In the first of a new series, we talk with Michael LeVan, editor in chief of Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies. Dr. LeVan shares his advice for best practices for authors submitting work to academic journals. An online, peer-reviewed journal, Liminalities is published at http://liminalities.net/.
I’d say that there a few common mistakes I’ve seen over the past decade at Liminalities, especially with graduate students and early career scholars. In many cases these can be avoided by having the intended submission vetted by a trusted mentor (like an advisor in grad school or an established researcher in your first faculty position). They can help a lot, but you have to ask them. Even though you know they are busy with other things. But if they are successful, someone probably helped them early on. Having your peers review your work is often helpful for your esteem, but they usually are not seasoned enough themselves to know the big differences between writing seminar papers and writing journal articles.
One common mistake I see is authors making big claims that are not supported by the arguments and examples. I think many times we have a hunch about a big idea and we really need to spend our tenure-seeking years articulating and working on that question. My advisor liked to tell people that the dissertation, for example, was your first word, not your only word. Worry about being consistent, clear, and rigorous on a small observation rather than trying to part the clouds.
Another mistake that is pretty specific to Liminalities is when I get an essay from a graduate student who is writing about his or her full-length show. It is difficult enough to do a thorough critical analysis of a performance (or other aesthetic text) by someone else. It is exponentially harder to do this when it is your own text being analyzed. All they see is their own brilliance that comes from a thousand tendrils of tenuous connections to other ideas. Teasing out those connections in concert with vivid descriptions usually gets lost by the wayside and you end up with another case of heavy claims with light support. Rather than writing about your brilliant show, write about the insights into a research question that you learned from the process of doing your show. Of course, now with multimedia journals, you can submit the aesthetic text itself as a form of research, maybe including an artist statement that frames the motivating question(s).
Another mistake I’ll mention in essays is having a stinker of a conclusion. The conclusion is what you are writing toward, what you are leading the readers to, and where you can show the readers why your work was worth reading. This is where you can connect to bigger questions that your modest article exposes. Often, it feels like authors just stop at the end of their observations and say, “Ta-da! See? See?” Tell us what we should see, and this will want to make us read your next essay.
The final mistake that I’ll mention is doing too much exegesis of some theorist and too little analysis of the thing that your scholarship is supposed to be about (be it a text, an object, a discourse, or whatever). Of course, doing exegesis is important to showing your professors that you understand what’s going on in difficult texts, and the best graduate students excel at this kind of writing. But readers of scholarship want you to already know (and know you know) that stuff so that you can get to the interesting work of applying it, expending it, or arguing against it in terms of some tangible examples.
Today’s post reflects on one of the commonly experienced–but less often discussed–aspects of academic writing: receiving a negative review of your work. The author, Virginia Yonkers, is a long term adjunct in the Communication Department at the University at Albany. She has written articles in the fields of Language, Communication, Marketing & Management, Education, and Business Ethics.
A couple of weeks ago I received a rejection of my article submission from a prominent journal. What made it especially difficult was that it did not even get to the peer review process, but rather was filtered by the editor who decided it “would not fit” the journal. That was it: “would not fit.” My first inclination was to throw the article away, crawl up in a ball, and just stop trying. Of course, I did not. But that is the natural inclination when you receive such a strongly worded rejection.
We are often taught in Phd programs how to succeed, but not how to be rejected. A very successful colleague of mine related how she had at least 15 articles completely written her first year of post-phd, which she never resubmitted until mentor encouraged her to do so. She had 7 articles in a year as a result.
So how do you get over the feeling of rejection, especially as an early career researcher? Here are some tips in getting over the barrier of rejection in journal publishing.
1) Give yourself a week before you do anything after reading a rejection. It takes some time to disassociate your emotions (rejection, anger, disappointment) from the piece you have written. It is necessary to disassociate them when you need to make decisions about your next step. After you have given yourself a week, reread your rejection letter/email for any feedback, then reread your submitted to piece. This allows you to analyze what your next step will be.
2) You have 3 choices: Rewrite and resubmit the piece; submit the piece as is to another journal; or scrap the piece for a better time.
3) If you decide to resubmit, you will need to do some additional work. You may want to email the editor to see if you can get specific direction in how to make the manuscript more acceptable. If your manuscript has made it to the peer review process, review each comment. I find having a table which addresses each point helps in your revision, but also in the follow up letter you will submit with your new manuscript. If the manuscript was rejected outright (without indication of revisions), you will need to justify how the revised manuscript is substantially different than the original. In your follow up letter you will need to address each comment made by editors/peer reviewers.
You do not have to revise everything a reviewer comments on, but you do have to address it. For example, one of the reviewers of an article I co-wrote used a different theoretical framework in his analysis of our research. We maintained our methodology and justified it in our comments (and why we DID NOT use the methodology he would prefer).
4) You may decide to submit the same article to another journal or publisher (Note of warning: you should not have the same manuscripts at two different places at the same time). One possibility is to email the journal from which you were just rejected for recommendations for other places in which your piece might be more appropriate. This does two things: 1) it insures that the other journal knows you are withdrawing your article and will be submitting it elsewhere so they will not be allowed to print it in the future; 2) you may receive some additional feedback so you can make adjustments in your next submission.
If you decide to go to a different publisher, you need to do a little more homework. Based on your rejections, try to identify a publisher by which your ideas will be accepted. My recently rejected article was in a top journal (which I did not know at the time of the submission). In reviewing the list of reviews and the authors’ names, I discovered that there were very few outside of Ivy League/top 20 international universities represented in the articles and none represented as a reviewer. My assumption is that since I was not from one of these institutions, nor a leading researcher in the field, editors filtered my article out. Often they will have 100-200 submissions a month, so this helps decrease the workload for reviewers. Now when I look for new journals to submit to, I look at readership, topics (usually they have a description on their website), reviewers, and any professional organizations they are affiliated with.
There are two areas you MUST change when you resubmit to another journal. The first is the style (most websites have a style guide). The other is your introduction. You need to always include in your introduction how your article will be of interest for the journal’s readership.
5) If you decide not to resubmit your manuscript, you should consider how you can still communicate your research. You might want to consider submitting a paper to a conference (even having it published as a conference proceeding), upload it to a public depository (such as Academia.edu or your university’s working papers depository), or blog about it. Make sure you save the article. One of my most successful articles was an update of a colleague’s article that had never been published. She gave it to me to update and the two of use worked on creating a new model based on our discussions.
As an early career researcher, an article that was not accepted is a good starting point for collaboration or new research. So do not think of the unpublished manuscript as a failure, but rather a future starting point. It is important to continue to work even if you have had numerous articles rejected. If you feel that you are not getting anywhere with publishing, work with a mentor in your field who can give you direction on places to publish, ways to make your manuscripts more marketable, and motivation to continue to submit for publication.
Charlotte Frost and Jesse Stommel met (as they often do) in a Google Doc to do some writing. This time, however, they invited a group of people to join them, and they demonstrated how and why they write together in Google Docs. In the blog post below, you can read the text they generated, but the original Google Doc they used can also be viewed as can the video of them writing together (which we’ve included below). If you have any further questions ask away in the comments section of this post.
My name is Charlotte Frost and I am a Visiting Assistant Professor here at SCM in Hong Kong. I run lots of projects looking at writing in an academic context including PhD2Published and AcWriMo. My other work is focused on digital and new media arts and the history of net art (the latter of which was the subject for my thesis). Jesse and I regularly work in Google Docs together on all manner of things because apart from anything else its fun.
My name is Jesse Stommel and I’m a teacher and researcher working in the US. I teach Digital Humanities and Digital Literacies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’m also the Director of Hybrid Pedagogy, a digital journal of learning, teaching, and technology. I’ve been working closely with Charlotte for quite a while, and we have begun to inhabit each other’s writing in such a way that we often finish each other’s sentences.
In this session we’re going to:
Use a Google Doc to show how we work together and discuss what works for us
Describe and give examples of public writing.
Show which parts of a Google Doc we use for what.
