The History of the (Whole) World

my progress as I write, revise, send to my editor, re-revise, fact-check, galley-read, and promote my books, including (but not limited to) a multi-volume history of the world. While living on a farm, educating my kids, and teaching. And doing a few other things too.

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Writing in fish mode

November 28th, 2014 by Susan

In nonfiction publishing, you typically sell your publisher a promise–an outline, a few sample chapters, and a deadline by which you plan to have the project finished. Writing under contract is good for publishers, who can begin to plan out their lists a few years in advance, as well as providing feedback on projects in process. It’s good for writers because we get some money up front to keep us from starving while we lock ourselves in our offices to write–and we don’t spend years on a manuscript that nobody really wants to publish.

For the last fifteen years, I’ve been writing under contract. I’m lucky that I have contracts. I’m lucky that people want to read what I write. I’m lucky that I can make a living this way.

It’s just that I’ve done big project after big project after big project, almost always behind deadline. (I used to suggest a deadline when I signed a contract. Then I started settling on a deadline and doubling the time. Then I started doubling the time and adding six months. I still never finish anything within the time frame on the contract.) It’s wearing, because when I’m behind I feel that I can’t afford to stop and reflect on what I’m doing. It’s not great for creativity, because you don’t have the luxury of rebooting if a book starts to go in an unexpected direction. It leads to late nights, early mornings, not enough exercise, and too much high-calorie comfort food.

So about a year ago, I promised myself that when I hit my last big deadline, I wouldn’t sign another contract immediately. Instead, I decided to take six months and just write. Go down to my office and work on anything that struck my fancy. Read, reflect, experiment, let my horizons expand.

I’ve been looking forward to this six months. Can’t even tell you how much.

The six months started the first week of October. I have until the end of March to read, reflect, and experiment.

And I hate it. I have about eight different projects I want to do, and I can’t seem to make headway on any of them. I am in total fish mode.


“Fish mode” is a phrase my husband invented a few years ago to describe the kind of progress you make on a project when you go one way for a little bit, and then turn around and go the other way, and then swim a little to the left, and then a little to the right. I don’t like fish mode. It wastes time and energy. It isn’t gratifying in the slightest.

And even though I thought I hated them, I miss my deadlines. They keep me focused. They force me to carve out bottom-in-the-chair, fingers-on-the-keyboard time. They force everyone else to work around my writing time (because, after all, I have to get that writing done by the deadline).

I’m going to stick out my six months. I’m not going to send anything to my editor or agent, or promise anything to my Peace Hill Press readers, until March 31 has come and gone. I suspect something useful and important is going on in my non-deadlining brain, even though I don’t appear to be making any particular progress.

But this “break” is oddly stressful. Fish mode, as it turns out, is exhausting.

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The Story of Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory

November 15th, 2014 by Susan

storyofscience“Far too often, issues based on science are decided by voters and politicians who have received their science secondhand. The Story of Science guides us back to the original texts that have changed the way we think about our world, our cosmos, and ourselves.” My latest book for W. W. Norton, The Story of Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory, now has a pub date: May 2015.

This has been a wonderful project–a chronological walk through the greatest discoveries of science, organized around the books that brought those discoveries to the world. You can read the full description at W. W. Norton’s online catalog page, The Story of Science. (Norton does the most intriguing, insightful book covers ever, by the way. Can you see what makes this one perfect for a story that stretches from the ancient astronomers to modern cosmologists?)

Visit the Table of Contents here (manuscript version) for more detail, or have a look at the Foreword, which lays out the book’s purpose.

More news forthcoming shortly about a new Fall 2015 release, plus a brand-new and INCREDIBLY FASCINATING project. Sign up for my email notification list to stay in touch.

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Writing, writing, writing

April 9th, 2014 by Susan

…by which I mean not so much that I’m writing (although that’s mostly what I do, when I’m not sheep-herding or stall-cleaning), but that I’ve just finished up a big project about writing. The third volume of Writing With Skill, our pre-rhetoric program, is finally polished off and in production.

I’ve had a number of requests for the Table of Contents from educators who are planning their next year, so here it is: Writing With Skill, Level III, TOC. (I uploaded it as a PDF, for your convenience, so when you get to the next page, click on the title one more time.)

If you use Writing With Ease or Writing With Skill, also be sure to check out my updated recommendations here.

(And if you’re wondering why I haven’t been blogging so much recently, I’ve kind of come around to this way of thinking. And have been putting most of my energies towards other kinds of writing.)

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A new Peace Hill venture

January 14th, 2014 by Susan

For those of you who are sheep, wool, or knitting enthusiasts…I now have a farm store!

If you’ve followed this blog, you know that I’ve been raising Leicester Longwool sheep and Angora goats as a break from my writing duties. We’ve learned how to skirt the fleeces (prepare them for processing) and have found a wonderful Maryland fiber mill to spin the wool into a gorgeous custom blend. Check out our wool offerings by clicking here.


Also notice that if you’d like a lamb of your own, we’re expecting LOTS of them in the spring…

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The barn thermometer, this morning.

January 7th, 2014 by Susan


I feel no further words are necessary…

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Thanks, Belgium!

November 19th, 2013 by Susan

So this popped up this morning in my news feeder. It’s this week’s Top Ten Audiobook History Downloads on iTunes:


Hey, I’m number 8!

But only in Belgium.

