Skip to Content

Big deals in booming history market

30 April 2007

Recent mega-deals for two history-writing superstars show the increasing strength of this genre in both fiction and non-fiction.

The first of these is Philippa Gregory, highly successful author of nine historical novels, including most recently The Boleyn Inheritance, who will be moving from HarperCollins to Simon & Schuster for world English language rights. Trish Todd, Editor-in-Chief at S & S US, which has published Gregory since 2002, has played a major part in setting up the deal and her editor in the UK will be Suzanne Baboneau at S & S UK. This three-book deal will take the author into an earlier period than her usual Tudor one, the tumultuous times of the Wars of the Roses in the fifteenth century. The first novel, The White Queen, has tentatively been scheduled for 2010.

Another deal with an even larger timescale involves historian Peter Ackroyd's move from Random House UKPenguin Random House have more than 50 creative and autonomous imprints, publishing the very best books for all audiences, covering fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, autobiographies and much more. Click for Random House UK Publishers References listing to Macmillan for his planned six-volume biography of England. The first titles will not be launched until 2011 and Ackroyd still has no less than nine books, including this autumn's Thames, under contract with Random House.

The sums involved have not been disclosed, but we can reasonably assume that they will have been massive. Gregory's novels have sold 3.5 million copies in the US alone. Both of these authors are consistent performers who write regularly, one could even say frequently in the case of Ackroyd, who has an astonishing 40 books to his credit. They are bankable names for their new publishing houses.

But beyond that these big deals show increasing interest in historical novelists and historians. The revival of history as a fiction genre is remarkable and the new authors flourishing in this genre are a great encouragement to any writer to try their hand. Really good knowledge of the setting and the history are required and it is gratifying to see the number of successful reissues of old favourites such as Norah Lofts and Rosemary Hawley Jarman.

For the non-fiction writers the growing interest is also fuelled by readers' enthusiasm and by the range of exciting new books coming from publishers. Often these take a big-picture look at a period, as Ackroyd's new series will do, but they can also bring together a number of subjects in a new way. Maureen Waller's recent Sovereign Ladies: The Six Reigning Queens of England is a case in point. Finally, they can be based on a new interpretation or new research, as in the case of William Dalrynple's The Last Mughal: the Fall of a Dynasty.

Publishers have always brought out history titles, but now the increasing enthusiasm from readers has created a positive thirst for books which offer intriguing and well-written approaches to the past.

Philippa's Gregory's website

Peter Ackroyd on Contemporary Writers