The cost of doing business

This high-resolution image of Robert Russa Moton of Tuskegee Institute cost $55.
This high-resolution image of Robert Russa Moton of Tuskegee Institute cost $55.

One aspect of preparing this book for publication has surprised me. I’ve had to pay for photos, and they’ve been expensive.

I should say quickly that I didn’t have to pay for photos. I could have refused and used only my own photos or those that were free, but the book would have suffered if I did.

Photos are important in my case because History Press will be publishing The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia. The company tends to publish shorter books with lots of photos. That was a good fit for me, since my story was only 28,000 words, about a third the size of many other nonfiction books. Also, each time I interviewed someone or traveled in Fauquier County, I took pictures. So I had some photos, and I knew I could meet the terms of my contract, which says that I must submit 30 to 80 images along with my manuscript.

The surprise came when I received a copy of the company’s “New Clever Tricks for Publishing,” its handbook for authors. The handbook said, in so many words, don’t send us any crappy photographs: no thumbnails, photocopies or old newspaper clippings. They want digital images with a minimum resolution of 300 dpi and a minimum width of 6 inches. Banks Smither, my editor, translated that for me. “We are looking for at least 1,800 pixels wide,” he said. And he told me how to find that number under the image’s properties section.

So if I wanted photos of Walter White, Robert Russa Moton, Harry Byrd and Roy Flannagan in my book, the images would have to meet History Press’ specifications. And to get that kind of high-resolution photo, I would have to pay for it.  I sent $27 to the Library of Congress, $55 to Tuskegee, $50 to the Library of Virginia, $81.50 to the Virginia Historical Society, and $28.50 to a contractor for the National Archives. The total bill for five photos was $242.

That cost doesn’t make any sense when you compare it to the royalties I will receive when the book is published this summer. I’ll have to sell more than 100 books to pay for those five photos. But I try to banish that thought from my head when it surfaces. Instead, I think about holding the finished book in my hands, flipping through the pages. I want it to be complete and attractive. After all, it will have my name on it.


Welcome to “The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia”

I spent hours looking at microfilm copies of old newspapers, including here at the Fauquier Library in Warrenton.
I spent hours looking at microfilm copies of old newspapers, including here at the Fauquier Library in Warrenton.

The History Press decided in September 2015 to publish The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia: Searching for Truth at Rattlesnake Mountain. I’m told that the book will be available for sale in autumn 2016. Between now and then, I hope to use this space to tell you about it, including the research I did, the people I met, and how I wrote it. I’ll also talk about the technical aspects of publishing, at least from the author’s point of view. I’ve spent a lot of time lately doing production tasks that I didn’t know a book writer had to do. These include collecting up to 80 photos, numbering them, and marking places in the text where they will go.  Still ahead is something called an image checklist. Apparently someone, somewhere, in the production process will use this checklist to make sure each photo is in its proper place. I’m more comfortable with the writing part of book-making. This is my first book, though I was a newspaper reporter and editor for 36 years. Even so, I was excited when the editorial board at History Press in Charleston, S.C., agreed to offer me a contract and publish my story. Banks Smither, the editor I have been working with, had recommended publication, and he told me that he would notify me of the board members’ decision on the day they met. I checked my email dozens of times that day, awaiting word. Finally, at 5 p.m., Banks wrote to say that the decision was favorable.  “Everyone is very excited about the project and I think we’re really going to have a wonderful book to represent the hard work and great story you have to tell,”  he wrote.

I liked that part of his email: “the great story you have to tell.” The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia is a great story–sad but interesting and important. I hope you will enjoy it.