From a Layout to a Book: Behind the Scenes at IHRA

Last week, we gave you an idea of how we get our information, compile it, and begin to write a compelling narrative. We left off with the chapter layout process and now we’ll finish the book. Before we get to the rest of the chapters as well as the appendices, let’s focus on the color section.

The color section consists of color photos we received, aircraft profiles, nose art closeups (this is a recent addition as of Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s and Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I), paintings, and patches. As for plane profiles, one plane from each squadron during each quarter of the war is chosen based on availability of photos, unique attributes (such as camouflage schemes and hardware), coverage of a plane, and elaborate nose art.

Once planes are chosen, we gather up all the photos and written information we have into what we call profile packages. These are sent to Jack Fellows, our profile artist, who creates the detailed profiles you see in our books. Jack is dedicated to his craft, and will often conduct his own research if he spots something unusual. At this point, just like the chapter material, profiles will go through several revisions before they are finalized. New information is incorporated as we get a hold of it.

B-17s and a B-24 profile from Ken's Men Against the Empire, Vol. I.

B-17s and a B-24 profile from Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I.

As for the color paintings, each squadron in a bomb group is represented by a painting of a particular mission agreed upon by that squadron. We then interviewed members who were on each mission to begin filling in the blanks. After completing the interviews, we go back to our research for any details that aren’t fully clear, and then write an extensive description of the mission for our artist to storyboard. Because the artist as well as IHRA want these paintings to be as accurate as possible, this process can easily take a few months or more. Finally, though, the paintings are ready to be added to the color section. The cover painting, a decision made by IHRA and Jack Fellows, is chosen to represent each bomb group and goes through the same research procedure.

Let’s move on to the appendices. Standardized after Warpath Across the Pacific, each appendix covers (I) group leadership, (II) recognition of every man in a specific bomb group who died during World War II, (III) an index of every plane flown by a bomb group, (IV) the markings and insignia, and finally, (V) a history of each plane in the color profiles. The information in Appendix I is probably the easiest to get, as leadership information was prominent and noted in several places. Appendix II is mainly compiled through information from Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) and a separate casualty list. This information is cross-referenced with the narrative text and updated as needed.

A page from Appendix I (later II in the other books) in Warpath Across the Pacific.

A page from Appendix I (later II in the other books) in Warpath Across the Pacific.

Most of Appendix III is straightforward, since we have a lot of the plane, pilot and crew chief names and other details from previous research. However, some of the details, especially serial numbers and when an aircraft was assigned or transferred, require a lot of effort to track down, and a few may never be discovered. As with Appendix II, this information has to be cross-checked with other mentions in the rest of the book. The fourth appendix is the most challenging for both the author and person doing the layout. It requires not only understanding the overall markings and insignia used by each squadron as well as the group as a whole, but also when there were changes in these markings, and information about mechanical modifications that were made. To say the least, it can get incredibly detailed and technical. Choosing the photos for this appendix is a whole other matter. They must not be duplicates of photos already used and need to be a good illustration of what was written in the text.

This appendix is loaded with photos (from 75 on the low end to more than 100), which can take a few days or more to clean up and arrange in the layout. After a preliminary layout is complete, the text is edited and, much to the layout person’s chagrin, photos will sometimes have to be rearranged, added, or deleted. Just like previous appendices, the information here is also cross-checked. Shifting to Appendix V, this one isn’t nearly as complicated as the previous appendix. Thanks to the work necessary to create the profiles, a lot of the history is already complete. Information is added to its fullest extent, then fact checked by people familiar with a plane’s history, and, as before, cross-checked with the rest of the mentions in the book.

Almost finished now. What’s left is the glossary, bibliography, acknowledgements and index. Words selected for the glossary are typically abbreviations such as P.O.W., Japanese and Allied plane types and terms used in the chapters. The bibliography and acknowledgments are pretty straightforward. We have running lists for both that are added to the layout and formatted for printing. Putting together the index is a task in and of itself. It is a tedious but necessary process done by hand that can easily take a week or more. Once it’s done and checked over, everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief. The book is almost out the door. The endsheets and cover are readied for printing. A final-final check (or two) over everything is completed, then the book is uploaded to the printer’s server. We wait for several nerve-wracking days to get the blue lines (a preview to make sure everything looks good), then send it back with an ok or a list of changes. After we approve of any changes, the printing begins. A few weeks later, our next book is ready for you.

Ken's Men Against the Empire, Vol. I ready to be shipped out

Books ready for shipping

Behind the Scenes at IHRA

From Warpath Across the Pacific to the first volume of Ken’s Men Against the Empire, our books have become the standard for World War II unit histories as well as a go-to for the history of the air war in the Pacific Theater. How did we get here? We’ll take you through part of the process of how we turn piles of photos and information into the next great installment of the Eagles Over the Pacific series.

It starts with gathering as much primary source material as possible: photos, personal diaries, letters, interviews, squadron and unit reports, medal citations, missing aircraft crew reports, and so on. Material borrowed from individual veterans was processed first, so it could be returned in a somewhat timely fashion. Before the days of scanners, photos of the photos were taken, printed out, and organized into reference binders by month. The original photos were then returned to the veterans who graciously loaned them to us. Several copies were printed so they could be added to designated binders such as: date binders, bases and targets, squadron, appendix and color photos, general unit information, and miscellaneous. These days, any new photos we receive are scanned at a high resolution, digitally repaired to get rid of scratches or stains, and added to our database. We are also in the midst of a mass digitization of the reference binders—although keeping the digital database organized is a difficult task unto itself!

Some of our many photo binders. 38th Bomb Group binders in green, 3rd Bomb Group binders in red.

Some of our many photo binders. 38th Bomb Group binders in green, 3rd Bomb Group binders in red.

Diaries were also scanned and usually transcribed to make it easier for later referencing, and then returned, if we had received the original copy. Squadron and unit reports are also transcribed. These reports were obtained on trips to the National Archives, Maxwell Air Force Base, and other places. All the paper material is copied, then organized into monthly folders, which we call date files. The size of these files depends on how much happened in a given month. Any new information we receive, which happens often, is immediately added to a chapter or filed for adding later.

43BG date files at IHRA

Here are some of our 43rd Bomb Group date files.

Everything in these file folders has been typed up into documents divided by month, which we call our research drafts. These files are incredibly important to our co-authors as they begin the process of writing each chapter. Over the years, we have also built up a large reference library, which is also available to our co-authors looking for additional information to fill out a unit’s history. While writing the chapter, the co-author always has an eye on the photo binders. Photos are selected and added to the draft in tandem with the manuscript itself, as the two are tied so close together. This is also when the captions are written—and sometimes, they’re the trickiest part of the chapter.

After the photos and text have been (mostly) finalized, it’s time for the first layout that brings them together on the page. This process is similar to scrapbooking, except that it’s on a computer and not as colorful. Each chapter is laid out, later followed by the front matter, appendices, color section, and end matter. Chapters always go through at least five rounds of editing. Beyond editing the text for factual and grammatical errors, photos are resized, added, moved, or deleted. Chapters might be combined or broken up for better flow.

IHRA screen shot of work in progress

This image is taken from the layout file of Appendix IV in our next book. This appendix focuses on markings and insignia of the 43rd Bomb Group during the B-24 era.

The process is repeated for the appendices and the color section, but with a few differences. Come back next week as we tackle the rest of the process from layout to printing. Questions or comments so far? We’d love to answer them below.