So, Tom Milner wants to take Osprey readers behind the curtain and show them how a New Vanguard gets made. And he wants to use my forthcoming New Vanguard – Seaplane and Aircraft Carriers of World War I – to illustrate the development process. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha.
Let me introduce myself. I am Mark Lardas, author of sixteen books published by Osprey. Five were New Vanguards. I can safely say I know something about writing New Vanguards. Just enough to be dangerous.
I like to start at the beginning. A New Vanguard starts with a book proposal. The author (me) sends the Osprey series editor (Tom, for New Vanguard) a 2,000-word pitch explaining why Osprey desperately needs a book on some topic.
In June I sent Tom a proposal for a New Vanguard on British Sailing Frigates. He promptly shot it down. Not that he felt it would be a bad book. It was just that sailing-era NVGs sell tepidly. The exceptions seem to be American Heavy Frigates and Warships of the Great Lakes. (I can plug my own books, right Tom?) The Great Publishing Gods that Tom must propitiate to commission a New Vanguard would make noises of wrathful thunder instead of cheerful approval. At least for now. Do something twentieth-century, he said especially something niche.
With New Vanguards I generally do ships. I know ships. Write what you know. I am not averse to twentieth-century subjects, but generally others know that era better than me.
Selling a book to Osprey is like baseball – pitch ‘em where they ain’t. The stuff I knew seemed pretty well filled. Especially popular topics, like aircraft carriers. Besides, I am more comfortable writing about stuff prior to 1922.
Sudden inspiration: a book on World War I aircraft carriers. It was niche, prior to 1922, and not previously done. I could get 40 illustrations without breaking the bank. Trouble was there were only three WWI aircraft carriers. Too few for a New Vanguard. But throw in seaplane carriers as well, and there were enough, especially if I included those of all nations.
Tom and I exchanged emails on the topic. He liked it. We worked out an outline: start with Eugene Ely’s first launches and landings from US Navy warships prior to World War I, and then follow the development of naval aviation from seaplanes to full-up aircraft carriers.
I wrote up a formal proposal and sent it off. Tom kicked it back the next day. What was wrong? While I was covering all nations, all seven plates covered Royal Navy subjects.
Well, yeah. You need enough information to do the plate. Finding information on British ships was hard enough, much less German, French, Russian, Italian, and Japanese ships. Before I propose a plate I like to make sure that either I already have or I know I can get enough reference material. (Although the cutaway of Ark Royal is a slightly different story. More on that later.)
Tom was right, though. I replaced one battle plate (The Cuxhaven Raid) with an alternate – the Japanese seaplane carrier-launched attack on Tsingtao three months before the Cuxhaven Raid. I scrapped one showing the pilot’s view landing on the Furious (with a smokestack to crash into if you overshot), substituting one showing Foudre, the first French seaplane carrier, launching one of its birds.
I also beefed up the profile plates (showing all three versions of HMS Furious, and adding HMS Vindictive’s profile to the plate with the Argus). With that, The Great Publishing Gods were happy and a few weeks later the book got a go.
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