Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Last Blog Post

On my first day interning, Ted told me that at Savas Beatie, two plus two equals ten.


Hundreds of e-mails, two press releases, five interviews, six or so copy-editing jobs, ten minutes of organizing the magazine rack, one hour of taking notes on inventory, countless conversations, three meetings, four filing projects, 18 blog posts, and thousands of observations later, I’m writing my final post.

Was Ted right? I think so. Sure, there’s always a giant stack of papers to shred, a couple invoice files to organize, maybe even some envelopes to lick. But I haven’t been doing that. Did I think that during my internship I’d be writing daily? That what I wrote would be posted on the Internet, read by actual people?


Did I think I’d meet authors, talk to them, and ask them questions? I don’t think so.

Was I expecting to sit in on meetings? Did I think I’d be treated like I actually worked here and wasn’t just a high school student dropping in for a few weeks? Or that I’d be able to copy-edit actual books (I am sure they checked things after me!), and help write press releases that would appear in newspapers?

For sure, no!

I think everyone at Savas Beatie showed me what two plus two did equals ten means. Everyone makes sure their work is valuable, and produces results much greater than the sum of its parts.

I’m ready to come back, during my spring break or next summer, to experience the unusual equation again.

This summer just flew by! Thank you Sarah, Ted, Veronica, Tammy, and Alex, for making Savas Beatie such a great place to work.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Interview with Ted Savas, Part 2: Personal

PG: Tell me about your family.

TS: Well, I've been married to Carol for 21 years, and we have two children, Demetrious (DT), age 13, and Alexandra Maria, age 18. DT is in 8th grade, plays saxophone and loves baseball. Alex is a sophomore in college and loves history, government, politics, and such.

PG: I wonder where she gets that?

TS: That apple barely left the branch. (laughing)

PG: What do you like to do in your free time?

TS: My hobbies are writing, baseball (playing a little, usually with my son, and watching a lot), reading, and since I don’t have a real job, sitting at my desk doing what I love with the best staff in the world is like a hobby.

PG: You said you enjoy watching baseball. What team(s) do you follow?

TS: I follow the Minnesota Twins, because I used to live in northern Iowa, and I also follow the San Francisco Giants because I live out here and I regularly get tickets to see their games. Great stadium, a solid team, and a day at the park is better than doing just about anything else.

PG: What is your favorite book?

TS: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

PG: Why?

TS: Because it identifies who you are and who you aren’t. It’s about liberty and the freedom of the individual, versus regulation and the enslavement of the individual, all for the “common good,” of course.

PG: But everyone is for individual liberty, right?

TS: No. Many who think they are act against their own interests without really realizing it because they are emotionally wrapped up in something. Think about what you support in your own life, how you conduct your own personal affairs, and then compare that to what you are willing to tolerate by public officials, and then study history. If you do that, you are forced to reevaluate who you are and what your priorities are. It can be very sobering when you scratch out a list and compare how you raise your kids and run your household with how you vote, for example, and the policies those politicians support. So often they conflict completely. There is a real cognitive disconnect out there.

PG: What would be your ideal place to live?

TS: Since I control where I live, the ideal place for me to live is where I am right now.

PG: (laughing) Not a desert island?

TS: Of course, I’d love to sling a hammock on a palm tree somewhere with coconut drinks and native dancers, but since I have to make a living, I guess where I live right now works just fine.

PG: What is your favorite movie?

TS: I really don’t have one. In the top ten would be The Prestige, Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, and Schindler’s List.

PG: Do you watch TV?

TS: Not really. A little news, a little history/military channel, and some sports, but overall very little.

PG: What about your ideal meal?

TS: I would be with my wife, in a city we don’t usually visit, in a cozy authentic Thai restaurant that we’d just discovered. We would start off with old-fashioned drip iced coffee (the old French style—hard to find these days). We’d then have some coconut-based soup and spicy noodle dish, followed by a panang curry, spice basil beef, and top it off with mango sticky rice.

PG: Sounds like you’re a big Thai fan?

TS: Absolutely.

PG: What was your dream job as a child?

TS: Being a bass player for a world-famous hard rock band.

PG: Did you play any instruments?

TS: I played several: clarinet (I was so-so), classical piano through two years of college (I was pretty good), a bit of guitar, and bass guitar (which I played very well).

PG: What kind of music do you like to listen to?

