This is a great link to view interviews with editors and authors at Harvard University Press, one of our target presses.
This is a great link to view interviews with editors and authors at Harvard University Press, one of our target presses.
In their new book, The Path of American Public Policy: Comparative Perspectives, Georgetown Visiting Professor Anne Marie Cammisa and her husband, Professor Paul Christopher Manuel of Mount Saint Mary’s University argue that institutions matter.
Using a comparative approach, Cammisa and Manuel consider the divide between the rapid and comprehensive policy changes enabled by a parliamentary system and the slow, incremental process envisioned by the framers of the United States Constitution. The Path of American Public Policy traces the history of United States political thought starting with its British roots and then asks a fascinating question: What if the U.S. had gone with a parliamentary system? The possibility is not as far-fetched as it might seem since the “Virginia plan” would have seen the American president chosen by the legislature.
Citing the “Affordable Care Act” and the “Contract with America,” the authors also explore how the United States system makes quick change difficult, though not impossible.
The Path of American Public Policy is “highly recommended” by Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries and is available online from Lexington Books.
In an article for the most recent issue of Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education, Georgetown Professor Barbara Mujica explores how Ignatian spirituality led her to integrate research, teaching, and university service with renewed energy and vision.
Read about Professor Mujica’s faith journey and her role in a successful and ongoing team effort to make Georgetown University a more veteran-friendly campus in “A Committed Life.”
Is the conflict between Israel and Palestine existential? How remote is the prospect of peace between Israel and Hamas?
Georgetown’s Robert J. Lieber, Professor of Government and International Affairs, goes beyond the headlines to offer his perspective in a new article for The National Interest.
Americans lack information and perspective on the issue of human trafficking. Given the usefulness of sensationalized snippets for media ratings and NGO fundraising campaigns, the real lives of actual trafficked persons become obscured. How might our opinions and public policy change if we paid close attention to what these people could tell us of their experiences before, during, and after trafficking and forced labor?
In Life Interrupted, Georgetown Professor and anthropologist Denise Brennan seeks out the viewpoint of formerly trafficked persons and shares “their concerns, their struggles, and their successes–their everyday lifework (34).” Professor Brennan’s work also explores how anti-trafficking legislation over-emphasized its investigation of exploitation in the “sex sector” while “exploited workers in other labor sectors went unassisted (12).” Those unable to secure government assistance and a visa remain vulnerable to future exploitation; those who escape forced labor to enter low-wage positions are often just one step ahead of poverty. Professor Brennan introduces the reader to the hopes and struggles of individuals at different stages of this process through their own words.
With empathy and insight, Life Interrupted provides a forum for some of the most marginalized and hidden-away members of America’s workforce. It is also a strong example of how academic research can be closely connected to action with policy suggestions throughout the text and an appendix containing “ideas and resources” for those who want to make a difference.
Professor Denise Brennan’s Life Interrupted: Trafficking into Forced Labor in the United States is available from Duke University Press.
Should we think of Washington, D.C. as one of America’s great jazz cities? What kind of contribution did Great Black Music make to the struggle for desegregation in the nation’s capital? Did you know that the two sons of the Turkish ambassador to the United States had a profound impact on both jazz and the history of American desegregation during the 1940s?
Georgetown professor Maurice Jackson takes on these fascinating topics in a recent article for Washington History. For me, a southerner starting on my fifth year of living in Washington, the city has a liminal character. It is both northern and southern. It is both federal and local. It has its own particular history deserving of a close look and Professor Jackson’s work for the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. provides a great service in that respect.
