As post-production continues on the Richard Kirkland documentary, director Clint Ross and I have been discussing the initial promotion of the project. I roughed up a poster idea using a still shot taken from the dramatic recreation segment. Clint is going to have one of the designers at SCAD create a full-size, industry-standard version which we intend to use for film posters, invitations and flyers.
On a related note, the CWPT is allowing us to use their animated Battle of Fredericksburg maps. View here
This week The History Press began the marketing process for my new book “The Civil War in Spotsylvania County: Confederate Campfires at the Crossroads.” The anticipated release date is October.
One of THP’s designers developed a beautiful full-page ad that will be running in the Spotsylvania County 1859-era Fair program (PDF below), while I completed an extensive Marketing Questionnaire that focuses on local and national bookstores, media contacts and speaking venues.
In addition, I will also be developing a splash page online and hope to host another book release party at the museum. We used this same process with my first THP book “Historical Churches of Fredericksburg: Houses of the Holy” and it really helped to boost our initial sales.
I have been speaking to various groups on the topic of writing lately. I make it a point to remind my audience that promotion is essential and achieving success as an author in today’s market is more like 40% writing and 60% marketing. That said, of course your product still has to be good, but the idea of getting it out there in front of as many potential readers as possible is crucial.
In order to reach the fast-paced consumer of today, authors must take advantage of Internet technology and social networking. This includes utilizing websites, blogs, Facebook pages, MySpace accounts, and of course Twitter. As history writers we may spend our days basking in the 18th and 19th centuries, but if we want to spread our message to the masses, we need to exercise the tools of the 21st. It has never been so easy to reach across the country, even the world and grab customers.
This is in addition to the “old-school” promo items like postcards, bookmarks, and flyers. I use them all and have found a nice balance between real “take-away” pieces and the virtual ones. Book signings, speaking engagements, and in my case tours, are also key to establishing a base. If you are able to do these well, word of mouth will pay off in future engagements. I can’t tell you how many gigs I’ve been offered from friends of people who attended past talks.
The publisher and author aren’t the only ones capable of spreading the word. Fellow writers are a great source as they can cross-promote each other. I contribute to the cause through my book reviews in The Free Lance-Star and I try to fit in plugs for my fellow wordsmiths in episodes of “The Naked Historian” when it’s appropriate. They in turn have helped me get noticed and as a result, both of our target demographics exceed our own boundaries. They reach people I don’t - and vice-versa.
The bottom line is that I never published books expecting to get rich. All of my fellow writers who share the same royalty-cycle likely feel the same and with the economy in the state it is, books are becoming more of a luxury. That said, sales are still very important to me, not only as an extra source of income, but also as a validation of my efforts. It takes a tremendous amount of time to research and write a historical book and the sacrifices my family has made in order for me to complete them demands that I make it justified. Seek out your readers and make them want to read your book.
If you promote it properly, they will come.
"The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson" by Chris Mackowski and Kris White
Review by Michael Aubrecht
The Free Lance-Star T&C (8/23)
In May of 1863, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson launched a surprise attack on Union General Joseph Hooker’s army. The result would be remembered as one of the Confederacy’s most significant and bittersweet victories. Anxious to end Federal occupation in Virginia, Jackson’s troops successfully flanked the unsuspecting army and swarmed its camps near Chancellorsville. Unfortunately, their impatient commander took a catastrophic risk that would tragically alter the course of history.
As darkness fell on the first night of the battle, Jackson’s own men of the 18th North Carolina Infantry accidentally fired upon him. The incident occurred after the general and his staff had trotted well beyond their own lines, in an effort to survey the retreating enemy’s position. As the silhouetted group of riders returned to the main road, they were mistaken for Yankee cavalry.
Without a warning, two volleys rang out in the darkness and the general fell from his saddle. Bleeding profusely, Jackson had been hit by three shots. One ball was lodged in the palm of his right hand, and the other two penetrated his left arm. The damage was devastating.
This story of a legendary soldier’s accidental shooting, premature death and subsequent commemoration is the basis for a new book titled “The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson.”
