Continued Questions About North and South Magazine

Today I received a comment on a recent post concerning North and South Magazine [website is still down] from Donald E. Collins, who is a professor of history emeritus at East Carolina University and the author of the book, The Death and Resurrection of Jefferson Davis (Rowan and Littlefield, 2005).  Here is the comment:

I hate to resort to public comments on the internet, but as an author in the current (Dec. 2008) issue of North and South, I have reached a point of frustration. I personally consider North and South to be the best popular Civil War magazine on the market. Regardless of the quality of my article on the controversy within the Confederacy on the first National Flag, I believe the selection of articles in the December issue is excellent, and am pleased to have my article included. I have found my conversations with Keith, and Terry before him, to be very pleasant. Yet my frustration with North and South comes from several things. My article on the controversy in the Confederacy over the first national flag was accepted approximately two years ago by Terry Johnson, and was scheduled in the following issue. But when Keith took over, his emphasis shifted to the military and my article sat on a tw0-year back-burner until I lost patience. But my current frustration comes from six weeks of failure to contact Keith or anyone else at the magazine, and of the failure of Keith to either pay for my writing or to send me even one free copy. I had to pay full price at the newsstand for my own article. Is there any way to have the magazine provide author copies, if not the pay? Even with this, I am a fan of the magazine and hope for its success.

I’ve made clear my position on the quality of the magazine over the past year, but I appreciate and share Professor Collins’s sincere wish that publication of the magazine continues.  It would be interesting to know if other authors are experiencing the same problems.  What I don’t understand is how does Keith Poulter expect to maintain a quality magazine if he does not honor his contracts?

22 thoughts on “Continued Questions About North and South Magazine

  1. Eric Wittenberg

    Kevin,

    I am aware of another author from the same issue who has had the same problems with communication. As I am on the outs, I don’t know anything more than my prior posts here. However, the company’s web site is gone completely, and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the company was entirely defunct.

    And to address the point about author copies, it’s never been a priority. You might also be surprised to learn that even though I own almost 10% of the stock in the company, I never got a free subscription and have always had to pay for the magazine. I never understood that.

    I wish it well, as I hate the thought of losing my investment, but I have no reason to be optimistic about this.

    Eric

    Reply
  2. James Bartek

    Kevin,

    I empathize with Professor Collins. I submitted an article to N&S in December 2006, right after Terry Johnston left. Mr. Poulter called me back immediately (twice, in fact) and said he would definitely publish the piece – and soon. Of course I was excited, it being my first publishing venture. Well, an entire year went by. Familiar with the slow turn-around time for most academic journals, I wasn’t terribly concerned. I emailed to check on its status. Keith responded by informing me he had just returned from China, and would look at the article -soon. Another year went by. In the meantime, someone published an entire book on the same topic (Lee’s failed raid on Point Lookout prison camp in 1864), and I had pretty much given up all hope of the article seeing the light of day. Now that I’m on the academic job market and looking to pad my CV in any way possible, however, I emailed Keith yet again back in October. He replied promptly and we had a pleasant conversation about the upcoming election. He assured me that I could certainly list the article as “upcoming” on my resume, as it would go to print in Vol. 11, #3 (Jan/Feb, I think). Sounded good, though I was a bit concerned when he said he was glad to hear from me, because he had lost my contact information. In fact, he asked me to resubmit the entire article, because it was nowhere to be found on his end. I happily complied, but it was disheartening, as I had spent a considerable amount of time editing the piece as per his original suggestions 2 years prior – and had even created a map to accompany it.

    So, here we are in February, and after checking the latest issues, I see no sign of my article – even in the “pipeline.” Oh – does N&S pay $ for articles??

    Jami

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  3. Kevin Levin Post author

    James,

    Sorry to hear about your experience with N&S, but I can actually beat it. Back in 2005 I wrote a piece on how I use the magazine in my elective course on the Civil War. I ran the idea by Keith and he encouraged me to go ahead and submit it for consideration. The article was eventually accepted for publication and even appeared as forthcoming in one of the issues. It was never published. When I contacted Keith he indicated that the piece had been dropped. I have no problem with that, but this guy made no attempt to contact me or to explain why the decision was made. Luckily, I was eventually able to find a home for it.

