Friday, June 6, 2014

Coming in Autumn 2016

I'm 26, coming of age into the post-recession world in a field that is largely government- and charity-funded, and therefore dropped half of its workforce just before I was ready to join it. I've done some work in the field and as much as a temp out of it; in the periods of unemployment I've applied to every lower-level history museum job out there, and worked on taking patterns (see my grand project label) to make a book on 18th century women's dress. I spent the past year writing the explanatory text - my handwriting isn't as good as Janet Arnold's, so it has to be moved off the pattern, which introduces more confusion and explanation - along with an introduction, a description of the progress of women's dress over the course of the century, and a description of the usual construction techniques.

In academia, it's not considered sensible to write a book before you have a contract. You're supposed to write a proposal and send it to publishers, get accepted, and then do the work. And that is sensible - you're going to have to travel and do research, which means taking time off of work and spending money.

I broke the rule because I was so enthusiastic about the project, but also because I wasn't sure a proposal would work. Maybe my perception is skewed by the museum world, where fashion's uncomfortable place between material culture and art make it frequently neglected, but it seemed very possible to me that no publishers would be interested in this book. I mean, at one museum where I inquired about the extent of their costume collection, I was told that "you don't really need patterns for that period, anyway" - who could tell if a publisher would care as much as I did about documenting the progress of the pointed waist seam, or the shaping of the top of a petticoat? And I was right: the first (very academic) publisher I sent a query letter for the finished book turned me down, and even the second, which was much more likely, was uninterested.

So then in February I tried Batsford, an imprint of Pavilion Books, previously Anova. It's been a publisher of important fashion texts for a long time, which was intimidating, but if there were any publisher (other than the second that tacitly turned me down) that would want a book of historical patterns, it would be Batsford. And I was ecstatic when I received a positive response, even though it wasn't an immediate yes. Kristy Richardson, a senior editor, wanted to take some samples of the work to the London Book Fair in April to gauge interest. It was very good that I had done the whole book then, let me tell you, because I'm not sure I would have gotten that without something that could be shown.

Three of my patterns had decent photos and represented the breadth of the book: a European undress jacket from the 1730s, a ca. 1770 sacque with petticoat, and a Neoclassical chemise gown. I redrew them to fit properly on the page and inked them so they would read better and be more editable. And then waited. Finally, the book fair came and I found out that it had done well!

Over the course of the next few months, there were more discussions at Pavilion and between myself and Ms. Richardson, and it was finally decided: I'm going to be contracted to write a new book of patterns dated 1800-1830, to be published in autumn 2016, and the 18th century book may follow it.

Bad news for people who wanted to make a satin robe à la Harpie, but very good news for Regency enthusiasts!

And a lot of it is down to you, readers. Your comments and even your quiet hits have done so much to encourage me at a difficult time in my life, when sometimes everything seems impossible. I'm still struggling with (un)employment, but now I at least have a purpose, gowns to pattern, and an audience to please. As the heading implies, you won't be seeing it for some time, but it will be happening and I can't wait to share it with you.

20 comments:

  1. Wow!!! That is amazing :)
    Congratulations on your success.

    Sabine

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    1. Thank you! I'm really hoping that I can get you a review copy when the time comes - your work is so inspiring.

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  2. Congratulations, this is fantastic! Hopefully Batsford will realize that the 18th century volume should follow soon afterwards.

    I've been lurking on your blog for about a year now, and I really appreciate your postings but haven't commented before. I wonder, do you have any news on your translation of L'Art de la Lingere? I'd love to buy it when it's available.

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    1. Thank you! I'm hoping that because it's essentially finished, it would be able to come out a bit faster, but who knows.

      I've actually finished it, and also just (like last week) finished Garsault's other sewing manuals. All of it needs a lot of editing, though. I'm still not sure what's going to happen with it - there are a lot of illustrations, and the licensing fees for the photographs are pretty steep. I'll probably offer it to Batsford, and Dover would be the next place I'd try if they don't want it. So we'll see.

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  3. Congratulations! Your blog is a testament to your hard work, research, and skills.
    I've been thinking about you since your internship tweet...I'm so glad to see this excellent news.
    Best,
    Kitty

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    1. Thank you!

      It's so hard to know if I should be considering (paid) internships - on the one hand, more work in the field; on the other, the experience I need at this point is in budgets, organization, and managing volunteers. I was really hoping a Twitterstorian would have a word of advice! Maybe it came off facetiously.

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  4. Congratulations! I know from my archaeologist/historian friends here in the UK just how tough things are at present. I'm so pleased to hear that all your hard work has paid off.

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    1. Thank you! It's definitely giving me high hopes for the future.

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  5. SO many congratulations to you! This is incredible news, and I look forward to seeing the realization of all of your efforts. I've got a few years on you, and a similar education and career forecast. It edifies me greatly to see someone so deserving, find a successful niche in this uncertain field.

    When your book(s) are released, I will be thrilled to add them to my collection. Congratulations again!

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    1. Thanks so much! I'm so excited I already started patterning - two white cotton dresses from the teens. Doing 25 from three decades is going to be very fun, hopefully allowing me to make better standards for dating and to show loads of interesting details and a lot of variety in style.

      Best of luck in your job applications!

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  6. Dear Cassidy,

    Holy fabric, Batsford! That's amazing news. You took an enormous risk, and it has really paid off. Congratulations for all the patience, the effort, the stick-to-it-iveness, and the nerve to approach such an august fashion publisher.

    Now us Regency fanatics can rejoice. At last, for those of us without easy or any access to museum collections, we will get to see some more unusual garments, read how they were constructed instead rather than go blind trying to suss out seam lines and pin holes in blown up images. I can imagine that any Regency promenade post 2016 is going to appear much more varied than to date.

    Very best indeed,

    Natalie

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    1. I know, right? Batsford! I had to put it in an envelope and everything. Thank you!

      Doing so many from such a short period of time should let me get so many variations in. I'd love to give people more options, and make all of these gowns in small collections visible to the public. (Oh man, with a contract I wonder if some larger collections might be more interested.)

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  7. Congratulations! This was an especially interesting topic (writing to be published) for me to read because my homeschool teaching years have culminated and have been pondering the same thing myself (not costuming though, lol).
    Laurie

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    1. Thank you! You should give it a shot, you've studied so many historical eras by now. Or are you thinking of writing about homeschooling?

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    2. My thoughts were along homeschooling...and perhaps somehow our historical clothing for history presentations. Not so much the clothing but the wearing of them to learn history.
      I'm so glad you are concentrating on early 19th century!
      Laurie

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  8. Congratulations!! That's exciting news!
    -Emily

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  9. Congratulations! I really look forward to reading your book!

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