Home » Posts tagged “practical stuff”

How does an author know whether to sign with a particular agent?

April 9th, 2012

A business book author just asked me whether he should sign with a particular agent. I turned the question back to him by responding:

Basically your decision should be made on a combination of (in order):

1. Her recent sales (whether she is doing the job now as evidenced by recent book deals to publishers you admire);
2. Her client list (whether she already works with people with whom you want your career associated);
3. The quality and success of the resulting books (how you feel about the final outcome… what is published and how it does);
4. How you feel about her personally… whether you communicate well and enjoy working with her.

All literary agents should be willing to give you an exact list of deals they have done in the past couple of years, and also a list of whom they represent. These are tangibles… they are quantifiable, and you can learn much about an agent just from them. However, the last two points are more intangible. How do you feel about the books that resulted from those deals? Are they bestsellers? Midlist books? Do they reflect your vision for your own career?

I listed how you feel about the agent last, even though many authors place it first. Some authors go on and on to me about how much they love their agents, even if those agents haven’t had a deal in many months. Meanwhile, I personally care more about results than how much I like an agent. There are abrasive ones out there, though, and although I try not to weight the personal factor too much if the agent is making successful deals, there are some agents I have put on the “Do not query” list because the personality issues just aren’t worth it. Fortunately there are many successful agents who are also highly professional–the best of both worlds!

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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).

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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.

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A great resource for readers with low vision

June 19th, 2010

Today I learned Read This to Meabout readthistome.org, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Reaching a Broader Audience With a University Press Book

March 15th, 2010

A scholar has an interesting take on writing for a general audience in the AHA Fortnightly News.  By request he wrote a book about Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for the young adult market, but it was published by the University of Tennessee Press and it counted toward his tenure review.  I’m on the fence about stretching the definition of published scholarship too far, but this is a quite interesting take on the question, and it is well-written and thought-provoking.  Also, I have friends who grew up in Oak Ridge and who will always have to contend with what it meant in the atomic age and beyond, and for whom military ethics will always be complex and personal because of it.

One troubling aspect of the article was the press’s insistence that the book was work-for-hire (i.e. an upfront payment but no royalties, and the press owns the book forever).  I’m not a huge fan of these deals although they may have their place in limited contexts.  The article does not convince me that this was one of them, but I’d be interested in hearing other points of view.

The best part of the article is its reminder that “university press publishing” is a richly layered thing, and that university presses generate all kinds of books other than the endangered scholarly monograph.

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Two “get published” links from the University of Pennsylvania Press

March 11th, 2010

GUEST BLOGGER: What Google Books Can Mean For You

February 27th, 2010

Lewis Levenberg, a graduate student in Georgetown’s Communication, Culture and Technology program, works with Booklab from time time, giving us fresh ideas for using the internet and various social media to promote authors and books.  I invited him to guest-post some of his thoughts about digital books online:

What Google Books Can Mean For You

A lot of confusion and controversy surrounds the ongoing saga of the Author’s Guild and Association of American Publishers‘  legal action against Google. Since 2005, these two book-world powers have been locked in protracted argument with the search giant’s books division over copyright and payment issues. This complex, long-term negotiation seems to be drawing to a close, with Google honing in on the rights to expand what they hope will become the largest-ever “digital library.” However, the fact that this vast database of scanned texts is well on its way to becoming the primary reading and retail source for books on the web does NOT mean that authors are left high and dry, only to watch as their work becomes available to view (at least in part) online.

Read more…

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Publishing is partly a job

February 25th, 2010

It might seem odd to say that the art of publishing is similar to the art of getting and keeping a job, but the parallels exist.  Asking someone to publish your book is similar to asking someone to hire you — in both cases your professional futures are united for a common good, and how you do reflects on one another.  An editor is in many ways a boss, and the author-editor relationship is more hierarchical than many authors would like to admit.  When an author recently asked where self-expression fits into the editorial process (she was exasperated that her publisher asked for changes to a manuscript she wanted to be accepted as-is), I said that I didn’t see publishing as about self-expression so much as collaboration, and in many ways more about the editor’s and publisher’s needs for the list than about indulging the author’s wishes and hopes.

This doesn’t mean authors should pander to publishers, or blindly do what they’re told.  We didn’t become academics to produce work-for-hire.  But it does mean that when one shops for a publisher one looks for a temporary job in the publishing world, and all the elements of excellent boss-employee relations come into play, including only writing for (working for) someone you respect, and understanding that when a publisher signs an author, the publisher has a voice similar to that of an employer — certainly not dictatorial, but important, powerful, and worth heeding for the common intellectual good.

