Two New Hires at Collins as Makeover Campaign Continues

Collins, a division of HarperCollins once known mostly for publishing reference books and how-to guides, announced two new editorial hires today: Bill Strachan and Serena Jones, both of whom specialize in narrative nonfiction.

Mr. Strachan was most recently a senior-level editor at the Avalon Publishing Group, a job he lost when Avalon was folded into the Perseus Books Group this past spring. Before that, he was at Hyperion, where he edited, among other things, a heap of history books and Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail.

Ms. Jones, meanwhile, moves to Collins from an associate editorship at Simon & Schuster, where according to Collins publisher Bruce Nichols, she worked with legendary politics editor Alice Mayhew.

Not long ago, literary agents shopping big narrative non-fiction wouldn’t have thought to submit to Collins. That changed this year, with the arrival of new president Steve Ross—who previously ran Crown at Random House—and Mr. Nichols, who had been an editor at Simon & Schuster’s Free Press for 15 years.

Mr. Ross, who had had enormous success at Crown during the ten years he spent at its helm, and Mr. Nichols, who had proved himself a master with books on politics, history, and current affairs, were charged with expanding Collins’ general non-fiction list, and in so doing, broadly recasting the shop in a new image.

They have already taken steps in that direction. In the past two weeks, Collins has signed up several major non-fiction books, including one on adult care by Gail Sheehy (for which they paid close to $1 million) and one on the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist by Myles J. Connor, Jr. and Jenny Siler. And according to one insider, Collins also pursued former Missionary of Charity Mary Johnson’s An Unquenchable Thirst, a highly sought-after memoir that ended up going to Spiegel & Grau, an imprint at Doubleday/Random House in a two-book deal rumored to be somewhere in the seven figures.*

With Ms. Jones joining the team as an editor and Mr. Strachan as editor-at-large, Collins is poised to continue chasing titles like that and trying to establish itself as a major non-fiction operation.

“Collins is building a general non-fiction list from scratch,” Mr. Nichols said in an interview. “Serena and Bill are both going to be contributing primarily to that.”

He added that more hires will follow, and noted that while Collins has been aggressively pursuing general non-fiction since the summer, most of the books they’ve signed up won’t appear until 2009.

*This sentence has been changed from an earlier version.