Miliary History Books: Those Wot Sell, Those Wot Dont

Andy_S

LE
Book Reviewer
#1
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)
Adolf
Battle of Britain
El Alamein and/or Monty
Stalingrad
D-Day
Arnhem
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.
 

Auld-Yin

ADC
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Reviews Editor
#2
Andy

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.
 
#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.
 

AlienFTM

MIA
Book Reviewer
#5
tropper66 said:
Your dead right there, try and find a good history of the British fighting at Kasserine, the one by Charles Whiting is utter shite
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.
 

AlienFTM

MIA
Book Reviewer
#6
scarletto said:
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.
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.
 

RP578

LE
Book Reviewer
#8
scarletto said:
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.
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
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.
All the authors below, cover each period of interest mentioned above, nearly all are available on Amazon UK. A good site often mentioned is

http://www.britains-smallwars.com/

http://britains-smallwars.com/swbooks/book-index.html



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
 

maguire

LE
Book Reviewer
#10
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
Andy_S said:
Advice to Prospective Authors:

[Snips]

Have I missed anything?
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,

John.
 
#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
tropper66 said:
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.
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).
 

davidflies

War Hero
Book Reviewer
#16
MLRS Books welcomes submissions of manuscripts (Word or another Mac compatible format please) dealing with military topics up to and including the Korean War. We do not go far back - WW1 is our real limit unless it's something really special - but we have other publishers who work with us who may well take other projects on.
We are not a big company and we don't take long lunches - but take a look at our list at www.mlrsbooks.co.uk and then, if you have something to propose for publication, get in touch (telephone or email). Please put us in touch with anyone you know who has a proposal but no computer.
We print to order, which means we do not keep enormous stocks ready for remaindering, and we do not take a book off our list because it only sells 2/3 copies a year - someone out there will want it sometime!
We are proud of what we do, and want to print books that the big boys are afraid of by reason of subject, period or the simple fact that there are fold-outs that are essential to the text.
Try us - at least we will give an answer quickly and if we can't do it we might know someone who can!
 
#18
To add to my earlier reply, you also need to factor in racism and political correctness.

Books detailing how the Raj subjugated India, Sikh Wars etc. might expose the fact that a nation of 30 million was able to control a continent of 300 million, partly by dividing the Indians and partly because we were just better at fighting than they were. That's not going to go down well in Tower Hamlets or Luton. Even a conversation along those lines to an educated Sikh can cause ructions; I know, 'cos I was there.

Similarly, how many Zulus from 1879 can you name? A certain film from the early 60's cast them as a big black mass, without specific heroes, or even worthwhile speaking parts. We don't record the deeds of our enemies, with the possible exception of those who look like us or think like us (forgive the generalisation). Which side do you feel the most emotional sympathy for when you read about Stalingrad or Berlin?

How many non-white historical military heroes are we aware of in the UK? In military history, it's likely that the people in the story won't match the profile of the general population in the UK today, and that disconnect is going to affect how publishers feel about the book.

I'm getting out of my depth now so I'll stop, but I'd be interested in other views.
 

RP578

LE
Book Reviewer
#19
angular said:
To add to my earlier reply, you also need to factor in racism and political correctness.

Books detailing how the Raj subjugated India, Sikh Wars etc. might expose the fact that a nation of 30 million was able to control a continent of 300 million, partly by dividing the Indians and partly because we were just better at fighting than they were. That's not going to go down well in Tower Hamlets or Luton. Even a conversation along those lines to an educated Sikh can cause ructions; I know, 'cos I was there.
Oh behave yourself! There's an entire library's worth of titles on the British Raj, including many military ones. For anyone even remotely interested in the pre-Independence Indian military I would recommend Armies of the Raj as an excellent starting point.

Then there's this: Soldiers of the Raj

Or this: Gentlemen of the Raj

Just because you haven't read/heard of them, doesn't mean that such books haven't been written.
 
#20
angular said:
To add to my earlier reply, you also need to factor in racism and political correctness.

Books detailing how the Raj subjugated India, Sikh Wars etc. might expose the fact that a nation of 30 million was able to control a continent of 300 million, partly by dividing the Indians and partly because we were just better at fighting than they were. That's not going to go down well in Tower Hamlets or Luton. Even a conversation along those lines to an educated Sikh can cause ructions; I know, 'cos I was there.

Similarly, how many Zulus from 1879 can you name? A certain film from the early 60's cast them as a big black mass, without specific heroes, or even worthwhile speaking parts. We don't record the deeds of our enemies, with the possible exception of those who look like us or think like us (forgive the generalisation). Which side do you feel the most emotional sympathy for when you read about Stalingrad or Berlin?

How many non-white historical military heroes are we aware of in the UK? In military history, it's likely that the people in the story won't match the profile of the general population in the UK today, and that disconnect is going to affect how publishers feel about the book.

I'm getting out of my depth now so I'll stop, but I'd be interested in other views.
Well, there was Will. We know that, because at one point the 24th were ordered to "Fire at Will".


Hat - coat - assegai - and taxi!
 

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