The comfort of word count, structure, and other concrete variables

April 4th, 2011

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.

In deep need of this weekly confessional

March 17th, 2011

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 . . .”

Visit to St. Joseph’s University

March 10th, 2011

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…

Protecting the egg

March 3rd, 2011

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.

The Myth of Stress

March 3rd, 2011

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.

Faculty as public intellectuals: op-eds

February 17th, 2011

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.

Lise Morjé Howard wins a book award

February 17th, 2011

Chunk a big task down

February 16th, 2011

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.

Jennifer Howard on gender disparity in publishing

February 16th, 2011

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.

Time to Make the Doughnuts?

February 11th, 2011

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.

Support for faculty Fulbrights

February 7th, 2011

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.

If I had more time I’d have written a shorter book…*

February 3rd, 2011

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.

“Just write the book”? A frustrating way for an editor to punt

February 2nd, 2011

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).

The courage to be simple

January 31st, 2011

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.

End of week one with “Book in a Month”

January 28th, 2011

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.

Swipe that simile

January 28th, 2011

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.

–Perry Krasnove

More about returning to old grad school work

January 27th, 2011

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.

When I was a grad student I spake as a grad student…

January 27th, 2011

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.

Writing a complete book draft in 30 days

January 25th, 2011

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.

Healthy hypnosis/relaxation on MP3 audio

January 19th, 2011

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, 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 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.

Scriptorium starts today!

January 19th, 2011

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.

Homage to scholarly collaboration

January 11th, 2011

Paula Ruth Gilbert (l) and Miléna Santoro

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.

Katherine Benton-Cohen’s article on Politico

January 10th, 2011

Georgetown professor and Arizona native Katherine Benton-Cohen has a piece on 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.

Update on the 60 Journal Days

January 7th, 2011

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.

Top Five Reasons Why Scholarly Publishing Slows Down

January 7th, 2011

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.

Blogging Robert Boice

January 7th, 2011

For the past few years I’ve pointed faculty members toward the research of Robert Boice, whose books Professors as Writers and Advice for New Faculty Members have become cornerstone guides for the work of this office.  We also love Wendy Belcher and Paul Silvia, but for old-school research on faculty writing, we return to Boice again and again.  This post is the first in a series containing my direct response to content in Boice’s books.

Boice opens Professors as Writers with a disturbing statistic.  He cites an article from American Scientist claiming that 85% of scholarly publications are produced by 15% of those faculty members who could and should be writing and publishing.  That sounds stark to me, and this book is 20 years old, so I have a request in for a copy of the original scientific article to follow the trail and see if newer information is available  Still, what if I learn that today the numbers are better, and most the publications are by 25% of those who could and should write them?  Would that help?  Not really, because even if half of faculty who should publish did so, it would still leave out a huge number who were hired to publish and who want to do so.

Planning Your Day — The Collaborative Version

January 5th, 2011

I’m a converted believer in planning our days, and not letting our days plan us.  The typical model is to make a to-do list, and then allow appointments to accumulate on the calendar as they come.  But back in 1996 I attended an all-day Franklin/Covey seminar where I learned about proactive life planning, and I’ve been hooked ever since.  Over time I became a fan of this as a nonfiction genre as well, and this blog has featured several books about day, week, and life planning.

Still, today I needed a jumpstart, so I typed the phrase “how to plan your day” into a search engine.  Wonderful things popped up!  Here is a sample:

Jack Canfield on planning your day the night before.

Peter Bregman’s 18-Minute Plan from the Harvard Business Review.

Bregman again, this time for Bloomberg Businessweek on the Last Five Minutes of Your Day

Although it is good and right to use this planning to get work done, that’s not actually the whole reason we’re alive.  Franklin/Covey guides participants to include friends, family, faith, art, and much more right into each daily plan. Also, as those of you who have followed this blog since 2006 know, scholarly publishing and literary achievement is right in there, for at least two hours a day.

A smart way to add points without diluting your research

November 18th, 2010

One common problem Booklab authors report is having to come up with fresh topics for conference papers that may never actually lead anywhere in terms of published research.  Although the ideal situation is a conference topic that develops into an article and eventually becomes part of a book, real life is rarely that neat and precise.  Instead, scholars often spend a great deal of distracting, rush-rush time on conference papers that wind up as unpublished computer files.

Milena Santoro in the French Department offered a workaround that I like much better.  She suggests working on articles for publication from the beginning, and letting conference topics arise as the fruit of that research.  Her logic is sound — a paper published in a key journal counts much more at tenure review than a conference presentation (sometimes as much as 3-4 times more).  But if (for example) a journal article counts for 3 points and a conference presentation only counts one, they can be combined.  An author can easily craft conference presentations from the paper’s core concepts or from outtake material that did not end up in the final draft, turning a three-point paper into four or five points without either increasing the writing workload or distracting the author from the goal of publishing the paper.  Smart!

Article summarizing key writing principles

November 17th, 2010

Joanna sends along this link to an article from Inside Higher Ed that does a good job of summarizing some basic concepts for regular, steady progress on scholarly writing.  It includes Academic Ladder, an online group some of our faculty members have enjoyed.

The perils of one-at-a-time

November 2nd, 2010

It came up again.  Yesterday I had lunch with a Jesuit who wants a contract for a scholarly book.   He said that he had been advised strongly that it was absolutely verboten to make inquiries with more than one press at a time.  When I asked who had advised him of this, he mentioned a colleague.  I assured him that although his colleague means well, it is actually normal and expected in publishing to make inquiries at all relevant publishers before deciding where to submit a scholarly book, usually by submitting a short inquiry, and following up if requested with a prospectus and sample chapter.  He asked where I heard this, and he was surprised when I said “The editors themselves.”  My information comes from directors and editors at (in order of my visits to their offices or their booths) Northwestern, Chicago, Johns Hopkins, NYU, Columbia, Oxford, Georgetown University Press, Cambridge, Duke, Princeton, Cornell, Harvard, MIT, and Yale.

Multiple inquiries are fine, including letting multiple editors see your prospectus and a sample chapter or even two.  Then the custom is to rank the interested presses and make full submissions one at a time, but in certain circumstances even that is negotiable!  If you  have questions about this interesting process, send them to Booklab.  I’ll be happy to post answers on the blog.

Saying “no” as a group exercise

October 21st, 2010

This morning a Booklab author told us she is part of an interesting group of friends who send one another e-mail encouragement to say “No” to incoming time-wasters on their over-committed schedules.  When one of them gets a new offer they either say “no” outright, or if it is debatable, they send to the group for discussion.  If the “no” was immediate, then the group member notifies everyone and receives support/encouragement/congratulations back.  I asked if she later regretted turning down any of the four opportunities she has said no to in the past month.

Her answer (after some thought)?  “No.”

Expanding Booklab to Radio

October 5th, 2010

For the last year and a half I’ve had the honor of working on a radio program, the Georgetown University Forum.  Now Georgetown also has an amazing recent faculty member who is helping me think about the future of that program, and also about other ways that faculty can tell the stories of their books and research on radio.  Flawn Williams‘s name is one I already recognized from NPR production credits, and also from a chapter in a book I read some years ago called Telling the Story: the National Public Radio Guide to Radio Journalism. This semester I am taking one of his classes, “Recording Speech and Aural Worlds.”  To say that it’s a privilege to work with him is far too weak a statement… I consider this a life and career opportunity such as rarely comes along, and I’m enjoying the work so much.

Now this is where you come in.  As a Booklab author you may have wondered how to get the message about your book to public radio listeners, who as we all pretty much know or guessed are made up of a large number of book buyers.  The answer has always been both simple and complex: “Think regional.”  You can learn to write in the very short format that public radio thrives on, and eventually create content that will be welcomed at regional radio stations nationwide.  It sounds easy, and in one sense it is, but there’s a big learning curve as you listen to regional programming, examine short segments, and think in this fresh way.  Notice  I didn’t say “national” because that market can be trickier to reach — not impossible, but it’s often an unnecessarily high bar.  Regional radio stations are more accessible, hungrier for content, and (bluntly) less picky.  You’ll often find/build an audience there while you hone your voice, and then you’ll find yourself invited to the national stage when your work is noticed.  Some Georgetown authors go directly to the national commentary level, and I’m all for that, but personally I prefer to get my act together in a more focused venue and then go out to all possible car-radio-commute ears in America when I’ve knocked away the jitters and shaped the material.

