Harper Press has recently relaunched the History In An Hour brand. From starting out to the relaunch has been a relatively short amount of time and a very enjoyable journey. It was two years ago, a damp Wednesday morning in September 2009, I wrote the first words of a short book I called World War Two In An Hour. But it was in 1999 that I first had the idea for History In An Hour. Then, having thought of it, I promptly forgot about it – for a whole decade.
I’d like to say I was waiting for the right time, that all along I was predicting the age of the self-published author, a time when a writer could strike out on their own and make a success of it. But what held me back for so long was the embarrassment factor. Could a writer, writing books of little more than 10,000 words, really be called a writer? By mid-2010, I’d written three of these books and somehow it still seemed like cheating.
I started off with a few basic principles – to write attractive prose, hopefully, in a manner that engages the reader, starting at the beginning and finishing at the end. No diversions, just a simple, straight narrative. I wanted to present the facts of the story without judgement. Nor did I allow quotations from historians, although I did allow quotes from the time – one can't write about World War Two without quoting Churchill - it simply can't be done!
I was writing history books but without presenting anything new – because that wasn’t the idea. I wanted to write what I called ‘history for busy people’; essentially, I think, I was writing for myself - over the years I'd accumulated a sizeable library of history books. Most of them are fairly thick. Only a few of them have I read cover to cover.
Two months later it was done – World War Two In An Hour. I had the image I wanted for the cover, the text and an idea of layout, and managed to find someone handy on PhotoShop to put it all together. And so I had my first ebook ready to go – but how to sell it? My first avenue was the hugely fast-growing self-publishing site, SmashWords.
The book went on sale on Smashwords in early November 2009. It sold its first copy on 7 March 2010 – yes, it took four months for someone, somewhere, to buy a copy of my book.
Once I got going, the momentum carried me forward. I bought the domain name (http://historyinanhour.com), put together a simple website and launched it on 7 December 2009 – I chose a historic date, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
About the same time a software developer company called Collca (Collca.com), run by Mike Hyman, was looking to design an app to sell on Apple's iTunes store.
Using my second title, The Cold War In An Hour, the app was released in early April 2010. Other titles followed – Black History In An Hour, Nazi Germany In An Hour plus titles by other authors, such as 1066 In An Hour by Kaye Jones. Other platforms followed as well – the iBooks store, Nook, the Sony eReader and, naturally, the Kindle.
So I had the product, the means to sell them, but how to market? That was the hardest part. Using Twitter and writing a blog helped, as did a lovely review for FutureBook by historian, Andrew Roberts (“This is the way of the future for history publishing”), but ultimately I was one bloke in a bedroom armed with a Mac and surrounded by history books. How could I, by myself, get the message across? It can be done, I know, but when someone the size of HarperCollins says, ‘we can help you out here’, then how could I resist? The crime-writing duo, Mark Edwards and Louise Voss, found themselves in a similar position, doing exceedingly well as self-publishers and being offered a deal by HarperCollins. They signed. I did too.
So History In An Hour now belongs to HarperCollins. They’ve edited the texts, designed some exciting new covers and have rebuilt the website. They are 12 titles available and many more planned for 2012. It’s only been two years but that damp Wednesday morning in September 2009 seems a lifetime ago.
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