What gives an author inspiration? Author Tim Carroll and I share a love of history and books. His first successful work, World War II Akron (2019), is based on a topic covered in past posts on this site--World War II. He released his latest book World War II Cartoons of Akron’s Web Brown on April 20, 2020 in the midst of the pandemic. So far he’s had better online sales on his website than for his first book World War II Akron. His author events have been cancelled and postponed. Authors can appreciate the difficulty of losing so many sales through these engagements. Tim was willing to share his inspiration and some publishing experience below.
I got the inspiration for my book on World War II Cartoons while researching for my first book World War II Akron, released March 18, 2019. I discovered that the Akron Beacon Journal cartoonist Web Brown was one of the best cartoonists in the country and spent months going through every cartoon he produced from 1929 to 1945. I loved every minute of it and used forty of Web’s cartoons as part of the 108 images I had in World War II Akron. I received a lot of positive feedback on World War II Akron including on Web’s cartoons which readers seem to enjoy. It was not easy to convince my publisher to publish a book on cartoons because there are few successful books published using historical cartoons. That is mainly because very few people have attempted to publish books using historical cartoons. The only books you can find on World War II cartoons are bad ones with propaganda drawings and some that take advantage of the fame of Dr. Seuss and Bill Mauldin to try and sell books. I originally wanted to call my book the Best Cartoons of World War II but my publisher is local history focused and insisted on having Akron in the name. To be honest I don't like the title and I’m still slightly annoyed I couldn’t publish it with my preferred title.
Attempts at Publication
I have a history degree from the University of Akron and wrote a book called 364 More Days which recapped my grandfather's first year in the army after being drafted March 1, 1941 in the first peacetime draft in American history culminating with him being sent overseas March 1, 1942 for thirty-three straight months in the Pacific shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. I garnered some interest in 364 More Days from several publishers and came close to landing a contract but in the end had no takers. The History Press was interested but gave a weak rationale why they didn’t want to publish it. They had published World War II Cleveland and since I was determined to write a book, I pitched World War II Akron to them. They liked 364 More Days well enough that they gave me a contract for the Akron project. It ended up being a great experience and I learned a lot publishing my first book. Even though I was frustrated at no contract for 364 More Days, I am glad I published World War II Akron as my first book.
I know my work is good enough to make a living as a writer, yet I don’t have a big enough publisher to make consistent money. That is the frustrating thing about the publishing industry. They keep you out here starving because they have not found a way to find good writers and market their work. Publishers and agents will act like they know what they are doing but they really don’t. They prefer to publish the work of well-known people knowing the public will buy those books even if what they have written is complete crap. I don’t have much respect for an industry that doesn’t make the effort to find good historians and instead takes the easy way out. There is a lack of creativity in the industry that is embarrassing.
New Format and Next Steps
World War II Cartoons of Akron’s Web Brown tells the history of World War II through 237 of Web’s great cartoons which are in chronological order from 1934 through 1945. It is a unique book. I don’t believe anyone has published this many World War II cartoons in one book. A short 1,000-word introduction is followed by 237 of Web’s cartoons in chronological order starting in 1934 with captions of up to eighty words telling the history of the war. I looked through over 1,000 of Web’s World War II cartoons and selected 237 of his best.
I would like to publish more cartoon books in the future and am actively collecting cartoons on a variety of subjects. It will be a tough road ahead because no one has done much with historical cartoons before. As stated before, I've found the publishing industry is always afraid of the unknown, unwilling to publish something new no matter how good the idea may be.
World War II Akron has sold well over 2,000 copies in its first year which was well over my publisher’s goal of 1,000 and that was mainly because I promoted it extensively throughout Northeast Ohio. The pandemic has hurt the sales of World War II Cartoons of Akron’s Web Brown, but I think the sales of the book will take off and it will outsell World War II Akron. These are my thoughts on the beginning of my writing career, and I hope I have given you some insight into how I got started.
Ann Otto writes fiction based on factual as well as oral history. Her debut novel, Yours in a Hurry, about Ohioans relocating to California in the 1910’s, is available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kindle. Her academic background is in history, English, and behavioral science, and she has published in academic and professional journals. She enjoys speaking with groups about all things history, writing, and the events, locations, and characters from Yours in a Hurry and her current projects, which include research about Ohio’s Appalachia in the 1920’s and a compilation of her father’s World War 2 letters. She blogs on history and writing and can be reached through the website, https://www.ann-otto.com/ , or at Facebook@Annottoauthor and www.Goodreads.com