Contact Carole if you want to think together in a more structured way about what you need to do to start considering bits of your work for radio.  And please cheer me on this semester!  Working with Professor Williams will be good for me, for Booklab, and ultimately for all of Georgetown’s public intellectuals who come here for publishing support.

Making a video about your book

September 21st, 2010

Charles King and publisher W. W. Norton created a wonderful video that brings us into the world of his new book.  Here is what he writes about it:


I had never heard of a “book trailer” until a few months ago, when my agent mentioned I should think about doing one for ODESSA. I went on YouTube and looked up some examples. Most of what I found were videos from the young adult fiction world– lots of unrequited vampire love. But I found a few really great videos by serious writers and historians–Dan Philbrick and Simon Montefiore, for example, not to mention a hilarious one by Gary Shteyngart–and I thought I could probably manage to do something similar.

It was pretty easy. I had all the images from the book already in hand. I put those into a PowerPoint and roughed out the sequencing and timing. (PowerPoint allows you to add a “Ken Burns” effect, so that you can pan and scan across still images–a great way of bringing photos to life.) I wrote a script and selected some music from the public domain and from a very nice klezmer band that allowed me to use one of their recordings. Finally, I got some great help from CNDLS at Georgetown (thanks to Daryl Nardick, Danny Gonzalez, and Ryan Walter) in reworking my rough-cut PowerPoint as a .mov file that could be uploaded to YouTube.

I wanted this to be informative and engaging, but I also wanted it to be about the book rather than about the author — to represent, in an accessible way, the fruits of serious archival research, which is the basis for the new book. It was also part of a “professionalization” of my web presence…I’ve now got the video on my new website at

What to worry about, and what to let go

September 16th, 2010

Today in the nonfiction trade publishing workshop for scholars, we discussed some key differences between a prospectus and a proposal, and how to approach those editors whether they work at the trade divisions of university presses, or at trade presses (FSG, Knopf, Norton, Random House, etc.).

An author asked whether the sample chapter had to be chapter one, and I said yes because it’s so important to see how the book begins.  Openings are absolutely things to fuss over… an editor doesn’t want to hear “It really gets going on page five,” or “Chapter One is background, and Chapter Two is where I get to the meat of the argument.”

However, another author asked about the title, and I suggested that’s not as big of a deal in the prospectus or proposal stage.  Unless you have an amazing title in mind, it makes sense to give the project a robust working title that conveys at a glance what the book is about, rather than something fun or clever, but not necessarily clear.  Editors expect — at least at this stage — a working title only.

So worry about your opening, and don’t (yet) fret over your title.  More from the workshop soon when we post video clips!

Swag at Booklab

September 9th, 2010

One of the best things about Booklab and author groups is the free stuff we get.

Today George brought a Department of Government mug, a button from the APSA conference, and a Werther’s. Great ideas for publishing prizes… thinking, thinking.

Distinguished trade publishing for scholars — a workshop

September 9th, 2010

On two consecutive Thursdays, September 16 and 23, from 10-noon, the Office of Scholarly and Literary Publications will host a workshop plus Q&A for tenure-line faculty on distinguished trade publishing for scholars.  The workshop is free, but RSVPs are required (see below).


September 16: Introduction to trade publishing; key considerations from Carole Sargent’s visits with major presses and editors (Knopf, Norton, FSG, Oxford, Chicago, Yale); elements of the nonfiction book proposal; assignment to create a draft nonfiction proposal and submit before second workshop; discussion about whether and how to work with a literary agent.

September 23: Talk and Q&A with Richard Brown of Georgetown University Press about trade considerations (he is the current president of the Association of American University Presses); discussion of specific faculty book proposals that have been submitted for group consideration.

Where? Murray Room of Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
When? Thursday September 16 and 23, 10-noon
Who? Richard Brown, Ph.D., Director of Georgetown University Press; Carole Sargent, Ph.D., Director of the Office of Scholarly and Literary Publications
RSVP? Required, to

Welcome to new tenure-line faculty

September 9th, 2010

For faculty new to Georgetown at any stage of book publishing, Booklab is a great first stop. Small groups are forming now for the fall semester, and begin next week. The results from the summer were amazing, even life-changing, as faculty realized that scholarly publishing does not ever have to be lonely or arduous.  The idea of collegial, straightforward, productive writing and publishing on a schedule without tension or undue delay has been life-changing for some participants who were reared in the old-school “figure it out yourself” style of scholarship.

Second article finished, one year after

September 9th, 2010

One year ago, on September 19, 2009, I began something called “60 Days of Journal Article Writing.”  You can follow this link to the beginning at the bottom to read the whole thread.

Since then, in one calendar year, I have written two richly researched scholarly articles following Wendy Belcher’s system from Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks.  I’ve also gotten to know her a tiny bit through e-mail and my participation as a guest editor on her newsletter while she’s away on a Fulbright in Africa.

Think about that for a moment, though.  A year ago I wasn’t sure I really knew how to craft journal articles, since my job focuses on books.  Now, twelve little months later, I have one on submission at a key journal in my field awaiting a decision, and a second is ready to go.  Instead of starting on a third I’m going to turn back to the book that they were written to support, but the year has not taken me away from the book at all. Writing those articles made me sharper, stronger, more prepared to tackle the book on its own terms.  Placing it at a university press will be much easier with key articles in place at the right journals.

What a great year, and a superb way to start the fall.  Please write to me if you want to get rolling on this same track of 1-2 scholarly articles per year and a book every three years.

Scriptorium for fall — schedule pending

September 7th, 2010

The Scriptorium writers will meet in the street-level, large conference room of the Mortara Center today, Tuesday, September 7.  We’re usually in a smaller room, but it happens to be available and other space is booked.  I will be there with laptop and books from 9:30 – 11:30, writing.  Faculty authors are welcomed to join me.

For those who are new to the concept, Scriptorium (loosely translated as “a place for writing,” although it has other more specific historical meanings) is a way of getting together to sit quietly and write.  It serves several purposes, including adding a layer of collegiality and accountability, getting us out of our usual spaces for writing, and allowing a quiet realm where others won’t tap on the door and the phone won’t ring.  We tend to focus more and multitask less when we’re together, and we are more likely to keep to a two-hour-per-day schedule when other people are expecting us there.

Scriptorium is drop-in, so there is no need to sign up, but I look forward to seeing you if you want to come.  Enter quietly, set up your laptop and get going.  We don’t do greetings (the occasional whispered hi, but keep it to a minimum), and there’s no need to make a big announcement if you have to leave, just pack up and wave.  I hope to see some of you there!

As the semester develops and we get a more regular Scriptorium schedule, I will post it.

Writing today, visiting tomorrow

September 2nd, 2010

Today is Thursday, September 2, and faculty may write with me at the Mortara Center from 9:30-11:30. Please send a note to me for details about location and protocol (pretty simple, actually).

Also, tomorrow a small group of faculty will join me for booth visits at the American Political Science Association conference at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel in DC.  I met with a Yale editor yesterday pre-conference, and Friday I have meetings planned with MIT, Harvard, Chicago and Duke.  Our team will meet for coffee and strategy at 10 a.m. followed by two hours on the exhibit floor… they are welcomed to shadow me to the two morning meetings, or go off on their own.  Lunch is next where we’ll compare notes and plan the afternoon (some faculty may leave, others may arrive).

Here are several reasons why it makes sense to visit university press aisles of a major conference in your city even if it’s outside of your field:

  • For the price of a $10 exhibits pass you can visit all of the major university presses in one day, getting a feel for the respective cultures, publishing priorities, and even in a very tangible sense budget.
  • Editors are usually friendly and interested in meeting you at conferences, whereas they may be quite busy if you approach them during normal business hours.
  • Although key editors usually have meetings scheduled for most of the conference (and if you have a book to pitch I urge you to make appointments much earlier), some find themselves with quite a bit of downtime, and most are willing to discuss the books they love if you show genuine interest in the product and the process.
  • Your field doesn’t matter since the booth is usually similar at various conferences.  Books will change of course, but so much of a university press’s identity is still out and visible, there for you to learn about.
  • It’s a great way to snag a range of catalogs to scrutinize to understand even more about how a press offers its wares, what makes it different from its colleagues and competitors, and how it balances its priorities.

