Reflections on a Bookversary

One year ago today, Angels of the Underground launched into the reading world.

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It’s been an exciting year, and not because Angels is my first book. It’s my third–the final volume of my historical trilogy of the wartime Philippines.

Rather, it was exciting because this was my first book to be shopped by an agent and sold to a big publisher. (The whole process, including writing the actual book, took years.) I received an advance. I did not quit my day job.

Angels attracted more attention than my previous books. There was a review in Publishers Weekly. The Midwest Independent Booksellers Association selected Angels as a January 2016 Midwest Connections Pick. Vick Mickunas interviewed me for his Book Nook show on WYSO. I appeared on various blogs: Daily History, RA for All, Historiann, and History News Network. There were fun posts for Campaign for the American Reader.

I was invited to be part of a World War II symposium at the MacArthur Memorial, and C-SPAN was there to film it.

I was also invited to write a Five Best Books column for the Wall Street Journal.

Bookmarks! I had bookmarks made to hand out at events and just to hand out.


Looking forward into 2017, I’ll be giving a few more talks about Angels to different audiences. While I continue to promote the book, I’ll be working on a new one that will most likely center on women and war.

Two things I recommend about promotion. Have a book launch party.

Book Launch

Whether you host it yourself or have someone do it on your behalf, have one. It’s the best, most festive way of introducing your book to its potential reading audience.

Hand out bookmarks.¬†Readers always need bookmarks. (Well, unless they read exclusively on e-readers.) These are relatively inexpensive yet useful “swag” items. Make use of both sides of the bookmark. For mine, one side was based on the book cover (see above) and the other provided contact and purchasing information. A good bookmark should sell you and your book.





I’m Working Here

This summer I had the good fortune to meet author James Duffy. Most recently, he wrote this fascinating book about the Pacific theater in World War II:

He’s written more books than I ever will, and he’s done so while working a full-time job. James frequently turned down speaking engagements because he didn’t have the time. He was always working, whether at his day job or nights and weekends at his writing.

Now, whenever I hear the phrase “I’m working here,” I think about the life of a writer. We’re always working. The day job pays the bills. The writing, well, it both keeps us sane and drives us crazy.

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Right now, it’s keeping me sane. I’m doing what I think of as preliminary writing: working on a book proposal. Still, it’s writing and it’s history. It keeps my mind off the great swirl of contemporary politics. As a historian, I’m more comfortable dealing with events that happened in the past. For now, I keep the radio and the television turned off and keep my eyes and fingertips on the keyboard. I’m working here.

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More on the Writing Life of a Historian

For historians who research, write, and publish, the entire process can take years. First you think of a topic. Then you poke around to find out what’s been done and what’s still left to do. You figure out what you can bring to it that will be fresh and interesting and that will matter.

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Then you research and you start writing. Somewhere along the way you start talking to people about what you’re working on. You get advice (some good, some not so much), you get encouragement (some enthusiastic, some not so much).

You keep writing. Then you ask people you know and trust for feedback. You rethink, you revise.

You keep writing. Then you have a finished manuscript and it’s time to find a publisher.

I love success stories. My current favorite is Megan Kate Nelson’s. You should read her wonderful article about how she secured her book contract. And not to take any drama away from her story, there was bidding involved. Bidding! That’s one of the things that puts the cherry on the top of the years-long effort to write a book–more than one publisher wants the book and they are willing to pay a steep price to get it.

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So, with eyes on the prize, I continue to work on my book proposal.



From Expert to Novice and Back Again

So I’m still here, at the start of a new project. I’m trying to stay focused on phase one: pull enough stuff together to write a winning book proposal.

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It’s strange to be back at the beginning where I’m still learning. Since the publication of my first book

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I’ve been an expert on this one thing: the history of American women in the Philippines. I wrote two more books about them, so I’m not exaggerating the expert thing too much.

With the new book project, I only possess a very basic knowledge of the subject, barely enough to write a cohesive introductory paragraph. So I’ve been researching like mad, trying to get a feel for a new place and time, trying to understand the lives of a different group of women.

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And already I’ve been stunned by the professionalism and generosity of archivists at two different institutions who have responded to my inquiries with lightning speed, offering to get items to me as soon as possible and even offering additional suggestions. I wish I could name them right now, but that would prematurely give away my book’s topic. I’m already keeping a list of names to include in the book’s acknowledgments. It’s a small way to pay a big debt. (That, and maybe a free copy of the book.)

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I know the archivists aren’t working just for me, but it seems like they are. No one writes a book alone, and archivists are an essential part of the book creation community. I’m fortunate to be able to tap into their expertise. Pretty soon, some of that will rub off on me.


Launching a New Book Project

I’m not a fast writer. When I hear authors talk about how it took them two or three long years to write a book, I struggle to hide my reaction.

I can take two or three years to research a book. Even then, research continues as I start writing.

Since Angels of the Underground was published last December, I’ve been casting about for a new project. I really wanted to return to one I’d started before Angels, but every time I raised the subject with my agent, she was skeptical. I was amazed at how quickly she could run down a list of concerns about the commercial viability of the project.

Although my day job is as an academic historian, I want to write books that will sell well. I figure if I invest so much in creating them, I’d like to see a material return on that investment.

I spent the early part of the summer working on an abbreviated book proposal, to clearly map out for my agent my vision for the project she was skeptical about. And she still wasn’t convinced.

So it wasn’t until this month that I started pitching other projects.

And one stuck. A very good one, we both believe. It’s another story of a group of “ordinary” American women who make an extraordinary contribution to a U.S. war effort. (No more details at this point. I don’t want to jinx it.)

I’ve started work on the book proposal, which will end up at around 50 pages of overview, market analysis, and chapter synopses. Then it will go out on submission in hopes of finding an editor who thinks the book is as exciting as we do.

Stay tuned. It may be a long haul.