Hang on to your hats for this Q&A! Bass playing bad ass book publishing Ted Savas of Savas Beatie took some time to put together some in depth, thought provoking, and humorous answers about his publishing career, background, and music. Crank up the Maiden and enjoy the ride!
Will you provide a bit about the history of Savas Beatie and how you became one of the leading Civil War (and other historical subjects) publishers in today’s current book market?
Sure. I have always loved history since I was young, and ironically, used to “write” books when I was about five and my mom would help me make covers for them, and use thread to stitch them on. I still have one somewhere. Who knew?
My grandfather bought me a beat-up copy of Lee’s Lieutenants for a dime at a garage sale (no idea why he would do that) and I was hooked. I was about 11 or 12. After a BA in American history and most of a Masters in the same subject I went on to law school at the U of Iowa College of Law and moved to California in 1986, where I litigated for about 13 years.
During that period I became disillusioned by the magazines I was buying and reading. Most had articles on the same basic thing, over and over again. How many times can you read about Pickett’s Charge in a 3,000-word article? So, a recent acquaintance named Dave Woodbury (you will meet him again later in this interview) and I began Civil War Regiments, a quarterly journal, 1990. (Many customers today started way back then with CWR.) Long meaty articles, real footnotes, original maps, and so on bound as a paperback with a spine. It continued for several years and did alright, but it was expensive and exceedingly time-consuming.
However, it was also my “trial by fire,” so to speak—my education in layout, design, cartography, editing, heavy footnoting, how to use sources, how work with authors, etc. Dave handled Union material and I handled Confederate. We both drew all the maps. My library grew so I could handle the work because in the end, I had to re-write a lot of the material. It was well-researched but not well-written. Let’s call it a laboratory where everything I know today began, incubating in a multitude of endless weekend work. (I still have back issues of Civil War Regiments, although some are sold out and most are in very low stock. I am amazed today looking back how good they were and still are. They are on our website at https://www.savasbeatie.com/civil-war/civil-war-regiments-journal/.
Dave and I put out an essay collection in a stand-alone paperback book called The Campaign for Atlanta & Sherman’s March to the Sea (I think in 1993) and when we did the second volume, we also bound both together in a limited hardcover edition with large maps in a back pocket. Honestly, it’s a great book with magnificent authors (and includes a command article by a much younger Steven Woodworth).
Anyway, that kicked open the door to the book world. It did well, and manuscripts flooded in. It was shocking, really. But I considered myself an attorney, not a publisher. About six months later we published Mark Bradley’s outstanding Last Stand in the Carolinas: The Battle of Bentonville. Somehow it became a book club selection and its success shocked a lot of people, including us. So, before I knew it, I had a publishing suite and a legal suite side-by-side and had been working 90-hour weeks (no exaggeration) for a few years. It was crazy.
Finally, in 1995 I took over the reins (Dave had other things he was doing) and Savas Woodbury became Savas Publishing. I sold my law practice in 1998, built up the book business, and sold Savas Publishing to a large east coast publisher in 2001. For the next three years I coached little league, ghost-wrote about 20 books for major publishers, and did some of my own work. Life was wonderful. Then Cap came along.
Russel “Cap” Beatie was an author (and successful Fifth Avenue attorney in Manhattan) and I had accepted his book project to publish with Savas Publishing. When I sold the company, his massive work on The Army of the Potomac (which is sadly under-appreciated) went to Da Capo/Perseus. They did poor job of marketing it—didn’t really care about it. Cap was pissed off (at them, not me). He kept in regular touch, and in 2003 approached me about getting back in the business. Understand I had never even met him personally. I was very reluctant, but he made me an offer and I did. And so Savas Beatie began in 2004, and here we are today. We started from scratch, just me in my library at home and I hired Sarah Keeney (our marketing director) then also, straight out of college. It’s been a long hard slog but absolutely enjoyable. I don’t have a job because I love what I do so much, I would do it for free. And I did, for years.
(Sadly Cap fell ill in 2012 and died in 2013. I miss him greatly.)
We are online at www.savasbeatie.com
Do publishers look less favorably on manuscripts that the author submits directly (i.e. without an agent)?
Depends on the publishing house. We almost never use agents because they want advances and care only about money. As a rule, we do not pay advances because first, we don’t have to, and second, that money is used in marketing (we market hard) and in the end the authors usually make a lot more money publishing with us because WE have to make money to pay the bills.
I prefer working with authors directly.
What have been the biggest turn-offs for you in a submission, meaning, how can a potential author be more prepared when submitting their work?
Submission guidelines are a filtering process. They are designed around how the house works, and as a potential author, how well you follow directions and how easy and flexible and patient you are to work with. It is very eye-opening. So when a potential author can’t or won’t follow clear and easy directions, can’t be bothered to include a salutation in their letter or email, writes back every few days asking, “Did you get my manuscript? Have you decided yet? What is taking you so long?”—after they got an auto-reply that explains we are flooded with manuscripts and to be patient—that’s a good indication of how they will be to work with, and a major turn-off.
Civil War publishing is a small world. There are authors I have been warned about by other publishers, and so turned them away, and I have warned a few publishers about an author or two. As I said, it is a small world, and being a jackass in a world large or small is never a good idea. Be kind and be honest.
The “Maps of” series has been a wonderful addition to understanding the Civil War. How did you decide that this would be a good series to pursue?