    Reply
  4. Paul Taylor

    Kevin -

    You may recall that my situation from last spring is/was identical to Professor Collins’. My article on Orlando M. Poe appeared in vol. 10, no. 6 which was the initially agreed upon issue following my submission several months before that. However I have yet to see any compensation (10 cents per word / max $500) and never received the 10 free author’s copies I was told to expect, despite repeated attempts to address the situation with Keith.

    Sadly, I’ve given up and washed my hands of the matter. If a check ever shows up, I’ll consider it found money. Needless to say, any future articles I write will not be offered to N & S.

    Also Kevin, you ask about “honoring contracts.” I’d love to know if any N&S authors actually had a signed contract? I, admittedly, did not. I was told that the arrangements were pretty simple; that the magazine paid at the above-stated rate and that checks were cut a month or so after the issue was mailed. Considering the positive reputation that I then held of N&S, I basically said okee-dokee and went with it. Color me naive, however I now doubt that a contract for $500 would have mattered much.

    Paul Taylor

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  5. Crystal Marshall

    After reading the above comments, I wonder how North and South continues to circulate, given that the editors seem to be incredibly slow in acknowledging and publishing articles? Who would want to write for such a magazine that also doesn’t compensate the authors fairly? If they don’t publish submitted articles in a timely manner, where do they get their material for each issue? Perhaps they are just now publishing articles submitted back in the 1980′s. So, for the freelance contributors to that magazine, don’t worry, you will see your work published–you may just have to wait 20 years.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I’ve been wondering the same thing. I remember when the magazine first started in 1997 and I was amazed at the line-up of top-notch scholars that contributed to the magazine. My guess is that they’ve fallen off over the past year, which is disappointing given that this was the premier magazine in the field. In fact, Keith re-defined the scope and content of a popular history magazine. I’ve already decided that I am not going to renew my subscription this year.

      Reply
  6. Jimmy Price

    This is indeed depressing. I can remember the excitement I used to feel whenever a new issue of N&S would come out. The latest issue elicited more of an “ugh.” Question is — where do you turn? CW Times seems to be the best alternative at the moment.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I know what you mean. My plan is to subscribe to CWTI. Dana Shoaf has done an incredible job since he took over. I highly recommend it.

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  7. Ethan Rafuse

    I am stunned at how many contributors to recent discussions regarding North & South seem to be, to quote Lincoln, “blind to the signs of the times.” Am I alone in recognizing what many here do not seem to notice; namely, that these are not exactly the best of times for a business, and that is what North & South is? To expect Keith’s operations, as it seems so many here do, not to be affected negatively by the current situation just is not realistic. I share Kevin’s high opinion of Dana Shoaf and his work at CWTI and ACW, but am I the only one aware of the fact that CWTI has cut back on the number of issues it publishes each year. Is there anyone who does not see in this a reflection of larger forces that are also effecting North and South?

    I am in no ways an apologist for Keith Poulter, but at the very least there is no need to be a jerk and say “would be really nice if someone intelligent took over North & South.” I really doubt there is much different between the Keith Poulter of the late 1990s who started the magazine and got it running great and the Keith Poulter of today . . . but we ain’t in the late 1990s anymore. Frankly, that Keith has managed to get the magazine as far as he has in this economy is no little accomplishment, one that I doubt many in the peanut gallery could have pulled off.

    Finally, James, if you are on the academic job market publishing in North & South to “pad” your CV probably is not a smart idea. You will be far better off trying for an academic journal–those are the articles that count and give you credibility in academia. (Why do you think folks like Kevin and myself have been willing to take no pay for our contributions to those publications or close to it for contributions to books published by academic presses?) Indeed, the truth is you may actually be better off leaving an article in North and South OFF your CV altogether. Certainly, you cannot be unaware of the fact that articles in “pop history” publications are frowned upon in a not-inconsiderable segment of the academic history profession and the reasons why this is the case. At the least, you should put them under a separate heading from your academic publications to make clear to hiring committees that you recognize the qualitative distinction.

