I’ve been skeptical but open-minded about Creative Commons, and not sure what it really does for authors versus traditional copyright. But in this blog post from Scholarly Kitchen, there are some serious potential consequences. This post is by Rick Anderson, Associate Dean for Scholarly Resources & Collections at the University of Utah. Thanks to Georgetown science librarian Jill Hollingsworth for bringing it to my attention: http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2014/03/31/cc-by-copyright-and-stolen-advocacy/
This looks like fun, since in my field (Restoration and eighteenth-century studies) it is so easy to find antedatings: http://public.oed.com/appeals/
Every year the American Library Association chooses the “Best of the Best” from among university press books, chosen by librarians. Here is the clip on C-Span BookTV from 2013: http://www.c-span.org/video/?313850-1/best-best-university-presses
Congratulations to Assistant Dean Anne Ridder, who has promoted the book Locomotive to me for many months! She was excited about it, brought it to Booklab, discussed it with other faculty members, etc.
The author and illustrator, Brian Floca, is the son of one of her lifelong friends. Another friend is author Barbara DeRubertis, whose photo is in a post below, and a third is Carol Menkiti whom I met in Boston where she works at the Grolier Book Shop. Anne showed us Brian Floca’s book Moon Shot, and we have followed his work ever since. Brian Floca’s website is here.
I invite you to enjoy Dr. Patricia O’Connor’s glorious book manuscript! We both must have loved kindergarten, as I, too, use colors to keep track of ideas and to make writing and notetaking more interesting. She and I have been working together in faculty groups for a few years now. Lovely work, Patricia.
How can embassies support scholarly publishing? In quite a few ways! By its very nature academic publishing is an international pursuit, so embassies and university presses end up at the same intersection of culture and diplomacy often enough. Last Friday it was my pleasure to join hosts from the Embassy of India at a lunch with some Georgetown colleagues to share ideas about these overlaps.
Last fall several of us attended a talk by an editor from Harvard University Press at the Embassy. At this lunch we thought together about other ways we can collaborate creatively.
Congratulations to Betsi Stephen, and her co-authors Anjani Chandra (lead) and Casey Copen; the publication is: “Infertility Service Use in the United States: Data from the National Survey of Family Growth, 1982-2010,” National Health Statistics Reports, No. 73, January 22, 2014.
The report was discussed in USA TODAY as well as 3 other health-related publications.
Using professional storytelling techniques for conference papers? It’s possible, and I will go to a show by the group Better Said than Done (Professor Anna Trester’s group) on Saturday night at the Auld Shebeen to see more about how it works. Event is here: http://www.bettersaidthandone.com/upcoming-shows/
Attended a talk last night at the Embassy of India, cohosted by the Harvard University Center for Hellenic Studies. The talk was “India After English,” by Dr. Sharmila Sen, Executive Editor-at-Large of Harvard University Press. These sorts of public intellectual collaborations are superb, and bring together the unique resources of embassies in a substantive conversation with the academy. Here is more about Dr. Sen:
Sharmila Sen grew up in Calcutta and Cambridge, MA. She received her B.A. from Harvard and her PhD from Yale in English literature. She taught literature at Harvard [before being] appointed to be an acquisitions editor at Harvard University Press. Currently, as Executive Editor-at-Large, she acquires books on classics, religion, and South Asia, as well as on a host of other subject areas, from scholars all over the world. She also oversees the digital Loeb Classical Library, the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, and the Murty Classical Library of India. [Dr. Sen] has conducted research, lectured, and taught in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Trinidad, Guyana, Thailand, Singapore, China, Morocco, Australia, as well as in numerous European countries.
Sarah Martin Banse at Ploughshares offers this intelligent and balanced piece about writing cover letters for literary material. Personally, I’ve always disliked the long cover letter, and I don’t write them for my own work. Instead, I prefer a businesslike format, and Banse argues for something similar. After all, a letter’s content is seldom as rich and compelling as the writing in the piece itself, and the only thing editors really needs to know is why reading the attached will be a good use of their time.
Here’s a cute photo from breakfast at Georgetown University’s Faculty Club. L-R Anne Ridder, Assistant Dean of Graduate Liberal Studies; Carole Sargent, Director, Office of Scholarly Publications, holding a book on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Barbara de Rubertis; Maurice Jackson, Associate Professor, Department of History; Andrew Aydin, Aide to Congressman John Lewis, holding the book March that they wrote together; and children’s book author (and friend of Anne Ridder) Barbara de Rubertis.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like in Scriptorium? Faculty meet five mornings a week to write with Carole Sargent on the second floor of the Mortara Center. Scriptorium is drop-in casual, just a quiet place to make scholarly writing more social. If you crave a commitment to your colleagues without the hassle of a group (some authors do both), this might be the right choice for you. Write to email@example.com for details.
Photo by George Shambaugh (that’s his laptop in the foreground).
Both Jessica Kritz and Aparna Vaidik sent this one to me. It is a piece from The Guardian reviewing the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. Both Aparna and Jessica recognized in it my almost obsessive mantra: writing a little bit every day is better than writing in large chunks sometimes. Clicking the book below will take you to his website.
The Office of Scholarly Publications invites faculty and graduate students to a talk with Q&A about scholarly book publishing by Timothy Mennel, PhD, Senior Acquisitions Editor at the University of Chicago Press. This event will be co-hosted by Marcia Chatelain, PhD of the Department of History, and Carole Sargent, PhD, Director of the Office of Scholarly Publications.
Wednesday, October 9, 10:30am-12noon, Leavey Program Room. The event is free, but reservations are required, firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line CHICAGO.
Thank you to Dr. Letitia Bode for this great observation. She writes:
There’s a big discussion in my field about gender in the discipline right now, and one of the major blogs has had a series of posts on the topic this week. The latest (written by the editor of one of the top journals in political science) considers potential gender bias in publishing, and specifically points out that women are less likely to ask questions of editors or ask for extensions for R&R’s (I’ve copied the relevant text below). Thought you’d be interested to see this since you’re always encouraging us to contact editors! Here’s the link, and the two most relevant paragraphs:
To female authors who have been asked to revise and resubmit your manuscript: keep two things in mind. First, if you find that the editor is unclear about what is expected of you, then ask the editor. I grant very few revisions and I have a vested interest in getting you to revise the manuscript so that it will be successful. E-mail me or call me. Your male counterparts are not shy about asking.
Second, if the revision is going to take more time than you anticipated, ask for an extension. I would much rather have a well crafted piece of science than something that was hurried because of a deadline. It may be that you need additional time because you need to collect additional data, because of health issues or child care duties. The reason is not important. I want you to show me your best effort. Again, your male counterparts are not shy about seeking extensions.
(l-r) Susan Stewart (Princeton); Laura Benedetti (Georgetown); and Sara Teardo (Princeton) at the Italian Embassy last night. They presented a novel by Laudomia Bonanni (1907 – 2002), The Reprisal, recently translated into English by Teardo and Stewart and published by the University of Chicago Press. I sat in the audience with Gianni Cicali and Serafina Hager. Photo by Gianni Cicali.
A new faculty member writes:
I’ve been looking for the ‘Journal Impact Factor’ you mentioned during our last session, but I haven’t been able to access the actual impact factor for relevant journals. Could you send more information about this, or pass on a list if it is available to us?
Here is my answer:
Rankings are imperfect, and online tools are science focused, but here is one tool I use: http://www.scimagojr.com/journalrank.php
I use h-index. It is determined by counting citations, but then adjusting for new papers with no citations, and very old papers that may have many just because they have been around so long. You can find h-factor by using the pull-down box next to “Order by:”
You can start with “Journal Search” to find journals. Here are three sample lists:
[Responding to faculty member's general topic]: Putting jud in the search box yields this list, finding both Judiaism and Judaica: http://www.scimagojr.com/journalsearch.php?q=jud&tip=jou
But a search like this will only yield journals focused on a precise subject. You also might want to try a general search on “religious studies” (drop-down box) sorted by h-index: http://tinyurl.com/kjp34mr
An even broader search would be “arts and humanities”: http://tinyurl.com/n3hq3hv
You may feel as though you are getting non-sequitur journals, and to a certain extent you will, but careful reading and clicking may lead you to a win-win-win, just like the re-discovery of the journal Signs was for me.
