What are some upcoming trends?
I have been seeing a lot of 1980s nostalgia recently—lots of books on the Reagan era and other events. Interestingly, the ’80s are just becoming history, and a lot of events of that time are starting to become worth revisiting in book form. And fortunately, that era doesn’t feel overdone yet.
And it’s not something I’m personally especially interested in, but nonfiction essay collections seem to be having a rebirth of sorts, with the success of Caitlin Moran and Roxane Gay. I think there’s a historical perception that essay collections are tough sells, but the tide is turning a bit. Finally, upmarket true crime is a real passion for me, and with the popularity of Serial and The Jinx, it feels like the genre might finally be making something of a comeback. I’ve always told agents to send me true crime, but only in the past year have I really seen a surge in the quantity of submissions and, happily, the quality as well.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
See above, regarding true crime. I have a lot of excellent true crime on my list already, and I’d love to do more of it. I’m especially interested in the genre when it’s not just about the crime, but it uses the crime as a way to tell a bigger picture kind of story about an event, time, or place. I also like narrative books about pieces of history that have been forgotten but are still important or applicable to what’s unfolding today.
Separately, I’m finding that books at the intersection of psychology, science, and parenting are often appealing and feel fresh, especially when they have an edgy, counterintuitive argument. There is definitely something exciting going on in that area in the past few years. I’m also really interested in publishing more women, particularly women writing about science, biography, and history.
What don’t you ever want to see again?
I tend to be turned off by “future of” books—things like the future of epigenetics, genetic engineering, and Internet privacy. I think it’s tough to capture readers’ interests in book form with that kind of topic, and it’s also a challenge to create a book that people will still want to read 10 or 15 years down the road. I also have seen more than enough proposals that re-envision Studs Terkel’s Working for the new millennium. I’m not sure if any of these books have sold, but I applaud the person who can pull it off and make it work, commercially
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
I have to remind myself, even when the job gets frustrating, that I’m always learning something. Even with the books I don’t end up acquiring, editing nonfiction is a constant education, and it guarantees no week is ever the same as the last. I love that about my job.Serena Jones is a senior editor at Henry Holt. She joined Holt in 2010 after working at Collins, Simon & Schuster, and New American Library. Her list is mostly narrative nonfiction, with a special interest in true crime, current events, biography, cultural narrative, science, politics, and adventure. Favorite recent titles include the New York Times bestseller The Secretary, a book by journalist Kim Ghattas about Hillary Clinton, and an in-depth, deeply contextual biography of Pope Francis, The Great Reformer, by Austen Ivereigh. Upcoming projects include The Lazarus Files, the story of a cold case murder in Los Angeles, by Matt McGough; The Midnight Assassin, the story of the country’s first serial killer who stalked Austin, Texas, in 1885, by Texas Monthly writer Skip Hollandsworth; and a biography of Nobel Prize–winning physicist Enrico Fermi. She has worked with, among others, Jimmy Carter, Gretchen Morgenson, Michael Shermer, Nathan Wolfe, Melinda Henneberger, Walter Isaacson, and Bob Wood