Address some of the difficulties we encounter as we work in this way.
Demo all of this in a meta-sort of way, so you can watch it unfold before your very eyes.
(And hopefully film this demo so you have something to look at and refer to afterward)
Why Write Collaboratively?
Accountability: Writing together is a huge procrastination crusher. There’s safety in numbers and it makes it much less daunting to look at a blank screen with someone else there – you are NOT alone! (cause someone else is right there with you, prodding your sentences into life!)
Camaraderie: Having someone to talk to and write with and even ask questions about all sorts of things helps (especially questions about writing and academia of course!). It can make it easier to get started (see above) and make the whole process a lot more enjoyable.
Instant Proof-reading and Peer-review: Your partner can read for sense AND mistakes – if they don’t get it, others won’t either. But also, let them find your mistakes and save your blushes later on.
Less Work: If you work on something like this together in a Google Doc (whether it’s a blog post, article, outline, etc.) you halve the work. And, if you’re working with someone like Charlotte [says Jesse] it’s even less than half, because she’s very very prolific.
Progression: It will move your thinking and writing forward AND fast. There’s a difference between ‘thinking writing’ and ‘doing writing’ the former helps you work something out, the latter helps you show what you’ve worked out. A collaborative document can be used for either, but if nothing else, use it for ‘thinking writing’. It’s a sandbox for making sense of something of something.
Why not? Learning is social and doing this kind of work with collaborators helps improve your work and your partners. Writing does not have to be solitary. Sure, some writing prefers to live alone, but sometimes writing wants to live right alongside its readers.
How to Write Collaboratively?
(there’s lots of stuff to consider as you get started, but sometimes the best thing to do is just start putting words on the screen and work the details out as you go). Here are some strategies we’ve found work well:
Time and Place:
Set up a Google Doc and a specific time to meet – as well as the duration of your meeting.
Your work can continue asynchronously outside the scheduled time (especially if you’re working in different time zones) but writing together at the same time is key – so try to do that regularly.
But perhaps only do it for an hour at a time, it’s a tiring practice if you’re working very collaboratively.
Establish the ‘permissions’ you’ll set for the document, who can edit, who can comment, who can read, etc.
Decide whether you want your document open to the web.
If you’re inviting more people to work with you, make sure that you make them ‘editors’.
[currently this document is set up to only allow folks aside from Jesse and Charlotte to view the document -- or participate in the chat -- though we often open up our documents to a wider group of editors at some point during our process.]
As well as writing your main body of text you’ll also be:
Using the chatbox for live discussion about all things writerly/academia and to arrange what you’ll achieve in your joint writing sessions.
Using the ‘comment’ function to select parts of the document to provide targeted feedback.
Decide how to navigate the various writing spaces together.
We meet in the chat box to get started and to arrange what we’ll do during a writing session, and we’ll often pop back into the chat box when we need to confer about our process.
We’ll also use the chat box as a space for dividing up what each of us will do during a writing session.
Sometimes, we will write in different colors just for fun to distinguish our voices. But we usually take that out as we polish the document.
Other examples of how you can use a Google Doc to work publicly and collaboratively:
Partner with one other person and both use the same GoogleDoc to each work on a different project but so that your progress is witnessed and/or so you can get someone else to periodically review your work and comment on it, etc. (There are anxieties associated with writing in public in this way, so doing this work helps build trust.) Sometimes, Charlotte will work at the bottom of a Google Doc while I work at the top. This gives us some amount of privacy but the ability to “call each other” into our section of the document.
Write in a Google Doc and make it public for viewing and reviewing (you might allow people to comment but not rewrite the text itself). Offering up a piece of work to a specific group in this way is a great technique for obtaining instant peer review.
Example: Arts Future Book is one of Charlotte’s research projects and in this instance she wrote a paper and left it open to public peer-reviewing (using a blog rather than Google Docs though)
Use one Google Doc for a large group as a sort of central repository for content.
You can brainstorm in the same doc and share ideas. and shape it up into something later. An Extreme example:of this is DigiWriMoNovel in a Day (which had about 100 people working in one Google Doc.)
Write collaboratively with one or more people. Take turns to draft sections of the doc (perhaps its an article you’re writing together) and use the comments to discuss each other’s sections and how to combine them better.
Take turns to draft sections but then work on the same paragraph at the same time to review, comment AND edit.
What Difficulties Do We Encounter When We Write Collaboratively?
Stage Fright: It will expose how many times you change a sentence before you finish it (or how many typos you make Charlotte likes to make typos, as do I. Luckily, we both find typos immensely charming.
Solution: If you see the other person writing at the speed of light you can lose your train of thought. Just carry on in your own way at your own pace until you feel comfortable. One of the most important things you can lean is that we all write differently and we have to find our own practice for ourselves.
Disagreements: It’s easy to get attached to your writing and hard sometimes to let someone else into your process. Occasionally, you will find yourself unable to share a common voice.
Solution: Decide in advance how you’ll resolve your writing issues with your writing partner. Agree to Skype, meet, or just agree to differ on what ever the issue is. Sometimes, you might decide that you want to write certain sections of a document independently, while continuing to collaborate on others.
Technical Problems: Technology can be temperamental. Occasionally, the gods of technology just don’t rule in our favor.
Solution: If you lose more than 15 mins to lost connections/Google Docs not refreshing it might best to just give up and work alone or on something else. But work out the next time you CAN meet and stick to it.
Ownership: Who owns this document? Who gets to decide its boundaries? When we work together in this way, who is the “author” of a document like this?
Solution: While we have both clearly been co-composing this particular example, what if one of us were writing and the other were primarily editing and offering feedback? If you set out to work on something together, even if one of your writes more of it, we think it’s probably best to just agree from the start that the work will be collaborative. This kind of work can’t be quantified in a cut and dry fashion. The production of one word is sometimes more difficult than the production of 10. Actual writing isn’t the only thing you bring to the table when you collaborate and we find that the balance of the work evens out in the end.
This Google Doc workshop was offered as part of the Improving Your Academic Writing workshop series Charlotte gave at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong as part of AcWriMo 2013.
Ellie Mackin is a third year PhD student in Classics at King’s College London, and is working though Wendy Belcher’s ‘Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks’ while attempting to finish her thesis.
It seems habit that I start each blog with a confession now, although this confession is the exact opposite to the one I made last week. I am writing. A lot. It is #AcWriMo after all!
I am just not doing a lot of writing on my article. Probably lucky that this week was all about choosing an journal to submit to, so I am still mostly on track with my article. There is a good lesson to be learnt here about not letting setbacks set you back. What I mean is that you can take a small setback and let it become a big one by taking on an attitude of ‘well, I’ve already slipped this week so I may as well not do x, y, z either!’ Or, you can just take it in your stride, ‘I didn’t do a, but I can still do b and c.’ This is one of the things I’m finding nice about Belcher’s book: it is set up into easily manageable sized chunks of work each week, so it’s easy get back on track.
This week, as I said earlier, was all about picking a journal, and therefore the front pages of the week are packed full of information about different types of journals. Belcher breaks the section up into ‘Nonrecommended Publishing Outlets,’ which includes newspapers, trade publications, and conference proceedings, ‘Questionable Publishing Outlets,’ which includes non-peer reviewed journals, graduate, note, review and local journals and – surprisingly to me – chapters in edited volumes and electronic journals (though I assume that the field of electronic journals has changed significantly even since 2009, but I’ll still heed the advice for now!). Finally, ‘Preferred Publishing Outlets’ including regional, newer, field, interdisciplinary and disciplinary journals. Belcher asks you to identify one journal from each of these categories that might be suitable for your article, and I admit I struggled to come up with an interdisciplinary journal so I just left that blank.