    So they really think this will revolutionize peer review?

    August 27th, 2010

    I’ve read with interest, hope, and also skepticism the notion of open peer review where the entire scholarly community and not just a couple of hand-selected peers will have the opportunity to comment on new research articles before they are accepted for publication.  My initial thought is that sure, it works now, when it’s shiny and new and has the interest of a number of key players.  But what about some time down the road when attention spans wane and there is no particular reason or need to go through submitted work and comment on it? The Chronicle piece discusses this and shows why in broke down in science.  The New York Times piece does not.

    (Thanks to Sylvie for pointing out the NYTimes piece)

    Why editors get such great book ideas

    August 23rd, 2010

    Why is it that editors at presses so often come up with interesting ideas for new books in smore on-target and useful ways than many of the authors themselves?  One simple reason is that they immerse themselves in the world of what’s being published, and they study the catalogs and booths on an ongoing basis.

    Scholars who craft books in isolation and then try to place them outside of this context often find themselves puzzled by what they see as a scholarly world with no particular home for their wares.  But consider the scholar who keeps one foot in the editor’s world by constantly reading a broad range of book catalogs, and by going to conferences and studying the university press aisles.  The chances of coming up with an idea that suits a particular editor’s list and that works in the zeitgeist now is much higher.

    The more we learn to think like editors, the more we’ll see what they do — that there is a lot of space out there for wonderful books now, and that understanding the world of scholarly publishing on its own terms is the best way to generate fresh new ideas to work within it.

    Kindles for the troops? Yeah, if they lasted…

    August 23rd, 2010

    The nice part of the story is that there’s a plan in motion to donate Amazon Kindles to the troops when users upgrade.  That’s great, especially since a problem in wartime in any generation has been reading material for soldiers who are deployed and then wait and wait and wait.  A remarkable educational opportunity exists in active military life, and this is one way to address it.

    But my Kindle became a brick months ago.  I’m convinced it was planned obsolescence with a design so flimsy that it died on me in California.  I never bothered getting another one because my laptop is slim and light enough to use as a reader, so I have Kindle for PC installed on it and with it I can’t quite figure out why anyone would spend all that $$ for a new reader.

    Moral of the story?  Not much except that I hate/love Amazon and my relationship to the Kindle.  Electronic books are very important to my daily reading habits (they have renewed my ability to keep up with newer books by reading along with my friends — this bookish job had destroyed my leisure reading time as a busman’s holiday), but the readers themselves tend to be fragile, clunky and pricey.

    Solution?  I dunno.  But if you’re upgrading, then consider donating your Kindle to a soldier.

    Update from the Voltaic group

    August 20th, 2010

    Here’s my post from the Voltaic group (their posts are private, but I can share mine with you):

    This morning was a-ma-zing.  I have learned slowly what others have said over the years, that cutting an article can make it sound much more coherent, since readers don’t know what you didn’t say!  Just going through and weeding out the interesting starts I had that went nowhere tightened the paper up to a manageable 11,000 words.  Although I was sad to lose those ideas (some of them could have led somewhere), an article can’t do everything and I could have spent months tracking them down.   Writing with E. in Scriptorium this morning was inspiring, and I’m looking forward to five big Scriptorium days next week.  9:30-noon, all week long.

    Friday Scriptorium, and next week’s schedule

    August 20th, 2010

    Scriptorium will be a little later this morning and shorter, 10-11:30, because of complex Friday commitments… the extended hours of the past four days will continue all next week as well!

    Rice decides print-on-demand is no panacea

    August 19th, 2010

    Apparently Rice University Press shuttered, and then re-opened later as a digital-only experiment, writes Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Now it has closed again.

    Literary agent Jennifer Carlson in Poets and Writers

    August 19th, 2010

    Although Booklab focuses more on scholarly work for university presses and academic journals, I like to keep a weather eye out for what is going on in the trade world.  After all, I got my publishing start in that wonderful place, and many academic authors hope to cross over at one point or another.  This month’s Poets and Writers features a Q&A on page 111 with Jennifer Carlson of Dunow, Carlson & Lerner that seems unusually well-tuned.  I can’t link to the piece (it is paid content), but that link will take you to her profile page.

    Why is it notable that her Q&A is kind?  Well, I’ve found some agents to be anything ranging from a bit tone-deaf to outright wrong.  And although I like to keep my interaction with most humans sane and low-key, the only tense squabbles I have ever had on the phone that weren’t with lawyers were with agents.  Sheesh.  However, the ones we work with are terrific (we have placed fiction for Booklab authors with agents at Trident, William Morris, and several amazing boutiques), yet often the ones whose advice I read in the how-to places is an odd combination of trite and dismissive.  Not this bit, however.  Carlson actually sounds kind to authors who lack confidence, and she doesn’t look down on the self-published — which is great, because Dickens, Housman, and Proust were all self-published at one point or another… I honor that history.

    Post from the private blog

    August 19th, 2010

    For the Voltaic group (tenure-line faculty in a four-week, end-of-summer intensive) we have a private blog where we daily post our thoughts.  For the next several weeks I will port over my check-ins from that blog, and if it goes well I’ll synch the two in the future.  Watch this space also for real-life stories from Booklab authors (anonymized for privacy) about how scholars solve problems.  Also coming up, a focus on contracts, clause by clause.

    Here’s my Voltaic post from August 3:

    This was a great writing day, and now that I’m here it’s heartening to see everyone’s check-in.  This morning I worked in the library roughly from 9-11.  It was frustrating at first because I forgot to bring the book I needed, but it turned out to be fine because I hunted another book and wrote quite a bit from it…

    Then JY posted on Facebook that she had just missed seeing me there, so I made an appointment and went back to write with her from 2:45-4 p.m.  She and I will probably meet again Thursday.

    Total writing today — I pared three sloppy paragraphs on SRH down to two tight and better-researched ones, and I made a discovery that scholars working decades ago mistook a Sr. for a Jr., and therefore mis-read his fictional counterpart in a political allegory!  That tidbit alone should guarantee it a home in a journal somewhere. Then I inserted that loveliness into the draft paper that is now 10,000-ish words long.  Working steadily with the Voltaic group I plan to have a draft ready to circulate to some colleagues at the end of the four weeks.

    University of Scranton Press to Close

    August 17th, 2010

    Jennifer Howard reports in The Chronicle of Higher Education that the University of Scranton will close its press.  After having become more aware of the Jesuit university system over the past couple of years, and after meeting some faculty at Scranton at a recent conference, I’m sad.

    Here’s a list of Scranton’s recent titles, sorted in bestselling order.

    Gary Shiffman on Fox

    August 9th, 2010

    Homeland Security and law enforcement expert Dr. Gary Shiffman discusses the arrest of Mexican police commanders on Fox News:

    Watch the latest video at

    Story in the Chronicle about a book that collapsed

    August 4th, 2010

    Such an interesting interview in the Chronicle of Higher Education with Michael Bellesiles, a historian whose 2000 Knopf book won the Bancroft Prize and then lost it again (login required).  He has a new book… the article is complex enough in its own right, but the online comments make it fascinating…

    List of Exhibitors for APSA

    August 3rd, 2010

    APSA 2010

    We’re getting excited about the upcoming American Political Science Association conference in early September, because it will provide a wonderful opportunity to visit the university press booth aisle.  You do not have to be in one of the on-target to get a lot out of visiting booths at this conference; it will be instructive for faculty in many fields.  Here is a list of exhibitors:

    A group of Georgetown faculty (four so far) will go with me on Friday, September 3, and if that describes you, then you are welcomed to join us.  I will host a pre-conference planning session in mid-August (TBA) so we can discuss presses and outreach for meetings.  Then I’ll meet with faculty that morning at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel for coffee and strategy, followed by a morning  of meetings and press booth visits.  Those of us who want to will meet for lunch to discuss progress so far, and then we’ll break for more afternoon meetings and visits, with a final round-up discussion in the bar at 4 p.m.

