A Response to Ted Savas

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I feel a need to respond to this before I head out tomorrow. Back in February I shared the jacket description for Stephen Hood’s new book about John Bell Hood. I suggested that it was just a bit over the top given the claims that the author makes about previous Hood scholars. The book would somehow show that previous scholars ‘ignored or suppressed facts sympathetic to Hood.’ In other words, these scholars were engaged in nothing less than a hatchet job. Yesterday, Ted Savas, who operates Savas Beatie Books responded to my post.  Here are some choice excerpts:

The post implicitly challenges the author and publisher (me) to put up or shut up. Many challenged him on his post (as well as one of his comments, which I found rather silly and a direct shot against me and my company), Kevin tried to shut down the conversation by saying he was simply too busy and was likely not even going to read the book. Huh? I guess it is fair game to take the time to pull the trigger on a drive-by post, and then, well, close your laptop. The least he could do is comment on all the reviews, which thus far have been very favorable….

Still, because this book challenges establishment writers (not all of whom are professional historians), I am expecting blow back from the elites who look down on independent publishing and authors who don’t hold a Ph.D. (Spoiler alert: Generally speaking, many who hold doctorates can’t write to save their lives, but they do have damn good editors who make them read like Faulkner. Some day I will post about that.)

Before responding to this let me first make it perfectly clear that I have nothing but the highest respect for Ted Savas’s accomplishments as a publisher. He has attracted some excellent Civil War historians and his books can typically be found on what is left of the skeletal remains of our nation’s bookstores. That is no small feat in this market. As a new author I appreciate Ted’s emphasis on traditional marketing and his use of social media. Because of this I’ve thought that Savas might be the perfect home for my next book on the myth of the black Confederate soldier.

Back to Ted’s response. First, it looks like he is confusing two separate posts in which this book has come up. The more recent post can be found here in response to what I thought was a half-hearted review of the book by Dimitri Rotov. Ted took issue with one particular sentence and I apologized. It was a mistake to include it. Dimitri and Stephen Hood also took the opportunity to respond.

At no point in either post did I attempt to “shut down” discussion and it is dishonest of Ted for suggesting as much. Anyone is free to leave comments. From the beginning my interest was with the way the book was marketed. At no point did I comment on the contents of the book because I had not read it. I stand by those concerns and time will tell if the book stands up. Those of you who have read it are free to share your thoughts below. Unfortunately, right now I don’t have time to read the book nor am I particularly interested in the subject. If that is sufficient to call into question how a book is marketed than so be it.

What I find most troubling, however, by Ted’s response is the reckless use of my post as somehow evidence of a broader turf war between academics (the elites) and popular writers. The implication is that I somehow fall into the former category, which is absurd. I am so tired of these overly simplistic and “silly” distinctions that ultimately only work to highlight the insecurities of those who insist on pointing them out.

24 comments… add one

  • Scott Manning Aug 3, 2013

    To be fair, you essentially called them out with a title like “Your Book Better Deliver On Its Promises.” If you had no intention of reading the book, then it is difficult to see your post as anything more than “drive-by blogging.”

    • Kevin Levin Aug 3, 2013

      The post is perfectly clear as to what I was getting at.

  • wkerrigan Aug 3, 2013

    I think your criticism of the blurb was perfectly fair, and makes it clear you are critiquing the blurb not the book. The blurb contains two things almost guaranteed to scratch a book off my “to be read” list: 1) mentioning that the author is somehow related to the subject s/he is writing about and 2) over-the-top accusations against previous scholars who have written about a subject. The first one is neither a qualification nor a reason for me to read the book; the second tells me that the work is unlikely to be one with a sophisticated or nuanced argument that is going to leave me with a better understanding of the general subject. It is perfectly legitimate to offer a critique of a marketing blurb. Perhaps the marketing blurb does an injustice to what is in fact a very worthy work of scholarship, or perhaps it captures the author’s tone and motivations perfectly.

    • Sam Hood Aug 3, 2013

      It is amazing the reasons some people disqualify books. The surname of the author? Or the “over the top” (whatever that means) manner that the work of previous authors and scholarship are challenged?

      • Kevin Levin Aug 3, 2013

        No one is disqualifying anything. You have every right to question the interpretation of others. That is how serious analytical history is done. Again, I was simply questioning the marketing of the book and not the content. That some people do not understand the difference is simply astounding.