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  8. Kevin Levin Post author

    Ethan,

    I have no doubt that the economy is part of the explanation for some of the difficulties experienced by North and South. And you are probably correct that the Keith of today is not much different from the Keith of the late 90s, but as you note we are experiencing tough times and perhaps that simply will not cut it when many of us are forced to make tough decisions as to whether to spend money on such a luxury as a Civil War magazine. Finally, many of these stories seems to point to incompetency from his end as editor, which clearly cannot help the situation.

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  9. Ethan Rafuse

    Kevin:

    Is it incompetency as an editor–or simply the consequence of one person trying to do too much because he can’t afford the necessary staff to assist him?

    I would also add a point I have raised before in discussions of N&S. That is whether its struggles are not also a reflection of not only problems in the larger economy, but the fact that interest in the Civil War peaked long ago (due in large part to a grossly oversaturated market) and has been in a steady decline for a while. In fact, we may well look back on the arrival of N & S as the point when it tipped. At that time, we already had CWTI, ACW, Blue and Gray, Civil War, Columbiad, and Civil War Regiments competing for (and no doubt diluting the overall level of quality of) the popular history market, while Civil War History, Lincoln Herald, and innumerable topical, state, and regional journals provided outlets for academic Civil War material. Civil War, Columbiad, and Civil War Regiments (perhaps not coincidentally all works that made the same serious effort N & S has made to find a happy medium between serious academic and pop history that may well not exist) all went by the wayside, while the academic journals have benefitted from their not inconsiderable insulation from the market. In this light, I think N & S’s ability to survive as long as it has (undoubtedly benefitting from the diversion of quality material that would have gone into the three aforementioned late outlets) says something positive about the man running it.

    I understand the frustrations expressed above, as I too have experienced my share with N & S. But folks should know it is the rare publication where you will not experience delays or find other sources for grumbling. Editors and publishers have many forces at work on them that are not evident to readers or contributors, but are no less important to the process of producing a decent magazine or journal than providing what prima donna contributors demand in the way of rapid and satisfactory responses to concerns they want addressed yesterday.

    In sum, too many here are spouting off with apparantly no understanding of the perspectives I am trying to communicate. I know it is frustrating, but the bottom line is that if you don’t have the patience to wait an extra month, two, or three with an editor or publisher, then you should probably find some other field of endeavor to devote your time and energies to.

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  10. James Bartek

    Ethan,

    Thank you for the advice. And Kevin, thank you for providing a forum in which to discuss the tribulations of N&S. How many others, I wonder, are sitting in the dark on this issue?

    While I am perfectly aware of the “qualitative” differences between popular history magazines and academic journals, I would hardly consider William Freehling , James McPherson, and Mark Grimsley, all regular contributors to N&S, as “pop” historians. I would be more than happy (and humbled) to have my name appear beside them – academic “frowning” be damned.

    From what I can gather, the real difference between a “professional” academic journal and a “popular” journal such as N&S is not the quality of the articles nor the pay or lack of it. Rather, with an academic journal, the author can eventually expect his work to be firmly rejected or published. With N&S, one apparently runs the risk of perpetual limbo – accepted, but never published; rejected, but never informed. And, as all professional historians well know, it’s bad form to submit an article to one journal while it is still “under consideration” (or in my case, “accepted”) by another.

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  11. Kevin Levin Post author

    Ethan, — I appreciate the way you’ve framed the issue with an acknowledgment of the broader market, and I agree that N&S’s shelf life is due, in large part, to Keith’s commitment. My frustrations are not so much as a contributor, but as a consumer who can only afford to subscribe to one magazine along with the four academic journals that I receive. As I’ve stated before my biggest complaint is with the quality of the articles over the past year. During that time Dana Shoaf the quality of the articles in CWTI has greatly improved to a point where I plan on switching subscriptions. I just have to wonder whether the problems experienced by some of the comments above has kept Keith from being able to commission quality articles.