    Just FYI, this will NOT entail paying for the entire conference if you are not participating in it.  At most conferences exhibit/day passes are available, and I will confirm that before the first information/strategy meeting.

    Anne Ridder on Macedonian TV

    July 27th, 2010

    Associate Dean Anne Ridder is a mainstay of the Wednesday faculty book group. Here’s what she writes about showing up on television in Europe:

    My student with the Macedonian Embassy shared with amazement that he had seen my face on a recent Voice of America Macedonian newscast. The recent opening of [a cupcake store] attracted mobs – it’s now part of some reality show. It’s next door to our M Street office so, of course, on one of the hottest days I chose to get a half-dozen cupcakes for my Writing Lab partners. Apparently the sisters who just opened the business have “roots” in Macedonia. My tee-shirt matched some of the cupcakes which must have drawn the camera to me! The cupcakes are great but too small! It’s a good thing the shop is not on the corner near my campus office! Enjoy!

    Anne Ridder buys cupcakes

    Tenure-line faculty — Booklab has an end-of-summer idea for you

    July 22nd, 2010
    • ● Do you feel summer slipping away rather quickly?
    • ● Would you like to super-charge your scholarly writing these last few weeks?
    • ● Will you thrive in an environment of daily accountability with a variety of motivated colleagues?
    • ● Are you ready to wring even more results out of this humid, 95-degree summer?

    Then join the Thursday afternoon Voltaic team, a shorter-term power subset of the summer faculty scholarly publishing book groups, starting July 29.  Although groups are generally open to all faculty, Voltaic is limited to tenure-line colleagues working on scholarly output only (please no trade books this time around, though they are welcome in larger groups), and it provides even more structure than usual.  Here are just some of the highlights:

    1.  Four weekly meetings where you show work each time (July 29, August 5, 12 and 19 at 1:30).
    2.  Daily check-ins with colleagues on a rotating schedule.
    3.  Team and group daily writing options.
    4.  A hard deadline (you asked for it, you got it).

    Interested faculty should RSVP personally to Carole Sargent.

    PS:  Regular summer groups will end the week of August 9, and fall groups for all faculty will begin the week of September 6.  More details soon!

    PPS:  If you are already in a summer group and also want to do Voltaic, you may, but I suggest that you also remain with your group and simply come twice a week.

    A gift from a Booklab author

    July 21st, 2010

    Peter has participated in faculty book and article publishing groups since last fall, and he bought this absolutely charming origami box of bookmarks on a recent trip to Warsaw.  I took four images so you can see how it looks like a plain cube, and then as you open it, things become progressively more amazing.  Each folded paper triangle is a corner bookmark that stays in the book very well; we could not shake it out.

    Peter has such a sophisticated eye for art and for stylish small things as well.  His writing is — not surprisingly — quite visual.  This blog post is my thank- you note to him.

    Peter Box 01Peter Box 02Peter Box 03Peter Box 04

    Churn, churn…

    July 20th, 2010

    One of the summer faculty book group authors today discussed “churn,” which in her terminology as a journalist meant taking in so much information, matching it quickly to her own understanding, making necessarily quick judgments, and then turning it right around as published copy for the news.  She longed for more time to simply sit with information, to think and let it be until she understood it better.

    Ideally we academics have more of this time, but do we always use it?  Or do we sometimes procrastinate to deadlines and then end up churning as well?  Churn in this context isn’t always bad — without it we would not have the news.  But I’d welcome more thoughts about when it works and when its opposite (rumination?  contemplation?  reflection?) is a better idea.

    An honest and engaging article about long effort

    July 17th, 2010

    I meet so many authors like this one — and I have my own unfinished-and-then-finished novel story.  Susanna Daniel on her tortuous about-to-be-published novel.

    Meditation and unpleasantness

    July 14th, 2010

    I have been reading about the effect of meditation on unpleasant feelings.  Guilt over not writing is the most common such feeling we encounter in Booklab.  The second is fear of professional ramifications for not publishing enough.  Both feel awful, and tend to lock the sufferer into a cycle of stalling, procrastination, etc.  In other words, the very action that could resolve the unpleasant feelings (diligent writing) doesn’t seem possible.

    Enter meditation.  Mindfulness practices (there are so many, including sitting or walking mediatation; deep relaxation; guided meditation; hypnotherapy; prayer; body work such as tai chi; massage) can lead to a mindful approach to unpleasantness.   Learning to notice the unpleasantness, acknowledge it, examine it, ask questions about it (all with a gentle, forgiving detachment), and ultimately work in spite of it can have a wonderful result: the pain usually lessens by itself.

    So feeling guilty or fearful?  Try observing it as you would observe a star, or a cloud, or a beetle.  Nod at it.  Pat it on the head, and then settle in to work anyway.  Guilt or fear may be present, but they aren’t important.  Gradually — at least for me — they lift by the very act of writing, not because I fought them or pushed them away, but because I admitted them and allowed them to visit my workspace without disrupting anything.

    Scriptorium today, 9-10:30

    July 12th, 2010

    We’re back in the Pierce Room for Scriptorium today, a half-hour shorter because of the 11 a.m. Monday faculty scholarly publishing group.

    Kind of cool — there are still Bible salesmen

    July 6th, 2010

    Salesman_mayslesOkay, Bible salespeople, but “salesman” sounds more classic. Oxford University Press has advertised an opening for a full-time sales associate for Bibles.  It reminds me of the 1968 Maysles film, Salesman.

    Here’s a video introduction to the documentary: “The Rabbit is a very impulsive guy…”

    Scriptorium Schedule, July 5-9

    July 5th, 2010

    Monday, July 5: 10-12

    Tuesday, July 6: 9:30-11:30

    Wednesday, July 7: No Scriptorium

    Thursday, July 8: No Scriptorium

    Friday, July 9: 9:30-11:30 AND 2-4

    Comparisons, anxiety, and truth

    July 2nd, 2010

    In reading so often about other people’s lives that make them sound witty/creative/wonderful, there is a dark sense of competitive doom, a gnawing anxiety that my own life will never be enough. Anne, Brockport, NY, written by hand to James Sturm of Slate who is conducting a no-internet experiment.

    This honest cry resonated for me so strongly. Faculty who come to Booklab report it often, and I’ve felt it myself. There is always someone more accomplished, smarter, shinier, but when you put them all together in an environment that emphasizes achievement and masks vulnerability (such as on a university campus or, in the case of the writer above, in a bright, internet package), the effect — though artificial — can seem real.

    A 500-year-old poem by Kabīr that has long been popular helped me think about it; 20 years ago a friendly hippie on a boat in Amsterdam wrote it out for me from memory.  I’ve seen more than one version, and this one comes from an Internet source that isn’t perfect, but I’ll look for a more scholarly reference and adjust later:

    I talk to my inner lover, and I say, why such rush?
    We sense that there is some sort of spirit that loves
    birds and animals and the ants–
    perhaps the same one who gave a radiance to you
    in your mother’s womb.
    Is it logical you would be walking around entirely orphaned now?

    The truth is you turned away yourself,
    and decided to go into the dark alone.
    Now you are tangled up in others, and have forgotten
    what you once knew,
    and that’s why everything you do has some weird sense of failure in it.

    When we look at others and feel small, it’s our projection, not reality.  We see both our weaknesses and our strengths, but only their strengths if they hide or stage-manage the rest.  One of the best things about the faculty book groups is the surprising regularity with which someone in a position of power and educational privilege will admit confusion or defeat, and others will immediately react with relief.

    Oh, so we’re all like that.

    Oh, so I’m not the only one.

    Updated Scriptorium Schedule for Friday, July 2

    July 1st, 2010

    On Friday, July 2, I will hold the 9-11 Scriptorium session at Lauinger Library, but NOT the 2-4 session.