      • wkerrigan Aug 4, 2013

        Here’s what I mean by “over the top:” “Authors misused sources and ignored or suppressed facts sympathetic to Hood.” The blurb asserts that previous scholars writing on Hood set out to deliberately deceive their readers. That’s a pretty serious charge. There are hundreds of books on my always growing “to be read” list, as I am sure there are on yours. The marketing blurb is very often going to be the thing that wins or loses potential readers. You and your publisher believe this one will appeal to many readers, and you may be right. It does not appeal to me. Best of luck with your sales. As we’ve seen most recently with a new book about Jesus, generating controversy can be a highly effective way to sell books, so Kevin Levin may have done you a huge favor, and your publisher may have extended that favor with his rant.

        • Kevin Levin Aug 4, 2013

          I appreciate Ted’s honesty. He pretty much confirmed my suspicions in the original post. I have yet to see a formal review so the verdict is still out on the specific claim that I found problematic.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 3, 2013

      Again, I think it should be clear to anyone who reads the post as to what it is that I am directing my comments. The only Hood book that I’ve read in recent years is by Brian Craig Miller. I am not familiar at all with the broader historiography related to Hood nor am familiar with the historians mentioned in the blurb. The author has every right to challenge the claims of others.

      It’s as simple as this: I was perusing forthcoming books and came across the Hood book. Given other jacket descriptions that I’ve read and given my own experience writing one for my book I thought this one stood out like a sore thumb. I shared some thoughts about it.

  • R. Alex Raines Aug 3, 2013

    What I think is fairly important to note – at no point did Mr. Savas argue about the concerns raised in either of your posts. I find that a curious defense.

    He treats your posts as ad hominem attacks and focuses instead on reader reviews, which does not address the concern raised about possible bias and a lack of objectivity in the book. I’m also struggling to see how Mr. Savas’ claim about ‘independent publishing’ fits this situation. I do not believe Savas-Beatie is an independent publisher.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 3, 2013

      I noticed that as well.

    • Theodore. P. Savas Aug 3, 2013

      @Alex: You wrote: “I do not believe Savas-Beatie is an independent publisher.” No offense intended, but do you know what defines an independent publisher? In the publishing industry, “independent” (i.e., on your own) means a publishing house–often referred to as a “small press” or an “indie press or publisher”–that is not part of a large conglomerate or corporation. I can assure you that Savas Beatie (no hyphen) gets no support from any outside corporate interests and is not part of a large conglomerate. (If that day comes I will jump off the roof or scuba into the sunset). I believe I did reply to Kevin’s comment(s) in a comment on the other (February) thread, as did many others. If not, or if not to your satisfaction, let me know what else you would like me to reply to and I will happily do so. And Ted is fine.Mr. Savas makes me feel even older than I am.

      @Kevin. I appreciate the kind words about our press and your forthcoming work. Having written or overseen literally hundreds of jacket or book blurbs (not just for my company–I did it for many other presses as well), the Hood book required in my opinion a different angle so comparing it to yours seems like comparing apples and oranges. What is the purpose of the jacket/advance blurbs? I believe it is to generate active discussion and buzz about a product to raise brand awareness and to stimulate interest, that we then in turn work to translate into sales. These threads prove we succeeded on that front, and the first edition is 2/3s sold after just a month. It was not a small run. Have a good trip.

      • Kevin Levin Aug 3, 2013

        Hi Ted,

        I appreciate the follow up. I wasn’t comparing my book’s jacket description with anything that you’ve overseen; rather, I was pointing out that I am familiar with the process. It did indeed spark some discussion, which was all I intended to do in the first place. You apparently interpreted it as an attack, which it was decidedly not. I simply raised some questions about what was then a forthcoming title. Your post attacking my integrity (stifling discussion on my blog, etc.) has no doubt sparked additional interest in the book. Glad to hear that the book is selling.

      • Brooks D. Simpson Aug 3, 2013

        “What is the purpose of the jacket/advance blurbs? I believe it is to generate active discussion and buzz about a product to raise brand awareness and to stimulate interest, that we then in turn work to translate into sales. These threads prove we succeeded on that front, and the first edition is 2/3s sold after just a month. It was not a small run.”

        I think you achieved your objective, and you have, among others, Kevin to thank for that. All Kevin was saying was that the book “better” deliver on the promise offered by the blurbs. I’m sure you believe it will.

  • R. Alex Raines Aug 3, 2013

    Ted,

    Using your definition of independent publisher means that the UNC Press is an independent publisher, no?