It is important not to over-use rankings in the humanities. Many journals are niche and should be, and comparing them to higher impact journals has a great aspect of apples and oranges to it. Every journal on my personal list is a great one.
Also, here is a quick list of some reasons why impact factor is flawed: (1) Problematic research can be cited as such, but then become high-impact because of frequent citations; (2) impact factor favors older articles and older journals over newer ones; (3) Some citations become circular. Foucault is the most frequently cited scholar, but so many citations eventually become suspect: he is cited because he is known, and he is known because he is cited; (4) Women cite themselves far less frequently than men, and this has a sociological effect on women’s impact… men are also more frequently cited than women by others; (5) Impact factor favors generality over specificity, and interdisciplinarity over disciplinarity. These are not necessarily good things.
I just now registered to take Edward Tufte’s upcoming course in Arlington on the visual display of quantitative information.
Have you ever taken a Tufte seminar or read one of his books?
When I choose a book for our faculty writing list, it’s a momentous event. Very few “how to write” books make the cut, in part because I’m highly selective, and also in part because many fine books simply do not address the unique issues our faculty authors face. We’re supposed to be as scholarly as possible in journals, but more narrative in books. We’re expected to speak to a penumbra or two of scholars outside of our fields, while still remaining essential for scholars within our fields. It is a nimble and challenging balance, and few books speak to scholars’ interests in a way that works for us. Also, as a practical matter, most “how to write” books are for beginning writers, and almost by definition most faculty members I work with are accomplished and published. The short list of books we have found useful includes How to Write a Lot by Paul Silvia (APA Press), Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Belcher (Sage), Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword (Harvard), and now this gem, The Elements of Story by Francis Flaherty (Harper).
Professor Dan Byman recommended this book to me after it was suggested to him by his editor. He is already enormously well-published, so I had hope that this book would add value to the efforts of the accomplished author rather than speaking solely to the needs of beginners. It does! Soon I will blog about why I particularly admire it, but for now I hope it is enough to say that if you want to craft effective, narrative nonfiction, you should read this book.
What impact does expanded citizenship have on political and social life? In this book, Professor Lahra Smith focuses on the contestation over citizen creation through a study of citizenship expansion in contemporary Ethiopia. She develops the concept of meaningful citizenship as a way to move beyond legal and procedural definitions of the citizen.
In the talk Professor Smith will address an interesting set of questions surrounding citizenship rights for women. The 1995 federal constitution of Ethiopia includes sweeping provisions for Ethiopian citizens as members of ethnic communities. At the same time, the constitution includes dramatic protections for women, which were subsequently incorporated into a comprehensive revision of law in the Revised Family Code of 2000. How do these two documents and the principles they enshrine– rights for ethnic communities and rights for women– reconcile what will surely arise as conflicts?
Moderated by: Scott Taylor, Professor and Director, African Studies Program
Books will be available for purchase.
This event is cosponsored by the Mortara Center for International Studies and the African Studies Program.
The annual meeting of the American Historical Association conference will be in Washington, DC this year, and the Office of Scholarly Publications will participate in two key ways. First, I’ll be there daily taking our faculty around personally to meet editors at conference booths. We are setting up appointments now and ensuring that faculty who have book projects underway will have excellent meetings with key editors. Second, I’m inviting select editors to come visit us on campus. Although I will be doing the outreach, editors are also welcomed to reach out to me if there is interest in participating. The link to the AHA annual meeting is here: http://historians.org/annual/2014/index.cfm
A book co-authored by Joanne Rappaport and Tom Cummins has won the Bryce Wood Book Award from the Latin American Studies Association (LASA). Dr. Rappaport is an anthropologist with a joint appointment in the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Georgetown. Dr. Cummins is the Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre-Columbian and Colonial Art at Harvard. Their book is Beyond the Lettered City: Indigenous Literacies in the Andes (Duke University Press, 2012).
The Bryce Wood Award is the highest book honor given by LASA and, as a statement by University of Montana for the previous winner says, it “is one of the most prestigious accolades a scholar of Latin America in the areas of humanities or social sciences can receive.” The event was in Gaston Hall at Georgetown University.
Anna Trester is a faculty member in the linguistics department and an academic author. She also expands her love of language to storytelling, an art she is studying after it grew out of her earlier explorations in improvisational theater.
On June 15 she will lead a storytelling workshop. You’ll learn to craft a story, and also perform it. Click here or on her photo to read more about it!
In Patricia Goodson’s book Becoming an Academic Writer, her first exercise is to schedule 15 minutes of writing time four days a week (she recommends one day off). Do that for one full week. Then, her second exercise is to gradually increase your writing time by one minute per session. Just one minute! That seems brilliant to me, because it allows you to build up slowly. At the end of 15 days you’ll have built up to 30 minutes, painlessly.
Alumnus Pat Gordon, SFS ’12, reads Integrated Peacebuilding, a new book edited by Craig Zelizer in Georgetown’s Conflict Resolution Program, and published by Praeger Westview. Authors in this exciting book include some connected to Carole or this office such as Brian Kritz, Katherine Marshall, Andria Wisler, and J.P. Singh.
That Won’t Sell!
An editor once handed me a bound galley of a book on religious psychology that he was about to publish. I riffled its pages. The content looked awfully opaque. I handed it back with polite murmurs, thinking to myself, “This book will never sell.” Its title was Care of the Soul.
No matter how confident their tone, whoever says of a proposed book, “It won’t sell,” is stating an opinion, not a verity. The only way to find out if a book will sell is to try to sell it. Trends have to start somewhere. Perhaps your project will start a trend, the one you’ve been told has no prospects in the marketplace.
(Excerpt from The Writer’s Book of Hope, p. 109)
Keyes then goes on to list many bestsellers whose authors were told their books would never sell, including Nabokov’s Lolita and Wiesel’s Night.
I especially enjoy including this story because Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, visited Booklab via Georgetown’s John Main Meditation Center in 2008: http://georgetownbooks.blogspot.com/2008/02/bestselling-author-thomas-moore-comes.html
Now and then (pretty much daily) I will post bites from various scholarly writing books that I admire. This one is from my favorite guide to writing journal articles. I used this workbook to publish two major articles in my field as a literary historian.
Two scholars usefully call your argument’s relationship to previous arguments your “entry point,” your way into the ongoing scholarly conversation on a topic (Parker and Riley 1995). If you imagine your article as entering into a conversation, it makes perfect sense that you wouldn’t just walk into a room and start talking about your own ideas. If there were people already in the room, you would listen to them for a while first. If you decided to speak, you would do so because you agreed or disagreed with something someone else said. If the conversation went on for a long time without addressing some topic dear to you, you might say, “I notice that we haven’t talked about such and such yet.” In all cases, you would acknowledge the conversation and then make your point.
A useful aspect of this conversation analogy is that it focuses your mind on argument. You wouldn’t walk into a room and portentously announce descriptive information (e.g., Midnight’s Children was published in 1981 or South African elections were held in 1994). Everyone in the room already knows this basic information. Such statements aren’t argumentative. Remember, an argument is something you can coherently respond to by saying, “I agree” or “I disagree.” You enter into the conversation by supporting an argument, debating an argument, or announcing that an argument needs to be made. Therefore, your entry point is where your argument enters the debate occurring in the previous research on the topic.
Belcher, Wendy Laura (2009-02-13). Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (Kindle Locations 3256-3261). Sage Publications.