    Next week’s schedule will be similar to this week’s:

    Monday, July 5: 9:30-11:30

    Tuesday, July 6: 9:30-11:30

    Wednesday, July 7: 9:30-11:30

    Thursday, July 8: No meeting

    Friday, July 9: 9:30-11:30 AND 2-4

    Stunning intellectual integrity

    July 1st, 2010

    I’m intrigued by the Russian mathematician Grigory Perelman, who has refused a $1 million prize because he feels that American mathematician Richard Hamilton made significant contributions leading to the solution of the Poincaré conjecture.  That’s fine, and I do admire his intellectual integrity, but I’m still baffled.  If he’s so smart, then why didn’t he simply offer to split the prize?

    Still, it does show something I’ve long believed (I even taught a course about it).  We as a society want to reward individual genius, but there really isn’t any such thing… it’s collective, collaborative, built on the shoulders of others, etc.  Perelman’s refusal acknowledges this, and reminds us that he could not have done it alone.

    But dang, what’s wrong with just taking $500,000 and sending Hamilton the rest?  And I wonder if Hamilton is also wishing that Perelman had come up with that solution?

    Listening vs. Not Talking

    July 1st, 2010

    I’m obsessed with the whole listening thing this week, and it reminded me of an observation from last year.  A visiting scholar was here who was reputed to be a good listener.  I spent some time with him, and it’s true that he was quiet, but sometimes it became alarming.  I found myself chattering too much to fill the voids left by his not speaking.  He was a meditator and contemplative, which explained part of it, but there was something decidedly un-peaceful about some of his quiet.  Yes, he listened attentively, but he also wasn’t participating fully in conversation.  My edgy observation was validated by a student employee of this office who said he made her nervous, and she always left his presence feeling as though she had volunteered too much information.  I tried to become friends with him, and to a limited extent we succeeded, but over time I concluded that being around him and his lugubrious quiet was just too much work.

    So yes, I suppose there is such a thing as too much listening, or confusing true, active listening with simply not talking.  It’s a point for debate whether he was the one with the problem or we were (I’m willing to hear that it was our issue and not his!), but the kind of listening I prefer both as a speaker and a hear-er is the kind where we each give the other space and attention, but it is shared.  Mutual.  Energizing.  Sometimes my turn, sometimes yours.

    We’re working on this balance in the faculty book groups, and ideas and tips are all welcome.

    Flowers From Authors

    July 1st, 2010

    One of the best things about the scholarly publishing groups is the friendly culture that springs up around them.  People begin to connect in various ways, and we end up going out for coffee, writing together, and having little celebrations.  Here are photos of flowers that authors brought to the groups… the hydrangeas are from Anne’s garden, the yellow rose is part of a bouquet from Gianni, and the sapphire phlox, white and yellow “Becky” shasta daisies, white and purple coneflowers, and the very cool sea holly (globe) came from Jo Anne’s garden.  People also bring brownies, cookies, handmade marshmallows, pictures, furniture (yes, furniture) and music.  All wonderful!

    Video 94 0 00 00-18Video 94 0 00 22-28Video 94 0 00 08-09

    Fewer vs. Less and My Prediction for New Internet Stars

    June 30th, 2010

    Merriam-WebsterI just looked up a word on, and for what I think is the first time ever I actually clicked the volume button “on” when a video appeared the right.  These are almost always annoying ads, but today it was something special, editor/lexicographer Emily Brewster with a grammar lesson! You can see her “Ask the Editor” video here.

    Two other Merriam-Webster editors star in different videos: Peter Sokolowski and Kory Stamper.  Once I’ve had a chance to watch a few I’ll post my predictions for whether or not the other editors also have what they referred to in 1920s Hollywood as “It,” and who sparkles brightest (okay I won’t, because they all seem great).

    This is such an amazing idea, and a super way to offer grammar lessons rather than those stupefying books we grew up with.  Merriam-Webster needs to make these nifty videos more obviously embeddable, or at least offer a clear link from the front page (I had to search for it), for  bloggers like me.

    Georgetown University Press in a Presidential Year

    June 30th, 2010

    Richard Brown, Ph.D., Director of Georgetown University Press, is also the president of the Association of American University Presses this year.  Later I will blog more about some of his key issues, as I will from time to time throughout his presidential year, but for now these links should be of interest:

    Brown’s 2010 presidential address.

    An article from Publisher’s Weekly on the annual conference in Salt Lake City.

    Coverage by Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required).

    The editor talks herself into an acquisition

    June 30th, 2010

    An interesting thing can happen when an editor writes to express interest in a book or article without stating specifically that s/he wishes to acquire it.  Authors get these notes all the time — fishing expeditions where the editor asks to see more without making any sort of verbal commitment.

    What does the editor want?  Often, the answer can boil down to a sales pitch.  Sometimes the editor wants to be convinced.  I don’t mean a hard sell, and I certainly don’t mean a phone call (I have met two editors in ten years who want that), but what I do mean is a clear, author-elucidated expression of how and why this book can work for this press now, and what the author (yes the author) plans to do to make it a success.

    Author after author comes to me with a variation on the theme that the press should already know this.  “Don’t they know how to sell their own books?” some cry.  Or (and I’m always fascinated by this one) “They are the professionals, not me — I expect them to tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”

    I would gently submit that becoming an author means becoming a publishing professional, and learning as much as one can about the real industry versus the imaginary one.  The elements of selling an idea to a publisher and then later leading the effort to support one’s book in the marketplace are part of this.

    Where and how does one learn?  I recommend the presses themselves.  The first step is a study of the catalogs and the booths at conferences to see how they sell other books.  This rich endeavor can take a professional lifetime (I’m always, always learning new things from this).  The second step is to learn from prominent academic authors.  See how they promote their work online and at conferences.  See how they sell.  Once we establish just who it is that we admire, we can learn so much.

    Finally, there are some good books on publishing out there, although I’ve found the genre to be a bit goofy and less-than-professional, to be quite honest, which is why I don’t send authors to the how-to-publish aisle right away.  But books such as Thinking Like Your Editor, and The Forest For the Trees, although written for trade authors, do have thoughts for academic authors as well.  In some respects an editor is an editor when it comes to what they worry about: successful acquisitions and ultimately job security.

    An editor is doing more than just saying yes when s/he acquires your book.  This person is actually aligning her or his career with yours, and betting that your work will make that editor’s list seem more robust, credible, and salesworthy.  Think about it — that’s a big statement from an editor, so is it any wonder that some of them fish around a bit, and seem to want and need a little more reassurance that you and I know our jobs?

    Things that mimic listening but really aren’t: “That’s just like me”

    June 29th, 2010

    In scholarly publishing book groups this week we’ve been discussing listening, especially the time we spend listening to someone doing a check-in for the week.  In a series of posts I’ll explore some tics from my own past — things I used to do under the guise of “listening” that were actually anything but, and that I have learned to handle better by running groups and reading books on listening.

    #1 is saying “That’s just like me!” and then taking the conversation away from the speaker.  In judicious moderation it can be fine — friends find things in common all the time, and sometimes that’s how they become friends in the first place — but there is an art to using such phrases that will work better for both parties than simply chiming in.

    “That’s just like me” (TJLM) is like salt — we can sprinkle it here and there, but if we’re too heavy handed then the dish becomes inedible, and quickly.  As children we were also taught to taste our food before salting it, so I would say taste (experience) the conversation before adding TJLM.  Instead of saying the line spontaneously and taking the conversation back from the speaker, we can focus on encouraging the speaker to say more… to elaborate and expand.  What usually happens is that eventually the speaker has said whatever needed to be said, and s/he indicates readiness to hear from listeners.

    Then it would seem tempting to rush to TJLM right away, but pause a second.  What would happened if we kept the topic on the speaker a bit more at that point by asking questions and understanding fully?

    At some point the speaker will feel done both with speaking and with answering questions.  In the context of a faculty publishing group, this will generally fall within the time limit dictated by the number of people present.  Then it is completely fine to come in with TJLM and point out what we have in common with the speaker’s experience.

    This model feels wonderful to speakers, who consistently report going away from such groups feeling heard and understood.  It also feels great to listeners, who have a chance to point out shared similarities in a manner that seems like bonding and connecting rather than interrupting or taking the floor.

