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.


You have to kiss a lot of frogs

Gov. Harry F. Byrd

I’ve amassed a ton of material in writing this book. In fact, the records I’ve found and the interviews I’ve done are the parts of the project that I am most proud of. Still, I think about the missing pieces, the treasures yet to be discovered.

I dream of finding a diary written by one of the men who lynched Shedrick Thompson, or an eyewitness report in a local newspaper. I dream that maybe someone from the Thompson family is still alive with photos of Shedrick and stories to tell about him. I’d love to find a letter from former Gov. Harry F. Byrd to one of his friends, imploring them to do whatever it takes to make this embarrassing incident go away. I’m ever-optimistic that one day one of these treasures will turn up.

That’s why I was excited recently to learn that the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond has a collection of  letters that once belonged to Roy Flannagan. Flannagan was a Richmond News Leader reporter who covered the Thompson case. He was also campaign manager for Gov. Byrd’s failed presidential campaign in 1932. (I know, it was a different time, when no one was bothered by having a reporter work for a politician.) Frances Pollard and the staff at the Historical Society were kind enough to examine Flannagan’s papers for me and determined that they contained no mention of the Thompson case. I was disappointed but not surprised. Many of these hunting trips produce no quarry. Or as they tell young women: “You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince.”