One of our authors was heartsick because his publisher had done nothing to arrange for blurbs for his forthcoming book. He was rather surprised when I told him that is usually the author’s responsibility. Authors are typically taken aback when I let them know that everything is up to the author: content, form, blurbs, even much of the promotion and marketing. Usually they respond with a kind of sad, measured outrage that publishers “don’t do more,” but the reality is that only one authority exists on your book, and that is you alone. You’re the one who gets up this morning and every morning caring about the fortunes of your book in the world, and you are the one who is best positioned to arrange for blurbs, those comments on the cover that often help sell books. Here are some guidelines to get you started:
The usual method is to write to the highest-ranking people to whom you have access to let them know that you have a book forthcoming, and that you’d be honored if they would consider offering a word for it. Then you attach your materials to give that person some background. The briefer the better as many blurbers can’t/won’t read much, and you could also be specific about how you see the potential blurber connecting to the work (i.e. write some of the blurb by “leading” the person, e.g. “I would be honored if you would offer a word about this since you are the foremost authority on X and I write about X in this excerpt from Chapter Two,” and then send the person only that bit). Some further guidelines from my personal experience:
1. Ask more people than you need… some will say no, and you can always use any extras on the inside front of the book or at your website, on Facebook, etc.
2. Reach above your head to people you may not know but who might be willing to blurb. Prestigious blurbs help them, too, if you are publishing with a first-tier press. This isn’t about someone nobody knows saying you’re great… it’s about getting a leading name to endorse your work if you can.
3. Be prepared to remind and hand-hold if someone says yes but does not deliver. Be further prepared to do all of this followup yourself, because most publishers will not.
Some people will say no, but if you get a decline, please don’t be embarrassed that you asked. It is good form to ask, and it is good form to decline if one doesn’t wish to provide a blurb. It’s all part of the game, but some authors are mortified when they ask and a blurber says no. Feel comforted… you’re doing a right and appropriate thing! Many will say yes, and sometimes the bigger they are the more likely they are to say yes.
This office has had many exciting triumphs with authors, but one of my very favorites was the day that we got a literary agent for talented fiction author Corwyn Alvarez. Here, in his own words, is the story, just after the one-year anniversary of the book’s publication.
When I came to the Office of Scholarly Publications (at that time the Office of Scholarly and Literary Publications) with my novel, The Dog Walker, in hand, Dr. Carole Sargent was pleasantly forthright with me in telling me that I shouldn’t hold my breath since she had never had a work of fiction picked up by an agent before. Not what I wanted to hear, but my life had been a chain of failures up until that time, so I figured that one more wouldn’t make much difference. It’s good that I didn’t hold my breath because an entire year went by and no agent.
At that point, I reconciled myself to the idea that I was not destined for any success as a writer. So I did what any desperate writer would do. I went to visit F. Scott Fitzgerald’s gravesite and in disgust threw my manuscript on his grave. As best I can remember, I did not offer Fitzgerald any prayers or perform any voodoo ceremony on his grave. The next day we got four feet of snow, which buried everything in sight including my manuscript on Fitzgerald’s grave. This seemed symbolically foreboding and I felt sure that the literary gods were sending me a message.
A few months later, it happened. Carole informed me that Mr. Don Fehr (literary agent) of Trident Media Group was interested in representing my book. Thanks to Don’s diligence, he eventually found a publisher who was willing to buy my manuscript and take a chance on an unknown novelist.
My novel was published in February 2012 and much has happened since that time. But to this day, I fondly remember that summer day I went to Carole’s Georgetown office and she greeted me warmly. That day marked my beginning as a writer (despite everything I had been through up to that point), and beginnings always have a magical quality to them that can never be repeated or supplanted…
In June I will give a paper at a conference called Books For Development, discussing how books are acquired, distributed, used, and preserved at some of the libraries and schools around the world I have visited. My paper will be on Haiti and what I learned from visiting a secondary school and a law school there. However, I have also visited libraries in Doha, Qatar, in Nairobi, Kenya and in New Delhi, India. Qatar has plenty of money for books and a higher education mandate to match; individuals can also afford to buy books. India has quite of money to devote to this since higher education is also national priority, but it is difficult for individuals to afford enough books. Kenya and Haiti struggle more, both because of their distance from international publishing centers, and because of their economies. Their libraries need more help and support; individuals are unlikely to be able to afford books except at the very top strata of society.
Today there is a piece in the New York Times by novelist Yu Hua about how and why books are “pirated” in some regions where sharing copies isn’t considered stealing, but instead a necessary form of getting materials to readers who can’t afford them. It’s a complex article, and I urge you to read it with the sense that the story on the ground is always more complex than it seems from afar. At least that has been my experience in Haiti, India, and Kenya.
Over the next few weeks I’ll post bites from various scholarly writing books that I admire. This one is from Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword, published by Harvard University Press in 2012.
Quote from cover material:
Sword’s analysis of more than a thousand peer-reviewed articles across a wide range of fields documents a startling gap between how academics typically describe good writing and the turgid prose they regularly produce.
Quote from page 9, on writing guides:
In a nutshell, I found that the writing guides offer virtually unanimous advice on some points of style (such as the need for clarity and concision) but conflicting recommendations on other (such as pronoun usage and structure)… [hence] stylish academic writing is a complex and often contradictory business.
And now my thoughts: “No kidding!” Seriously, I have found writing advice to be hugely contradictory, and many of the most revered books contain advice that is questionable or even demonstrably wrong. The handful that I do recommend (please see the link at the right) are wonderful, and I’m always interested in hearing from faculty about what has worked for you.
Guest blog post from Dr. Anna Trester, a sociolinguist who has recently published a volume she co-edited with Dr. Deborah Tannen. Dr. Trester’s Georgetown blog is here.
I received my copy of Discourse 2.0 (the book I co-edited with Deborah Tannen) yesterday, just in time for me to bring a copy to the Intercultural Management Institute (IMI) up at American University tomorrow, a conference for “interculturalists,” people from all over the world involved in intercultural research, teaching, and training.
Last year at IMI, my co-author Laura West and I gave a workshop out of the collaborative work that we have been doing on Facebook (Chapter 8 in the book). This work came out of conversations about our respective expectations and assumptions about how language works on this site, which we came to realize were shaped by our relative ages at the time that we began using it. Laura started to use Facebook during college, when closely surrounded by a group of friends who were all figuring it out as they went along together. Thus for her, socialization into Facebook was supremely social. Being slightly older that her, I started using Facebook when I was in my late 20’s, on my first job, having to be slightly more furtive about my engagement with the site (largely on my lunch break) and largely alone when I was on it. Navigating my first real job, I was wary of Facebook sucking up too much of my time, and perceived everything from the very first request to join the site as a demand on my time (or as we analyze it a threat to my negative face).
Recognizing this as a kind of cross-cultural communication, we analyzed each other’s (current) reactions to back-and-forth interactions collected from Facebook as well as some jokes about Facebook to uncover more such held unarticulated norms. In the Discourse 2.0 book, my co-editor Deborah Tannen’s chapter (Chapter 6) similarly engages questions of age, and also gender, in expectations about how to use social media. Focusing primarily on social interaction mediated by texting, she identifies the use of linguistic features like capitalization, emphatic punctuation, repetition, and speed of reply as aspects of conversational style, which can lead to miscommunication and mutual misjudgment in interaction. Social media as cross-cultural communication is but one theme of the book, but an important aspect of our data-driven, bottom-up approach, which seeks to understand what people actually DO using social media, and how language can MEAN.
