I'm working on a biography of a major female Australian historical figure. [I have removed the information the writer sent me lest he give away his good idea. - AS]
It's my first biography and my publication track record only includes corporate and policy tomes published by the Australian Government.
Here are my questions.
• Is it best to finish the biography before submitting it to a publisher or agent?
• If the answer to the above is no, are three or four chapters enough to have complete (and polished beyond the first draft)?
• And is a proposed completion date of 2013 reasonable or laughable?
I'd also be grateful for any information you may care to share, on the blog, about publishing historical biographies in Australia.
I'll answer the first two questions together: it used to be okay to submit non-fiction on a partial manuscript - it was expected, even - but now it's getting harder to do that. I think publishers make a rod for their own backs if they expect a lot of journalists and academics to write full manuscripts before submitting anything, because usually their day jobs are all-consuming. But, in the current uncertain climate, they're looking for more certainty. However, as I'm privy to knowledge about your subject matter, I think you could get away with a partial submission - just don't be surprised if you're asked to come back later with a full manuscript.
As to your third question: your subject has been dead a long time. Why would it matter if you're not finished until 2013? (Unless there's a competing work being written by someone else.) Just as long as you're upfront about how long you'll need. What you shouldn't do is tell a publisher you'll be ready by January 2012 and in January 2012 say, 'Oops - I lied.'
General information about historical biographies: it's entirely dependent on the subject. If you're writing about your dear Aunt Vera and her twelve children growing up in Wallabadah, don't expect to have much success. If you're offering a new spin on Lachlan Macquarie, though, let's have it! [Note to readers: Lachlan Macquarie - certainly not female - is not the subject of this writer's biography.] Personally I'd love someone to do something on Inigo Jones, but perhaps it's an audience of one ...