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How Do You Work?

February 25th, 2010

I have a longstanding fascination with how writers productive structure their days and specifically their writing time. Many authors on book tour gripe about having to answer question after question about process, sighing and asking what difference it makes, but it does matter. There is such a difference between productive writers, and those who merely discuss writing.

Georgetown fiction writer Matt Maples alerted me to the amazing blog Daily Routines, subtitled “How writers, artists, and other interesting people organize their days.” I’ve been reading it for a while now, getting ideas.

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Booklab Seeks Volunteers

February 13th, 2010

The Office of Scholarly and Literary Publications has opportunities for
exceptional Georgetown University graduate students and even interested faculty to learn about the book publishing industry, and we would like to get the word to as many people as possible.  Click here: Georgetown Community — Learn Book Publishing

We have specialized projects depending on individual interests, and
outstanding volunteers can later apply for paid opportunities as they arise. In a tight publishing industry these are impressive resume builders, and past students who have worked in this office have gone on to internships in the publishing industry. Some even receive published credit in the acknowledgments of the books with which they work.

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Excellent visual representation of department publishing

December 8th, 2009

Dr. George Shambaugh, chair of Georgetown University’s Government Department, sent me a useful and original document today.  It is his visual representation — in a recruiting letter — of books and articles his department’s scholars have published recently.  It contains information about the department’s ranking both nationally and specifically in the context of  publishing.  This is such a creative example of how a department can showcase its scholarly output at a glance, while cutting through the usual “we’re great, apply to our school, blah-blah” hype.

Below is the letter, and I have embedded the PDF file he created to illustrate his publishing point at the end of it.  I also added links where he had printed URLs in the text:

Dear Prospective Students and Colleagues,

I am writing to let you know about the good things happening in the Ph.D. program at the Georgetown Department of Government.

Georgetown is an excellent place to get a Ph.D. We are part of a distinguished university in an excellent location. But our real asset is our strong, research-oriented faculty. We have steadily climbed in the Hix Global Ranking of Political Science Departments.  In addition, we were pleased to see that Georgetown came in fourth when Thomson-Reuters ranked universities based on papers in political science journals from 2002 to 2006.

Or, perhaps it is best to see for yourself.  (Click here for Dr. Shambaugh’s PDF file illustration).

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Simplifying Your Academic Life

December 3rd, 2009

Faculty authors across disciplines have some concerns that are universal whether one is in the history department or the business school. One of these is writing recommendations for students, and even occasionally for colleagues. One of the Booklab authors said she’s exhausted because she has so many students this semester who have hit her all at once with recommendation requests. She spends 45 minutes to an hour writing each one, starting by looking up the student’s grade, reading the resume, looking at the requirements for the grant, fellowship or program, tailoring her letter to its needs, and, and, and . . .


There is a much better way. It is time-tested, efficient, and perfectly ethical. Make the person requesting the recommendation write a complete draft of it. I’m serious. Why shouldn’t they? First, the requestor knows how her or his accomplishments in that professor’s class mesh with the needs of the grant. Second, the requestor knows what s/he hopes the recommender will say. And finally, the recommender is completely free to adjust the letter to reality, change the wording, and make it say what the recommender believes is both accurate and appropriate. The faculty member should make it clear that s/he is under no obligation to use those words, but that they will help in streamlining the process.

This reduces time per recommendation from an hour to about 10 minutes, and it also assures students that recommendations will happen in a timely fashion. To make things as clear as possible, I provide faculty with a sheet of student responsibilities. They include filling out everything on the recommendation form except the signature, providing a stamped envelope, and assuring that every possible step is completed before the faculty member touches the documentation. If any of this is incomplete, it goes back to the student.

Faculty have been loving this, and students appreciate the security of knowing that wait time is reduced, and the letters are substantively on target for the applications. Any more ideas for how this might work?


Back to the 60 article publishing days

November 23rd, 2009

On the blogger site we offered a popular series on writing and publishing a scholarly article by blogging our way through the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks byWendy Belcher.  Since then Dr. Belcher has been in touch, and she included the blog series in her monthly newsletter.  Thus inspired, we’ve decided to try again with a new article, but instead of counting days, we’ll count weeks, and we’ll reduce the number of weeks from 12 to 9 since three of the weeks in the workbook focus on preliminaries, on journal internal politics, and on editing tasks for nonnative speakers of English.  We understood all of that the first time around, so this second pass will start with Week 2 of the workbook and proceed to Week 10.

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