Advice for Authors

Discussion, background, reviews, and critical analysis of works by members who are published authors.
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Tom Houlihan
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Advice for Authors

Post by Tom Houlihan » Thu Feb 15, 2007 9:55 am

This thread is a place for published and almost-published authors to share snippets of wisdom with the rest of us who are struggling through the process. Notes here can apply to any print media, so specific points about building military related websites would apply.

Researching, writing, acquiring illustrations, maps ( :wink: ), copyright issues, proper citation, where to find a publisher, self-publish, the list of possible questions goes on and on and on and on...

Please keep this to specific questions, and specific answers/ recommendations. This is no place for simply spouting opinion or getting into arguments.

Two tips from my own limited experience, from my work in progress:

1. An outline is mandatory! It's a working document, so you can always reorganize it later if need be. It will help keep you on track with what you're trying to accomplish, and keep things organized as you go.

2. When writing about a specific unit, or battle, or something like that, try making up a timeline. To create the one I'm using, I went through all my major references first, and noted specific events and their dates. Then I put them all together, and added in bits from other resources. Now I can look at anything, and see where it fits into the overall divisional history. It's actually helping.

I can recommend two based on experience working with them.

1. The Aberjona Press Although we're struggling through an upheaval, many of you are aware of the standards and quality of that outfit.

2. Merriam Press Ray has done many smaller projects working directly with veterans. He's made some major improvements in how he does things lately and has lots of varied publishing experience.

Maps: They help, honest. That's an objective statement, not a sales pitch.
Feldgrau für alle und alle für Feldgrau!

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Richard Hargreaves
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Post by Richard Hargreaves » Thu Feb 15, 2007 4:01 pm

I can only second Tom's advice about the 'timeline'. It's essential.

I created a "war diary" from 1918-1945 listing what happened on a particular day and where in my books, documents and files I can find the source material. It's broken down into various sub-headings, e.g. Western Front, Eastern Front, Mediterranean, depending on the particular period in the war. For important dates, June 6 1944, Sept 1 1939, May 10 1940, the day is broken down into actions by the minute.

It is much easier to start writing once you have done this spade work, going through the source material before you start writing. It is much more difficult to 'squeeze' in material into a half-written or complete chapter than a blank one. I wrote an account of the Battle of France 1940 five or six years ago, since when my source material has probably doubled; my intention is to start from scratch and scrap the old version.

As for publishers, know your market. First-time authors are unlikely to get deals with big-name firms, the Little Browns and Penguins of this world. I would suggest trying specialist military publishers if you're beginning your career. I tried one publisher and that publisher accepted me because I was dealing with a firm which only published military books. Don't go trying to sell Jackbooks in the Steppe to Mills & Boon...

Spend time (and money) on maps and photographs. Maps are particularly important (as I've learned to my cost!). Photographs are expensive. You are not just paying for the reproduction charge, you are paying for the reproduction right. It will cost the IWM, for example, say £10 to reproduce a picture for you. It will cost you about £50 if you want to use it in your book.

And finally, the index. That will almost certainly come out of your pocket, not the publishers. Do not consider doing it yourself unless you know what you are doing. It is an art, rather like copyproofing.
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Post by Wolery » Sun May 27, 2007 8:43 pm

Well you mentioned asking questions and I have some.

I'm actualy fleshing out an alternate history peice that may take me years to do properly. See I'm terrible at research. And I'm only fluent in English. Is there a good short hand to finding stuff you need?

Like I'd like to have a list of metorlogical forcasts for various cities in Europe during the war. Like during Operation Norwind, I need a day that's clear or overcast because the Luftwaffe comes out to play. I want to know what the weather was like in Berlin on April 30 1945, ect. Is there anything like that?

And do you know anything about AH publishers, like is it best to have had short stories published first?

Thanks in advance.

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Troy Tempest
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Post by Troy Tempest » Thu May 31, 2007 6:11 am

halder wrote: Don't go trying to sell Jackbooks in the Steppe to Mills & Boon...
Damnit! Now he tells me!

