A Publisher’s Perspective on Notes

17 03 2009

Ted Savas tried to leave a comment on this post, but for some reason it never showed up.  Ted is the managing director of Savas Beatie publishing, which puts out a number a fine books on the Civil War and other military topics every year.  He sent me the following:

Hello Harry
My personal preference: footnotes, for all the obvious reasons. My professional (would like to see in all our titles) preference: footnotes, for all the obvious reasons.
The cost of laying out a book with footnotes is significantly more because it is much more difficult to properly space and match up notes and text (and then proof), especially if the notes are explanatory in nature and flow onto subsequent pages. As odd as it sounds, publishing software remains problematic in its handling of footnotes. Programs often lock and crash, text/notes can still flow page to page when chapters are opened, and so forth. (I remember having this discussion with Bob Younger of Morningside a decade ago. “That’s why we use hot-type,” was his reply, or something like that. I miss old Bob; he helped me a lot in learning the trade.)
There is another reason, less commonly discussed. We have had buyers for chain stores look at what they consider “general book trade” history titles with footnotes (our Shiloh book by Cunningham is one example) and call them “too academic-looking,” or “so scholarly looking it will turn off general buyers,” that sort of thing. These comments are jaw-droppingly ignorant, in my opinion, but they place the national buy orders. If the result is selling hundreds of copies to spread around nationwide, as opposed to thousands of copies it is a serious issue to consider. (We don’t commonly meet with this objection/observation, and it depends on the specific wholesale buyer, but we have seen this on more than one occasion; we work to fight through the ignorance.)
I know neither of these examples is very satisfying, but together they form the foundation upon which the current publishing edifice re: notes has been erected.
As to running a tab at the end with sources: I do not think it is intended to be misleading. It might be lazy on the part of the author, or it might be dictated by the publisher, but I have yet to see proof that a book was crafted this way to mislead readers.
Thank you for asking me to comment.
Theodore P. Savas
Managing Director, Savas Beatie LLC

Ted also hosts a blog on publishing, A Publisher’s Perspective.  It’s on my blogroll.



7 responses

17 03 2009
Chris Evans

This has been a very interesting discussion. I agree with the majority that footnotes are the way to go. I kind of enjoy them being at the bottom of the page and reading any additional information in them. Notes at the end of chapters are also not bad. Endnotes at the end of the book always require some flipping back and forth but it doesn’t really bother me. I’m usually just glad to have/own the book. I agree that Endnotes can be very difficult without the corresponding pages on the top. I also agree with Mr. Savas that I don’t believe that notes clumped together at the end of a particular book are there to purposely mislead the reader. I agree that it could have been forced on a particular author. I think most good Civil War books don’t set out to mislead in the endnotes whether those notes are clumped up or not.
Thanks again for a very interesting discussion topic Harry,


18 03 2009
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks Chris – it’s not the good Civil War books I’m worried about ;-)


18 03 2009
Robert Moore

Good stuff Harry. I’m still amazed, however, that a software developer hasn’t tackled the problem with the way publishing software handles footnotes.


18 03 2009
Harry Smeltzer

I agree, that is a little odd.


19 03 2009
Kevin McCann


I agree this is a very interesting topic for discussion among publishers and researchers. I agree with the general consensus that footnotes are more convenient than referring back to endnotes. Endnotes are cumbersome, requiring the reader to flip back a few pages to find out what chapter he’s reading, then go to the back of the book for the appropriate endnote. I especially detest endnotes that use a phrase for reference rather than a specific number. Those, to me, are the most confusing of all.


20 03 2009

Thanks for posting this, Harry. My partner and I just had a similar discussion about which we’d prefer as we start draft two of the manuscript. You validated our decision, at least before a publisher changes our mind for us. 8^)


20 03 2009
Harry Smeltzer

Glad to help out, Don. Good luck with your project, and good luck finding a footnote-friendly publisher.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: