Thursday, August 17, 2006

Author Q & A #2: John J. Fox III (Part 2)

This posting concludes my two-part (Part One) email interview with John J. Fox III, author of the 35th Georgia regimental history Red Clay to Richmond.

DW: Many books have an interesting path to publication. Can you take us through your own journey and tell us why you elected to go with your own personal imprint (Angle Valley Press)?

JJF: My path to publication has certainly been an interesting journey. In fact I gave a talk at our local library last spring and the title was “Curves and Speedbumps in Writing a Book.” A publisher gave me a gentleman’s agreement in the early 1990’s to publish my book. Various disagreements erupted including length and content. Several years later, in frustration, I asked for the manuscript to be returned. I found another publisher who gave me a written contract. This made me feel better, but in the end they jerked me around even worse. After sitting on my manuscript for three years the second publisher kept telling me it was coming out. This publisher was then bought out by a larger firm and I was told that my book was still in line to be printed. Well, after another year of waiting I asked some hard questions and discovered the new company did not intend to publish my book. I could have taken them to court, but I realized this would not help me get the 35th Georgia story out. The self-publishing idea had floated around in the back of my mind for a long time and I finally decided to really take a look at that option. After investigation I realized that I could publish the book myself and probably do a better job. So that is how Angle Valley Press began. It has been a lot of work, but I am still glad I went this route. Self-publishing allowed me to maintain control over all the content and design. All the approximate eight years of frustration with the other publishers actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The extra time allowed me to dig up more primary material written by the soldiers. The present book is a much more thorough account of the 35th Georgia wartime experience and I am quite humbled and proud of Red Clay’s success. I also like to think those Georgia veterans are staring down from heaven with smiles on their faces because their story has finally been told.

Comment: I should mention how well edited and well presented the text is as well. I've never been a person with a kneejerk dismissal of all self-publishing efforts, but, of course, only a very tiny minority are as high quality as this book and others such as Fred Ray's recent ANV sharpshooter study. I hope it doesn't turn out this way, but industry economics and declining CW interest might make self-publishing the only real option for an increasing number of CW studies.

DW: Your diligent efforts in tracking down manuscript source material will certainly be appreciated by readers. Were you able to find materials not consulted by any previous historians?

JJF: Most of the excerpted letters and diaries used to describe the 35th Georgia experience have never been published before now. Some of these items I located in various state/county archives and other items were sent to me by descendants of the soldiers. I located several obscure letters copied onto microfilm at the National Archives in Washington, DC. I even stumbled into the complete court martial transcript of Lieutenant S.G. Johnson’s trial that I included in Appendix D of my book. This remarkable document I know has never seen the light of day until now. The National Archives is a remarkable place. They literally have miles and miles of Confederate records on microfilm – records of unknown importance just waiting for the right researcher to give them light.

DW: Did you discover any significant gaps in the wartime service of the 35th Georgia for which you couldn’t find source material?

JJF: The Second Manassas Campaign caused me some problems. I really had to dig to come up with primary material related to my Georgians for the end of August 1862. Before the campaign began, several of my prolific letter writers were either lying in hospital beds or lying in graves. Because I had combed archival material for the 14th, 45th and 49th Georgia regiments plus located Federal material I was able to put the chapter together.

DW: Is there something I’ve left out that you’d like to bring to the attention of CWBA readers?

JJF: There is still 35th Georgia material out there and I would like to ask your readers who might happen to come across it to please let me know. I am interested in 14th, 45th and 49th Georgia information too. Also, the 35th Georgia’s first commander and later brigade commander, Brigadier General Edward Lloyd Thomas, was very reticent. Thomas’ fellow brigadiers would write battle reports several pages in length. Thomas’ report about the same battle would be three paragraphs. He was an excellent combat commander, quick to wave the sword, but slow to use the pen. This of course made my job somewhat difficult. Thomas was well educated (1846 Emory College graduate) and after the war served out West in the U.S. Land Department and then was in charge of the Indian bureau in the Oklahoma Territory where he died and was buried in 1898. There has to be a treasure trove of his letters somewhere, but I have not found them. If any of your readers find them I would be forever in their debt if they would let me know.

Comments: If anyone has information for John, there is email contact information at the press's website. See link just below.

DW: Thank you very much for your time, John. For more information about Red Clay to Richmond please visit the Angle Valley Press webpage. What can we expect from your next Civil War-related project?

JJF: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my Georgians and how the whole Red Clay to Richmond project came to fruition. My next book project is slated for release in Spring/Summer 2007. It will be about the Battle of Fort Gregg which closed out the Petersburg Campaign. Many people refer to this little known but significant fight as the Confederate Alamo. Numerous soldiers from both sides who had fought at places like Gettysburg, Sharpsburg, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House said this was the nastiest, bloodiest fight they had endured during all four years of the war. At least twelve Union soldiers received the Congressional Medal of Honor for storming the ramparts of Fort Gregg. Some three hundred Confederates manned the earthen walls of the fort at the beginning of the fighting and when they ran out of ammo and the hand-to-hand combat ended, only fifty-four remained standing. Why does this battle still remain obscure? It was overshadowed by the fall of Petersburg and Richmond; the surrender at Appomattox; and the assassination of Lincoln. However, if those sacrificial Southerners had not made their stand at Fort Gregg we would never have heard about Appomattox Court House. There are so many compelling stories of bravery that occurred at this terrible spot on April 2, 1865. I am excited about finally giving the brave men from both sides who fought at this place their due. Angle Valley Press also welcomes manuscripts from other historians working on projects related to Georgia and the War. I have an author working on a regimental history of the 50th Georgia and this book should be released in the Spring/Summer 2007 as well.

Comment: You're very welcome, John, and good luck with future publishing projects. The 50th is in good hands and it sounds like your Fort Gregg project will be a nice companion to A. Wilson Greene's history of the last moments of the Petersburg siege, Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion.

(Go back to Part One)


  1. Drew, you made a comment in my interview (Part II) about the industry economics and declining interest in the CW period pushing future authors toward self-publishing. Industry economics is definitely a problem for an unknown author. An unknown author has a problem getting his/her manuscript read by the larger publishing houses and if you lack a PHD history degree then this too is a black-eye. If you are published by the larger houses then the amount of money you see for your endless hours of work is miniscule. The self-publishing route is not free of its industry problems either. Everybody out there from distributors, to wholesalers, to bookstores wants a discount and this ranges from 40% to 63% off the cover price. The big wholesaler problem is that they can return books, no questions asked, for a refund. Let me explain the process for those who are unfamiliar with the book industry. Most bookstores order their books on a regular basis from the two largest wholesalers, Ingram Books and Baker & Taylor. If the books are not sold in a 1-3 month timeframe then many bookstores will ship the books back to the wholesaler who then ships them back to the publisher or the publishers distributor. The publisher still has to pay the distributor for shipping the order out and then receiving it back in and yet the publisher receives no money. It is a blatant racket that really screws the small publisher. Many might ask, "Why participate?" Well, the reason I play is most bookstores only want to deal with the wholesalers because it is easy for them. They can order books quickly from the wholesalers via computer and then receive one invoice per month instead of tens of hundreds of invoices from all the different publishers whose books they carry. By having your book available in the wholesale network your book can be quickly ordered by any bookstore anywhere. It increases a publisher's sales, but is not publisher friendly.
    As for declining interest in the CW period, I don't see that. In fact I am very optimistic about an increase in interest in this period. The 150th anniversary of John Brown's raid is right around the corner in October 2009. While I am not looking forward to the elements in our country who will make John Brown out to be a martyr, this anniversary will certainly generate a buzz that will focus on the 1850's-1860's. This will be followed by the same anniversary for the shelling of Fort Sumter and the start of the War in April 2011. The 100th anniversary of the War was a big deal in 1961 and the same will happen on a larger scale this time. Groups that can use video, music, and the written word to place a face and name to the immense sacrifices of the soldiers and civilians, both North and South, will continue to be successful. There are new generations of Americans eager to hear these stories brought to life in a compelling way.

  2. I was interested in the opinions of authors who elected to go with POD, so I looked through the messageboard of one of the larger POD companies. A broad range of experiences were present, from complete nightmare (i.e. binding falling apart;your cover, someone else's text inside, etc....LOL) to guarded satisfaction. One thing I was struck by is the cost. It remains almost prohibitively high, even with the 2nd and 3rd rate paper and binding materials, and was not helped by ridiculous shipping prices. At least for that firm, a lot of kinks need to be worked out.

  3. The other thing about POD is that bookstores will not carry the book. So your sales are directed toward nontraditional markets. POD books tend to look cheap too. I have zero personal experience with POD but I have heard and read some bad stories about the process. I do not know if Amazon will carry POD. Perhaps some of your readers know the answer to this.

  4. Amazon carries many POD books (I've purchased a few CW ones myself). Lots from Authorhouse.

  5. What are your thoughts on the look and feel of POD books?

  6. I've come across a few decent hardbacks but the great majority have the killer combo of high price/poor quality. Print quality is very mediocre all around, and the reproduction of photos and drawings are problematic to put it kindly. The paperbacks have been just awful. I have maybe 3 or 4 pb CW books from various POD outfits and they all have very lightweight wrappers, cheap paper, and terrible binding (all spines are warped and/or creased to some degree). As you can imagine my own little sampling has left me far from impressed with the current level of technology.

  7. This has been my experience too. In fact several years my book came out I heard of a book on a sister regiment in the same brigade. Thinking it might offer me some good info I ordered the $35 paperback off the website. When it came it was such poor quality I could only laugh. You know what they say about a sucker born every minute. It looked like they had gone to a Xerox machine, cut the pages with scissors and then glued a paper binder around the whole mess. This is precisely the reason that bookstores don't want to have anything to do with POD books.


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