TS: I love certain kinds of classical music. Primarily Mozart, Chopin, and some Bach in strings or on the harpsichord. I enjoy some soft music, like that of Dan Folgelberg and Gordon Lightfoot. But my favorite group, for the past thirty years, hands down, is Iron Maiden.

PG: Really? Iron Maiden?

TS: Yes.

PG: Why?

TS: These guys are exceptionally intelligent, amazing musicians, and are impossible to classify. Are they hard rock? Yes. Are they heavy metal? Yes. Are they something else impossible to pigeon-hole? Absolutely. Is it intelligent music? Yes. They write about grand historical events (Alexander the Great, the Charge of Light Brigade, D-Day, the Battle of Britain, etc. ) and they do it with amazing melodies and intricate scores. Their stuff is just incredible, and very few bands can play it.

PG: How did you find out about the band?

TS: I used to play in bands when I was younger, and we used to play a couple Iron Maiden (Running Free, and Transylvania). I kept listening to them over the years, and as I grew older, the band became better and better. The members are very intriguing. One of them (the lead singer) is a commercial airline pilot. In fact, he actually flies the band’s tour jet. He’s also a rated fencer in the UK. The bassist, who’s the driving force of the band, is a musical and business genius, and is also a semi-professional soccer player. These are professional musicians, exceptionally talented and lead very stable lives.

PG: What’s your favorite song?

TS: Probably The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

PG: What's that about?

TS: It's based on a very long poem of the same name written in the late 1790s by English poet Samuel Coleridge. I first heard the song live last year. Somehow I’d missed it before that. It’s a 13-minute theatrical production, really, and really close to the original poem. It’s a thing of artistic beauty to see and hear live.

PG: Who, in your opinion, is the most interesting historical figure?

TS: Jesus. Because if he lived, and if he endured what he endured, and did it for all the reasons we’ve been led to believe, then it’d be hard to say that the impact he’s had on the world has ever been surpassed by another historical figure.

PG: That’s interesting. What about your favorite military historical figure (since you publish so many military books)?

TS: There are so many. George Washington was an amazing and very complex man, and the more I study him, the more intriguing and larger than life he becomes. He’s one of the very few examples in history, maybe the only example, of a person who led a victorious army and could declare himself king, but refused the glory and left to go home. When he was elected president, he served well (who could have done better?), and when the time arrived, he stepped down and gave up power, setting the precedent for the peaceful transition of the presidency.

PG: What do you see yourself doing in the future?

TS: I picture myself doing what I’m doing now. Hopefully, I’ll be making the right decisions to grow the company, help my employees grow and thrive both professionally and financially, and do the same for our wonderful authors. I want to continue to put out books that people will read and enjoy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Interview with Ted Savas, Part 1: Business

Ted and I have had some nice chats over my last few days here at Savas Beatie. I decided to break up our talk into two separate interviews, one focusing on business and the other on personal info. Here is the first. I will post the second part on Monday.

PG: What sparked your interest in historical books?

TS: I’ve always loved history since I was a little kid. It’s something I was born with. When I was about 11 or so, my grandfather gave me a copy of Douglas Southall Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants. I read it cover to cover, found and read the next two volumes, and set off on the trail that has led me to where I am at this point in my life.

PG: What about writing?

TS: I’ve always loved reading and writing, too. I used to write little 3-page stapled “books” when I was a kid, pretending I had a publishing company. This was back in the mid and late 1960s, so I guess I was fated to do what I do. (laughing)

PG: You are professionally trained as a historian, but you are also an attorney.

TS: Yes. I have a BA in American history with a minor in European history, and I finished about one-half of my master’s in American history before jumping to law school.

PG: How long did you practice law before moving to publishing, and what made you switch?

TS: I practiced law for 12 and a half years. Four or five years after I began practicing, I started publishing on the side with my friend Dave Woodbury (see for more information). That triggered the launch of Savas Woodbury Publishers, a quarterly journal called Civil War Regiments, and a slew of good Civil War books. David and I parted about 1996. But the bottom line is that for about eight years I ran a publishing business and a law practice at the same time. It got to be too much, and in 1998 I realized I had to choose.—my wife demanded it. LOL I surprised nearly everyone and chose the smaller (and often no) paycheck.

PG: What made you decide to start your own company, rather than work at an existing one?