    • Ted Savas Aug 3, 2013

      Alex–I don’t know UNCP’s specific business structure or pedigree, but if I had to bet I would say no. Unless it is absolutely on its own (which I doubt), then it is affiliated with the university, which receives funding from a wide variety of sources and likely funds its own press.

      I do not know of anyone who considers or refers to a university press as an “independent” press, and in the publishing world it is always “independent publishes AND University presses.

      But I am still unclear on your overall point?

      • Kevin Levin Aug 3, 2013

        Ted,

        I just read Amazon’s reader feedback. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them reviews. For the most part all they do is repeat the overall theme of the jacket description. I look forward to reading a real review that actually examines specific claims as well as his methodology.

  • Dale Fishel Aug 5, 2013

    Starting at the “top”…Stephen Hood’s book does objectively refute the claims that other authors have made. There’s no mystery as you suggested in the “somehow” included in your remarks above, Stephen Hood is very specific in reference to tracking source material for every one of these claims and does so objectively and eloquently. There is no “hatchet job” as you apparently assume, just a logical approach to the examination of other authors’ works and the sources applied. Also included are the omissions of information that would be considered supportive to General Hood, some from the same references these authors use to criticize him. And if “hatchet job” is appropriate here, read their books for classic examples of same.

    I have to say that I was surprised that after inspiring much of this thread and insightful responses you claim not to be “particularly interested in the subject”. You have explained your time constraints (the reason makes me especially envious, by the way) but I encourage you to follow-through when you return and devote time to reading the book and then post again.

    In my opinion, Mr. Hood has set down a virtual primer on how history should be researched and written.

    For Mr. Kerrigan: When I first met Stephen Hood about 10 years ago we quickly forged a lasting friendship. As a descendant of a Federal soldier who frequently fought against General Hood’s Army of the Tennessee I brought a natural bias to our friendly discussions, and of course, I assumed that he would do the same. As time passed and I devoted time to carefully research the issues and events that are germane to this discussion I had to completely re-assess my opinions of the General. Much of this was due to applying the same kind of objective evaluations of reference material that Stephen has recorded in his book. As I have done above in my plea to Mr. Levin, I would encourage you to read the book. I’d love to see your evaluation, too.

    I feel strongly that Stephen has “delivered on (the books) promises” as paraphrased by Mr. Manning.

    Maybe it’s just easier to cling to the myths perpetrated by previous authors than search diligently for the truth, as Stephen has done. I can assure you that General Hood was no different than leading generals on both sides in respect to doing his duty with the resources available. That, is in fact the story for all of them…he was not an exception.

  • Rob Baker Aug 5, 2013

    Sorry Kevin, that previous comment was intended for this thread. I have not heard of any reviews, all I know is that Lee found it favorable.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 6, 2013

      Glad to hear it. Does he say whether or not Sam Hood demonstrates that previous Hood scholars intentionally distorted his record?

      • Rob Baker Aug 6, 2013

        No mention of that, sorry. I included a link on the other comment. He said the book is forcing him to rethink a lot about Hood, even though he does not agree with the every premise. Hopefully Lee can give you his opinion in person when you stop by Chickamauga/Chattanooga Battlefield on your Civil Wargasm ;)

  • Sean Dail Aug 8, 2013

    I have found this thread fascinating, for a number of reasons. I must admit that when I first read about this book, I was immediately suspicious. Over the years, I have seen in print (primarily in the CW News, but perhaps elsewhere as well) letters from and stories regarding Mr. Hood, and they usually contained fairly over-the-top attacks on Wiley Sword’s work. That may be unfair and oversimplified, but it is way my mind connected to Sam Hood’s name when I saw it. So reading the strong wording of the blurb automatically turned me off to the book. It wasn’t until I saw some well-respected names attached to positive impressions of the work (and of Sam Hood himself) that I began to reevaluate, and I have purchased a copy to decide for myself. So while I was not crazy about the blurb, it generated sufficient interest to separate me from some cash just the same. Hopefully, the tone of the book is more even-tempered than the material I am remembering…

    • Patrick Young Aug 8, 2013

      Interesting observations Sean. I never buy this sort of book. Why should I care if Hood was treated unfairly or not? But the marketing through controversy seems to be working.

      By the way, in spite of all the negative things Kevin has said about my blog, you should check it out yourself since I don’t think he has actually ever read it. Then you can come back here and tell more people to read my damned lies/excellent research.

    • Theodore P. Savas Aug 9, 2013

      Sean, thanks for the post and I hope this finds you well. I think you will enjoy the book, and hope that you do. Don’t skip the Introduction. Ted

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