Miliary History Books: Those Wot Sell, Those Wot Dont

Discussion in 'The Book Club' started by Andy_S, May 8, 2010.

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  1. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    Advice to Prospective Authors:

    Having just read Auld Yin's thread on the book launch for (yet another) Battle of Britain tome and the various glitterati that will be in attendence at this august gathering, I will now deliver the fruit of bitter experience.

    As someone who writes on Korea - which nobody else does - it strikes me that although military history is about the last sub-genre of non-fiction that is selling in UK (apparently, even celeb bios/autobios are no longer guaranteed sellers) it is actually only a very limited slice of military history that gets public or reviewer attention: battles, campaigns, units or individuals that have high brand visibility.

    Therfore: If you want to write a guaranteed seller, choose from the following list:

    Waterloo and or Boney/The Duke
    The Crimea (general)
    Rorke's Drift
    World War I (general)
    The Somme
    World War II (General)
    Battle of Britain
    El Alamein and/or Monty
    Pacific/Burma theatre
    Waffen SS
    US Airborne and/or US Marines
    French Foreign Legion
    SAS (post 1980s)
    Afghanistan (current ops)

    Have I missed anything?

    OK, a pretty long list, but if you want to scribble on Cromwell in Ireland; Clive or Wellington in India; the Sikh Wars; the Northwest Frontier; the Black n Tans; the Norwegian campaign; Northwest Europe, post-Arnhem; the Malayan Emergency; the Suez Crisis; the Borneo Confrontation - or any number of dramatic or interesting topics that people are generally unfamiliar with and that there is NOT already a range of lit or film on - well, good luck to you.
  2. Auld-Yin

    Auld-Yin LE Reviewer Book Reviewer Reviews Editor


    I suspect that it was always like this and always will be. Remember publishers will print books that they think will sell therefore make them a profit.

    The days of the private printing, while not gone, are much diminished by costs.

    I wish you well in your writing and maybe one day the Korean War will become 'sexy' to the publishers.
  3. Your dead right there, try and find a good history of the British fighting at Kasserine, the one by Charles Whiting is utter shite
  4. Cannot quite agree, when i wrote my tome on the South Staffords at Arnhem, it wasnt because Arnhem was sexy, it was because their wasnt a book that covered their actions and bravery completley at that time.

    Also as every penny i made from the book went to either the Arnhem Vets or for a couple of memorials in Oosterbeek, the book wasnt to fill my coffers.

    Im sorry if some battles etc arent sexy to publishers, id also say that writing about one of the 'sexy' times of warfare also doesnt mean its a sure fire winner.
  5. AlienFTM

    AlienFTM LE Book Reviewer

    I'm sorry. Did you use the words "history" and "Charles Whiting" aka Leo Kessler in the same sentence?

    Nuff said. See also his "history of the Battle of the Bulge" (sufficiently so on the surface that my local library had it thus listed).

    Nuff said.
  6. AlienFTM

    AlienFTM LE Book Reviewer

    Agreed. Like I have said elsewhere (Military History forum?) I have come to the conclusion that every one of our generation needs to record our stories before the politicians airbrush us from history. Seems to me that the Germans have airbrushed the Cold War out and they all want us to forget Norn Irn and our unique regimental system that has been systematically destroyed under New Labour.

    How many of us wish they had learned of their forebears' history before they died and now regret it? Our stories may not sell, but we owe it to our children to give them the information without them having to ask us when we are dribbling into our cocoa.
  7. Heres a thing. Does it matter if only one person reads 'your' book or a thousand or a million, only if money is your aim id say. If only one person reads about the Battle of Little Tonnigton and the Heroes of the Bed pan charge, then the aim of getting the former remembered has been achieved.

    On Arnhem, even now their is still a lot to be written about, or Kasserine (their you go Tropper a project for you) Even if its like my first effort 20 pages self printed or one page on the Nye/Cartwright Ridge, as long as someone reads it, so they dont forget im happy.

    One day their will be no more Arnhem - DDay or Korean Vets, but the books will still be around.

    Id say not to have a go at the Author of the sexy battles, but maybe the school system which glosses over the unsexy bits, such as Ireland or Korea or the Aden.
  8. RP578

    RP578 LE Book Reviewer

    I'd say that these come in and out of vogue. The Falklands campaign had a bit of a revival in interest a few years ago. Aden too came back into the spot light briefly during the 30th anniversary of 'Mad' Mitch's "Argyl Law" in the Crater. Both the Malayan Emergency and the Borneo Confrontation have produced popular books in the last ten years, probably due current fashion for all things COIN.

    I was a little surprised at the Original Poster's comment on the dearth of books about Korea. There are many excellent books on the subject, Clay Blair's account is probably the best I've read.
  9. All the authors below, cover each period of interest mentioned above, nearly all are available on Amazon UK. A good site often mentioned is

    List of authors

    Philip Graham McKeiver

    G A Henty

    At least 10 volumes by Nosey

    Reginald George Burton and Jon Coulston

    Charlies Allen

    William Sheehan

    Frederic P. Miller, Agnes F. Vandome, and John McBrewster

    C. P. Stacey

    Roy Follows

    Anthony Gorst and Saul Kelly

    Nick Van Der Bijl

    Jonathan Walker
  10. maguire

    maguire LE Book Reviewer

    I dont know - recently I've read a couple about submarine operations during the Cold War and others about covert air reconnaisance ops during the same period. dont know if they'd be to everyones taste but I found them absorbing.
  11. Don't you think that the common theme of Andy's 'favoured topics' is either glorious victory or cataclysmic defeat, while facing apparently insurmountable odds? We're either looking at heroic, plucky Brits or tough, honourable foes to be respected, shortly before we stamp their soggy remains into the turf.

    Where's the glory around Cromwell in Ireland? Did we 'win' in Korea? We certainly didn't in Norway. After Arnhem the perception is that the Germans were beaten so it was just a case of tidying up and getting through the traffic jams. Malay/Suez/Borneo; why were we fighting again, and where is the heroic victory against overpowering odds?

    The general public want exciting stories; when these are told well, military history spills over into the bestseller lists. Otherwise you're writing history for historians, and there ain't that many in your target market.
  12. I will just add a piece of advice given to me by a well-known writer of WW2 military history: Make sure the book has a black cover, and a picture of a German on the front. Also, see if you can persuade the Military & Aviation Book Club to make it "editor's choice" for the month.

    All the best,

  13. No one has mentioned FACTION, I wonder how many people would never heard of the war in Spain if not for Richard Sharpe. Bernard Cornwell , George McDonald Frazer,and others, have given a lot of people there first interest in Military History, many of who went on to start reading real history.
  14. You are correct, Sharpe or Flashman, entertained but also got at least one person to read 'faction' (i saw what you did. clever for a welshman that) :D
  15. One of my interests is, and has been for a longtime, Victorian military history. I can clearly remember as an early teenager picking up and reading my first Flashman book (Great Game, I think). I was completely hooked.

    The good thing about GMF is although you know the story is utter fiction the surrounding historical background is exactingly accurate and makes you want to read more about what really happened. It's a shame GMF never got around to writing the Flashman Mexican novel (1864 orthereabouts).