TS: Because if I worked for somebody else they’d fire me.

PG: Are you serious?

TS: Yes.

PG: What makes you say that?

TS: My wife bought me a t-shirt that says “Runs with scissors.” I like to work on my own time, with my own schedule, and I like to do things my way. I want to dress however I want. If I want to take Wednesday off and take my family somewhere, I’d rather work all night the day before. Most employees can’t do that in their chosen professions. I can, and I am fortunate.

PG: Why did you move the company to El Dorado Hills?

TS: We grew tired of Silicon Valley. My dad was very ill in 1998, so we moved back to Iowa for a short time so he could spend time with my kids and we could just unwind. When he died, we moved back to California—to El Dorado Hills—because it’s a better place to raise your kids, my brother and his family lived here, and it was a lovely area with wineries, a major airport close by, and Lake Tahoe just 70 miles away.

PG: How many of the submissions that you receive do you decide to publish, and how do you choose which to publish?

TS: Like all or most publishers, we select a small percentage of what we get in. We’re looking for original, well-thought-out concepts that are well researched and creatively presented. There’s got to be something new and fresh and unique about the book. If there isn’t, we aren’t interested.

PG: I read somewhere that you have also been a teacher. Could you comment on that?

TS: I taught government and history at a high school in Iowa for a semester while I was in and out of grad school. I’ve been teaching college classes since about 1991.

PG: In the evenings? Even now?

TS: Yes. Right now the class I teach most is U.S. history, post-World War II to the present, and legal classes. Usually, I scrap the “official plan” for the first night, and I talk about the founding of our country.

PG: Really, why?

TS: The vast majority of our country is clueless at best about any of this material. It’s amazing how many adults—30-40 years old, with kids and jobs—say they don’t know anything about the history of our country.

PG: And that’s why you’re publishing historical books.

TS: Yes. I started Savas Beatie in 2004 with my partner Russell Beatie because the independent book market was not producing the sort of books that I thought we could produce. I think we’ve been filling a need in the marketplace, or at least I hope we have been. Cap Beatie plucked me from my sedate consulting life and thrust me back into the publishing world, and I owe him a debt on that score forever.

PG: Is Mr. Beatie active in day-to-day operations?

TS: No, that’s my job. But we speak 2-3 times each week about manuscripts, the direction of the company, and so forth. He’s a great partner. I could never had done this without him.

PG: Were you ever afraid that the investment would not pay off? Were there ever times when you felt you made a mistake in leaving law?

TS: No. I’ve never felt I’ve made a mistake. My advice to everyone is do what you’re passionate about. Whether it’s stand-up comedy, cleaning stalls, or publishing books. Sometimes I miss the money in law, but I love the fact that we’re producing quality books that people love and learn from. I think we’re furthering the historical discussion and for that we’re thankful.

PG: Do you see Savas Beatie branching out into historical fiction, fiction, or other genres in the future?

TS: No.

PG: Why not?

TS: It’s really not our strength. It requires an entirely different marketing and distribution model. My theory of business is to stick with what you do best, and then do more of it, better than before.

PG: I’ve noticed that you’re publishing more current event titles recently, like Mollie Gross’s Confessions of a Military Wife, Joe Balzer’s Flying Drunk, Nick Popaditch’s Once a Marine, and so on, as well as the Sports by the Numbers Series. Is this a direction you intend to continue exploring?

TS: Yes. Current events for me are a reflection of what our country is, and a reflection of what will be one day our studied history. Current events, politics, etc., are a strong passion of mine.

PG: You have written/edited many books published in six languages. Do you have a favorite?

TS: That would be very hard to pick one. If I had to, I would say there are a related pair. I’ve edited two books that were a real joy to put together: Silent Hunters: German U-Boat Commanders of World War II and its follow-up companion Hunt and Kill: U-505 and the U-boat War in the Atlantic. Many of the contributors overlapped, and both books are selling very well in German and other languages. I’ve also ghost-written a couple dozen books for other publishers, authors, and agents. That was fun, but I can’t publicly talk about them much so I am not doing that any more.

PG: Are you writing anything now?

TS: Yes. I’m finishing a screenplay with a co-writer.

PG: Really? What’s it about?

TS: It’s called Faces. It’s a thriller in which history, religion, and science fiction intersect.

PG: That sounds interesting. Do you think you’ll be able to sell it?