    Scriptorium schedule, June 28-July 2

    June 28th, 2010

    Scriptorium schedule for this week, all in the Pierce Room in Lauinger, to the right of the circulation desk:

    Monday, June 28: 9-10:30 (I might be there at 8:30)

    Tuesday, June 29: 9:30-11:30

    Wednesday, June 30: 9-11

    Thursday, July 1: No meeting unless noted otherwise (otherwise noted?)

    Friday, June 2: 9-11 AND 2-4

    The Now Habit: Innate Worth

    June 25th, 2010

    This summer I promised to blog about the book The Now Habit, by Dr. Neil Fiore.  In a lovely passage, he writes of “Elaine,” a high-achieving woman who struggled with performance anxiety and procrastination.  “The mere thought of even a minor error caused her hours, often days, of panic and anxiety.”  She came from an accomplished family with an “alphabet soup” of degrees from top universities, and she internalized the pressure to be perfect.  When Fiore asked her about her sense of innate worth:

    [S]he was dumbfounded.  ‘How can worth be innate?’ she asked.  ‘Where will it come from if it doesn’t come from what I do?’  When I asked her about those less capable than herself, she had to admit that they had worth and deserved respect in spite of their inability to perform as well as she, but it was difficult for her to apply a similar level of generosity to herself.

    The solution for Elaine was to learn to remind herself of her worth whenever she made a mistake, and forgive herself.  I would venture that we might benefit from making these reminders concrete and visible.  For example, if you receive a peer review from a journal submission that does not recommend publication, stop first and write down a simple statement reminding yourself of this essential humanity and worth. I’m not a big fan of artificial affirmations (our subconscious minds and inborn sense of satire can see right through them), but a plain statement of truth is often effective.

    We want to think that our academic struggles are of vital importance to the world, but when we look big-picture we realize how small we are, and forgiving ourselves for minor missteps becomes easier.

    Scriptorium Friday

    June 24th, 2010

    Hooray! Booklab’s Scriptorium group is a hit.  Lauinger Library’s Pierce room seems like a fine spot, so we’ll meet there again on Friday, June 25.  A map is here. Bring your computer or your paper, enter quietly, and join me for either or both of two Friday sessions, one from 9-11 a.m., and a second session from 2-4 p.m.

    Contributing to Foreign Policy magazine

    June 24th, 2010

    fp_logoWe don’t just talk about books in Booklab.  Articles are always on the table, both scholarly contributions to key academic journals, and also pieces written for the trade press.  Given Georgetown’s standing as a global university with campuses abroad and faculty from just about everywhere — not to mention the top-ranked School of Foreign Service — it makes sense that more Georgetown faculty would get comfortable writing for the media.

    There’s just one problem with that scenario.  Freelance writing is a career unto itself, and it makes little sense for a scholar with expertise in international trade, development, or nation building to spend a significant portion of her or his time writing long articles for the popular press, especially when those publications can’t lead to tenure or promotion.

    Enter the 300-word tidbit.  Faculty who become adept at writing up short, interesting ideas in 250-300 word chunks can find their ideas in fascinating places, including on public radio as commentary (NPR welcomes such submissions), and in places like Foreign Policy magazine.  A witty 300-word piece can be submitted to “In-box” at the front of the magazine; more weighty contributions in the 300-word range might be better for “Think Again,” a section that debunks conventional wisdom.  A third place for pieces, this time on technology, is in its “Net effect” section.

    Submissions should be sent by e-mail.  To learn more visit their website to read the writers’ guidelines. Some of this information came from an article on, and editorial guidelines may have changed, so stay in touch with the magazine for precise details.

    Scriptorium, Day 3, different time

    June 24th, 2010

    Booklab’s Scriptorium group will meet again in Lauinger Library; a map is here. Bring your computer or your paper, enter quietly, and join me in focused time from 11:30 – 1 p.m. today.

    This idea has been enough of a hit that I will establish a schedule and post it soon… Scriptorium is drop-in and casual. I hope to see even more Booklab faculty authors there!

    Day 2 of Scriptorium

    June 23rd, 2010

    Booklab’s Scriptorium group will meet again in Lauinger Library on the entry-level floor in the Pierce Reading Room, to the right of the circulation desk as you walk in. The entry floor in Lauinger is actually Floor 3, and a map is here. Bring your computer or your paper, enter quietly, and join me in focused time from 9:40-11 a.m. (40 minutes later than yesterday). Scriptorium is drop-in and casual. I hope to see some Booklab faculty authors there!

    Booklab Scriptorium Experiment, Day 1

    June 22nd, 2010

    Yesterday I posted about the summer Scriptorium experiment, where Georgetown faculty are invited to meet me in different places on campus to write quietly during the day.  This is Day 1, and I will be in Lauinger Library on the entry-level floor in the Pierce Reading Room, to the right of the circulation desk as you walk in.  The entry floor in Lauinger is actually Floor 3, and a map is here.  Bring your computer or your paper, enter quietly, and join me in focused time from 9-11 a.m.  It is fine if you come late or leave early as long as you’re quiet about it (a friendly wave or smile is fine).

    Booklab Scriptorium experiment — come write with us!

    June 21st, 2010

    scriptoriumToday is the first day of summer, and the first announcement of the Booklab Scriptorium experiment, where I post daily a new spot on Georgetown’s campus for colleagues to gather and write.  Scriptorium is drop-in and casual — it will move around as the spirit moves, and it will happen most days, but only when I have a block of time (two hours is usually about right) to go somewhere and invite fellow authors to join me.

    You can invite Scriptorium to your department!  You can join us when you need a break from solo toil!

    Simple groundrules:

    (1) Enter silently.  Even a round of “hello” to several people can be jolting, so simply nod to colleagues if you wish, open your laptop or settle in with paper and begin.

    (2) Ask me softly for the focus assignment if you want it.  This will be a written exercise to get you started if you’re having trouble quieting your mind and working.  Although we will observe general quiet, it’s okay to ask me for this when you come in.

    (3) Check this blog for the daily site, or see my Facebook page.  I’ll post place and time in both places.  Please do not write and ask where the site is… I love to hear from you, but these are the places for you to look.  Do note the date so you don’t accidentally go to yesterday’s location.  :-)

    (4) Scriptorium begins Tuesday, June 22.  The location posts will be up by 8 a.m.

    All are welcome with love and gratitude.  Booklab focuses on tenure-line faculty, but others including adjuncts, staff, Woodstock fellows, etc. may also join us at Scriptorium.

    A great resource for readers with low vision

    June 19th, 2010

    Today I learned Read This to Meabout, a free resource for people who are blind or who have low vision.  The participant faxes information in, and volunteer readers call back to read it aloud.  The reading can also be recorded.  The most remarkable thing I noticed (when I tried to volunteer) is that the group has enough readers at this time.  Amazing!  What an elegant, simple solution to a common literary problem.

    Information about this group came from a terrific book, How to Be an Everyday Philanthropist by Nicole Bouchard Boles.

    A creative way to greet one’s critics

    June 19th, 2010

    Now and then someone comes to an author group completely crushed by something an agent, an editor, or a literary mentor said.  The feedback could have been harsh or gentle, detailed or vague, accurate or off-base, but often the result is the same: the author feels censured.  Some of my authors have completely shut down as productive scholars over various critical responses to their work.

    Although I pride myself on reading written critiques fully, and learning from them whenever I can, I’m certainly not immune to a version of this pain.  It can just plain hurt to be told no on something, even if the no is right and good.  When the no is wrong and malicious, the pain is much worse.

    Somewhere along the way — probably from a meditation leader — I learned to thank critics for criticism, and to go it one better by looking forward to more.  The Work of Byron Katie has a version of this (her use of the phrase “I look forward to…” followed by the resisted reality), and I’m sure someone can point me to a Zen Buddhist teacher who said it millennia before she did, since her work seems to me to be essentially Zen.

    Leaning into criticism, thanking the critic, and expressing the sentiment that you’re looking forward to more does at least two good things.  First, it neutralizes pain almost instantly by taking away the resistance to pain, so it produces a calmer state.  Second, it startles the critic, who was expecting pushback, and who instead receives praise.  Instead of inciting more criticism, it can have the opposite effect where the critic begins enumerating things that are right about your work.