In 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed an act emancipating more than three thousand slaves in the District of Columbia. Nearly a hundred years later, the District was desegregated in response to civil protest seeking the enforcement of anti-discriminatory “lost laws” from the 1870s. During that interim period African Americans “gave full expression to their pride and determination through music in all its forms, from folk, gospel, and spirituals to the blues, classical, and jazz (13).” Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, sons of the Turkish ambassador, developed a passion for jazz and sponsored concerts for integrated audiences at the embassy and local concert halls during the 40s. At one point a southern senator complained to the ambassador himself and Jackson cites his terse reply, “In my home, friends enter by the front door—however, we can arrange for you to enter from the back (24).” This story of music’s power to unite people from different backgrounds reveals the best of D.C and the best of America.
Professor Maurice Jackson’s “Great Black Music and the Desegregation of Washington, D.C.” is available in a special jazz-focused issue of Washington History that he co-edited with Blair Ruble.
The 2014 Newbery-Caldecott Banquet, where Brian Floca makes his speech accepting the Caldecott Medal for Locomotive.
It is difficult to sift through the glut of opinions on the destiny of the blogosphere. In education and politics the impact of digital knowledge is difficult to discern amidst voices of tragedy and triumph. Perhaps it is too soon to tell? Where can we look for a more well-informed perspective?
Reflection on this topic suffers from a lack of context. There must be other times and places to look toward for a better understanding of where the Internet might be taking us. Georgetown Professor Tania Gentic’s new book, The Everyday Atlantic, offers some much-needed insight through her analysis of daily newspaper chronicles in the twentieth-century Atlantic world. She, in fact, describes these chronicles as “a print precursor to the blog… a daily or weekly literary genre that straddles fiction and nonfiction… common to Spanish-, Portuguese-, and Catalan-language newspapers (2).” She takes these blog precursors and asks what they can tell us about their everyday readers; how we might best understand their subjectivity.
She describes these subjects as “palimpsestic,” deeply layered, like a medieval manuscript where the original text was erased to be written over again and again. These subjects, indeed, are “enmeshed in multiple and often ephemeral ways of knowing at the same time (3).” This way of looking at the texts unseats simple notions of knowledge being used as a univocal tool of dictatorial or colonial power. It rings true, I think, with avid Internet users who might start each day with a window full of tabs, each expressing its own narrative and identity. Users who themselves might identify with the notion that they are not static receptacles for knowledge, who experience themselves as being “in flux,” in the moment (6).
With an analysis that moves from print news to digital and from chroniclers (cronistas) to bloggers, Professor Gentic provides a grounded and thought-provoking study with great relevance for those interested in digital knowledge.
The Everyday Atlantic: Time, Knowledge, and Subjectivity in the Twentieth-Century Iberian and Latin American Newspaper Chronicle is available from the State University of New York Press on their website.
In an occasional series I’ll blog about books I like or would want to read from the newest university press catalogs. Today’s is Optical Impersonality: Science, Images, and Literary Modernism from Johns Hopkins University Press. What’s the Georgetown connection, you ask? None that I can find, but this as this blog becomes more active and looks outward more, I won’t always seek a Georgetown link. Instead, these posts will be like messages in bottles, blogging, Facebooking, and tweeting to scholars with appreciation for their work, and hoping for more social media interaction.
The author, Christina Walter, considers Western accounts of human vision, and what she perceives as”a new cultural collaboration [among] vision, the image, and subjectivity” in the nineteenth century (2). Dr. Walter has also published articles on HD and Mina Loy.
Many authors get stuck trying to figure out what titles to compare with their proposed book. Here is some guidance based on my prospectus model, and a little instructional video on using Amazon Advanced Search to find the most relevant titles.
FROM MY PROSPECTUS MODEL FOR “LITERATURE REVIEW”:This should not be an exhaustive list — you can go into detail in your book’s final bibliography. Instead, this section should give your editor a concise snapshot of what other titles currently matter in your book’s field, and why. Your challenge here is to bring your editor up to date on what other publishers have done regarding your subject, while continuing to make the case that your book is necessary within this context.