TS: Well, who knows really? We have some real interest in Hollywood, and we’re working with a director/screenplay writer who has been reading it along the way and is excited by it, so we have our fingers crossed. We’re going to write the novel if we sell the screenplay.

PG: Are you working on anything else?

TS: Yes. We’ve just secured permission from Barbee Carleton, author of Mystery of the Witches’ Bridge to pen it as a screenplay.

PG: I’ve never heard of that book.

TS: It was a cult classic that was really big when I was a kid. It’s one of my all-time favorites. Ms. Carleton is 92, so I am not confident we can finish and get a movie made while she is alive, but we are sure going to try. I always thought the book should be a movie, and this fall we’re going to turn to writing the screenplay.

PG: Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?

TS: Yes. I went into detail on this in my blog post Why do you write?.

PG: Thanks Ted!

TS: My pleasure, Parul.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday Recap

  • Hoping to someday write a book myself, I always find it exciting when authors step into the Savas Beatie office. Ted went out to lunch today with local writer (Roseville) Richard Botkin. Sarah told me an interesting story about how he and Ted met:

Ted enjoys listening to Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, and began conversing with him via e-mail a few years ago about ancient history titles. Mr. Hewitt was in town a couple months ago, and invited Ted to have dinner with him and Richard. All three hit it off right away. Rich and Ted set up a time to meet again, since both live in the Sacramento area.

It turns out Rich is also an author of nonfiction. He wrote Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph, a history about the American and Vietnamese Marines who worked together throwing back the North Vietnamese invasion in the little-known Easter invasion.

I had the honor of meeting Rich and asking him about his book.

“Why did you write this?” I asked.

“I wanted to honor the Vietnam warrior and I also wanted to set the record straight on the story of South Vietnam. The valor and suffering of the South Vietnamese has not been chronicled very well,” he said.

Richard was also a former Marine Corps infantry officer, but he is not a Vietnam veteran.

The book looks interesting (Ted says it is a great read—the publisher sent him a copy in galley.)

The other week I got to watch one of our authors being interviewed on TV. Today I got to sit in on my first author radio interview. Sarah turned up her computer speakers at 11:35 a.m. and at 11:40, the Don Shelby Show (Minneapolis radio station WCCO) had Joe on as a guest. The host seemed to really like the book Flying Drunk. He recommended that everyone read it.

"I'd fly on a plane you were flying any day, Joe. That's how much I trust you. I recommend that everyone read Flying Drunk"

It still took me by surprise to hear Ted, Sarah, and Veronica dissect the interview (they were discussing feedback and tips to give to Joe, how he could incite interest in his book, etc.). It was interesting to be more than just a viewer or listener, and instead have a behind-the-scenes glimpse at another interview. I am surprised at how much time everyone here spends on marketing and publicity. They really have outside-the-box ways of looking at things. I don’t know too much about publishing, but from what it looks like, not too many publishers are very proactive on their authors’ behalf.

It sounds like there are more to come next week too so I’ll keep you posted in that front.

I think that’s enough for this week. I’ll fill you in on Monday on what I’ve been working on the past couple of days.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Interview with Alex Savas

PG: What exactly is your position at Savas Beatie?

AS: I’m most like a marketing assistant. I handle a lot of the social networking and publicity jobs.

PG: How long have you worked here?

AS: I’ve worked on and off for five years. For the past couple of months, I’ve been coming in and working every day.

PG: Do you intend to come back next summer or sometime in the future?

AS: I might next summer, but probably only for the first half. I have plans to study abroad next summer and I leave in August.

PG: Where will you study abroad?

AS: Freiburg, Germany.

PG: Where do you go to college, and what are you studying?

AS: I’m going to be a sophomore at Santa Clara University. I’m majoring in Political Science, and I’m double-minoring in International Business and German.

PG: Do you know what you want to do for a living?

AS: I don’t really know at this point. I think I want to go to law school, definitely some graduate school. Also, I know I would like a career that enables me to travel a lot.

PG: Have you considered publishing a book?

AS: Yes. When I was in 5th grade, I wrote a story that my dad said I could publish, but I was only 10 then (laughing). But yes, I can see myself writing a book in the future.

PG: What is your favorite book?

AS: Probably Catch-22.

PG: Who, in your opinion, is the most intriguing historical figure?

AS: Socrates.

