The Emerging Civil War Series: The Epitome of Vision and Teamwork
by Theodore P. Savas
Director, Savas Beatie
I need to come clean.
I did indeed tell Kris White I was “all in” when he and Chris Mackowski first proposed to create an ongoing selection of books for the new Emerging Civil War series, to be kicked off with Simply Murder: The Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862 more than a decade ago. (See that story here.)
And Chris was right. I do have good instincts and they have served me well in the legal and publishing world. I knew these guys were young, hungry, talented, knowledgeable, and working from the center of the Civil War world in Virginia. But like everyone, I had also made mistakes, and occasionally bet on the wrong horse.
Putting out one relatively short image-driven book was not difficult. Two or three was a tad harder and required unwavering perseverance–a special form of stick-to-itiveness. I would lose money (and some face) if Savas Beatie backed a series that died on the vine from a lack of interest, a dearth of high-quality content, and a lack of productivity. I knew the odds were significantly against me. But if we all pulled the wagon together far enough, the success would be worthwhile.
When I hung up that phone that afternoon I muttered under my breath, “You guys better come through. Don’t be the wrong horse.” I really did.
As it turned out, I need not have worried. The stamina, energy, and verve these guys (and now gals) brought from jump street was and remains awesome to witness.
The books and ideas poured out so consistently and were so well done that any doubts I may have harbored after the third or fourth book vanished like your last dollar at a casino.
I remember Chris calling me one day to pitch a book about Bentonville. “Okay,” I interrupted after about thirty seconds. “That sounds good.”
“I was going to also propose a book on Petersburg,” he continued, sounding a tad caught off guard. I let him get a couple sentences in before I interrupted again. “I like it.”
“Really? That’s it?”
“Should I take three months and pretend I might not publish it, just to sound like all the other guys?” I teased. “I don’t need to do that. I know what you can do, and I know what we can do. So let’s Nike.”
“Let’s what?” he asked.
“Let’s just do it.”
(That book became Edward Alexander’s Dawn of Victory.)
By this time, I knew they could deliver (mostly on time), the content would be good, and the marketing strong. I especially liked the idea of using fresh new faces who had a lot on the ball but had yet to be published. Chris enjoyed mentoring and helping. Me, too. We both have teaching backgrounds, so perhaps that is where that urge comes from.
I had another reason. I will never forget how hard a few publishers and several individuals tried to keep me out of the industry, and how one turned his nose up when I told him I was venturing into the book world, all because I did not have a Ph.D. The gatekeepers of the publishing world have a long tradition of working hard to keep out the barbarians.
Because I was born a contrarian who runs with scissors, my job has always been to open the gate and welcome qualified “others” with open arms.
Don’t get me wrong. None of this has been easy. The ECW management team has worked untold hours, long weekends, and even holidays to meet deadlines. They have brought on editors, mastered desktop book publishing, coordinated photo and image collections, and interfaced brilliantly with my team, led by the incomparable Sarah Keeney. (I don’t know what I would do without her.) Her Google cloud documents, spreadsheets, and reams of data just on this series alone are awe-inspiring to behold. We get the manuscripts, proof and publish, warehouse, market, and sell. It is a lot of work for a low-cost product. There is no room for error.
The vision behind these books and the success they have enjoyed warms my heart. ECW has kickstarted careers, jumpstarted others that were languishing, and made thousands of readers happy for about the price of a Subway sandwich and a large (I refuse to say “Venti”) cup of burned Starbucks coffee.
Early in the process, Chris M. asked me once why I left a lucrative law practice to publish books. “Because no one cared what cases I had, or what I had done in the law and nothing would survive me. I did not believe I was contributing to society to make it a better place. Books will outlast me, you, and our kids and their kids, and will be accessed and read in ways we can’t even begin to understand.”
I had forgotten that conversation. Chris has reminded me two or three times over the years, and says the same thought drives him.
Together, the ECW–SB team has done well and good. We have contributed to the literature, enriched lives, made lasting friendships, and somehow paid all the bills.
Forty books down. Can’t wait to see what the next forty bring.