This year at IMI (aka tomorrow), I am going to be presenting an extension of this work, an exploration of expectations about self-presentation and use of LinkedIn, the so-called “world’s largest professional network.” Often, when people begin with LinkedIn, the first thing that they must do is recognize and challenge the expectations that they bring with them to social interaction on the site, including and perhaps especially, expectations brought from Facebook. Given that these are unarticulated norms, speakers don’t realize that they have them, simply assuming that everyone understands and uses the site the same way that they do, however, your perceptions of what is expected on this platform will of course shape how you use it to interact it, how you understand those who interact with you, and how they in turn understand you. All of these things will shape how you are understood, in this case, professionally.
This interest in professional self-presentation is a piece of a larger project that I am currently engaged in looking at career exploration through a linguistic lens. Job searching is ultimately a series of texts and interactions, each of which with its own genre conventions and expectations. A linguist’s eye is invaluable in navigating these highly textual genres. Through increased awareness of how language, and especially narrative, works in these contexts, I aim to help job seekers better tell stories that connect with their audiences.
Routledge just published a second book from Dr. Katherine Marshall, a Senior Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. Global Institutions of Religion: Ancient Movers, Modern Shakers explores the intersection of religion and such issues as human rights, international development, climate change, and other major issues for current academic dialogue.
I took this photo at the Berkley Center today, after hearing a great talk she moderated by her friend and guest, Huffington Post senior religion editor Rev. Paul Raushenbush, discussing “The Power of the Internet on Our Religious Lives.”
It really is possible to get competing offers from university press publishers. One my my authors Skyped to me in January while I was in Doha to say he had offers from three major university presses, with an advance offer from the most generous bidder of $4,000. This past week he sought my advice on how to choose the best deal (not necessarily the richest one). This runs completely counter to conventional wisdom that says you “have” to go to one press at a time, and that there is never any money in scholarly publishing. The methods I used to guide him how to get these offers are the same ones that university press editors taught me.
New webinars will start soon on how to meet and work with a variety of university press editors.
This is huge. John Tutino has won the Bolton-Johnson prize for the best book in English on Latin American history published in the previous year. The prize is awarded by the Conference on Latin American History. Congratulations, John!
Click on the book cover to go to the university’s announcement page.
Stakeholders, Service, and the Future of University Press Publishing. The Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 44:2, January 2013.
The Office of Scholarly Publications works with nonfiction authors from time to time, to guide them to trade book publication. I advise them on crafting a powerful trade book proposal that will work for a great literary agent. Today I’m stunned and thrilled to report that a book we placed with one of the best agents in the country has sold to one of my favorites, Overlook Press. Author work with this office is confidential, so I won’t name the author or the agent, but I will post a photo of these lovely flowers that came with the card every book person loves to receive: “We have a publisher. Thank you!”
Paul Elie, Senior Fellow in Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, has been named as a finalist for the NBCC award for his new book, Reinventing Bach.
Paul led an extremely well-received roundtable for some of Georgetown post-tenure faculty last month on how academics can write books that work well for a trade-crossover audience.
Congratulations to Peter Feller for a brilliant narrative nonfiction debut in Foreign Policy magazine. We’ve worked together on this project for many years, through Peter’s painstaking detective work. He started with very little information at all (a photograph, some letters, family oral history), and he gradually researched the project in more detail, traveling the globe, employing translators, and hashing out his methods with various faculty members at Georgetown during our roundtables. The result is stunning, and I have all confidence that a magnificent book will be next.
What happened at the University of Missouri Press is a telling snapshot of problems in university press publishing now. This NYTimes article from last summer is good, and highlights the need for universities to support their presses.
Then today the news came through: the University of Missouri Press as been re-opened and the director re-instated. That’s great for UM, but of course it does not address the larger issue of the trend toward universities paring back support for their presses.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be working my way through Michael J. Hyatt’s book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World and blogging about it here. In the past we have used Get Known Before the Book Deal, a fine book but sometimes too general for our needs since it speaks to all authors at all levels, and it discusses all types of books.
I’ve been using Dr. Wendy Belcher’s brilliant Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks with faculty groups now for two years, and it just worked again. Thanks to her methods, I received an acceptance from another tier-one journal in my field just today. That book helps everyone who uses it, even the already-well-published, because it is saves time and organizes your efforts while professionalizing the entire process. Thank you, Wendy! And yes, the price of the book just went up (it’s $46 now), but it is a better investment in your career than either caffeine or therapy. ;-)
My friend Mike Kelly at UMass-Amherst posted this today.
A handful of publications are wonder targets for the kind of research that we focus on in Booklab. One of the best at straddling the line between hard news/economics/politics on one side, and engaging readability on the other (dare we say with a dash of entertainment?) is The Economist. In the weeks to come I’ll post tidbits here on how and why I think The Economist works, and why it makes sense both to read it and to contribute to it as a scholar.
Faculty scholarly book and article publishing groups will start soon, and we have a new offering. You can study university press books with me that have won the Pulitzer Prize. I’m not a believer in random luck or lightning-strikes. My theory is that success is a discipline and a choice, and it can be learned. Even though prizes can be capricious and political (ya think?) they are still a helpful index to work that succeeds according to certain criteria, if considered in context. We will also consider runners up and shortlist titles.
Yeah, that’s what I’d like to know as well. For the public intellectuals who come to Booklab, let’s get in a room and figure it out… http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/its_2012_already_why_is_opinio.php
This is worrying. Last year Utah State University Press announced its closing, but instead it became part of the University of Colorado Press. That was a creative solution, and it stayed open in this new arrangement, but now the University of Missouri Press has announced its closure. A modest university press costs its home institution about a half-million dollars a year, give or take (at least, that’s what directors have told me when I have visited presses… numbers vary widely depending on the size and reach of the press), simply because scholarly books are often not inherently profitable. By comparison, the endowment for the University of Missouri system is a little over a billion.
Some university presses do better than others. Georgetown University Press is notable for not losing any money, thanks to the strength of its languages lists. But still, $400,000 a year is not an outrageous sum for a press at all, and in this challenging publishing environment certainly not irregular compared to its peers.
Humpf. Worried. Sad.
Philosopher Nancy Sherman has a feature in the May 21, 2012 issue of America, a Jesuit, Catholic weekly. She shares stories from her book The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers (W.W. Norton), and Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy Behind the Military Mind (Oxford University Press).
You can click the magazine cover to read the article, or click here to watch an interview with her on C-SPAN Book TV.
So exciting to see a great review of Dr. Melissa Fisher’s upcoming book Wall Street Women, to be published this summer by Duke University Press. The review in Publisher’s Weekly is here.
Fisher has analyzed the arc and complexity of these women’s careers. The result is a brilliant and important book that introduces her term “market feminism” to understand how they combined the energy of the women’s movement with the realities of Wall Street.
One of the backbone rules of Booklab is that I only recommend how-to-publish books by practitioners. Their publishing must also be at a level commensurate with Georgetown’s publishing expectations for its own faculty. Wendy Belcher’s workbook Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks meets both expectations beautifully. She also has other books and articles, a list of which is here. Her new book from Oxford University Press is Abyssinia’s Samuel Johnson.
Here is more information about it:
As a young man, Samuel Johnson, one of the most celebrated English authors of the eighteenth century, translated A Voyage to Abyssinia by Jeronimo Lobo, a tome by a Portuguese missionary about the country now known as Ethiopia. Far from being a potboiler, this translation left an indelible imprint on Johnson. Demonstrating its importance through a range of research and attentive close readings, Abyssinia’s Samuel Johnson highlights the lasting influence of an African people on Johnson’s oeuvre.
Wendy Laura Belcher uncovers traces of African discourse in Johnson’s only work conceived for the stage, Irene; several of his short stories; and, of course, his most famous fiction, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia. Throughout, Belcher provides a much needed perspective on the power of the discourse of the other to infuse European texts. Most pointedly, she illuminates how the Western literary canon is globally produced, developing the powerful metaphor of spirit possession to suggest that some texts in the European canon are best understood as energumens–texts that are spoken through. Her model of discursive possession offers a new way of theorizing transcultural intertextuality, in particular how Europe’s others have co-constituted European representations. Drawing on sources in English, French, Portuguese, and Ge’ez, this study challenges the conventional wisdom on Johnson’s work, from the inspiration for the name Rasselas and the nature of Johnson’s religious beliefs to what makes Rasselas so strange.
