A warm, orange sun rose over Gettysburg National Battlefield as I drove in from the west on the Chambersburg Road Thursday morning. Wisps of fog inhabited the low areas of the landscape, reinforcing the quiet solemnity of this place. Like many visitors, I was astonished to witness a scene of such horrific carnage now appearing so calm and beautiful. I walked the paths in the National Cemetery, and parts of the battlefield, hoping that the dead heroes and other ghosts inhabiting this mystical scene would appreciate me uncovering a long-lost piece of Gettysburg history, while forgiving me for the shameless self-promotion I was about to undertake on its behalf.
Ray Matlock and his own army of dedicated volunteers with the Gettysburg Foundation could not have been more welcoming or encouraging. I feel like a little worm on the ocean floor of Civil War scholarship, watching whales like Holzer, McPherson, and Blight swimming above me. Dare I be so bold to suggest that I had anything new or significant to offer? For the time being, at least, I could pretend so and peddle the book, while I waited for the rock star Civil War historians to render their verdict. I signed up as a patron with Ray’s team and made my way to the Cyclorama. It was the only way I could keep from checking the UPS tracking number every ten minutes to see if the first carton of newly-printed books had arrived at my hotel.
As I exited the Cyclorama with the morning’s bucolic battlefield memories obliterated from my consciousness, I checked my phone again. The books had arrived! I rushed to the Hampton Inn full of the excitement that I imagine most first book authors feel when they are about to see their work finally in print. I expected to hyperventilate. Instead, as I carefully paged through the book, I felt only relief. The research was a joy and the writing challenging and invigorating. The book production process, however, was an arduous slog, made bearable only by my strong and dedicated ad hoc team of professional designers, editors and printing experts. Now that the book was finally done, I put on my marketing hat and hit the street.
Cold-calling museums and independent booksellers was not on anyone’s list of recommended book marketing techniques, yet I felt that a personal call in these days of email spamming would be a good way to start to gauge interest in the book. After all, if this story would not “scour” in Gettysburg, 2500 hard bound books would someday move from my garage to the recycling bin. I donated copies to the Adams County Library, Peter Carmichael, and a few other local luminaries. All the museum bookstores have a review process that will take time. Then I walked into For the Historian on York Street, nosed around a little, and gave Larry Weindorf my elevator speech. He thumbed through the book, asked about the price, and told me he would buy five copies, or ten if I signed them. I returned after I wore holes in my shoes, signed and delivered them. By then, all but three books in the case of 22 had been spoken for. Encouraged and exhausted, I hit the rack at 8 p.m.
Friday morning, I had breakfast with licensed battlefield guide Joe Mieczkowski. Joe graciously offered to assist me in networking in the local history community. Lunch with my dear friend Gary Henderson turned into a spontaneous roadshow to Mechanicsburg, where I met Jim Schmick at his store, Civil War and More. The portfolio and the book in hand must have been a dead giveaway, as Jim announced us as salespeople the moment we entered his shop. After perusing the pages politely, Jim turned the tables on me. I walked out with two books and a free lecture on troop movements in and around the town. It was a real pleasure to meet a local historian so passionate about preserving the past and sharing stories.
Saturday found me driving again up highway 15, this time to Harrisburg and the National Civil War Museum, run by Wayne Motts. What a gem in an extraordinary setting! While I waited for the museum to open, I struck up a conversation with two couples on vacation from California. When they noticed the book I had brought to drop off for Wayne, and discovered that I was the author, they wanted to buy three books. I only had two left. I had to chuckle as they insisted on pictures and signed copies. I hope they did not mistake me for someone famous!
The hardest work of this journey into independent authordom is just beginning. Next year I hit the Civil War Round Table lecture circuit with whistle stops already scheduled in California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. This should be fun!