Martin Pegler, series editor and author for Osprey's Weapon series, discusses what's involved in creating a Weapon series book in this guest blog.
Few readers consider the creative process of writing a book. For a work of fiction this is a relatively straightforward process; the writer pre-determines the characters and plot and decides in what period they will be set. It may be the future, today, or two hundred years ago. If set in the past, then some historical research into the social context would be necessary. Some writers put considerable effort into ensuring accuracy, others pay lip service to it, relying on the often inadequate references found on the internet. Arguably though, if the story is engaging enough, then a little historical inaccuracy is unimportant. Mostly, the author relies on their imagination.
Writing a non-fiction work is a completely different matter. All of the facts must be correct and quotes used must be verifiable. This means that few of the Osprey authors who write these books would start from scratch on a subject. Most of them will already have a good working knowledge of the specific subject matter that they intend to write about, for an author must have a sound knowledge of his subject matter, usually based on many years of experience, be it collecting, professional use in the police or military, or through academic routes. The first major book I ever wrote for Osprey took fourteen months of daily work, but was based on thirty years of acquired knowledge. But knowledge does not imply an ability to write a readable book. There are many people who are experts in their field, who have great difficulty in putting across their subject matter in a way that is both understandable and interesting. This is never more so than when writing books on technical subjects but the Weapons books are not merely technical but also historical, for the weapons relate to specific events in which they were used and this context must be covered in detail.
I think the biggest problem facing a new author when writing these books is at what level do they pitch the text? A straightforward technical treatise will read like an instruction manual and would have the average reader asleep in minutes. If it is too general, then important issues of development and history could be by-passed, leaving readers wondering how and why things happened. Then there is the technical information itself. This may appear to be straightforward to write, but there often are myriad sources to be consulted, many of which conflict with each other.
People often ask how long it takes to write a book and this is something of a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question. I have written a 25,000 word book in six weeks of solid work, but wouldn’t like to do that on a regular basis. I write every day, until lunchtime, six days a week, others like to work in short creative bursts, some remarkable souls work best at night and into the small hours. Every text I write is physically re-written three times, to iron out errors, both technical and grammatical. One problem for authors is that after you have read and re-read your own work half-a-dozen times you actually become word-blind to errors, so the Editor performs a vital function. He or she will normally return it with a list of queries, mostly over technical assertions or quotations, which then have to be double-checked. In addition, the Weapons series use very high-quality artwork and these require an immense amount to reference material for the artists, regarding uniforms, equipment, terrain etc., which have to be provided by the author. This process in itself takes several days and can be very demanding on authors who are unused to it.
So the process of writing a book in the Osprey series is neither quick, simple, nor easy, but the end results make them one of the best and most referred-to short reference works of their type in the world. And they have to be good, because in the wider world, there is always someone who is an expert in their field. If it’s wrong, they WILL know.
Martin's books, as well as all other books from the Weapon series, are available at a 20% discount until the end of June. To view the full series, click here.