A rich monograph that fuses eighteenth-century studies, comparative literature, and postcolonial theory, Abyssinia’s Samuel Johnson adds a fresh perspective on and a wealth of insights into the great, enigmatic man of letters.
Just returned from lunch at the Mortara Center, and Robert Lieber’s launch of his new book Power and Willpower in the American Future (Cambridge). It was one of the most engaging book events, with much more verbal jousting than usual, and substantive questions. These book events bring out the best of our public intellectual side, and are usually packed. Tonight at 5:30 there will be a second event, with Charles King being honored by the Program for Jewish Civilization for winning the National Jewish Book Award. His book Odessa, was published last year by Norton.
A business book author just asked me whether he should sign with a particular agent. I turned the question back to him by responding:
Basically your decision should be made on a combination of (in order):
1. Her recent sales (whether she is doing the job now as evidenced by recent book deals to publishers you admire);
2. Her client list (whether she already works with people with whom you want your career associated);
3. The quality and success of the resulting books (how you feel about the final outcome… what is published and how it does);
4. How you feel about her personally… whether you communicate well and enjoy working with her.
All literary agents should be willing to give you an exact list of deals they have done in the past couple of years, and also a list of whom they represent. These are tangibles… they are quantifiable, and you can learn much about an agent just from them. However, the last two points are more intangible. How do you feel about the books that resulted from those deals? Are they bestsellers? Midlist books? Do they reflect your vision for your own career?
I listed how you feel about the agent last, even though many authors place it first. Some authors go on and on to me about how much they love their agents, even if those agents haven’t had a deal in many months. Meanwhile, I personally care more about results than how much I like an agent. There are abrasive ones out there, though, and although I try not to weight the personal factor too much if the agent is making successful deals, there are some agents I have put on the “Do not query” list because the personality issues just aren’t worth it. Fortunately there are many successful agents who are also highly professional–the best of both worlds!
Francis Slakey has a successful new book! Read what ABA’s Indie Bound has to say:
To the Last Breath: A Memoir of Going to Extremes, by Francis Slakey
(Simon & Schuster, $27, 9781439198957)
“This is a splendid and exciting read about the author’s transition from self-centered narcissist to world citizen during his 10-year, physically and emotionally rigorous adventure to be the first person to climb the highest summits on every continent and surf all the oceans of the world. Highly recommended!” — Gary Colliver, Windows on the World-Books & Art, Mariposa, CA
Al sends along this video (it has probably gone a bit viral) about readers, and our expectations of them. I enjoyed it:
Here is a link to a thoughtful, substantive interview by a university press director, Willis G. Regier. It should be of interest to all prospective academic authors for a sense of what a university press editor is up against, and why it gets ever-harder to say “yes” to a book–even a book the editor may admire very much!
The interview is from 2004, and much has happened in the interim including the demise of the big-box bookstores to which Regier refers, but much of this remains evergreen.
I just saw this or I would have posted it earlier… an event at the LOC for Charles King’s most recent book. Here’s the whole entry from the Washington Post:
In 1794, Catherine the Great created the city of Odessa in what is now the southern Ukraine. As a port city, Odessa was the site of great cultural exchange. Get a taste of Charles King’s book about the city at an in-person lecture and book signing at the Library of Congress.Mary Pickford Theater101 Independence Avenue SE – 3rd floor – James Madison Building, Washington, DC | 202-707-5221
Adam Lifshey will give a lecture, and also read from his recent novel As Green As Paradise at the Tenley-Friendship Library on September 24. His research is particularly interesting because he studies African and Asian literature translated into Spanish, and this will be “the first public talk in the history of the world on both Asian and African literature in Spanish.” Can’t miss that!
John Tutino’s excellent new book, Making a New World: Founding Capitalism in the Bajío and Spanish North America, is just out from Duke University Press. He will discuss it at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, DC, on September 21 at 6:30. I’ll be there, and Georgetown’s bookstore will sell books.
Dr. Tutino will put Mexico in context as central to world history, and his discussant will be Dr. Brian Owensby, author of Empire of Law and Indian Justice in Colonial Mexico (Stanford University Press, 2008).
The University of Nebraska Press is buying the inventory of the Jewish Publication Society, and will take over its publishing: http://journalstar.com/news/local/education/article_6dacd265-e4ac-5d50-848f-9e5117ec54f8.html
A blog reader who is a faculty member at a university in the DC-Baltimore area asks: I’m curious what advice you would give to someone embarking on their first nonfiction book project about staying organized and on track. For example, do you recommend Scrivener, DEVONThink, or another specific data-management program? Are there particular tips, tricks, or programs your writers find helpful in managing a project’s schedule and logistics? Selling the book is not an issue; this question is about producing the manuscript.
Faculty in Booklab have reported their experiences with various types of organizing systems, and the clear winner was DEVONThink because two people recommended it versus one-time recommendations for other programs. From my observance most don’t use any system at all. Also, it depends on the type of book you’re writing, and how many bits of things have to be organized.
I’ve been a longstanding fan of Franklin/Covey, and I did a one-day “Focus: Achieving Your Highest Priorities” seminar in 2006 when I started this job as a way of learning how to organize and plan at a higher level. I have also tried a system recommended by choreographer Twyla Tharp in her terrific book The Creative Habit. She uses physical boxes; I wrote a blog post about it here. My problem was that the box worked best for people who like things printed out on paper. I like documents as computer files whenever possible, so I eventually abandoned the box and returned to Franklin/Covey. However, it is interesting to think about for those who like physical representations of ideas.
The thing I have found that works best is being part of a faculty scholarly publishing group. Scholars keep one another on track throughout the academic calendar, and it is amazing to watch the hyper-organized people exert influence on the less organized not through direct instruction, but more passively, by example. They set the bar higher, and we all find ourselves living up to it.
This past Monday I visited Marymount University to discuss scholarly publishing with faculty members at a lunchtime roundtable. This was part of their week-long summer writing bootcamp sponsored by the Center for Teaching Excellence. Marymount was founded by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary in 1950, and features a lovely campus in Arlington, Virginia, with outstanding programs including a highly ranked MBA. I brought copies of the books How to Write a Lot and Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, and we discussed process, productivity, group support and more.
What you do for a living is not be creative. Everyone is creative. What you do for a living is ship.
What you do for a living is not come up with great ideas. Every scholar has great ideas. What you do for a living is submit what you have written.
I’ve long touted the scholarly conference as an absolutely matchless place to meet university press editors, to peruse the offerings and styles of various presses, and to help them know your work. Now here, in the words of one of our best-published authors, is another perspective on the same idea:
I encourage [faculty] to work hard at developing their research and writing skills but also at making contacts. I would say that the time I spent in book exhibits at conventions schmoozing with acquisitions editors and publishers rather than listening to boring and self-aggrandizing research papers has paid rich dividends. That kind of networking is incredibly important. Of course, so too is having something significant to say: original research, new insights, not to mention engaging style, etc.
When thinking about writing for a new publication, especially one that feels like an aspirational reach, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and unworthy. One way that I reduce the target to manageable mental proportions is by focusing on something simple and measurable. I start with a really bean-county thing… word count. That may seem like a ridiculous vector from which to approach an intellectual undertaking, but it makes more sense than you would think. Editors will only publish things readers will read, and word count matters. I like to look at the shortest and longest pieces in a publication and aim toward the shorter end. Few readers have gotten to the end of a piece and said “Whew, I wish that had been longer.” Editors also can find more places to put shorter work.
