Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Put a Fork In It! (Kind Of)

Last night I passed a milestone that I'm pretty pleased about. I wrote the last word for my forthcoming book, Lincoln's Labels: America's Best-Known Brands and the Civil War, due to be published by Edinborough Press in Spring 2008. I say "kind of" because the process is not done by any means - there will still be comments from the publisher/editor and additional feedback from trusted advance readers, reviews of galleys, etc. But, the research and main writing are done, and for that I am really happy.

Like many books, this project was the result of a long process. It began with my first "Civil War corporate history" article that I penned for North & South magazine more than 7 years ago (March 2001). That article was about the role of the Procter & Gamble Co. in the war. Fortunately, Al Nofi and Keith Poulter at N&S were pleased with that piece, and so more followed, including articles on Tiffany & Co. (Oct 2002), American Express (Feb 2003), Scientific American magazine (Jan 2006), and the Squibb drug company (Feb 2007)...all of which are "iconic" American brands that played an important role in the war.

From the start, I received enthusiastic and expert assistance from archivists at the subject companies. The N&S pieces were for the "Knapsack" section and necessarily had to be short (less than 1500 words). I almost always had more information than could fit into a short article, so I thought that perhaps they could be expanded into more complete chapters.

In 2002, I was fortunate enough to engage the services of a literary agent who saw merit in my idea. We worked for nearly a year on crafting and perfecting a proposal. He then sent it out to about a dozen large publishing houses, and while many were also enthusiastic about the idea, in the end none of them offered a contract.

I went back to "pounding the pavement" on my own and had some "close calls" with a number of publishers, including a university press, a regional publisher (with decidely Southern sympathies), and a publisher who specialized in the library market. Unfortunately, they all passed on a contract, but two of them offered comments that helped tremendously. The university publisher was especially helpful as she did pass the proposal and sample chapter through their "outside reader" process which was invaluable.

From the start, I received wonderful advice and support from historian-authors such as Eric Wittenberg. More recently, I obtained helpful feedback from Mark Wilson, an Assistant Professor of history at UNC-Charlotte, and author of The Business of Civil War; Russell Bonds, author of the FANTASTIC recent book, Stealing the General; and my good friend Guy Hasegawa, Pharm. D., a professional editor and Civil War medical expert.

Finally, in mid-2006, I was offered a contract by Edinborough Press, and I have been working hard on the manuscript ever since. To be sure, Edinborough is a "small press," but they specialize in American history, put out a really nice book, and have great distribution.

The book includes a Foreword kindly penned by Al Nofi from N&S, as well as chapters on:

Chapter One - Brooks Brothers
Chapter Two - Borden's milk
Chapter Three - Tiffany & Co.
Chapter Four - Scientific American magazine
Chapter Five - du Pont
Chapter Six - Squibb
Chapter Seven - American Express and Wells Fargo

I relied on published an unpublished biographies and corporate histories, period newspaper accounts, Official Records, soldier memoirs, and especially material from the corporate archives of the subject companies when available.

With the publisher's permission, I hope to share "sneak peeks" at some of the content over the coming months. Till then, I'd encourage you to look at some of the older North & South articles.

Best Regards,

Jim Schmidt

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