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Writing History for Profit

Updated on November 20, 2017

Money can be made writing history.

Take a quick look in Writer’s Market and you will find two or three magazines solely concerned with the Civil War. Another three solely with the American West. There are also two or three devoted to military history, a couple to American history in general, one to British history, another to World War II, and yet another to the Vietnam conflict.

That’s just magazines. There are also history Web sites, books and plays with historical themes, and historical fiction.

There are two divisions of history writing, military history, the story of battles, armies, revolutions, and the like, and social history, which deals with the changes in society, things like labor movements, toys, clothing, and food preferences.

Here’s how you do it.

The Main Thing

The one single thing that will most enable you to sell your history writing is a unique idea. Exploring a major historical event such as the American Civil War or Napoleon’s campaigns is like exploring the Great Lakes. Besides big well-known ports like Cleveland, Buffalo, and Detroit, there are also countless small inlets, shoals, and empty shorelines that are seldom—if ever—visited.

Look for the little-visited pieces of history.

It’s these stories about these small, forgotten, and ignored backwaters that editors want. Everyone knows about the Battle of Gettysburg, but not many people know that George Armstrong Custer’s brother Tom won two Medals of Honor in the Civil War or that a dog named “Chips” was awarded a Silver Star in World War

Structure It

Use the work that others have done, what are called secondary sources.

Read what has been written about your idea until you have a general idea of the event. You’d be surprised at the number of books that have been written about obscure topics. Search Amazon books. Then write out the factual structure of your story. What happened, when, why, and how, just like a newspaper article.

The point here is to develop the shape of the piece. Where it starts, where it does, and where it ends.


Decorate It

Give it a good lead and figure out how you will end the piece. Why did the event happen? What happened because it happened.

Be specific. How many men, for example, took part in a battle? Were killed?

Finally spruce up what have written with quotes and details. This is where the reader is going to smell the gunpowder and hear the crowd. Look for accounts of people who took part in the event. If the event is recent enough there may well be a memoir by a participant. Again, check Amazon.

Once you have sprinkled quotes and anecdotes into your story, you are all but done. Read it through to make sure it flows well, proofread it, run it through a spell checker, double check all the dates you used.

Send it out and wait for the check to arrive.

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