The second thing I look at is structure, specifically how pieces tend to begin. A quick run through 30 or so issues of The New Yorker, for example, will reveal a remarkably stylized tendency to open pieces a certain way. If ever a magazine had a house style, The New Yorker would be a classic example, so this study, while mechanical, can also be helpful. Do I want to imitate that house style? Well, why not… after all, imitatio as an artistic discipline has a long and respected history. In one sense we probably don’t do it enough. I haven’t yet been published in The New Yorker, but my sole submission received a personal note back from a very famous editor saying I should try again soon, so I may have been on to something. After looking at beginnings I map a couple of key pieces, especially ones the periodical considers examples of its best published work.
Another concrete variable is topic. Literary magazines such as VQR, The Michigan Quarterly Review, Ploughshares etc. often follow topical patterns. Authors who learn to look ahead and see what’s coming up can write for these and possibly improve chances as well. Scholarly journals can be highly topical, and often won’t return to the core topic of a major article for as long as two years.
None of these alone or even taken as a group guarantees much of anything in terms of publication, but for me it helps to map the terrain in which I hope to navigate.
I can see the author now. She sits up straight most of the time, with her hands folded neatly in her lap. She is precise, from her short, sculpted haircut, to her beige manicure, to her modulated voice. Throughout her life she has been used to managing very well, especially in graduate school, where she was a star student who won awards. After grad school she earned a prestigious postdoc, and then a faculty post at an overseas university. She is now at Georgetown for three years in a visiting post that may become permanent. I experience her as gifted, organized, focused on her future, and perfectly clear about where she is going and why.
There is only one catch. She married and then had a child just a little over a year ago. For the first six months the baby was fun, funny, cute, and a good snugli-companion on campus. She wasn’t fussy or easily bored, she entertained herself by the desk, and she enjoyed coming onto campus with mom. But then she began to crawl, and she is now almost walking. Everything changed then. With mobility came will, and with will came moods. The sunny little infant is now an unsteady, sometimes-crabby toddler who doesn’t fit as easily on campus, so mom is staying home more. Dad is a committed father, but his work situation is heating up and he’s working later, earlier, more weekends, more holidays…
How did they fall into the traditional roles trap? She’s not sure. Maybe it is the perceived flexibility of the academic life versus a government career. Perhaps it is her own impulse to give her child more room to roam, even if it means extra supervision, than to restrict her by putting her in a playpen. Whatever the reasons, she’s writing less and less, and building up two banks of guilt, one where she never feels that she gives her child enough, and the other where her writing has dwindled to a desk littered with false starts, the bones of one confused manuscript, and a pile of books from which she has been away so long that she will have to re-read the first two just to remember where she was going when she checked them out. She has managed to triple her workload by never staying with something long enough to remember it fully. That’s when she sat on the couch in an uncharacteristic slouch, sighed, and said “I’m in deep need of this weekly confessional.”
Is it me she confesses to? I don’t think so. Is it her fellow authors in the group? Perhaps. But to paraphrase a counselor friend, I think she mostly confesses to herself, but out loud in front of witnesses. I remind her that the best example she can set for her daughter is a consistent pattern of taking care of herself by focusing appropriate time and attention on her career. She knows this at one level–that self-sacrifice for children is sometimes for naught if the only thing the kids take away from it is guilt and lower standards–and the feminist in her is thrilled to hear that attending to her own priorities will help her children learn to set theirs. But she still feels guilty, and for that she wants to own up, come clean, express whatever it is she needs to express so that she can make a commitment.
At the end of every check-in we always make a statement about the week to come, and what we plan to accomplish in it. She takes a deep breath and says, “For the coming week . . .”
Earlier in the week I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop for St. Joseph’s University faculty on scholarly book and article publishing. The workshop was hosted by Fr. Daniel Joyce, S.J. through the Office of Mission and Identity. Faculty came from several areas including Theology, Education, the business school, and the library.
We covered big-picture issues such as consistent feedback I’ve received from university press editors about making the processes of writing and submission easier, how to save months and even years by working smarter and sending inquiries early, why sending prospectuses to multiple presses at a time is an industry necessity and not the taboo some think it is, what the real ground rules are (versus those persistent, imaginary ones), and why it’s easier to publish in a top journal in your field than you probably think. Throughout the three-hour workshop I fielded smart questions, and had fun hearing how the faculty on a different campus think about writing and publishing. It was wonderful and I sowed some seed ideas, hoping to be invited back.
Then I spent that afternoon at St. Joseph’s University Press, where Mr. Carmen Croce and Fr. Joseph Chorpenning oversee one of the most beautiful lists anywhere. I went a little crazy and bought two huge art books, after having received another one (The Jesuits and the Arts, edited by Georgetown’s own Fr. John O’Malley) as a quite welcome thank-you gift for giving the workshop.
Then, after having been back in DC for only two days, a colleague at another university wrote and asked me to present the same workshop! This is wonderful. Booklab goes on the road…
Here is a guest-written blog post from a faculty author who feels worry about a positive response from a press. This is completely normal, of course (sometimes acceptance feels more worrisome than rejection, oddly enough), but also worth pondering from her perspective:
* * *
After years of fearing the book publishing process, I finally pushed myself into submitting a book prospectus to several presses. Amid the rejections, I was awarded with one golden response of interest from an academic press. For over a week, I allowed that glorious email to linger in my inbox. I wanted to protect this fragile egg of interest from being crushed by my own missteps.
The editor wants to see my manuscript, but of course my manuscript is not quite ready. How could I write a response to the editor that could ever so carefully tell the editor that I needed more time without crushing that egg of hope? By not responding to that email (a great email, even!), I was preserving the possibility that this could be the press that would see my manuscript through to publication. The road to publishing is fraught with so many insecurities. It may seem absurd that I would be afraid to respond to positive news, but I was. The press’s interest in my work seems so
fragile to me that I feel the need to protect it, even from myself.
I ultimately did respond to the editor’s good news. But I have yet to receive a response. So I wait while I write.
Right now I’m reading a richly helpful book, The Myth of Stress, by Andrew Bernstein. It arose out of The Work of Byron Katie, a process I’ve long touted as useful for academic authors. In the opening pages Bernstein demonstrates that the notion of outside triggers or stressors causing our anxiety is scientifically flawed. It isn’t random outside triggers (of which there are legion), it is our thoughts about them. There’s much more than I can explain in a blog post, but this has brilliant implications for faculty struggling with heavy teaching loads, research demands, and the family aspect of work/life balance. To understand Bernstein I suggest a basic background in Byron Katie’s program (she always offers her tools free on her website), followed by his smart and useful book.
Just another example of how opining in the media raises the profile of books as well. Here is an op-ed by Charles King and Rajan Menon: Terrorism meets xenophobia in Russia. And here is what the LATimes ran after this op-ed: Charles King is a professor at Georgetown University and the author of Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams. Rajan Menon is a professor of political science at City College of New York/City University of New York and the author of The End of Alliances.
If you want to discuss op-eds and the placement thereof, ask during the faculty scholarly book groups. They also help you sell future books by positioning you as a recognized expert.
A faculty member of one of the scholarly publishing groups was in a bit of nervous despair. It is February 16, and he has an appointment with a university press editor at a conference in mid-March. The editor expects to see a prospectus for this author’s new scholarly book before that conference. No big deal, right? Well, the author is also presenting a paper with one of his best graduate students at the conference. Add to that two other can’t-say-no obligations due earlier, and two kids who have been sick off and on all winter, and the author is looking at a (pick your image) pileup, train wreck, or at the very least some hasty writing that isn’t its best/strongest.
The prospectus is the task that seems largest and most daunting, so we discussed a time-tested method that many coaches shorthand as “chunk it down.” This is an old idea I gleaned from several sources including Franklin-Covey, Jack Canfield, Brian Tracy, and others, and adapted for academia. You probably already know and/or do a version of this, but it helps to think in a fresh way sometimes, just for idea-sharing.