    James,

    The main difference between an academic and popular publication is that the author is expected to contribute to the historiography of a given topic. This is done with original archival research as well as thorough analysis of the sources collected. Manuscripts are sent out by journal editors to blind reviewers who offer critiques which are then sent to the author. Those critiques may call for outright publication, but more often than not they offer critical comments which will aid the author in the rewriting of the essay. Popular magazine may or may not have a blind review; more than likely the editor will make the decision of whether to publish. Finally, academic journals and popular magazine differ in the style of writing and the balance between narrative and analysis. Good luck with your work.

    Reply
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  13. Doug Walton

    I was looking around to send an e-mail to complain about the recent decline in quality. I have been a subscriber since issue 1. I also read CWTI, Blue and Gray and Gettysburg Magazine(also since issue 1). When I read that stuff was done in China, I guess I shouldn’t complain about misspelled words, bad grammar, or just plain wrong words like “shoes” instead of “shows” in picture caption on page 84. I hope things get squared away.

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  14. Kevin Weddle

    Ethan,

    I hear what you’re saying, but I draw the line at publishing an article without the author’s permission. That’s what Keith did with an article of mine in the June 2008 edition of the magazine. I had submitted the article a year earlier, but had heard nothing except a vague “This looks like something we might be able to use” response. Then it magically appeared in June with no notice, no permission, no proofing, no nothing. Plus, he got my rank wrong! Repeated attempts to contact him over the intervening months have yielded nothing. I could care less about compensation, but this is absurd. I’ve talked to a number of journal and magazine editors about this and the unanimous opinion is that what he did was incredibly unprofessional and dishonest at best and perhaps even illegal.

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  15. Ron Walker

    I think Keith is a jerk. I was told, “…you can get three years subscription for $150″ and I did so. That was a year ago. So far it is costing me $75 each for the two magazines I have received.

    Reply
  16. Marty

    Hello I have been in the process of trying to get a back issue of North & South Vol 1 No. 1. as I am working on a history of DeGolyer’s Michigan Battery. I would greatly welcome a copy of the below article. Thanks

    Page 42
    The Chattahoochee River Line: An American Maginot
    by William Scaife

    Brigadier General Francis Asbury Shoup, Chief of Artillery for the Confederate Army of Tennessee, designed a system of fortifications along the Chattahoochee River in 1864 which were unique in the annals of the Civil War. Dubbed “Shoupades” in honor of their architect, these mutually-supporting little fortifications could have played a key role in stopping Sherman’s march on Atlanta, says Scaife. He even compares the Chattahoochee River Line to France’s World War II era Maginot Line. Editor Keith Poulter refutes this extreme importance, pointing out that a line of Shoupades able to cover the entire front would have had to extend 40 miles long, a defense line length for which there were not enough Confederates troops.

    N&S Centerfold
    Page 47: The Chattahoochee River Line Map
    Page 48: Federal Order-of-Battle
    Page 50: Confederate Order-of-Battle

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      You should be able to order back issues from the magazine’s website if it is still available.

      Reply
  17. James B. Jones

    Although congenial, Mr. Poulter is, from most of my experience, hard to pin down, elusive one might say. I have been paid for 2 of the 5 articles I have written and were published in N&S. I have one that I imagine is sitting on his desk, and I imagine further under a pile of submissions. I was told it would appear in “the next issue” but apparently not. I wonder why, as a contributor above mentions, there are no written contracts. I suppose because Mr. Poulter cannot pay writers and publish his magazine, too. The thrill, yes, I believe that is the correct word, of seeing one’s work in print is diminished by what seems to be a lack of candor on the publisher’s part. Is he aware that such behavior dulls the passion writers’ feel for thier topics, or is it that he focuses so tightly on N&S and his profits that he exploits. Perhaps there are so many potential contributors that he doesn’t really have to concern with writers, “forgetting” that if it wasn’t for writers he’d have no magazine. I believe it is a matter of not submitting work to him, a writer’s strike. It’s not as though we have anything to lose – he doesn’t pay us and makes no attempt to communicate. N&S writers unite, we have nothing to lose but the existence of N&S! Send him a formal letter withdrawing your unpublished article and demanding payment for your published work. I’ll wager that will get his attention

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      You should consider Civil War Times for future projects. As you can see Mr. Poulter’s when it comes to dealing with writers is pretty clear. Best of luck.

      Reply

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