PG: How does it feel to be the boss’s daughter?

AS: Well, I’ve helped out from home before, so I’ve always felt close to Savas Beatie. It’s not really any different working here.

PG: Thanks, Alex.

AS: No problem. Thank you.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Monday Morning Meeting and More

Today, us Savas Beatie employees met and filled each other in on what we’ll be working on this week. I gleaned some interesting information and thought I’d share it with you:

  • Apparently galleys—advanced paperback copies of books for reviewers—are more expensive to print than final hardcover versions. Galleys cost about twice what it cost to print a final book, per unit. Shouldn’t polished versions of books cost more than quick advanced copies? I asked Ted and he filled me in on the publishing reality:

Very few galleys are printed, but it still takes a long time to set up the printer. On the other hand, final versions of books take far less set-up time in relation to how many are printed. Thus, galleys have a higher individual unit cost. Ted also mentioned that galleys need a different kind of printer. He said something about toner and the ink in galleys vs. the ink in normal books, but I didn’t understand it completely. He then explained that galleys are just “high-quality copying,” while the ink in normal books seeps into the pages (forgive me if I’m getting some of this wrong, but I think I’m on the right track).

  • After our morning meeting I heard Tammy and Sarah discussing Fed Ex prices to get a copy of Flying Drunk over-nighted to a prominent news network. More on that on Wednesday.

  • Did you know that almost 200,000 books are published each year in the U.S.? However, publishing companies only put time and money into marketing for 5-10% of them (they don’t schedule book signings/tours for most of their authors, which I was surprised to learn). The average book in America only sells a couple thousand copies, if that. If a book reaches about 7-8 thousand sold copies at a large publishing house, they determine that the book has potential, and the company will “counter attack” and “pour in their reserves” to help the book sell (the quotes are Ted’s words; he explained the marketing process to me this morning, apparently in Civil War terms). Savas Beatie follows a similar philosophy, and will do so even more as they continue to grow.

Our effort matches that of the author. If an author works to promote his/her book (by speaking at events, doing book signings, etc.), we put energy into marketing the book as well. And if a book does well on its own, Savas Beatie does what it can to help the book do better. If an author works hard, book sales will typically follow. If not, they won’t.

I think I’ve left you with enough to mull over for now. Check back on Wednesday to learn more about Savas Beatie’s other intern: Alex Savas.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

57 hours

Two p.m. today marked my 57th hour at Savas Beatie (us part-timers calculate how much we’ve worked on the last day of every month), and what a day it was: I forgot my laptop at home.

When I first realized I didn’t have it with me, I freaked out. Basically all of my work involves using Excel, Word, e-mail, or the Internet. I stepped into Sarah’s office hesitantly, fearing she’d tell me to go home (I live too far from the office to ask my mom to come and bring me my laptop).

Coincidentally, (and luckily) most of the projects she had planned for me today required old-fashioned, technology-free work.

I spent the majority of my time helping Veronica record this month’s inventory. By the time we finished, I truly appreciated the organizational skills of the librarians at the ancient library of Alexandria. Like them, we had to do it by hand. Veronica counted up the number of copies of each book, how many boxes we had for each one, etc., (while I noted everything down) and then she organized the storage room as she went. I guess bigger publishing companies and stores like Amazon must have everything computerized, and I can’t imagine having to do this periodically in a place with 100 times the number books Savas Beatie has in its storage room.

What’s interesting:

v Sarah showed me a newsletter from SPAN (The Small Publishers Association of North America). I found an interesting article about the “Millennial Generation”—Americans born between the years of 1981 and 2001. The article claimed that the “motivating factors” for America’s future leaders and customers are “convenience, customization, community, and ‘cool’”. As a representative of the Millennials, I found the article both hilarious and intriguing. Companies seek advice on how to better appeal to adolescents? How odd. The author even went into detail on how “cool” is defined and achieved. I found the section on “customization” particularly interesting:

“The Espresso Book Machine (EBM) has the capability to combine stories or chapters of different books under one cover. The machine is a robotic copier that accesses electronic files to create bound books on location in minutes,” it said.

And I thought publishing meant old-fashioned printing presses . . .

Before I go, I wanted to mention that the newly printed editions of The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook came in today (Poor Veronica; she spent all that time organizing that stack and now she’ll have to do it again). See you on Monday!