD, you need readers. You need someone who will read the entire manuscript and give you an honest opinion about the work. It is best to use friends, and not family. Your mom is probably going to think the whole thing is wonderful. A reviewer well versed in the war is going to nail you on having the battle of Gettysburg in 1683 instead of 1863 or a prominent general's name spelled wrong (is it Breckinridge or Breckenridge?).  A good reader will help you catch silly typos created at the whim of the spell checker, like the nefarious bridge/brigade trap, and will tell you if there are parts of the manuscript that simply do not make sense. I always ask my readers to make sure it make sense - it all makes sense in my head. I've lived with certain projects for years, and I'm able to make leaps of logic because I see the story before (and as I am) writing it. Sometimes, you might want to approach other historians who are experts on certain battles or campaigns and ask them to read portions of the book. This type of feedback is critical. And finally, especially if you chose the POD route, you need to have someone (or maybe two someones) read the manuscript for grammar.  Personally, I always want someone to catch something that is wrong, or not clear, or wordy before it goes out into the general public. After finishing a manuscript, I always try and let it sit for a week or two or three and then go back, print it out, and re-read it, often out loud. It is amazing what you can catch.

Well, I guess that is about it. Maybe, as I work on the Branch-Lane project, I will discover some other tidbits that I can share.

Happy research and writing!


Rett Floyd said...

Hi Michael, I enjoyed reading your article. I have just completed a manuscript on the history of Culpeper's battery SC light artillery. They were the only SC artillery engaged at Chickamauga....a battlefield not very suitable for artillery....where with 3 guns they fired 301 rounds when the average battery fired about 75. The battery was the only unit from SC to serve in defense of Mobile, Ala where some were captured at Fort Gaines and the bulk of the battery was captured in the assault of Fort Blakely, Ala. I have submitted proposals to several publishers with the hopes that one will agree to publish my work. I'm hoping you might can suggest a publisher more likely to publish a work of this nature. I'm new at this so I'm learning as I go. Thanks for your help.

Michael Hardy said...

Thanks for the note. Finding a publisher is such a tricky business. Finding a publisher for a regimental history is even harder. Most publisher look at the subject (regimental histories) as having such a limited audience, mostly a few diehards interested in a certain battle, a few people who collect regimental history, and then family. McFarland produces a high quality book, but there distribution is limited. The History Press has great distribution, and have dabbled a little with the regimental idea, but the size of their books is limited (basically 40,000-50,000 words). Have you tried Broadfoot? They were working on a South Carolina regimental series.