    This will get blogged a lot

    June 18th, 2010

    An anonymous literary agent has started posting query fails.  The site is funny, and not particularly unkind.  I’ve seen variations on all of these, especially the submission of a “fiction novel.”  One author actually sat before me and said that he didn’t need a nonfiction book proposal, because anyone with a brain who discovered what his book was about would automatically know that it would out-sell any other book published its year.  Ah, hubris.  :-)

    Enter the University Presses

    June 4th, 2010

    One of the many reasons I love university presses is their business model that focuses on books for content and author rather than for commercial sizzle.  Wags might complain that’s changing, but overall UPs still keep their eye on the superb prize of publishing good books even if their sales potential is not obvious.

    This passage from a recent New Yorker article on digital publishing points things out nicely:  According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent booksellers has declined from 3,250 to 1,400 since 1999; independents now represent just ten per cent of store sales. Chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders account for about thirty per cent of the market, and superstores like Target and Wal-Mart, along with clubs like Costco, account for forty-five per cent, though they typically carry far fewer titles. As a result, publishers, like the Hollywood studios, are under enormous pressure to create more hits—more books like “Twilight”—and fewer quiet domestic novels or worthy books about poverty or trade policy.

    As more trade publishers say “no” to what they see as mid-list books, I believe qualified authors will seek refuge at great university presses.  After all, as one university press director pointed out when I visited his office in New York, a book that sells 10,000 copies at a trade press might be considered an under-performer, whereas that same book with the same sales could be the top title at a university press.

    Guest blogger: Jim King on our first assigned book

    June 3rd, 2010

    Jim King observed the following in his first week with his faculty scholarly publishing group:

    Completing my assignment, reading the first four chapters of Paul Silvia’s How to Write a Lot, I see that his techniques apply to the effort to tame any unstructured, creative or extracurricular activity. In fact, I applied his planning advice, inadvertently, to get those four chapters read. Not a huge task, but one that had to be fit into the available nooks and crannies of available time.

    Silvia’s writing is fun to read and so I imagine fun to write.  When I can take the liberty, and when I am not otherwise foiled by my subject matter, I also try to make my writing fun – and in so doing, make it better (I hope) more readable and more memorable but most important, more prolific. I get charged up when I am having fun writing. But it is sometime difficult to see the line between “fun” and “glib”, or worse “self indulgent”; and I find I have to get pretty ruthless as my own editor, throwing out the otherwise beloved “cutecisms” and distracting parentheticals; which makes me wonder about what I’m writing now. Silvia belies his own statement, though – writing is not necessarily like repairing a sewer or running a mortuary.

    Curiously, my writing topic – “Alternative Workplace Solutions: Coworking and Consolidation” – is focused on the ability (technically, socially, organizationally, spatially) to work anywhere, anytime, through laptop immersion and the suspension of peripheral perception, with all tools and resources available at a series of keystrokes; and without the necessity of an established workplace or “large blocks of time” Silvia mentions. Certainly, there are minimum “dive-times” (immersion process), but it’s not necessarily a long weekend – it can be as brief as a 2-hour airport layover. But, back to Silvia and the challenges he lays down (specious barriers, in some cases) –

    1. Cannot find the time (I allotted the time to read the four chapters) – GUILTY
    2. Binge writing (or binge anything) – BIG TIME GUILTY
    3. Waiting till a large block of time can be “found” – EXTREMELY GUILTY
    4. Failing to schedule – GUILTY
    5. Allowing e-mail distractions – GUILTY
    6. Getting set up, with the right space & equipment, first – GUILTY
    7. Not in the mood – GUILTY
    8. Setting too many goals – GUILTY
    9. Not setting any goals – GUILTY
    10. Failing to schedule time to think – GUILTY
    11. Neglecting to monitor, measure and so improve my productivity – GUILTY
    12. Writers Block – NOT GUILTY
    13. Complaining – GUILTY

    Perhaps this is just one more “distracting parenthetical”, but I can’t not include my favorite Silvia quote:  “The best kind of self control is to avoid situations that require self control.” I see why you suggested this book. It really is helpful; and chapter four leads to your group. Thanks Carole.

    The Now Habit: Workaholism as the flip side of procrastination

    June 3rd, 2010

    An author once said it was no surprise to him when stalwart public figures got caught doing the opposite of what they preached (for example the financial expert who is found to be in deep debt and embezzling, or the hellfire abstinence preacher who is having a secret affair).  He said these extreme behaviors were flip sides of the same personality coin: one almost predicted the other.

    So it seems to be in one of the books I’m blogging this summer, The Now Habit, when author Neil Fiore examines workaholism as the flip side of procrastination.  These are people who “treat all tasks as urgent while avoiding the few, priority projects that contribute to the bottom line and the satisfaction of doing something meaningful.”  This model parallels one in the Franklin-Covey program, with its emphasis on discovering “what matters most” in life (family, friends, faith, and meaningful work, all in proper order), while vanquishing the tyranny of urgent but unimportant tasks that can crowd an unplanned day.

    So can a workaholic who feels busy, busy, busy really be a closet procrastinator?  It would seem so.  I ran this idea by yesterday’s faculty scholarly publishing groups and most were in agreement… we’ll see what today’s groups have to say.

    The “twenty under forty” list

    June 3rd, 2010

    After ten years The New Yorker has amassed another “twenty under forty” list, pretty much an exercise in making authors over forty feel bad.  But here’s a fresh way to think about it — these youth-focused lists exist in part because hot younger writers are actually somewhat unusual.  According to author John Bear, the average age for the first bestseller is 55!

    Buzz about The Academic Ladder

    June 2nd, 2010

    Academic LadderThere has been good faculty buzz about The Academic Ladder, run by Gina Hyatt, who has a doctorate from McGill in clinical psychology, and an undergraduate degree summa from the University of Pennsylvania.  A browse around the site shows it to be welcoming and amazingly useful.  I’ll get to know it better over the next few weeks and write more.

    Blogging “The Now Habit”

    June 2nd, 2010

    Now Habit Book CoverFrom time to time I blog about some books we like in this office.  Last fall I worked through Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Belcher.  This summer I will blog on at least two books, The Now Habit by Neil Fiore; and Advice for New Faculty Members by Robert Boice.  As always, I don’t blog away all the good stuff in the book (out of fairness to the authors), but I do offer tidbits, responses, and my overall take on the book’s real-world effectiveness for faculty publishing.

    Counterpoint on audience

    May 28th, 2010

    As is typical of just about anything, some Georgetown authors disagree about audience.  Although a fair number would nod at the suggestion in yesterday’s post that a sophisticated understanding and appreciation of audience is one key to writing an essential book, there’s at least one dissenting view.  A case can be made (and has been made) for writing to please yourself, with no concern for either audience or critics.  Some highly successful authors do this, without caring how they are perceived, or received.  The result?  When it works well, this can yield smart, honest, memorable writing.  Now that I’ve heard this other viewpoint, I’m torn.  My nurture-nature wants to think about audience, but this different approach seems to have much wisdom in it as well.

    Another perspective on your audience

    May 27th, 2010

    Authors come to Booklab with all sorts of different notions about audience.  The most common early thought is that the book is “for everyone,” when in fact audiences for books are almost always rather specific, and frustratingly challenging to suss out.  Some interesting authors spend creative energy thinking about audience more pointedly (women or men?  under 30 or mostly midlife and older?  various ages but specific life experiences, such as military service or a shared faith?), and we offer specific tools to enhance that, but there can be even more to it than demographics.

    The most amazing authors who have taught me much are those who place themselves in different relationships to their audiences.  Everyday authors craft a “me up, you down,” asking “Who will buy and/or read this book and make me famous?”  Rare and wonderful authors sit a little lower and place their readers a bit higher, asking “Whom do I serve?  How will this be used?  Whose needs can I meet and how fully?  Why would a reader come to me versus (or in addition to) all the other choices out there, and how do I fulfill that role?”