It was not my idea. Brad Gottfried did the first one on Gettysburg and approached a different publisher, who failed to grasp the elegant beauty and efficacy of a full page of text on the left describing the action/movements, and the full page map on the right page showing them. This other publisher wanted to change it up entirely. Brad rang me up one day, we chatted, he sent it in, and within 24 hours I was on board. His was a great idea. My job was to refine it, execute it, and market it. Many people have finally realized that a Savas Beatie “Maps of” atlas on any subject unlocks EVERYTHING written on that subject. Just open anything, have the map book nearby, and read.
Along that same line of thinking, the Emerging Civil War series has allowed new “students” of the Civil War to become immersed into a subject at a reasonable cost. Tell us a bit about how this series came to be, and what it is like to work with the ECW team?
See? The best ideas are not mine. 😊 Chris Mackowski and Kris White approached me on it, and I quickly saw where this could go. It would take a lot of organization on our end and capital and marketing, but had tremendous potential. It is, however, a low-cost book at $14.95 with relatively unbalanced high fixed costs up front, so sales must be solid or it goes upside down.
Thankfully, the ECW guys are hard-workers and wonderful to work with. It has brought in and introduced a lot of people to the subject. When you don’t know much about, say, Fredericksburg, it is easier to put a toe in the water and spend $15.00 for a heavily illustrated shorter book on a subject, then plunking down $35 for a 400-page book that looks impossible to read. When folks out they love something, they get hooked and join the fun.
In a sense I am a drug dealer, but my drug is Civil War history.
However, ECW books (I think we have 36 of them now) are not only for newbies. Half of the audience or more are experienced readers. They want to digest something good on a subject they don’t know that much about (say Hellmira prison), they love books, and so pick one up. Others who purchase do so to give copies to their kids, grandkids, neighbors, etc. as a way to “spread the gospel,” so to speak.
You’ve done a lot with Civil War Round Tables and encouraged your authors to speak at their meetings. What do round tables bring to the Civil War community, and how can we bring in a younger audience?
When I moved to California, I didn’t even know what a CWRT was. I read about one somewhere and went to the meeting. It was in the middle of the day (luncheon) large (100 or so, almost all male) and old (average age I bet was 60). They met on the Peninsula south of San Francisco. I spoke there in 1988.
Then I heard there was something called a “West Coast Civil War Conference” in San Diego and William C. Davis was one of the speakers (I had a couple of his books and he was the editor of Civil War Times, Ilus back then, and I idolized the man). Plus, Bob Younger of Morningside Books, which was where I got most of my books, would also be there. I was elated and my wife and I flew down. I met Dave Woodbury there, I kicked of a friendship with Jack Davis that has lasted to this day, and there I also first met crotchety old Bob Younger (we called him SOB; Sweet Old Bob). He would help me a lot down the road.
Me being me, I started a RT in my living room in San Jose (with my buddy Dave Woodbury) in March of 1989: The South Bay Civil War Round Table. Four people attended. I haven’t lived in SJ since 1998, but it still thrives and I speak down there to it every so often. Most people in the club nowadays don’t have any idea that I started it.
Every round table needs to coordinate with Mike Movius and his amazing work with Civil War Round Table Congress: http://www.cwrtcongress.org/
He is coordinating RTs nationwide, working on speakers, enhancing programs, education, and building a younger base. Here is one reason why RTs are dying: the speakers are mostly awful. For a reason I don’t fully grasp other than ego, some people who run RTs use them as a platform for themselves. They speak twice a year, and are not suited to the craft at all. Many RT program chairmen (or chairwomen) think that if someone volunteers to give a talk, that is a good idea because it fills the slate. No! A boring delivery, read from piece of paper, is not going to grow your membership or keep members. It is going to slowly kill it.
Find people who can speak, hit the colleges and find professors (many of whom are wonderful speakers, and many of whom are shockingly bad at that) to address the group. Gather resources and share outstanding national speakers and divide the costs. Use Meetup and other social media apps to bring in members. Pay a bounty: Whoever brings in another dues-paying members gets $X and a free book. Be creative.
Tell us about Arminius!
I played classical piano for 12 years (through my first two years of college) and keyboards in a rock band in Iowa as a teenager. I switched to bass after seeing Getty Lee in Rush up close and personal, and our band got pretty good, went on the road, etc. Typed a lot of term papers in dressing rooms and had a lot of fun. My brother was one of the guitarists. The band was Disciple.
I woke up somewhere on a pool table and realized this wasn’t a great idea. I think I was 23. I quit to finish up college and move on (hardest thing I had ever done—I regret it now, but that is another story). I didn’t touch a bass for three decades. If I had, I would have done it again and destroyed my family.
Finally, in 2014 my brother (who lives a couple miles from me) suggested we dust off our instruments and have some fun. We formed Arminius (named after a Roman-trained German general from 9 AD) with other guys who were also pros back in the day. This band, I have to say, is really good. A lot of fun with zero drama, no issues of any kind to speak of. We play mostly hard rock from 70s and 80s, with twists (we make it our own). We have recorded some originals, and played some big shows. We play about once a month, and we do power rock sets (concert-style) usually opening for bigger bands who are now doing clubs. I have had a chance to open for and meet and chat with rockers who, as a kid, I used to go see in giant arenas. It is such a different life from my day job, and people who cross over to it are not quite sure what to make of it.
You can see us on Facebook here (and please “like” our page): https://www.facebook.com/arminiustheband/
Here is an original called Fists Up! I wrote, in video form: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2zayEJKLHQ
Thanks for taking the time and having the interest to send the questions. I enjoyed it.
Not as much as we enjoyed reading your replies, Ted...thank you for what you do in bringing us excellent Civil War books each and every year!