Hello from sunny Port Macquarie

Mark C Yerger
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Post by Mark C Yerger » Tue Jan 01, 2008 5:41 pm

There is not a huge payment for the types of books we write, never a factor for me but a disappointment for some. To me patience is the key, a huge amount of material (both published and documents) has to be absorbed for anything worthwhile. Rewriting what has been done with a different cover serves no purpose. I never look at the clock when doing a project, deadlines imposed by anyone are a negative.

Paddy Keating

Post by Paddy Keating » Mon Jan 07, 2008 4:32 am

Mark Yerger's comment or caveat is apposite. All the same, there is no reason why the sort of publishers who produce the books of which he speaks cannot cut an author a fair deal. The simple fact of the matter is that some of them are extremely greedy and know that the average bod writing a military history book has no clue about the financial mechanics of publishing, much less his rights. They take advantage of this. It's like stealing candy from babies.

I haven't published any military-related books yet although I am working on a couple...slowly but surely. However, I have written and published books both under pseudonyms and as a ghostwriter. The best advice I can think of it to get an agent to play nasty cop for you. That's the best way to weed out potential rip-off publishers. Either that or asking them nicely to send The Contract to your lawyers. If you never hear from them again, you've saved yourself a load of brainache and hassle.

If money's not the driving motive, if it's genuinely a labour of love, then self-publish or engage the services of a good contract publisher. That's what a lot of academics, for instance, and authors of highly specialised works do. But don't let anyone rip you off. If you walk away from a deal with $3,000.00 flat fee for putting together an $80.00 or $100.00 book and some Mickey Mouse promise of royalties on a second print run, you've been well and truly mugged. They saw you coming. And, somehow, you'll never see that "second print run"...even though your book will rarely be out of print if it sells well. Because all subsequent prints runs will be undeclared. I've seen this happen time and again.


Mark C Yerger
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Post by Mark C Yerger » Mon Jan 07, 2008 5:48 am

The amount paid, at least to me, is well above that amount. But factor in hours of work for final return after paying research costs, writing my type of book is not profitable to live on unless one can forage for food.

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Post by FalkeEins » Mon Jan 21, 2008 10:16 am

Paddy Keating wrote:Mark Yerger's comment or caveat is apposite. All the same, there is no reason why the sort of publishers who produce the books of which he speaks cannot cut an author a fair deal.

..sad ..but very true ...still waiting fours years later for payment on a book translation (500 pages of A4 text over two Vols). Publisher continues to plead poverty, print bills, slow sales, cat got sick etc etc - the excuses are endless...pity the poor author ...

disillusioned is not the word - I refuse to help some other b***** make money on the back of my efforts..I've been well & truly stitched up...what recourse do I have, other than to put the text (and some photos) all over my web site...?? Thanks for any advice...

oh ..and while I'm here ...translating is so much harder to do well than writing guys start with a blank piece of paper ...we translators have to get into people's heads ..! :roll:

(...just joking ..!!!)

Paddy Keating

Post by Paddy Keating » Mon Jan 21, 2008 4:41 pm

Good translators are very scarce. PM me with your basic details and I'll see if I can put you in touch with people who won't roll you over.


Paddy Keating

Post by Paddy Keating » Mon Jan 21, 2008 4:43 pm

Mind you, there are few moments more terrifying than when you have to face up to the fact that there are no excuses left between you and that proverbial blank page and you actually have to start filling it.


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Doug Nash
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Advice For Authors

