Because History Needs You
I’m writing to those people who enjoy reading history, watching documentaries, visiting museums, and traveling to historic sites. In other words, people like me. Why should you write a history book? Because all history is local and our collective memory needs you to document it.
Let me give you an example. Perhaps during WWII there was a POW camp that housed German or Italian prisoners, or maybe a Japanese-American Internment camp near where you live. If you write a book about that site, perhaps a historian who is working on our treatment of prisoners of war or Japanese internees on a national scale will use your book and others about camps at other locations for references in writing his or her tome. Congratulations! You just added to the historical record and helped to maintain our collective national memory. This is the same scenario that benefits me when veterans write about their experiences or a history of their military unit.
Yes, you have to write it. Audio oral histories are great, so are documentary videos, but the written word is still our medium of expression in the field. If you want, you can make someone help you, but you still have to write it down. One of the “writer’s blocks” I've heard most often is the idea that one shouldn't bother writing a book if they think they will never get it published. Well, that’s where today’s technology makes that kind of stinkin’ thinkin’ completely obsolete.
There are plenty of books and articles about researching and writing a nonfiction book. I just want to add in my admonition to edit, fact check, and then proofread. Make sure you can document every factual statement in your text (that’s what footnotes are for). Once you’re done, give your manuscript to someone else to proofread, and then someone else and someone else. The more eyes on the manuscript the better. When I wrote my book, “The Boldest Plan is the Best,” I had three people review the manuscript and there were still errors found after publication. If you need help in this area, you might look at an automated editor like Grammarly, or hire a low cost human to proof your book. Luckily, it doesn't cost you anything to make corrections when you are self-publishing with print-on-demand.
With print-on-demand services like CreateSpace, you can be both writer and publisher. Check out some of these services. I like CreateSpace and highly recommend it. You can format your manuscript in Microsoft Word, upload it to your account, and have it automatically produced in both print and Kindle format, listed for sale on Amazon. The proceeds from any sales will be paid to your bank account every month. But making money is your business. I’m pleading with you to add to the historical record, so I want you to donate a few copies to some very specific places.
First I want you to register the copyright on your book with U.S. Copyright Office. To accomplish this, you will have to send two copies of your book. One copy will go into the vault and the other will be available for circulation in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Next donate copies to your local libraries, both public and university. Finally, if you would be so kind, make sure to donate a copy to every archive and research library, especially your local historical society, where you found information to include in your book. That way, the historians who follow will be able to locate your book, read what your thoughts were, and add to them with their own work.
What’s in it for you? There are definitely some great benefits to writing a book; unfortunately money isn't one of them. Face it, the vast majority of history books sell in the hundreds of copies, not the tens and hundreds of thousands. We are an extreme niche market, we consumers of history. So unless you are Rick Atkinson, Nathaniel Philbrick, Hampton Sides, or Eric Larson (some of my favorite narrative history authors) you will be lucky to earn enough to pay for picture rights or even just the postage to mail out some promotional copies. However, what is more valuable in my opinion is the feeling of accomplishment you gain from writing a book and “putting it out there.” You will have completed something that very few people ever start, much less complete. And you will have left a lasting legacy that will be appreciated for a long time. So I thank you in advance and wish you luck on your project!