What Makes an Authors Point of View More Important Than Your Own?

Discussion in 'Historiography' started by Drew5233, Feb 21, 2012.

  1. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    Andy - I think Owen was right. Think about an OU course!
  2. Jon Horley

    Jon Horley Member

    Many moons ago, I worked for a much-respected and very rigorous non-fiction publisher. Although my job was selling subsidiary rights (translations, special editions &c), I worked alongside editors and production staff. What was clear was the difference between the first person account ("My 50 Years Down the Mines" type of thing), and a manuscript presented by an 'expert' writer.

    The first person accounts tended to be very heavy on anecdote, long-winded, repetitive, grammatically unsound, and of dubious historical value. The majority of these were returned with thanks and the hope that the author might find another publisher - most of them would have required a couple of years' work by expert editorial staff and be of little historical value even after that. They were, in other words, more like over-decorated and often fuzzily inaccurate personal accounts, often weak on chronology, names and dates and other data which future students of the genre might examine and learn from.

    The 'expert' manuscripts would be more purposefully written to timelines, with mostly the right names and dates, but in many cases would still require the input of expert editing. The manuscripts would be sent off to a reputable historian/subject expert to check for inaccuracies, and then back for the in-house editing process of removing repetitions, highlighting where conjecture might be being passed off as fact (another bad trait in the personal accounts), and tidying up spelling and grammar.

    Thus, if you're finding that authors aren't as accurate as they should be, this is as much down to inefficient practices at the publishing house. There's no excuse for writers to non-fiction to not get their research right (or to not do enough) - the bigger guns usually have a number of researchers, including picture researchers, doing a lot of the grunt work for them, but the ultimate responsibility for offering you, the reader, a correct and polished book is that of the publisher.

    I would say that it is as important to look at which publisher is offering the work as it is the author. There are some which are populist and which skim over complicated scenarios so as to appeal to a broad-brush audience, others which are painstaking to the nth degree, and whose indexes, bibliographies, and acknowledgments take up dozens of pages. If you're a more serious reader, then take a look at the bibliographies and see who the author has relied upon for source material. If the list contains respected names, then you should be able to buy the book with reasonable confidence.

    And don't hesitate to write to the editors of the publishing houses which have sold you a pup! If a book is selling decently, another run is usually planned - and the editor will then have the chance to check your criticism and make the correction in time for the next edition.
  3. BrianM59

    BrianM59 Senior Member

    This is the very subject I'm writing about - I'm not a 'professional' historian, which usually means one who has an academic career with the delightful addition of time off to research and write; yet I constantly find material from sources that have been overlooked or misused in some way. Regimental diaries as I'm sure Drew knows all too well are often composite documents, written well after events - and yet sometimes they have an immediacy which astounds. The problem with writing a book is that you just have to get on with what you've got at that point in time - I find it incredibly difficult to get the sustained time to sit down, plan and write, so my research and writing is all done in dribs and drabs -and there's always something to distract me! A lot of authors are writing to schedules, release dates, to order of some kind or other and lot of the 'popular' work is aimed at a very general market and not the sort of people who perhaps get on here often?
  4. Alan Allport

    Alan Allport Senior Member

    I'm not a 'professional' historian, which usually means one who has an academic career with the delightful addition of time off to research and write

    Ahem, the delightful distraction of teaching cuts into a heck of a lot of that research and writing time too!

    Best, Alan
  5. BrianM59

    BrianM59 Senior Member

    Ahem, the delightful distraction of teaching cuts into a heck of a lot of that research and writing time too!

    Best, Alan

    Sorry Alan, very late with an apology - I am a lecturer in a university, but I don't have a research contract and nor am I working on a subject that my department would consider legit for PhD etc, so yes, I do appreciate how much time teaching takes up and I realise that a lot of us get work out in spite of everything else.

    best wishes,

  6. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Having been an author myself, all I can say is that you must go to the sources closest to the event. Secondary works can point you in the right direction or the wrong one, so always dig into the primary materials to get it right. Yet contemporary sources can also mislead, and they're often incomplete. In my experience, regimental histories can be excellent sources for lots of things, but they tend to pull punches and shy away from controversial subjects. You won't often see a regimental history say something like "Colonel F was a bloody fool unfit to command a section," or "'A' Company put their skates on and ran for dear life." Actually, some regimental histories done in the last 20 years are liable to be more honest than those written in the 1950's, and better researched too. As for memoirs, interviews, and testimony, they have their flaws as well. Everyone wants to make himself look good; old men forget, and old soldiers sometimes embellish. Published versions of diaries can sometimes be quite different from the original version, Haig's and Brooke's being notorious examples of this. You have to look at everything, and you have to look at it from as many angles as possible.
  7. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Jon, I thoroughly agree with you about personal accounts. Most of them aren't history, but at best the raw materials for it, and a reader or a historian trying to use them has to sift the chaff from the wheat very carefully. As a writer, though, I found the burden of both researching and writing while trying to finish a doctorate and also keep myself fed very heavy. I had no one to assist me in the process. When my book finally appeared, it contained a number of typos and glitches that made me wince. I am not blaming the publisher at all, as I had time and opportunity to detect and correct them before publication.

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