Last year the paperback edition of Michael Shaara's Killer Angels sold about 58,000 copies. It's on track this year to do the same, having racked up around 28,000 sales through July. That's pretty good for a title released in August of 1987.
Jeff Shaara is doing less well by far but is still in great shape for a Civil War author. The softcover edition of Gods and Generals sold over 9,000 copies last year, way down from 46,000 or so the year previous. This year's sales are tracking last year's lower levels, with around 4,470 units sold by through July 2005.
So, Killer Angels remains a phenomenon.
When rookie novelist Newt Gingrich (top right) teamed with fantasy writer William Forstchen (bottom, left) to cash in on this phenomenon, I gave a yawn and a shrug. Their Gettysburg was released in June of 2003. How far would Gingrich's political friends and Forstchen's fanbase take them?
I don't know how the book did in 2003, but checking the hardback figures for 2004, the answer is "into nonfiction territory," with about 7,000 sales. That figure is lower this year, with just about 1,250 sales in mid-year, but okay for a trade hardback nonetheless.
Grant Comes East was released in June of '04; in the half-year it was available, it scored about 32,000 sales, rather like Sears' Gettysburg. As with the previous title, demand for the hardback fell off and this year about 2,500 copies have sold thus far. That's still good for a trade title, generally speaking.
Never Call Retreat is the third installment in this series and it was issued in June of this year. In the two months since it became available, I estimate 120,000 copies have sold. Not shipped, sold. In fact distributor Ingram has stocked another 7,000 copies in its warehouses to fill orders.
The Civil War reading public seems to love Gingrich and Forstchen. They are in Michael Shaara's league now, though they lack backlist staying power.
Is it right, however, to say that readers of alternative history novels are part of the Civil War reading public? At 120,000 units are we not seeing a massive crossover of readers from scifi and fantasy? If so, thank William Forstchen and cross this item off publishing's "strange but true" breakthroughs list.
(Gingrich makeover courtesy Rodney Anonymous.)