Evolution of a Book

About a month ago, my first book came out – co-authored by Eric Wittenberg.  It’s titled Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg and is published by Savas Beatie LLC.  It’s been selling extremely well – the first print run sold out within one week, and online sales, such as Amazon, are very brisk.  So brisk, in fact, the book has consistently ranked in the top one-half of one percent of all books sold on Amazon since its release.  We were quite astonished at the reception the book has received, and we’re very grateful to everyone who has purchased it and for the extremely positive feedback it’s garnered.

Over the past few months, and especially since the book’s release, I’ve been asked a multitude of questions about the process of writing a book.  Eric has written a few times about this topic on his blog, and I thought I’d post some thoughts as well in a periodic series of entries.  First, I’ll address one question I get quite often – what was it like to co-author a book vs. writing one by myself?

Just a little history first.  Eric and I met over ten years ago through mutual Civil War interests, and have been close friends ever since.  Our common interest in the cavalry bonded us, and at the time, Eric’s first book had just come out.  Over the ensuing years, we shared research, gave tours together, and formed a writing partnership that benefitted from our similar and unique perspectives.

I’ve often heard of nightmares happening when two writers collaborate on a book.  I can see how dissimilar personalities and goals can make for a clash of heads.  However, what Eric and I found was that in spite of our dissimilar backgrounds (he’s an attorney born and raised near Philly and admittedly left on the political dial – I’m a small-town insurance broker and would often make Rush Limbaugh sound like a raving liberal) we write nearly identically and enjoy the study of all things cavalry like nothing else.  Eric became such a good friend he was one of my groomsmen at my wedding 3 1/2 years ago, and we treat each other as brothers.

Prior to “Plenty of Blame,” we’d already written a book together – along with fellow friend and cavalry buff Mike Nugent.  It deals with the cavalry during the Gettysburg and Retreat, and should appear early next year from Ironclad Publishing.  “Plenty of Blame” took many forms during the manuscript stage – which I’ll talk about another time – but when we set out to write it, it was easy for us to divide up the work and work separately at first, since each of us had particular interests in different segments of Stuart’s ride to Pennsylvania.

Each of us, then, wrote half the chapters ourselves, and sent them to each other when finished.  Because our writing style is so similar, it’s very easy for us to edit the work of the other.  And never along the way was there ever a difference of opinion that made any impact in the final product.  I guess our goals are so similar that there was always mutual agreement about including this or that, or changing the focus of something.

So, it’s important for the reader to realize that in this book, each of us wrote about 90% or so of half the chapters, with the other 10% being the editing/additions of the other.  But it all flows so well that everyone has remarked that it’s impossible to tell who wrote what – even those who know our writings very well.  As for the Conclusion, it’s definitely a collaborative chapter – as it should be.  Eric had previously written several pages for it, and when I did my part it was about three times as long.  Eric then took it and with his additions, we each had about half into it.  And our conclusions and opinions in that chapter fully reflect what we honestly feel, based on everything we’d uncovered for the ride narrative during our research.  Even folks who may not entirely agree with our conclusions have told us that we’ve made a solid basis for our opinions, and that’s what we’d hoped for.

We also learned quite a bit from each other during the process.  One of Eric’s specialties, for example, was the events at Carlisle.  Eric is an alum of Dickinson (I also attended post-graduate studies there for a summer) and had been collecting information on Stuart’s July 1 visit for years.  Much of what is in those chapters was new to me.  I had long studied the fights at Hanover and Hunterstown, and formed much of those chapters around a base of soldier letters, diaries, memoirs, and newspaper accounts I had collected for a long time.  One look at our huge bibliography, and the reader easily sees that we brought tons of unique and rare sources to bear for this book.

So, I don’t know about other author partnerships, but the one between Eric and I – and Mike Nugent too – works just fine.  Eric and I have just begun writing a three-volume study of all cavalry actions during the Gettysburg Campaign, and the process will be just as smooth for us.

Working with someone with whom you have so much in common makes the research and writing anything but lonely – and that’s a good thing indeed.

Published in: on October 20, 2006 at 1:50 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. JD,

    Well and accurately said. In fact, other than those aspects where you’ve specifically identified things, I would challenge any reader to try to identify where my work ends and yours begins and vice versa. It amazes me how similar our writing styles really are.


  2. Even my wife couldn’t tell the difference in the writing.

    That would make for an interesting study – having those who know us well (or those familiar with your previous books), after finishing the book, giving their opinions as to who wrote the majority of which chapters. I’d love to see the results of that! I’m sure all answers would be different – and some would be close, and others the opposite of what they are.


  3. As one who has read Eric’s books, and am reading “Plenty Of Blame To Go Around”, I can’t tell who wrote what. That said, can hear your voices while reading the words. 🙂


  4. JD:

    When I got my copy of “Plenty of Blame to Go Around,” Eric bet I couldn’t tell which chapters were penned by him & which were penned by you. Well, I accepted the challenge & knew that I could figure it out. I was wrong. I’m sure “One Continuous Fight” wil flow just as smoothly.


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