To chunk something down is to divide it into manageable and discrete units that represent nameable tasks that can be assigned a date and time. For example, a prospectus–at least if you are following my prospectus model–could be represented as about ten chunks, with a chunk being approximately a two-hour work session on a given day. Each chunk can happen on a different day:
1. Overview (three chunks): (a) Why we need this particular book now in this field; (b) the core of your argument presented for an intelligent nonspecialist; (c) Why you are the ideal author.
2. Audience and possible peer reviewers (one chunk)
3. Literature review (two chunks): (a) collection of the basic list; (b) a sentence or paragraph about each that places yours in context.
4. Chapter Outline (three chunks): (a) division of material into an arc; (b) organization into a chapter-by-chapter format; (c) prose and polishing.
5. Apparatus section (one chunk): maps, charts, images, appendices
Using this method, it would be easy enough to see that you need ten writing sessions or 20 hours, but that’s in a mythical world where the next ten writing days are available. Assuming that almost a third of them will be destroyed by life, then I would assign 13 writing days to this task. If all ten days stay clear then the project can be finished early, but if everything goes wrong, the project will still be done on time. If writing days are only Monday-Friday, that would mean the prospectus draft would be finished Friday, March 4 if all writing days between now and that date are devoted to it and one- third are lost. If weekends are included it will be finished a good bit earlier.
The beauty of this system is it assigns a specific task to an actual day without the stress of thinking “I just have to work on the prospectus,” yet not knowing what “the prospectus” represents in terms of the here and now. Going back to our notion that many of us particularly appreciate concrete things such as specific dates, times, amounts, etc., this could relieve a lot of stress simply by giving our brains something they understand.
Chronicle of Higher Education reporter Jennifer Howard has an interesting post at Bookslut about her response to statistics about how often women are published and reviewed compared to men.
Last week in faculty groups we discussed Robert Boice’s statement, quoted and expanded upon by Wendy Belcher, that
Those who wrote in regular, unemotional sessions of moderate length completed more pages, enjoyed more editorial acceptance, were less depressed and more creative than those authors who wrote in emotionally charged binges.
The words we focused on here were “unemotional” versus “emotionally charged.” I’ll blog more about emotion and how it gets in the way (especially in author-editor relationships) in a future post, but for the time being it makes sense to think about how to step away from it in a writing session. From brushing your teeth to bagging the trash to driving to work every day, we do things unemotionally that we may not be objectively inclined to enjoy… yet somehow writing often falls into the “do I feel like it” category. Learning to de-emotionalize writing sessions can make a world of difference, and can vastly improve mood as well as output. My friend Christy from grad school–channeling an old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial–used to say it was “Time to make the doughnuts” again.
It has long been a goal of mine to guide faculty to apply for the Fulbright specialist program, a 2-6-week grant that is much more workable in a busy campus schedule than the more familiar programs that run for a year. A scholar friend got her first Fulbright to Russia at age 73, and she convinced me that it is worth applying at any stage in a career. Although the focus is on the needs of institutions of higher education abroad rather than on your personal research, many times these interests can intersect in fruitful ways. The Fulbright itself can also be the source of scholarly publications that arise from the experience. A flier explaining the program is here.
A faculty author expressed frustration at not knowing how long was long enough for a book. She felt certain her work needed to be filled out more, but at the same time she also felt she was saying what she wanted and needed to say:
I’ve long had anxiety about the length of my work, stemming from the length of my dissertation. As I suspect is true for many doctoral students, dissertation length is a contest of sorts, with the longer writing somehow equaling more effort in the archives, more brilliant thoughts, more dedication to your field. My dissertation wasn’t that long to begin with compared to my peers, and now as I revise it for a book manuscript I find myself making it even shorter. My confidence that I have something important enough to say in a book format is already shaky, and this insecurity is only exacerbated by the thought that what I have isn’t long enough. What remains in my head is the equation longer manuscript equals good, important book, worthy of publication. I can’t seem to shake that.
This author was heartened to hear my strong opinion that writing a short book is not only fine, but to be encouraged. Many editors have expressed the concern that authors go on longer than they need to, and often try to include too much.
A short book is also less expensive for a publisher to produce and ship, and it may even enable a publisher to offer it at a friendlier price point. In all, I encourage brevity as both the soul of wit and of a happy editorial relationship.
* With apologies for the title paraphrase to Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Blaise Pascal, and others to whom it has been attributed.
The general model we discuss in Georgetown’s faculty scholarly publishing groups is crafting a prospectus (for a scholarly book) or proposal (trade book) and getting editor input from a range of presses before actually undertaking a full manuscript. If you write the book first, you run an enormous risk of creating a large, unwieldy, and unpublishable white elephant, not because it isn’t good, but because all manuscripts need to fit the editorial vision of specific lists and houses to which they are contracted. Few authors, even those with previous books, can guess those needs and create such a manuscript in a vacuum.
Most editors agree, and it was from editors that I learned this useful, streamlined method. Every now and then, however, an editor counsels one of my authors otherwise. “I can’t even comment on this until I see a full manuscript” is a minority response, but robust enough that I hear reports of it at least a couple of times a year. My author will often then fly into a panic and try to write the whole book just to show this one editor.
My particular advice? Move on, and find an editor with enough core professionalism to be able to discuss angle and content without having to see the entire manuscript. The editor doesn’t have to commit to publishing the book, but rather can and should be able to tell an author why a book of that theoretical description with an author of that caliber would or would not work on a list… usually this stage is more helpful for assessing “no” responses, to better enable the author to find potential yes-es.
90% of the publishing industry is comfortable having a conversation with an author based on an excellent prospectus, a solid sample chapter or perhaps two, and a detailed plan for the rest, with the sensible notion that it is easier and more intelligent to tweak this 30-or-so-page package than a 300-page behemoth of a manuscript. So why dance to the tune of the 10%, most of whom tend to be junior editors anyway? It is a mark of professionalism in publishing for an editor to work with ease at the prospectus or proposal package level until an agreement has been reached on arc, scope, depth, length, and other important manuscript considerations, and I urge authors to have the confidence to look around for editors who work this way (i.e. most of them, frankly).
It is enormously difficult for most smart people to write in a manner that feels, for lack of a better word, stupid. But first drafts often require a simple a-b-c recitation of facts that can seem pedantic to someone who is used to reading much richer stuff. This happens because the richness comes from the editing phase, rewriting and layering in more complexity after the basic structure is in place. It is much like building a house, where you don’t start painting or putting in furniture until you have constructed some rather boring-looking walls.
Academic authors can become overwhelmed by trying to tell the story and sound smart at the same time. But if you free yourself to sound dull, tedious, and linear, wonderful things can happen. You’ll get the story out in a no-frills way, and then you’ll have the luxury of going back in and adding the brainy bits.
It is Friday of my first week with Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s enormously helpful Book in a Month. I’m using it to write a work of fiction, for which it was designed, but four different faculty members are also using it with narrative nonfiction. That’s the application I’m hoping it will work for in this office. In fact, one anthropologist says it is solving a particular problem he was having… his university press editor wanted him to tell “more of a story” with his research, but he is loathe to dramatize anthropology, for he feels that has been an insidious problem in the profession for generations. Book in a Month gives him a way to structure the material without pumping it. Instead of hyping things to make them sound more dramatic, he is simply placing them where they can have the most narrative impact without actually changing a thing. Whether this particular formula is the best one or not remains to be seen–I’m only a week into it, and my four authors are several days behind me–but I’m hopeful.
