If you are looking for popular author James McPherson's recent book on Antietam or a good fictional read on the Civil War, Heritage Books is not the place to go. The Bowie publishing house offers almost 2,000 titles, including a large selection on the Civil War, but none has made it to the bestseller list.
This is the place to look for a history of the 39th Regiment of the Illinois volunteers or a list of troops provided by the Town of Adams, N.Y. There is also a guide to the Pennsylvania state memorial at Gettysburg and a book on the United Confederate Veterans of Limestone and Freestone counties in Texas.
Laird Towles, Heritage Books co-founder and chief executive officer, concedes that his obscure nonfiction titles are more narrowly focused but said there is a demand for them. The company also publishes genealogies, church histories and biographies.
"This is not a lucrative business," Towles said of the publishing house he started with his wife, Marlene, in 1978. "We never pay advances. The books in the genealogy and history fields don't sell by the thousands."
He said the authors usually receive 10 percent of the royalties.
Some of the offerings are reprints from works selected by Towles, including the anthology "History of the Colored Race in America" (1887); "The Self-Reconstruction of Maryland, 1864-1867" by William Starr Myers (1909); "Memoirs of a Lincoln Conspirator" by Samuel Bland Arnold (1902); and "The Civil War Through the Camera" by Henry W. Elson (1912-13).
Most simply arrive at his desk.
"Authors just seem to find us," he said. "We get new book proposals every business day. We don't do a lot of soliciting."
New publications include "Confederate Cemeteries, Vol. 1" by Mark Hughes; "The Beginning and the End: The Story of the Civil War Surrenders" by Dayton E. Pryor; and "The Shorter Family: England, America and Africa in the History of a Family" by Aylward Shorter and Maggie Price Taylor.
He said his customers determine whether his judgment on a certain book is good.
"Over the years, we have learned the surest way to find out is to advertise," he said. "We put it in our catalogue that has 100,000 on the mailing list and see who responds. If we get no response, we know."
Towles, 69, took up publishing as a hobby while working as a physicist at the U.S. Naval Observatory. After five years of part-time publishing, he decided to make it a full-time career.
"I liked the idea of being in business for myself, and I was very fond of the subject matter," he said. "I was just sort of fed up with the treadmill I was on. . . . I just wanted to be in control of my own fate, even if it were a failure." His slogan became "celebrate life; explore your heritage."
"It means celebrating life in general, through family or however you chose to do it," Towles explained.
His shop, in a small Bowie office park, has no shelves for shoppers to browse. A copy of every book published by the company is on file there, but sales are made by catalogue or over the Internet.
Towles said he is negotiating the merger of his company with another small publishing house, Willow Bend, of Westminster, Md. The name wouldn't change, he said, but the inventory would expand.
Heritage Books can be reached at 301-390-7708 or www.heritagebooks.com.
Calendar of Events
Frederick: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. At the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, historian George Wunderlich will discuss common surgical techniques. Fee charged. 301-695-1864.
Alexandria: 2 p.m. Saturdays through Feb. 1. At Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site, presentation of "Civil War Minutes" video series that each week explains a different aspect of the war. Free, but reservations are recommended. 703-838-4848.
Spotsylvania: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. At the R.E. Holbert Memorial Building, before a county Board of Supervisors meeting, a candlelight vigil in support of preserving the Chancellorsville Battlefield, sponsored by the Civil War Preservation Trust. 202-367-1861.
Leesburg: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. At Thomas Balch Library, monthly meeting of the Loudoun County Civil War Round Table with retired Navy officer Keith Young giving a slide presentation on Civil War picture envelopes, mailers with patriotic images that soldiers sent home. Free. 703-737-7195.
Gaithersburg: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. At the Holiday Inn, a joint meeting of the Montgomery County Civil War Round Table and the Robert E. Lee chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, with historian James I. Robertson Jr. speaking on "Robert E. Lee, American for All Ages." Fee charged. Reservations required. 301-593-0006.
Richmond: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Jan. 17. At the Museum of the Confederacy, commemoration of Lee-Jackson Day. Free. 804-649-1861.
Baltimore: 11 a.m. Jan. 18. At the Lee/Jackson double equestrian monument near the Baltimore Museum of Art, annual ceremony in honor of the birthdays of Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, sponsored by the Col. Harry W. Gilmor Camp No. 1388 Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Maryland chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Free. 410-296-9235.
Washington: Jan. 25. From Washington to Winchester, Smithsonian Associates sponsors a day-long bus tour of this Virginia town that changed hands 73 times during the war. Led by National Park Service historian emeritus Edwin Bearss. Fee charged. 202-357-3030.
Baltimore: 7 p.m. Jan. 29. At the Baltimore Civil War Museum, a lecture on the history of the museum. Fee charged. 410-385-5188.
Contact Linda Wheeler at 703-443-6846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.