The Genesis of “The Hunt for History”

By Nathan Raab

Last week, we announced my upcoming book, The Hunt for History, to be published in March 2020 by Scribner, a division of Simon and Schuster. Other authors who wrote books for Scribner: Henry James, Edith Wharton, Theodore Roosevelt, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Alan Paton, and Thomas Wolfe. Scribner published, among many other books, The Sun Also Rises, Gone With The Wind, and The Great Gatsby. But – hey – who’s comparing! My point is that it was a true honor to be able to work with the people there and to have the name Scribner attached to my book.

Since that time, many have asked some basic questions about how I got to this point and the process of publishing a book. So here are some very basic answers.

In 2015, we set about finding a writer to help us craft a self-published book on what we do, a “behind-the-scenes” treatment of our job, with the audience consisting of our customers. We found someone we felt could do a great job, but her schedule would not allow it. She was a published author who had an agent, Jane von Mehren, a former editor and publishing executive at Houghton Mifflin, Penguin, and Random House, and Senior Vice President and Publisher at Random House. Jane is now an agent at Aevitas Creative Management in their New York office. So our writer contacted Jane to find out who else might want to help us with this self-published work. But Jane’s response was not what we expected: she wanted to represent us and to tell our story more broadly.

The following months involved the creation of a proposal. The book would not be a picture book or coffee table work, but a work of narrative nonfiction, aimed beyond the collecting world and to a much broader audience. And the proposal would have to reflect that.

We spent months combing through our firm’s history, finding the powerful and evocative stories that will appear in the book. One chapter would be complete; the rest would represent a synopsis so that the editor could judge what might eventually go there.

The proposal in hand, Jane used her expansive network to approach publishing companies, like Scribner, and an auction ensued. It was an exciting and new process for us. We chose to work with Scribner. And we hired, with the help of the firm, Luke Barr to help me write it. Luke is a New York Times best-selling author of Provence, 1970, and his skill and experience were instrumental.

My editor at Scribner is Rick Horgan, who has published over 100 national bestsellers across a variety of genres. In addition, books he has acquired and edited have won or been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Pen Literary Award. He has worked with more than 400 authors, including Bill Gates, Jay Leno, Maria Shriver, Condoleezza Rice, and Isaac Asimov. He is top-notch and I learned a ton by listening to his feedback.

Our challenge was to take the 30 years of our work and boil it down. We had to not only mention a discovery here and there but had to cut to its core: to pull out the meaning of each, financial, historical, and moral. This book would have a large audience, and so the story had to have broader meaning. And we had to tackle some basic questions that most authors of this kind of book ask: what is the narrative arc? How do I want the reader to feel at the end?

The book is less than half a year away, but its effect on me the past few years is that it forced me to reflect on the broader meaning of what we do, not only as dealers, but as collectors, researchers, and hunters of history, and I wanted to share that with you. I will continue to write these informational pieces about the book from time to time, but feel free to ask any questions directly to me.

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