After all, life is often about formula. We teach to a flexible formula in the classroom that is largely made up of conventional units that have worked over time (50-minute sessions, for example, or Q&A after the lecture, or quizzes and tests). That doesn’t mean our content is formulaic, although it sometimes can be, but rather that we don’t have to re-invent every element of the teaching experience every semester or year… some things have worked historically and will continue to do so.
Or as James Scott Bell says in his helpful book Plot and Structure, “Why does something become a formula in the first place? Because it works! Here is the formula for an omelet: Crack a couple of eggs. Scramble them. Heat up a skillet…” (11). It’s the execution that makes a product special.
Read in this morning’s PR Newser:
The stop and go traffic in the social media world can be easy to navigate at times, and at other times seem like a teacup ride after a bad hot dog.
One of our faculty members told me that the best book she has read on the subject of gender and the military was Joshua Goldstein’s War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa (Cambridge UP 2003). She mentioned that his preface credits the idea to his graduate student days. In that preface, Goldstein explains why he didn’t try to write it then:
Recently, I discovered a list of unfinished research projects, which I had made fifteen years ago at the end of graduate school. About ten lines down is ‘gender and war,’ with the notation ‘most interesting of all; will ruin career–wait until tenure.’ (xiii)
Yet another argument for hunting through old papers and thinking again, from your faculty perspective, about work you would have like to have done. Another faculty member told of having an idea rejected as a dissertation; in her opinion the committee approved a lesser project, but she wrote it up and got the degree. A lot of research went into the rejected proposal, however… and now that she has a job and tenure, it is the perfect time to revisit this.
A faculty author in one of this week’s groups has been going through her files, pulling out old work that she hopes to revisit and turn into finished, publishable documents. This is great, and exactly what we encourage. Nothing is too old… I even suggest that you go back to papers from graduate school for material. Wendy Belcher of Princeton, author of Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks, also recommends this strategy.
The scholar made a very interesting comment about graduate work. Back in the day she had a research grant, and the result was a big file box of data that she never published (the grant did not require her to). But she wants to revisit it now, and she understands that she wasn’t ready to publish then. “When I was a grad student,” she said, “I didn’t have the skill to write and publish this.” Since graduate school she has made enormous progress on the theoretical side of her field, and she has published a book and several articles. Now the task that seemed impossible to her in graduate school looks like business as usual. She has–quite simply–grown up.
Although this method probably won’t fly with scholarly writing, we’ve been enjoying the lively do-it-yourself kit Book in a Month for narrative nonfiction, a genre in which many of our scholars work. Even though it touts itself as a fiction guide, the methods work just fine when you’re dealing with a story that actually did happen.
I waited to blog about this one until I had used it for a few days, but now, on Day 6, I’m sold. Unlike the vast majority of vague, copy-each-other writing guides (it’s such a bleak genre), this one actually gets you somewhere helpful on Day 1, and it continues to get better as it goes along. Author Victoria Lynn Schmidt, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, also studied writing, and she seems to approach writing as a scientist rather than an artist. Personally, I find that helpful. Every day you will have boxes to fill in, questions to answer, or patterns to establish, and at the end you even get a sheet of stickers to reward yourself.
If you want a fun jump-start to your work for the new year, this might be the most fulfilling $15 you’ll ever spend.
Those who have read this blog over time know I’m a fan of changing your life by changing your brain. Contrary to those who believe we should just “be ourselves” and go with whatever we think as though it had some sort of deep authenticity, I’m of the opposite school… that what we think is actually quite random, that we are unnaturally influenced by a hyper-stimulating world, and we can easily and fruitfully change our thinking with just a little careful, well-planned mental conditioning. Deep relaxation audio, some of which uses effective motivation and hypnotherapy techniques, can be wonderful for helping you de-stress, focus, and live your life more fully by quieting those random, unhelpful thoughts and replacing them with better material.
Today I’ll focus on the work of Lyndall Briggs, an Australian hypnotherapist whose audio work both alone and with the late Gary Green have been quite helpful in my quest as a scholar and author. Through Briggs’s combination of relaxation and positive statements, I have enjoyed better sleep at night, and more creative, motivated focus to my days. Her website is hynotherapy.com.au, and you can look at back issues of her newsletter, listen to free downloads, and more. Right now I’m enjoying her MP3 on motivation, but in the past I have also spent a good bit of time listening to audio from audible.com that takes you on a journey through the colors of the spectrum.
There are other excellent hypnotherapists, and you may respond to some better than others just based on your comfort with individual voice and technique. I’ll focus on some other favorites in future posts.
Faculty Scriptorium (faculty meeting together in silence to write scholarly stuff) begins again today in the Mortara Center. Please send a note if you’d like to attend, and I’ll give you the wheres and the whens. This grew out of a desire for protected time to write during the semester where we could still be together and enjoy the collegiality and accountability. It’s amazing how much less multi-tasking goes on when a colleague is present! I don’t even look at e-mail during the two hours.
It is customary for researchers in the sciences to work together, write together, publish together, and receive awards… together! But for some reason humanities disciplines seem enamored of the solo scholar model, so much so that at tenure and promotion time committees can show a preference toward single-author work, even though co-authored books and articles may be much, much richer. Personally I find this preference for the standalone to be intellectually insupportable, but it is the state of the academy at the moment, although with enough creative pressure who knows, that may change.
Miléna Santoro, a professor in Georgetown’s French department, and Paula Ruth Gilbert, professor of French, Canadian, and women and gender studies at George Mason University, cheerfully defy the norm with their brilliant co-authored and co-edited work. Their recent book, Transatlantic Passages: Literary and Cultural Relations Between Quebec and Francophone Europe (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010) is a showcase both for the breadth of Quebec literature, cinema, art, music, photography, comics, and culture, and for the power of scholarly teamwork.
Georgetown professor and Arizona native Katherine Benton-Cohen has a piece on Politico.com about the recent shootings in Tucson, “Even Tombstone had gun laws.” Her recent book with Harvard University Press is Borderline Americans: Racial Division and Labor War in the Arizona Borderlands.
In 2009 we launched something called the 60 Days of Journal Writing, a series of posts documenting a scholar’s efforts to write and publish a journal article. The goal was to demonstrate the effectiveness of Dr. Wendy Belcher’s excellent workbook, Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks, and also to model how a scholar can produce better research in less time with a focused plan.
Instead of submitting it right away to her first-choice journal, she chose one that had a call-for-papers in the field. If its editors had taken the article then fine, but she secretly hoped they would reject it along with excellent feedback so she could revise and then submit to her first choice.
That’s exactly what happened. After the expected rejection, she revised carefully based on the excellent reader comments, and she sent the article off to her first-choice journal where (she learned just recently) it was accepted.
Total time from beginning of the project (September 2009) to acceptance at the journal (December 2010) was thirteen months, during which time she wrote and submitted a second article for which she now awaits a decision. She is hard at work on article #3 on a new topic, and also on a book prospectus.
This is an anecdotal post based on my conversations with approximately 500 faculty members over the past four years. Why does scholarly publishing slow down or stop? I’ve identified several basic culprits, and none of them has to do with either laziness or procrastination. The usual challenges are, in order of universality:
(1) Work/life balance (publishing can plummet when kids come along, if there is a death or divorce, or if someone in the home needs full-time care);
(2) Administrative and teaching loads that push writing to the side;
(3) Lack of clear understanding of proven best practices for research, writing and publishing (this is where Boice, Belcher, and Silvia come in);
(4) Outdated and/or nonexistent mentoring. #4 can be particularly insidious since most people mean well, but not every designated mentor is up to the task, and many of us aren’t sure how to work with even the best ones. Also–despite what some department heads may tell themselves or me– the majority of junior faculty will not be candid with department mentors if a problem arises.
(5) Mis-information about the scholarly publishing process based on faculty hearsay rather than on direct information from university press and journal editors themselves. It is fun and refreshing to inform scholars that business practices at university presses are quite different (almost always for the better!) than they have been led to believe.