The next task is to properly identify some journals that your article might be suitable for, just by searching. By asking colleagues and advisors/supervisors, the ‘old fashioned’ self search, journals that your article cites from, and electronic databases. Belcher gives some really good information about electronic searching, and a bunch of tips that will make the job a lot easier. Tips include varying search words, and searching for not just the topic of your paper but your methodological approach, or theory, or broad discipline keywords. The next day’s task is all about evaluating the journals you’ve uncovered during this searching process, and Belcher gives a great many criteria to think about when evaluating journals – she suggests spending ‘an hour’ (although I found it too longer than this) and that you look at print versions of the journals in question (which I did) rather than looking online for the information. The criteria include things like being peer-reviewed, reputable, from her recommended publishing outlet list, if the copy editing is good quality (that is, that the journal is not filled with typos and design problems), if it is timely in production, the journal size and number of articles published, how long it might take for an article to be published from acceptance, whether it is indexed online and who reads it. As you can see, this is quite a long list of things to look into, and some are as easy as flipping though a few issues to see for yourself and skim reading an article or two. When you have a list of half a dozen journals to look though, though, this process can take more time that Belcher has allowed you for the task, particularly when you take into account some of the things which are harder to find out on site – like how long it might take to publish an accepted article or how rigorous the peer-review process is – just something to keep in mind as you come up to this particular task. There is a handy form that you can use that will ensure that you don’t miss anything when searching, and that you can use for easy comparison between the journals.
Finally for this task you’re asked to review the forms and pick a journal – or several suitable journals in a ranked list! Then, the easy (and fun, I think!) part: read the journals. Belcher asks you to read though a few of the journal articles in a couple of recent editions of the journal(s) you’ve chosen. Take note, this exercise is not just about reading the articles you like but about scoping out what the journal is like (and perhaps finding a relevant article or two to cite in your own article). This is so you can really look at the direction of the journal, see whether your article can fill a gap in their recent issues, whether there is a trend to the topics and whether any of the recently published articles cover similar ground to your article – her general rule of thumb is that if it’s been done in the last three years the journal might not want to revisit the topic again so soon, unless your article is significantly different. Blecher almost tacks on the end to also look at the length of notes and bibliography, but I personally found this to be one of the most interesting differences in the journals I looked at – some had long, explanatory notes and some were just simple references, likewise some had many pages of bibliography and others had much shorter bibliographies – what I got from this little section is that you want your article to fit in to the overall feel of the journal, and I think this could make a difference to the place I choose to submit to.
Now – to return to the start of my post and my neglect. I confess: I haven’t done the day 5 task. I ran out of time because I was writing thesis-work. I am going to do this over the weekend and will put it in the next blog post, but I’ll run though briefly what the task is.
The task is to write a query letter to the editor(s) of your chosen journal(s). Belcher covers what you should ask editors, and gives a few sample letters, before running though what this kind of letter can do for you.
I’ll report more about that next week, until then – Happy AcWriMo everyone!
Todays post is written by Helen Wainwright. Helen is a final year PhD Candidate from The Department of Art History at The University of Nottingham, researching conceptual art’s supposed demise in the early 1970s in New York, and the concurrent redefinition of the spaces and/or places of artistic practice and dissemination stemming from the period. She is particularly interested in the work three separate artists: Stephen Shore (1947-present), Gordon Matta Clark (1943-78) and Anthony McCall (1946-present), and the gap that exists between their early works and later (re)interpretations of them.
Recently, the thoughts of what to do post-PhD have started to worm their way into my mind – a good six months ahead of schedule. Rather than ignoring my subconscious efforts to prompt me into a premature job search, I used them as a nudge in the right direction to think about what I really want to accomplish in the year leading up to my viva, and likewise what I would need to accomplish in the subsequent year (or two) after it. This is when I metaphorically stumbled, via Twitter, across William Germano’s book From Dissertation to Book, an extremely useful and accessible text first published in 2005 by University of Chicago Press. I initially approached it with caution, thinking it would ultimately lead to a flurry of self-doubt, but what I actually found was an insider’s guide to what it takes, and how to make the first moves towards publishing your thesis as a book, and what decisions and barriers will more than likely be encountered along the way.