Post by Doug Nash » Wed Feb 27, 2008 5:14 pm

One of the things that I've tried to do with my books is to marry up the testimony of survivors with official records (of both sides). Since my individual preference is to write from the perspective of the German Army, I've managed to track down and interview a number of officers and enlisted men in both the Army and Waffen-SS. I used their testimony to either buttress their previous wartime accounts, if they had written them, or to bring to light things that they had never talked about in public before. Unfortunately, I was only able to interview a handfull of Soviet veterans for Hell's Gate (for a variety of reasons, but not for lack of desire to do so), but for VWBTG, I interviewed a sizeable number of American vets. While this provides very good context and background flavor, as well as a "What is was like to live and fight in a foxhole", I usually don't reproduce their testimony word for word - I know some authors prefer that, and that's fine, but I use what they write or what they told me for my own education so I could write a better story. The other key aspect to my writing has been the need to write using the original documentation as a primary source. This is so important that I want to emphasize the fact that if there is no orginal primarily material, I just won't write about it, period. Both Hell's Gate and VWBTG were written with reams of original documents at hand - KTB, combat interviews, after action reports, letters home, newspaper articles, and so forth. Believe it or not, that is far more of this available than I ever imagined. Tons and tons of documents were captured after the war and microfilmed and can be procured from NARA or BA-MA, as well as other archives, for a modest fee. Of course, you can't use all of it. There's just too much - but you do have to synthesize what's in there so you can answer the "so what" question - why is the subject you're writing about so important in the first place. If you don't really have a concrete objective, you can write all day using primary sources and still won't sell or even worse, won't be relevant. Once you have both - original interviews and records - then you can start to work and bring something to light that ordinarily would never have seen the light of day. And then the final ingredient - you have to be able to write in a way that hold's the audience's interest. Reams of facts and interviews, if presented with leaden prose, will not interest anyone. Now, I think my writing style is workaday at best, and certainly doesn't rise to the level of Hastings or Ambrose or Cornelius Ryan, but at least it doesn't get in the way of the story. (my West Point English professor, Erich Shinseki, who later became Army Chief of Staff, once told me that my prose was frightful, but if I worked really hard at it, I might, just might, rise to the level of Russell Weigley, which, having read Weigley, isn't much of a compliment). (Weigley was a prolific author who focused on the history of the US Army)
But this is getting much harder to do in one sense - German veterans are passing away to the great "Himmelsrevier" in the sky and most have never recorded their stories. Soon they will all be gone. Now, Waffen-SS, Fallschirmjaeger, Panzer, Luftwaffe and U-Boot vets have been well publicized and their stories have been eagerly sought after - I salute all of those here and elsewhere who have dedicated their lives towards recording their deeds of virtue and bravery - but the average Landser, the poor schmuck who bore the brunt of the fighting, has received very little attention. So I urge anyone who can to not give up in their attempts to correspond and ultimately get interviews with these men - it certainly is a worthwhile endeavor. That is what motivated me to write VWBTG - plus having a hoard of documents helped. But when all this fails and there are no more German veterans left alive to interview - go back to the source, go back to the KTBs, the files, the Anlagen and all of those remaining primary sources and mine them, tap them, explicate them, translate them - then, and only then, will the true story of the war be told.
Just some late night ranting from someone who's been in the game for a couple of years - now trying to find the right publisher, that's another issue that we'll discuss another time!!
Abbott: This sure is a beautiful forest.
Costello: Too bad you can't see it for all those trees!

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Richard Hargreaves
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Post by Richard Hargreaves » Thu Feb 28, 2008 2:52 pm

Doug, what an excellent, heartfelt post. :up:

I echo many of your sentiments. My abysmal spoken and written German curtailed any hope of interviewing veterans; financial limitations prevented employing a researcher/translator. Oh for the bank balance of a Beevor or a Hastings.

I would, however, add a caveat. I've interviewed countless Royal Navy veterans over the past decade. After five or six decades memories don't so much fade as blur. Events seem to roll into one. Only last month we printed a picture of a ship visiting Venice in the late 1940s. A good dozen or so more gentlemen wrote in to tell us they were there... They gave at least half a dozen different ships, but each one assured us it was his ship and he was there! Cross-referencing against the official documents is vital (although they are not always 100 per cent accurate...)

Although the wartime generation is passing on and interviews are going to diminish in number, there has been a noticeable surge in memoirs, diaries and letters by participants published over the past decade in Germany.

For me, the Feldpostbrief and Tagebuch are my friend as a contemporaneous source... although often what they do not say is as important as what they do say.