    A book written purely for promotion, attention, or wealth can succeed.  But a book crafted with a defined audience’s needs in mind and heart is one that also stands a chance of going beyond immediate success into the realm of the essential.

    Get ready for a bloggy summer

    May 26th, 2010

    Faculty scholarly publishing groups started again this week for the second summer (!), and I have committed to blog at least once per day all summer long.  If you want to follow, sign up for updates.  Also, if you are on Georgetown’s faculty and would like to guest-blog, please drop me a note.

    It will never be perfect, but it is often good enough

    May 26th, 2010

    Dust BunnySome years ago a psychoanalyst friend introduced me to the work of the well-known pediatrician D. W. Winnicott, who wrote, among other things, about the concept of the “good-enough mother” who was better for all practical and spiritual purposes than the elusively ideal “perfect mother.”  The former was who she was, loved her kids but didn’t always get it right, and somehow made it through with them to their adulthoods with everyone doing the best they could at the time.  The latter strived for a higher level of exactness and correctness, but often lost the war in the service of battle after battle.  In her constant efforts to do a flawless job she did, overall, a terrible job.  The perfect (to quote an old cliché) was the enemy of the good.

    This applies to our writing and then some.  It will never be perfect (whatever that is), and our efforts to perfect our writing often lead to self-criticism, doubt of perfectly good passages, and a questioning of the whole enterprise when we as authors grow sick of it, even though it will be fresh to readers.  A common feeling among authors pulling their newly published books from their boxes for the first time is “I still want to change it.”  How much better the good-enough model where we do what we can, edit appropriately, and then blessedly let it go.

    To illustrate this I offer something related yet somewhat different, Christoph Niemann’s cute blog in today’s New York Times about dust bunnies and other enemies of perfectly kept houses.  I’m sure it will be blogged about everywhere, it’s that spot-on and that comforting to those of us who will never, even on our best days, be absolutely perfect, and who also think that’s fine because it makes us more relatable.

    Georgetown University Press has a new blog

    May 19th, 2010

    A note from Jacqueline Beilhart:

    I hope all is going well! I just wanted to let you know that we have started a new blog:

    With our blog, we hope to continue the conversation that our books begin. With frequents posts, we’ll let you know about new releases and upcoming events and we’ll offer interviews with our authors and staff, guest posts by authors, and other news of interest about Georgetown University Press.

    More about Nancy Sherman’s newest book

    April 28th, 2010

    Untold WarNancy Sherman’s book The Untold War has received some amazing press:

    New York Times Editor’s Choice: “Sherman’s ‘philosophical ethnography’ is at its most powerful documenting the stories of veterans”

    Featured in Time magazine:,9171,1968116,00.html

    Huffington Post: “One cannot overstate the importance of this book”

    She will be at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on Friday, April 30.  The announcement is here, click to view.

    Samuel Pepys at work

    April 28th, 2010

    PepysI’m rather addicted to reading daily installments of the diary of Samuel Pepys at a web site run by English actor Phil Gyford.  Here is Pepys’s wish for his own work, and so by extension for the authors of Booklab, in his conclusion to his entry for Sunday, April 21, 1667:

    This night I do come to full resolution of diligence for a good while, and I hope God will give me the grace and wisdom to perform it.

    More about “Buffett Beyond Value”

    April 28th, 2010

    Buffett Beyond ValueMore from Georgetown University McDonough School of Business author Prem Jain:

    Most authors describe Warren Buffett as a value investor alone in the tradition of his professor and mentor Benjamin Graham. The most important part of the book is in my argument that Warren Buffett is not a pure value investor. Buffett has incorporated ideas from others as well, especially from Philip Fisher. In other words, he does not emphasize historical numbers alone as Benjamin Graham did. He combines value investing with growth investing in the sense that he invests only when he is comfortable about a company’s growth prospects for a long term, say for 10 years or more. So, he looks at the future carefully.

    This is the reason I label chapter 6 as “Buffett Investing = Value + Growth.” Prior to this chapter, I use one chapter each to explain value investing and growth investing. This thinking on investing for a very long term sets him apart from other growth investors who invest in high-tech companies for growth and hope to make a quick profit. Instead, Buffett invests in companies such as Coca-Cola and American Express which may grow more slowly, but for a very long term. He holds on to his investments for a long time, usually longer than 10 years.

    Why is it that other managers think that investing in high-tech companies equals growth investing but Buffett does not? My conclusion is that he emphasizes the importance of managers who engender growth even in the so-called traditional low-growth industries. His success in long-term investing, especially for growth, can be attributed to people (rather than investing in high-tech companies) who manage his companies. Without doubt, he emphasizes the quality and integrity of people more than any other financial metric. Yet I do not stereotype Buffett as a particular type of investor, and I explain why it is important to consider a multidisciplinary approach by not forgetting the importance of other fields such as psychology.

    In this environment, when Wall Street has been affected by many scandals, Buffett’s emphasis on slow and steady growth should be a good lesson for investors and CEOs.

    Here are two links provided by Georgetown author Prem Jain.  The first is a review, and the second is a Q&A conducted by the same blogger, private investor and writer Ravi Nagarajan at Seeking Alpha.  Please also see the video from in the post below.

    Georgetown author Prem Jain on

    April 28th, 2010

    This is great — Dr. Prem Jain from the McDonough School of Business on Warren Buffett as Growth Manager — TheStreet TV.

    Dr. Jain’s new book, Buffett Beyond Value, is new from Wiley.  He knows Warren Buffett, who has come to Georgetown as his guest to speak to business students, and he takes students to the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting.

    Flowers from a happy author

    April 22nd, 2010

    Literary Agent FlowersThis photo is a lovely bouquet of flowers — one of two, one for my editorial assistant and one for me — sent to Booklab by an author who is happy because we helped him find a literary agent from one of the top three agencies in the United States.  Not all authors send flowers (a shout-out in the book’s acknowledgment section is usually plenty), but this is a great spring reminder that this office focuses on some literary work as well as university press research publishing, in a scholarly-literary ratio of about nine-to-one.  All literary advising is paid for much as one would pay at Georgetown to take a class or a workshop.

    Poetry Pulitzer for a university press book

    April 21st, 2010

    Wesleyan University Press enjoyed a recent Pulitzer tap for Versed by Rae Armantrout.  Since 1957 its poetry books have won four Pulitzer Prizes, a Bollingen Prize, and two National Book Awards.  Oberlin College Press was able to claim finalist recognition, for Tryst, by Angie Estes.

    University of Minnesota Press has a hit in “A Single Man”

    April 20th, 2010

    A news item about the University of Minnesota Press’s successful re-issue of A Single Man (a tie-in to the movie directed by Tom Ford) also reveals some interesting financial facts about university presses (these are all quotes from the article):

    A Single Man poster

    1.  The Press operates as a nonprofit and receives about $300,000 of its funding from the University — 6 percent of its $5 million budget.

    2.  The Press receives about 2,000 submissions each year and publishes about 110 of them.

    3.  A Single Man has sold 35,000 copies … totaling more than $500,000.

    Dr. Maya Roth directs “The Grace of Mary Traverse”

    April 9th, 2010

    Last night I saw a smart, elegant, disturbing and thought-provoking play on campus.  It is by acclaimed playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker, who was a visiting faculty member in 2005.  It was a particular privilege because of exceptional directing by Maya Roth, a scholar who knows her oeuvre better than anyone else, and because the playwright was there for Q&A.  Although Wertenbaker has returned to the UK, the play will run for two more weeks.  You really must see it if you can.

    The Grace of Mary Traverse

    A boldly inventive historical drama which resonates powerfully with contemporary life, The Grace of Mary Traverse chronicles a young woman’s Faustian quest for identity, power, and grace. With dizzying wit, intellect and speed, the play follows Mary’s brutal and often darkly comic spiral within male-dominated realms of sex, gambling, politics, and religion in 18th-century London. Internationally acclaimed British playwright and recent GU Visiting Faculty member Timberlake Wertenbaker (Our Country’s Good, Love of the Nightingale) returns to Georgetown’s campus for the area premiere of this award-winning work, celebrating its 25th anniversary. Requires ticket or RSVP This event requires a ticket or RSVP