Interview: BB-67 Montana Author

Here is a quick interview with W. Frederick Zimmerman, author of BB-67 Montana: Why She Matters Today.

BB-67 USS Montana

1. What made you decide to put together a book on the BB-67 USS Montana?

I had been experimenting with new formats for micropublishing (see Publish A “Nimble” Book With Us) and I wanted to publish a book with a strong pictorial element. I have been a battleship fan since I was a kid, and I knew that the Naval Historical Center has a lot of great public domain images online. I chose MONTANA because as a long-time participant in the Usenet newsgroup sci.military.naval (my first post was in 1995) I knew that naval history fans on the Internet love battleships, superships, and hypothetical ships, and MONTANA was the biggest, baddest hypothetical U.S. supership ever designed. ;-)

2. How did you go about researching the ship and the history of the Montana-class program?

I Googled my fingers off, and used Interlibrary Loan to borrow some good battleship reference books (Dulin & Garzke and Friedman both have outstanding histories of US battleships).

3. How did you discover Imre Somogyi’s fantastic model of the BB-67?

I found Imre Somogyi’s beautiful model via Google Image Search, and he was kind enough to respond favorably to a request for permission to use the images. Aren’t they fantastic?

4. Tell us a bit more about how you ended up gathering such a great collection of drawings and artwork for the book.

This is a good subject for a mix of pictures and text because you can’t really understand the history of this (or any) ship without both. In my book, I suppressed a lot of technical detail–there were actually about 20 different designs considered for MONTANA, each of them with somewhat different parameters in terms of main guns, armor, and speed. I decided to focus on “Why She Matters Today” because I think that’s an aspect that’s often given short shrift by histories.

5. Do you have any opinion on the decision to permanently retire the last two battleships in the US Navy’s reserve fleet?

I am okay with the decision to retire the last two battleships, simply because at some point you have to stop trying to operate 1940’s technology. But I would like to see the U.S. Navy build a few battleship-sized surface platforms. After all, when the Navy builds today’s destroyers, they are bigger than WWII cruisers. Why not build cruisers the size of battleships?

And a few more about the line of Nimble Books:

6. How did the Nimble Books line get started?

After I published my first book (a guide to Microsoft OneNote) in 2003, I decided that it was more fun to be a publisher than an author. I started Nimble Books in June 2004. My first title was Basic Documents about the Treatment of Detainees at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

I was (and am) outraged by the scandal at Abu Ghraib and the decision to adopt an “outside the Geneva Convention” approach to the detainees at Guantanamo. Both undermined our biggest advantage in the Global War in Terror, namely, our civilization’s rule of law.

7. What made you decide on the 32-page format?

We have (and will) publish lots of books in normal traditional lengths. The 32-48 page format was motivated by the desire to experiment with color interiors, which are still quite expensive to publish on demand – a 300-page color book printed POD would be VERY expensive. But it turns out to have some hidden advantages. For one thing, most modern books are, frankly, padded. For another thing, space constraints make you focus on saying the most important things. Finally, it’s about the right length to give the reader a good experience that’s substantially longer than your typical magazine article, but not on the scale of a book.

8. Tell us a little about the the production and sales of Nimble Books.

Nimble Books relies exclusively on POD, not because we necessarily love technology, but because the business model lets us take a lot of shots. (As your readers will appreciate, “Fire! Ready! Aim!”) We’ve published 45 books of various lengths in 3 1/2 years. If we did those all offset, at 5000 copies per run, we’d have spent, what, at least $100,000 on production alone. Because we use POD exclusively, we are distributed only through online booksellers. Of course, this shrinks the pie, but on a per copy basis, we are way more profitable than offset printing per copy. So it works out okay.

9. Who is your main target audience for Nimble Books?

The main audience for Nimble Books is online book buyers who are interested in niche subjects.

10. Have you had a lot of other writers send in proposals for Nimble Books?

We have a stable of about ten writers now, but are actively looking for more, especially on military subjects. By all means I encourage Murdoc online readers to check out the Nimble Books web page. I’d love to have Murdoc readers submit proposals for military themed books.

11. Where do you see micropublishing going in the future?

I’ve always wanted to see micropublishing become more automated. It would be within the realm of feasibility for a Google or a LexisNexis to create a software application that would automate the creation of “Nimble” books of the 32-48 page scale I am using here. But the challenging part is imposing a strong editorial sensibility. The way I would do that is by requiring authors to use templates like the “Dummies” books.

12. Any more military-themed Nimble Books coming in the near future that we should watch for?

Murdoc readers should enjoy Battleship Yamato: Why She Matters Today (June 2008) and Revolutionary Strategies in Early Christianity: 4th Generation Warfare (4GW) Against the Roman Empire, and the Counterinsurgency (COIN) Campaign to Save It (April 2008) by strategy blogger Daniel H. Abbott (http://www.tdaxp.com). The latter book is a brilliant tour de force explaining the New Testament in terms of 4th generation guerilla warfare. It should be available via Amazon in April.

Also, after seeing that Amazon is starting to insist that POD publisher’s use Amazon’s printer, I added one more:

13. Is Amazon’s recent change requiring POD publishers to use BookSurge going to affect you? I don’t know many details, but it seems like a raw deal.

It is certainly cause for concern, but the bottom line is that 1) they are only targeting big fish so far and 2) even if they do target small fry like myself, there is a pretty straightforward workaround, which is to “dual list” with both LSI (the market leader) and Amazon/Booksurge.

And he added this:

I just received the manuscript for a terrific book by Wayne Scarpaci about the proposed conversions of Iowa-class battleships to guided missile battlecruisers, amphibious landing ships, and all sorts of other cool things. Seems like a natural for Murdoc!

Be sure to check out BB-67 Montana: Why She Matters Today and here’s the Nimble Books web site.