I’m really curious now…and, perhaps, planning a trip to Brussels…

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Publication day, sort of.

September 22nd, 2013 by Susan

Folks, tomorrow is the Official Publication Day for The History of the Renaissance World: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Conquest of Constantinople.


…Which means nothing.

Publication day is a publishing myth. By the time publication day dawns, physical copies of the book have been floating around for weeks. Booksellers are theoretically supposed to wait until “publication day” to put books on sale, but unless the book covers an incredibly timely current-events topic or is written by J. K. Rowling, they don’t usually bother.

Even though the “official publication day” is Monday, September 23, The History of the Renaissance World has been selling from Barnes and Noble and The Strand for over a week. You could have ordered it directly from W. W. Norton two weeks ago. It started selling from Amazon with a “1-2 day processing time” on Friday. But today, 24 hours before “publication,” it’s gone to “Ships within 24 hours” status,” so I think we can safely say that it’s been published.

The only version that’s not available…? The ebook. That, which is instantaneously available and could have started selling weeks ago (since it wasn’t waiting on the printing and binding process), is being held until “publication date.”

Welcome to the irrational world of publishing.

In the meantime, if you happen to see it at your local bookstore, snap a picture for me, OK?

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Ken Ludwig’s How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare

September 7th, 2013 by Susan

Recently, the Wall Street Journal asked me to review Ken Ludwig’s new book How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare. I really, really wanted to like this book. And for the first few chapters I loved it. And then…

By the time I got to Chapter 37′s instructions on memorizing Hamlet’s soliloquies (“that possibility—that death would bring us the nightmares of hell . . . stops us from killing ourselves”), I was pretty well convinced that children have no business reading Shakespeare, let alone memorizing it.

You can read the whole review at the Wall Street Journal online. (If you have trouble getting past the “subscribe” page, you can also google “Wise Bauer” “Fancy’s Children” and follow the top link…for some reason that brings up the full article while the above link doesn’t always. Putting your browser on “incognito” or “private” will also help. And no, that wasn’t my original title. I liked mine better.)

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Thank you, Audible!

August 14th, 2013 by Susan

After my readers reacted to the original recording of The History of the Ancient World, Audible pulled it and reassigned the project to John Lee, the wonderful British actor who recorded The History of the Medieval World.

It’s now available. Have a listen to the sample, because hearing John Lee say “Alulim” and “Eridu” in the same sentence is an experience that can’t be described in words.

Audible page

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Thanks, Barnes & Noble!

July 11th, 2013 by Susan

In the midst of Barnes & Noble’s troubles, their editorial team has managed to post a review of The History of the Renaissance World.

Tackling the entire Renaissance has overwhelmed more than one historian, but for Susan Wise Bauer, it’s just another rich project. The woman who gave us The History of the World series, The History of the Ancient World, and The History of the Medieval World has long since mastered the fine art of historical narrative. In The History of the Renaissance World, she begins the story in the final year of the eleventh century, with Christians finally in control of Jerusalem after four hundred years, and proceeds to describe the cultural, political, and military changes, sometimes rapid and often cataclysmic, that affected civilizations from England, mainland Europe and the Middle East to India and China. Nor does she neglect things mostly beyond human control, including the Great Famine, the Black Death, and the Little Ice Age. An adroit retelling of an era of great rebirth.

B&N editor, whoever you are, thanks for reading and understanding the book. (Puts you one up on the Publisher’s Weekly reviewer.)

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Great review from Kirkus!

June 20th, 2013 by Susan

Kirkus Reviews, one of the major pre-publication review journals, has now published its positive review of the History of the Renaissance World.

kirkus jpg

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Really, really, really long audiobooks

June 4th, 2013 by Susan

A little while ago, my esteemed editor forwarded me this note from Norton’s subsidiary rights department…

Audio rights for THE HISTORY OF THE RENAISSANCE WORLD have just been sold to Audible. They’ll also do the other backlist titles that are still available: THE WELL-TRAINED MIND, THE WELL-EDUCATED MIND and THE HISTORY OF THE ANCIENT WORLD.

That was very happy news. Audible bought the audio rights to the History of the Medieval World a couple of years ago and produced a lovely version read by the British actor John Lee–in fact, it won a couple of awards. People then kept asking me why the History of the Ancient World wasn’t available on audio, under the impression that I have some sort of control over the process…which I don’t. Someone’s got to buy the rights first.

So, good on Audible. Frankly, I can’t imagine how on earth they’re going to make an audio version of The Well-Trained Mind (are they going to read ALL those lists of recommendations? With the prices? And the ISBN numbers?)…but that’s their outlook.

I just saw yesterday that the Audible version of The History of the Ancient World is now available for download as well. So I clicked over to the page to check it out.


OK, do me a favor. Click here and go to the Audible page. Listen to the sample.

What do you think of the narrator?

I mean, writers are rarely completely happy with the final form of any work that’s published or produced. We always have some gripe. And as much as I like John Lee’s voice, I actually can’t listen to him read my sentences because they come out sounding all wrong to my ear. I guess I always hear them in my voice, and to have a male British voice suddenly in my head instead is just weird.

But this narrator…

Well, I won’t finish that sentence. You tell me what you think instead.

ADDENDUM, June 13: Interesting…Audible seems to have taken the audio version down. Will it reappear with another narrator? Stay tuned…

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