I'm always surprised people don't make better use of newspapers. They are a good contemporary source of mood, propaganda, titbits, sometimes death notices, on occasions combat accounts.

The same goes for propaganda books from 1939-1942; there are scores of first-hand accounts of the campaigns in Poland, Norway, France, the Balkans, Africa, the first stages of Barbarossa which you won't find anywhere else. They have their shortcomings (not least the whiff, or in cases, the stench of Nazi propaganda) but there are some great first-hand accounts within.

The real gem I found doing Poland were the Erlebnisberichte stuffed in the files of Wehrkreiskommandos at BA-MA - a bit like after-action reports but also including with humorous anecdotes, poems, letters and the like too.

And once you've gathered all this, translated it, made notes, you can begin turning it into a narrative. I reckon anywhere between a half and three-quarters of the material I gather ends up directly on the printed page. But a lot of it does make it in as background material. I have been known to buy an expensive book just for the sake of a couple of paragraphs to make sure the story's accurate or complete!

Right, that was considerable more interesting than translating articles from the Schlesische Tageszeitung. :D

And Doug, Hell's Gate is way more readable than anything by Weigley...
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Frederick L Clemens
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Re: Advice for Authors

Post by Frederick L Clemens » Fri Mar 07, 2008 11:22 am

Tom Houlihan wrote:...2. When writing about a specific unit, or battle, or something like that, try making up a timeline. To create the one I'm using, I went through all my major references first, and noted specific events and their dates. Then I put them all together, and added in bits from other resources. Now I can look at anything, and see where it fits into the overall divisional history. It's actually helping.
I also agree to this timeline method. I wish I started doing it from the start. The manuscript practically writes itself when you have all the pieces laid out in time order (slight exaggeration but it does give a big headstart). And you make many more revelations when you start realizing what things were happening that influenced each other due to their proximity to each other.

Here's how I lay it out line by line:
Date(in YYMMDD format) Event (summarized) Source (Abbreviated Code)

Using the YYMMDD format for me speeds up refering back to a specific time period as your timeline grows and grows.

If you want, you can get fancy and color code categories of events.

All kinds of info can be poured into the timeline. You can start with a generic WW2 chronology found on the internet. Then put in the detailed dates of specific campaigns or units. Then add the biographical dates of relevant people. And so on, whatever is relevant to your topic. Try to avoid cluttering with non-pertinent data. Also, don't put in lengthy event descriptions - you want to be able to scan multiple items on the timeline to see the possible connections.

Make a copy of the master timeline and then pour the details into the copy to create a draft manuscript.

If anyone knows of software that is useful for doing functions like this, feel free to suggest it. Analyst's Notebook software would prob be good for researching a book but the price is still out of reach for most, AFAIK.

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Richard Hargreaves
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Post by Richard Hargreaves » Fri Mar 07, 2008 12:16 pm

Here's a sample, random page of notes from the Polish campaign, complete with my scrawl and a few dinner stains :D

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Re: Advice for Authors

Post by LARKHILL » Mon Aug 18, 2008 5:37 pm

Just joined the forum, but the comments I read here are right on the mark. I'd like to add: exercise caution when selecting your publisher with regard to the price being charged for your book...and offer to take a 'cut' on royalty percentage (if need be), to keep the price down. My second book, a CEF Battalion history in hard-cover with jacket, was over-priced to the 'nines' when it was launched, which severely disrupted sales. Had I been more emphatic in the pre-publication meetings, the corner-jacket price would have been competitive, not prohibitive. The publisher was already enjoying a federal grant of over $45,000.00 that year, plus the proceeds of a grant I received to do the book. Photos and maps are a must...for the work being currently read by a military publisher near you, I own over seventy never-before published photos relating to the text in the book, after having hunted down family members from names in the unit honor roll over a decade-long period, most of the participant family members being long dead but their family members having photos that were kept, but without attached information. It takes years to do this right, but the reward outweighs the pain...and I will never make a profit, for the time and expense it took to hunt down just one or two unique unit photos of the kit in the unit's 'order-of-battle.'

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