Monday, August 13, 2007

Looking for... History

I’ve been promising for a while now that we are getting closer to reopening to queries. The update is that last week, I requested five full manuscripts, nine sample chapters, and four proposals. These requests were for more material from query letters or sample chapters that I had previously received (in some cases, wellllll over a year ago) and not yet responded to. Material has started to come in and we’ll be working to get through it in a timely manner.

Last week, I said good-bye to my two summer interns, Justin “How the Hell Do You Spell That?” Michitsch and Lauren Narasky. Justin spent the summer reviewing royalty statements and other general office work. A business major, he really dug into those statements and found real money for clients by questioning the reserves for returns being held by publishers. Lauren also did a lot of general office work, helping out on the website and with the database, and did a great deal of reading, helping knock down the pile, and reporting both to me and writing response letters to those we were not offering representation. I thank both of them for their hard work and wish them both good luck in their next school year.

Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I expect two other interns to begin, but in the meantime, I’ve got some “me” time to ponder the important question, “What are we looking for now?”

As regular readers of this blog know, I attended BEA in NYC in June. While there, I took about forty-seven meetings, with my major focus being to determine what the marketplace is looking for right now. When I returned, Lauren, Justin and I pumped all of that information into a spreadsheet and did quite a bit of sorting and filtering. In the end, we came up with a list of 120+ subject areas, including sub-areas. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to do a series of blog entries on these subject areas, giving more details so that you, the author, can focus in more closely and thereby improve your chances of delivering what we will be looking for when we reopen to submissions. I’ll say this, though, if it ain’t on the list, we really don’t want it. So don’t try and shoehorn your way in.

That said, we’re looking for more….

History, specifically….

  • American history and, in particular, 20th century American history
  • European and/or British History (especially Middle Ages)
  • Military History or History of Intelligence Services
  • Natural History
  • Cultural History

And, of course, we want you to be highly qualified to write history. You should not be just an amateur historian or someone writing about a subject that you just found interesting. You should be a trained historian or journalist. You should have a PhD or at least a Masters in an applicable field. You are, ideally, previously published and have received good reviews and, even better, good sales. You bring to the subject a new perspective or angle that has yet to be explored. You have access to primary source materials that have never been seen before. The subject of your book has not been nor will it be the subject of eight other books this year (Hello! Do we have enough books on the 1918 flu?).

But, wait, we’re going to get even more specific here.

What does “American history and, in particular, 20th century American history” mean? For me, that means events or periods in history that are “turning points” for society. Does your subject represent one of those? Are you a known expert in the area? If you can answer yes to these questions, then you likely have something that will interest us.

Now, on to European and/or British History (especially Middle Ages). Again, focusing on “turning points” is good, and being an expert is great. But also, exploring a truly “new” fact is best. My old history professor, Richard W. Kaeuper, at the University of Rochester, once told the story of how he was in a dusty archive in the UK and came across what he believed to be a “new” fact. This was incredibly exciting for him, as it is every historian’s dream to find a fact that no one else has found. Alas, he subsequently found that someone else had found this fact before him. But, if you have found a new fact, or at least a new perspective or approach to an event or persons at this time in history, we’d like to know.

In the summer of 1987, I took at class at the University of Washington (Seattle) on the History of Intelligence. I thoroughly enjoyed it and that’s part of what motivate me to make Military History and History of Intelligence Services areas I’m interested in exploring.

Let’s face it, there’s quite a bit of information going back to WWII that remains classified. Some day, we may find that FDR really did know the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor. What secrets may still be untold about the Cold War? Were POWs kept in Vietnam or shipped off to Russia for interrogation? What would the archives of the KGB tell us?

Literally, military history or intelligence services history has to have this kind of impact. We’re not interested in the exploits of one unit on D-Day, though we might be interested in a unit history of the 442nd (if it hasn’t been done), given the cultural element of it being a Japanese unit fighting for America in WWII. That said, I remember reading THE LONG GRAY LINE and being fascinated. But the West Point class featured in that book was clearly part of one of those “turning points” I’ve described above. It might be interesting to apply that approach to the Class of 2006. Where are they? In Iraq, one presumes. But what is their take on what’s happening? How did they feel as freshmen in 2002? Did they ever imagine that four years later they would graduate into a real, live shooting war? I suspect not.

Natural History, to me, is not just about dinosaurs, though I like a good work on how a new dinosaur was discovered as much as the next guy. But I’m looking for serious discussion of new scientific theories having to do with evolution, paleontology, and the like. I am not interested in Creationism. I’m strictly a Darwinist.

To me, Cultural History can mean quite a lot of things. For example, you could look at the lives of Jews on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s, or you could look at life on a US Army base. You could examine the culture of the inner city high-school or a Montessori school. What’s important is that your subject is fresh, of course, and that there’s something there to intrigue, fascinate, and educate the reader. Combine those elements with terrific qualifications to be writing such a work, and I believe you’ll succeed.

Last but not least, if you are going to send us a work of history, it needs to be written in an approachable style that will engage the lay reader. While we may do a deal now and then with an academic press, we’re more often doing them with large, trade houses, and as such your work should appeal well beyond a marketplace of students or professors.

More tomorrow….


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