As the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social sciences at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and a former Vice President and Publishing Director at Routledge, William Germano knows exactly what it takes to take those first steps towards publication. The message running throughout the book is clear: be willing to revise, rework and even rethink your PhD research. This advice is coupled with a hefty warning: a thesis is not a book manuscript and will more-often-than-not be rejected by a publisher without any form of editing. Germano provides his readers with a list of eight options to choose from when considering what to do with the thesis once complete: ‘do not resuscitate’; ‘send the dissertation out as is…’; ‘publish the one strong chapter’; ‘publish two or three chapters as articles’; ‘revise the dissertation lightly’; ‘revise the dissertation thoroughly’ or ‘cleave the ample dissertation in two’ (p.38). It is safe to say that readers of From Dissertation to Book are most likely seeking advice on just that topic, and are thus left with the sole prospect of gentle/hefty revision. However, reading between the lines, I think the underlying message of the book is clear: there are more routes towards writing your first book than simply turning your doctoral dissertation straight into a manuscript.
One suggestion is the transformation of chapters into publications. Not only will this allow ideas to be transmitted to a larger audience; gaining much needed publicity, but it will grant the opportunity for a moment’s pause to deliberate whether these ideas could actually form the basis of further research, and lay the foundations for an entirely different book proposal. Likewise, such reflection may aid in the dissection of the thesis as a whole; allowing it to be sliced in two, moving both parts in separate directions, and therefore furthering the possibilities of future research and publication. Alternatively, as Germano continually recommends: revision is the key. Whilst attempting to re-work the thesis, it is also highlighted that a publisher who can recognise the potential audience for a book is far more likely to accept a manuscript or proposal, because they can clearly see who the text is aimed at and who it will be sold to. In contrast to the doctoral thesis, which will only ever meet the eyes of a handful of people, despite best wishes, the book must have a definite audience, and therefore a direct and highly relevant message. If you can argue this case straight away, then perhaps you are on to a winner.
The awareness of your thesis as something far from finished, but as the stepping stone into the world of academia is a daunting prospect, given the amount of blood, sweat and tears which are poured into the work. However, this realisation is also entirely invigorating when realisation dawns that all the routes of thought that had to be closed off in order to concentrate on getting to the finish line, could one day be re-opened. As a researcher you are expected to be adaptable and full of belief in your ideas, and From Dissertation to Book echoes these basic assumptions, asking its readers to think in the same way about their doctoral research: that it is malleable and full of potential, whether published as a book on first attempt, or not.
Today’s post by Prof. Jan Draper reflects on her own experiences of carving up her PhD thesis into publications and provides excellent advice for post PhD-ers about what to consider and how to do it. Jan is a Professor and Director of Nursing at the Open University, UK, in the Faculty of Health and Social Care.
I don’t have an academic book (unfortunately!) but when I completed my PhD (2000) I did approach a number of publishers to see if they were interested. I think my recollection from this (very dated now of course) was that the publishers could ‘spot’ a PhD ‘conversion’ a mile off, so you have to be very careful in this regard. Some publishers are very happy to consider conversions from PhDs, others are not. So in order to maximise chances, I think one needs to be very well informed about which publishers do what.
With that in mind here are my Top 5 Tips for getting published:
Write a good PhD in the first place! Sounds obvious but you would be surprised at the range! Include in this writing a very solid theoretical foundation. Theory can really liberate and help make connections that otherwise might not be made.
Make sure that you have a good publication strategy arising from your PhD. You may need to seek some help in gauging this – either supervisors or other colleagues, depending on the nature of your work. If you are located in a practice-based discipline for example, in addition to conventional academic papers arising from your thesis, there will also be professional/practice-related papers that you could write. So think very carefully about how you ‘cut’ your thesis.
Think creatively about the above. Don’t just think the obvious i.e. the description of the project and the findings. Is there something about the method that was innovative, that I can write about? Was there something about the theory I used? How helpful was this theory? Did my work advance the theory in any way? Was there something about ethical considerations that was more unusual in my study that could be of benefit to the wider community in some way? Think also about conference presentations – not just papers.