All of the books should have been published (1) within the last decade, and preferably within the past five-seven years, unless they are established classics; and (2) by a university press or one of a very small handful of trade presses that have scholarly imprints. Also include forthcoming titles, which you can find through Amazon Advanced Search (the date function) or our library’s Forthcoming Books In Print subscription. You can put purely trade titles in a separate area of this section if they are extraordinarily on-point, but please don’t bother comparing your UP title to the most recent offering from Thomas Friedman or Malcolm Gladwell. If you really think your book compares, then speak to Carole Sargent, because in that case we should discuss a different strategy altogether, one involving a trade book proposal.
Click here to watch:
It has been interesting to note the recent discussion on reparations. It was stimulated by a major feature in The Atlantic.
A number of analysts, activists and scholars have done original work on the basic problem of racial economic injustice over decades. Richard F. America is one of them. He teaches in Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. Since the 1960s Dick has been a pioneer, and has produced much of the basic analysis and conceptual work on which the current discussion rests.
He first proposed a partial remedy in the late 1960s in the Harvard Business Review (“What Do You People Want?”). Many articles followed. He also organized and chaired Sessions at the Annual Economics Meetings, and many of these papers appeared in his edited book, The Wealth of Races: The Present Value of the Benefits From Past Injustices (Greenwood 1990.)
His monograph, Paying the Social Debt: What White America Owes Black America (Praeger 1993), provided programs and remedies based on the concept of unjust enrichment.
Dick is completing a new trade book for general readers–Solving the Race Problem—one he describes as addressing “racial inequalities, chronic tensions, and how to solve our country’s remaining vexing conundrum.” His body of research on reparations is longstanding and substantive, and I recommend that you consider what he has been saying for over 45 years.
As a dedicated subscriber to many literary magazines (Yale Review, Ploughshares, New England Review, Paris Review, Missouri Review, Coppola’s Zoetrope and several others), I appreciate this reflection from Missouri Review managing editor Michael Nye. If you love literature then please subscribe to these magazines and help them flourish. They are the heartbeat of literary publishing, and a wonderful investment.
For a long time I have been conflicted about social media, not sure how to use it, and cautious not to say too much in a public sphere. But after working with two LinkedIn consultants–first my great colleague and LinkedIn expert Dr. Anna Trester, and also an expert I found through a Forbes article, Wayne Breitbarth–I suddenly get it. Social media is not about broadcasting ourselves to the world, or if it is, then that is only a secondary benefit. Social media instead is about finding people with whom we want to associate. It’s a way to curate a busy and growing globe full of distractions and time-wasting relationships that drain us of energy, so that we can find the fruitful relationships that result in mutual good will and professional benefit. When I got it, a light bulb clicked on and I realized that not just blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, but also special tools for academics such as Mendeley and Academia.edu are powerful. I’m reaching out eagerly and fearlessly (okay, maybe not fearlessly, but certainly with less trepidation) to use these new tools to make friends of academics around the globe. We live in a wonderful time for connecting, and although I’m perhaps a wee bit late to the party, I’m a stalwart now.
PROSPECTUS WORKSHOP, MAY 20: University press editors will guide faculty to write an effective book prospectus on Tuesday May 20, 9-1. You’ll get to know editors from Georgetown University Press, Johns Hopkins University Press, Catholic University of America Press, Yale University Press, and Palgrave Macmillan. Work on all the elements of your book prospectus with detailed, personal Q&A, followed by lunch.
WHERE? Wagner Alumni House, 36th and O Streets, NW.
DATE/TIME? Tuesday, May 20, 8:45 a.m. to noon, followed by a working lunch from 12-1.
COST: Free for Georgetown faculty.
RSVP: Reservations required, firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line EDITORS.
Dr. Sean McFate, who teaches in the Center For Security Studies in SFS, has a new book forthcoming from Oxford. The Modern Mercenary, Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order will be available July 15. It “exposes the little understood yet crucially important world of private military contractors, and how private military force will change international relations. Based on real-world experience and four years of research.”
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.