We had an “in,” so that was good. Ted Savas had already agreed to publish our full-length book Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front: The Battles of Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church, so we had a connection.
Kris White picked up the phone and called.
We’d been writing short books for Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and had a manuscript ready to go on the battle of Fredericksburg. We had aimed to have the book out in time for the Sesquicentennial anniversary of the battle, where thousands of extra visitors would be going through the park and its bookstore, creating the potential opportunity for a splashy release and robust kick-off sales. However, the publisher we’d been working with started pulling some hinky stuff. Again and again. Suddenly the whole deal was going south, despite the best intentions of everyone else involved: us, the park, the Friends of Fredericksburg Area Battlefields, which provided the initial funding—everyone but the publisher himself.
Let’s take our manuscript to someone else, Kris suggested. It was done—not just written but laid out. It was ready to go. The Sesquicenntennial of the battle of Fredericksburg was two months away. An opportunity still awaited. If we could find a publisher willing and able to pull it off, Kris and I were willing to works our butts off to pull it off, too.
One of the things I’ve come to love most about working with Ted Savas is that I can call him with an idea, and we can bat it around a bit, and he’ll provide a yes or no pretty much on the spot. Part of that is because, over almost ten years of working closely together, we’re pretty much on the same page about stuff. We know what audiences want, what will sell, what will add to the scholarship in a publicly accessible way. We know the marketing considerations.
Most publishers, though, require an in-depth proposal, some market analysis, and other documents. In most cases, Ted does, too (check out his submission guidelines here). But Ted also has good instincts. There’s still a part of him that reacts on a gut-level because he is, aside from a shrewd businessperson, a Civil War fan. He knows what HE likes.
When Kris called him, he pitched the Fredericksburg book but also the other books we owned the copyrights to. We could do a series pretty easily, and that would let the books support each other (very much in line of the overall ECW philosophy that the rising tide lifts all boats).
Ted already knew our work from the Second Fred book—but, importantly, he also knew us from the blog, which was a little over a year old by that point. We’d produced a lot of quality content and—and this turned out to be key—we’d paid a lot of attention to our branding. He thought we’d created a strong-enough brand by that point already that it would support a book series of its own.
I was surprised when Kris called me about a half an hour after he’d first talked to me. Ted would take the book, he told. I couldn’t believe we’d gotten an answer so soon, let alone a positive answer so soon!
We worked closely with Ted’s right-hand at Savas Beatie, the incredible Sarah Keeney, to get the book together. In the past ten years, there have been weeks where we’re getting some books to press and I’ve spoken more to Sarah than my own wife! Sarah has been indispensable to the Emerging Civil War Series’s success.
Ted also suggested we call on Hal Jespersen again for maps. He did our maps for Forgotten Front, so again, we already had a relationship, but Hal was kind enough to step up under short notice to produce our maps. His cartography would go on to be a key part of our series.
The result of all that wrangling was Simply Murder: The Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862. Savas Beatie delivered the book just in time for the Sesquicentennial and the Park Service’s commemoration activities. To get all the books where they needed to be on time, Kris and I spent the better part of a day driving around, meeting up to exchange boxes of books. It was a little harried for a hot second, but as we’d said, if we could find a publisher willing and able to pull it off, Kris and I were willing to works our butts off to pull it off, too. There’s still a lot of butt-busting going on to make the book series happen.
The downside to the whole process was that we didn’t get to proofread Simply Murder as closely as we’d have liked—something that would be an ongoing bugaboo for the series for a little while. When we did a second printing, which happened a lot sooner than I expected, we had the chance to make corrections and updates, which relieved me tremendously.
Long-time fans of the series will note some changes to the books since that first printing of that first edition. We tried doing full-page bleeds for the photos at the beginnings of each chapter, but we had to soon drop that because of the printing challenges involves. We had a section called “What Ever Happened To…?” that told readers how the stories played out for each of the book’s main characters. We’ve since dropped that feature because, we realized, future books would essentially answer that question for readers.
Although we’ve tweaked some things over time, Simply Murder gave us a good first shot out of the gate. To this day, the book store at the Fredericksburg battlefield has a tough time keeping the book on the shelves. People visit the battlefield and look for something they can read to tell them a bit more about what they’ve seen, and Simply Murder is just the right length and just the right price to hit the spot—just as Kris and I had hoped.
Simply Murder: The Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862
Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White
Savas Beatie, 2012
Click here to read more about the book, including a book description, reviews, and author bios.
Click here for the audio book, read by Joshua Saxon.