A handsome paperback, this book is truly a homegrown title. Written by NPS Volunteer Chris Mackowski and Ranger/Historian Kris White, it was designed by The ID Entity’s Jackson Foster and funded by the Friends of Fredericksburg Area Battlefields.
According to John Hennessy, chief of interpretation at the National Park Service, this book is the first in what will be a series of publications to come out jointly under the NPS and FOFAB logo. Also in the pipeline are titles on the Wilderness and Ellwood, Chancellorsville, Chatham, and Clara Barton. Each will be created locally and released through Thomas Publications.
Despite having a familiar premise, “The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson” presents a fresh look at a well-documented event. Unlike most Jackson biographers, Mackowski and White narrowed their focus to examining the finale of this extraordinary soldier’s life. In doing so, they have produced a definitive and well-rounded study that tells the complete story of Jackson’s demise, and more notably, how it is remembered today.
As the book’s beginning outlines, “friendly-fire” was only the beginning of the general’s deadly trial.
Threatened by artillery, Jackson was taken from the field on a stretcher and treated at a nearby hospital encampment at Wilderness Run. It was there that Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire was able to successfully amputate his injured limb. Despite suffering from shock and a severe loss of blood, the general survived the risky surgery as the Battle of Chancellorsville raged on.
After the Union army threatened to retake the area, General Lee ordered Jackson’s staff to move him to the Fairfield plantation at Guinea Station. He was evacuated by ambulance and placed in an outbuilding on the property. Initially, Jackson looked to make a full recovery, but he later developed an incurable case of pneumonia and died on May 10, 1863 surrounded by staff and family.
As word spread throughout the South of Jackson’s untimely death, many supporters of the Confederacy fell into despair. General Robert E. Lee refused to accept the mortality of his fiercest officer and reportedly told his aides, “He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right.” Even today, many historians credit the death of “Stonewall” as the key turning point in the War Between the States.
In addition to presenting the tragic events resulting in Jackson’s last breath, “The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson” also provides readers with an examination of how the moment has been memorialized through the years. Beyond the battlefield, Jackson’s legacy remains a celebrated part of Southern culture, as death elevated him to a mythical-like status.
Each year, thousands of tourists come to Spotsylvania County to relive the last days of “Stonewall.” Some visit the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor’s Center and walk the dirt path where Jackson was wounded, while others follow the Ambulance Route to Guinea Station in order to stand at the bedside where he died. Visitors may also travel to historic Ellwood where Jackson’s personal chaplain, the Reverend Beverly Tucker Lacy, reportedly buried his commander’s severed limb in the family cemetery.
In an email interview with me, Chris Mackowski explained the mindset behind “The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson.” He wrote, “There’s a lot of mythology and romanticism that now surrounds Jackson. We wanted to peel some of that back. Even people well-familiar with the story of Jackson’s death are going to find a few surprises in this book because we had access to some never-before-published material that provides new details.”
He added, “Not only do we tell the story of Jackson’s death, we tell the story of the shrine, too. The building has an interesting story of its own, which we really wanted to highlight. People find the place profound and sublime. We wanted to give readers a glimpse behind the scenes.”
At 100 pages, this book is an easy read and features a nice collection of photographs and illustrations that complement the narrative. Many will appreciate the timeline of events that is included, which highlights key moments in the life of Thomas Jackson, from his childhood at Jackson’s Mill, to his days as a student at West Point and later, as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute. Beyond Jackson’s personal and military milestones, the authors also include a timeline for the restoration and establishment of the “Stonewall” Jackson Shrine.
“The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson” will appeal to a large audience, as serious students of the Civil War will appreciate the newfound details and casual readers will gain a much better understanding of why the life and death of “Stonewall” Jackson still matters today.
Book available at Eastern National bookstores ($6.95)
Back home and getting caught up...
Everything went smooth in college-land. Now back to adult-land (which is a lot cleaner). I'll post my latest FLS book review, a NCWLF op-ed (I co-authored), and a new ad for my upcoming THP release in the coming days.