Think very carefully about where to publish. This may sound very obvious. But, I was very fortunate that I ‘stumbled’ across this important factor. Don’t settle for low impact journals but think about your academic career – if of course, that is something you wish to develop and enhance. Go for high impact journals that will get your work noticed. Not only will it get your work noticed, but it is likely that the feedback you get from reviewers will be of excellent quality. I learned so much from the feedback from reviewers working for The Sociology of Health and Illness not only about the papers but also about the process of reviewing. Their contributions to me as a writer have influenced by ongoing, longer-term work as a reviewer. Strange!
Don’t underestimate the time it will involve! Cutting up a thesis is a traumatic and bloody affair! It has taken so long to write the thesis to get it to its current format, so to think about carving it up in a different way can actually be quite difficult. This is where wise counsel from either supervisors or other colleagues can be helpful. But my advice would be that no matter how hard it feels – just do it! To get to this stage and not publish would be a travesty so I would always encourage students that no matter how hard it feels, you must do it! From my own personal experience, I know that getting 5 good papers out of my PhD created a solid platform for my ongoing academic career. So it is worth it – honest!
Todays post by Karen McAulay follows on from her first, and discusses her experiences of publishing her thesis as a book. At the end of Part One, Karen had received the contract for writing her book and Christmas 2011 had arrived. So what next? This is when the Planning, Prep and writing really began.
Planning and Preparation
Although I hadn’t been asked to rewrite anything, I wanted to go through the manuscript with a fine toothcomb, looking for anything too wordy, unclear, or where a footnote could be pared down or incorporated into the text. Adopting the same approach that I’d taken with my thesis, I counted the chapters, introduction, appendices and bibliography, and allocated a set portion of time to each, with a bit more for the new chapter. So long as I kept to my own deadlines, I knew I’d be fine. To ensure I wouldn’t come unstuck, I booked a couple of weeks’ leave from the day-job, in the run-up to submission day.
Now, I know that sometimes one fixates on trivial details as a form of procrastination. In my case, I awoke on 2nd January, after a dreadful night’s sleep, convinced of just one thing: I needed a new laptop. Showing resolution over and above my customary bloody-minded determination, I went online, checked the PC World website, then leapt in the car and bought one. (In my own defence, I have to explain that my very old PC had a couple of problems that I’d been unable to resolve. USB drives and dependable internet connections are somewhat crucial when it comes to writing a book!)
And I treated myself to a new mug (featured in the image above): ‘Writer’s block – when your imaginary friends refuse to talk to you.’ I’ve often said that I know more dead people in Edinburgh than live ones. Since they were all getting an honourable mention in the book, I decided my ‘imaginary friends’ might just as well sit right there on my desk with me while I wrote! I only used that mug when I was working on the book, as a point of principle. Don’t knock it: it worked for me!
That sorted, I was able to get on with the job in hand. I started a blog (another blog) for the purpose of monitoring my progress, in the hope that friends and colleagues would occasionally murmur the odd word of encouragement. ‘True Imaginary Friends’ has been a useful outlet. It provided me with somewhere I could write informally, and jot down any problems I came up against. Such as the day I realised that the new chapter was far from the walk in the park that I’d anticipated …
On the whole, the existing chapters didn’t take long to tidy up, but I had to pare down the chapter that would precede the new one, add some of the pared material to the new chapter, and rearrange the entire new chapter to accommodate the work I’d done in recent months. Apart from the intellectual exercise involved, it was also rather time-consuming.
Having a full-time job places constraints on my writing time – I’ve become used to that. I did my PhD part-time, after all. I just book annual leave when the need arises. Where I nearly came unstuck, though, was when I then got the opportunity to do a few lectures at another institution. I was already committed to the book; and to writing and presenting two conference papers; and now I had lecture-plans to prepare. There followed an invitation to speak to a local piping society. (Bagpipes, that is. I’m not a piper myself, but my subject interests pipers.) Could I say no? Certainly not! It’s all advance publicity for the book, after all.
