My first Civil War book, A Scratch with the Rebels
was published traditionally by a small press in 2007. As is frequently the case with traditional presses, the editor approached my book with some pre-conceived ideas. She was looking for Civil War books that would appeal to people who were touring battle sites and visiting their museum stores. With that purpose in mind, she decided to make the book slightly oversized (10" x 8") so that it would be noticeable on the shelves. That, in turn produced a rather thin book, so to increase the page count, she asked for lots and lots of illustrations. If I mentioned a person or a place, I was to have a picture or a map to accompany it. And to increase the amount of white space per page, she decided to use a two-column format, which added that extra 3/4 of an inch down the middle of each page.
Now none of those decisions were bad in themselves, but together they created an impression that weakened the book. The over-size shape made the book floppy rather than substantial. The two-column format gave the impression of a middle-school social-studies textbook rather than the serious and academically rigorous study that it was. The preponderance of pictures added to the schoolbook look. The scholarly apparatus of notes and bibliography ended up in the back of the book, where endnotes were hard to locate and failed to provide the additional source information they were meant to convey. Add to that a problem with the binding equipment used by the company, and the result was an ugly book with a peeling cover and off-putting visual appeal. Worse, it carried a high price tag that put it out of reach of many customers. I managed to sell a couple hundred by strong-arming my friends, but the publishing company couldn't even get the book into those museum shops.
When the publisher decided to give up on their attempts to publish an
e-book, they were willing to return electronic publishing rights to
me. My decision to re-work the book and publish the e-book as a second edition was the smartest move I made. I re-arranged and combined several chapters to improve the flow, changed important endnotes so that they appeared in the body of the text, and removed
other academic notations. I also took out most of the illustrations, which had caused multiple problems in the publisher's first attempt to publish the book electronically. As a substitute for those who wanted to see what a particular person or location looked like, the e-book included links to my Pinterest boards, where I had posted the pictures from the book. The only
scholarly apparatus that remained was the bibliography. To strengthen the impression that this was a new and improved book, I asked my designer to come up with a more appealing cover.
second edition proved to be very popular. Why? Because I re-designed it to meet the needs of its intended audience. Instead of trying to reach the casual tourist visitor, the new edition appealed to reenactors and Civil War buffs, especially to groups whose ancestors were a part of this particular story. In the last six months this second edition
has sold more copies than the total number of sales for the first edition over a
period of seven years. Lessons learned:
#1. Know who your readers are and meet their needs.
#2. If you can make a book better, do it.
#3. Don't be afraid to admit your mistakes.