In 2014, Amazon and the other e-book retailers began encouraging the publication of boxed sets. Two varieties were available--single or multiple authors. An author might choose to gather together several older books in a series. Or a group of authors could get together and combine one book apiece on a single theme. The retailers promoted this idea as a way to bring new life into an older book or to tap into new communities of readers. One group of mystery writers tried producing an anthology of short books from a variety of authors. Because each author pitched to a different set of readers, writers were reaching readers who might never have heard of them otherwise.
In my case, I decided to box together the first four books of my series on "The Civil War in South Carolina's Low Country." There were production problems from the beginning. The formatting isn't too difficult, but it's tedious because you need to remove some markups in the originals and then replace them. My old brain really didn't want to mess with it, so I hired someone to reformat the four books, combine them into one file and hyperlink all the chapters. My cover designer worked hard to come up with an image that included all four titles. And just when we thought we had the perfect 3-D portrait of a boxed set, Apple iBooks changed their requirements to outlaw all 3-D images, and the other retailers fell into line. Another delay followed while the designer came up with a completely different cover.
Once again, the major selling point was that the combined set carried a
price that was considerably lower than the original cost of buying all
the individual volumes. But in spite of the bargain price, my readers shunned the idea. I watched the sales figures and witnessed people bypassing the boxed set in order to order all four of the books as separate files. I thought I was promoting the set heavily, but people kept right on ordering single copies of those four books at their regular price. For example, I sold eight
copies of "A Scratch with the Rebels" during the week before the boxed set went live.
What went wrong? In some cases, I learned, the boxed files were too big to be downloaded unless the purchaser had access to high-speed internet services. Others found the 1300-page file confusing and too easy to get lost in. A boxed set seemed like a good idea, except for the reality that nobody wanted one.
As I announced a couple of days ago, my new collection of books about "The Civil War in South Carolina's Low Country" is now available for pre-ordering. It's not really "four books in a box," of course, but rather, four electronic books in one easily navigated e-book format. Their publication dates range from 2007 to 2013, but they have much in common -- more than just the author!
All four are set, at least in part, on the Sea Islands of South Carolina -- from Charleston to Savannah -- during the same period of 1861 to 1865. They cover many of the same events, but from different points of view. The war looks very different, depending on whether you're a Confederate soldier, a Union soldier, a battlefield nurse, a well-meaning missionary, an abolitionist, a cotton agent, or an African whose status is still wavering between enslavement and freedom.
Each book is a separate story, but occasionally one character pops up in several books. Jim McCaskey is a featured character in A Scratch with the Rebels, but he also appears briefly in Beyond All Price. Laura Towne and her fellow missionaries have a a brief introduction in Beyond All Price before they take center stage in The Road to Frogmore. Many other minor characters seem unimportant in one book, only to reappear with their own short stories in Left by the Side of the Road.
The collection will be published and available on November 15, 2014, for $7.99. Why are there pre-orders? Well, they serve several purposes. I was originally encouraged to put the four books together because recent sales have suggested that readers are going back to earlier books to pick up a greater understanding of the events. I wanted to make it easier (and cheaper) for them to do so, but at the same time, I wanted to give those readers some advance notice that they could save money by ordering the set now and waiting for the release date.. (At the moment, purchasing the four individual books would cost $12.96; the boxed set at pre-order price, $6.00 or slightly higher on iBooks.)
There's a benefit for me, as well. Pre-order sales are not charged until the day of the scheduled release, so on that first day, as all the pre-order sales hit the sales lists at once, there's a better chance that the collection will break into the 100 best-seller category and encourage others to buy the book, albeit at the slightly higher official list price of $7.99.
The Civil War in South Carolina's Low Country
This "boxed" set is a value-priced collection of biographical stories about the people history books forget -- families, children, abandoned slaves, missionaries and teachers, spies, ordinary soldiers and government tax collectors, greedy cotton agents and land speculators. All are real people; all of them lived through historical events we only read about.
In November 1861, the Union Navy set out with a fleet of 88 ships and
12,000 ground troops to capture a large harbor somewhere in South
Carolina. They were looking for a broad expanse of water that could be
used to repair and re-supply the ships of the Atlantic Blockade. They
found that Port Royal Sound, just off the coast of Hilton Head Island,
suited all of their requirements. The sheet of water was too wide for
shore guns to fire across, and it was guarded by only two small forts
manned by fewer than 200 men. The naval forces opened fire on those
forts on the morning of November 7th, and by 2:00 pm, the Confederate
troops had struck their colors and fled for the safety of Charleston.
Hot on their heels were the civilian plantation owners. They abandoned
cotton crops, homes, and slaves in their haste to take their families to
safety. Some 10,000 slaves now found themselves without protection and
occupying an uncomfortable gray status between freedom and slavery.
These are the stories of some of the unknown people whose lives were
forever changed by the events of November 7, 1861.
with the Rebels" tells the stories of two ordinary soldiers. One was a
backwoods Pennsylvania farm boy named James McCaskey; the other, a
college student named Augustine Smythe, from an aristocratic family in
South Carolina. Both were of Scotch-Irish descent, Presbyterian by
faith and conviction, and first-generation Americans. They entered the
service of their respective armies on the same day, served in the Sea
Islands of South Carolina, and met only once -- in a battle from which
only one would survive.
"Beyond All Price" picks up the story of a
nurse in the 100th Pennsylvania Regiment, more familiarly known as The
Roundhead Regiment. Nellie Chase was an abused wife who sought the
protection of James McCaskey and his comrades because life in the midst
of war seemed safer than life with a drunken gambler on the run from the
law. Her story reveals a side of the Civil War that historians seldom
"The Road to Frogmore" introduces the band of
teachers and missionaries who came to the Low Country of South Carolina
to bring education and medical care to those 10,000 abandoned slaves
left behind when their masters fled from the Union forces. The book
concentrates on the role of Laura Towne, who came to offer medical care
for slave children and then spent the rest of her life -- some 40 years
-- establishing schools to give them the education they would need to
make use of their new freedom.
"Left by the Side of the Road" is
a book of short stories. Their characters are fascinating individuals
-- soldiers, slaves, well-intentioned women, spies, tax collectors, and
greedy cotton agents. They all play a role in the changing economic
landscape of South Carolina, but for one reason or another, their small
stories did not fit into the longer sagas of this series on "The Civil
War in South Carolina's Low Country."
Official launch date is November 15, 2014. Pre-orders will be available soon at Barnes and Noble Nook Books, Apple iBooks, and Kobo electronic editions. Pre-publication price will be $6.00 for an electronic edition that contains all four books. A Kindle pre-order is also in the works. Stay tuned!