Images, Maps …
Whilst I had no illustrations in the thesis, I thought a few well-chosen images would enhance the book. One per chapter … so I scanned some of my Victorian song-collections. The scans weren’t quite up to publication quality. I ordered up the appropriate images from the uni library. They, and another one, had permissions to be sought. Gradually I whittled away at the list, until there was just one problem: finding a map. I didn’t want just any old map – it had to have the names of various Hebridean islands and key Scottish locations, but nothing else. If you want a map drawn, Daniel Dalet, c’est l’homme – he’s the French cartographer who runs D-maps.com. And he’s very helpful indeed!
And an Indexer
As I worked on the manuscript, questions kept occurring to me. One concerned the indexing. Find out what your publisher prefers: I had the choice of having the indexing fees subtracted from my royalties; doing it myself using the facilities available on a pdf; or engaging my own indexer. Conference networking proved its worth, when I was lucky enough to be put in touch with an indexer actively looking for indexing in my general subject area.
At the time of writing, my book has an ISBN; is in editorial/production; and is advertised on Ashgate’s website. Oh, and it has a publication date: March 2013. It’s really happening! There’s only one problem: what shall I write about next?
Today’s post, is the third in a short multi-authored series on PhD2Published where I have been collecting hints and tips from published academic authors, all about successfully getting an academic book published. Today’s tips are offered by Susan Nance, an Associate Professor of US History and Affiliated Faculty with the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph. Her next book, Entertaining Elephants: Animal Agency and Business in the American Circus, is due out from the Johns Hopkins University Press in January 2013. For more information, you can visit her website.
My big five principles for getting a book out with an academic press:
1. Write your manuscript as a message to the best people in your field and for those who will accept the basic premise of what you’re trying to do, even if they might argue on the details and/or will learn something from your research. Do not write for people who don’t ‘get it’ about what your basic research assumptions are.
2. Choose the right press for your needs. Just need to get tenure? Pick a no frills press that won’t make you do endless revisions. Do you want to sell books, for course adoption or trade audience? Pick an academic press with a strong trade title list since they have existing networks to market scholarly books to trade audiences. For example, the book I’m researching now I will try to publish with a Western US university press that has a robust trade list because I want my book to appear in all the touristy gift shops and the souvenir parlors of the national parks, historical societies and local history museums where lay history readers will find them.
3. When promising manuscript deliveries, don’t set self-imposed deadlines you can’t keep. We’ve all done it, but that doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t win friends at the press.
4. Realize that you are making a big investment in the press, not just that they are investing in you. So, you have a right to have them treat you well, keep you informed of staff changes at the press, not abandon you because your editor leaves the press, give you a cut of e-book sales, publish the ebook or paperbook promptly, give you a say in the book cover design, trust you about what your audience will expect to see in the manuscript, etc.
5. Always be patient and NICE to production staff. They have more power over your book than you realize and don’t probably get paid as well as they should.
Todays post is by Dr Beatrice Hale. Her most recent, and first academic book is a co-authored book entitled The Age of Supported Independence, published by Springer, Dordrecht, with Dr Patrick Barrett and Professor Robin Gauld. They’re next book is currently in preparation. Here Beatrice provides her top 5 tips for getting your book proposal accepted by a publisher.
1. Conduct a thorough search of relevant publishers,
2. Send them a well written book proposal,
3. Be courteous and inform the publishers whom you contact that you will be contacting a number of publishers
4. Ensure that the proposal gives a brief outline of the related literature of theory and data (social science here). You must identify and stress where your book has its place/or can fill a gap,
5. Do a thorough reading of the publishers’ websites, and comply with their list.
Todays post by Tom Brock, an Early Career researcher at Durham University, is an impassioned reflection on the difficult journey ahead faced by many of his career stage with the desire to progress; that of getting journal articles published.
Across the academic spectrum, the phrase ‘publish or perish’ has been heard by many. Today, it might be thought of as the condiciosine qua non of academic and researcher development. The idea behind it is simple: we must publish our research material or we will be cast out as failures of the system. We perish: we suffer complete ruin in a sudden or untimely way. It is a provocative phrase. It is meant to spur on progress. However, it resonates deeply with the early career researcher. It echoes throughout our day-to-day lives as we fear that in order to qualify our academic prowess (beyond the mere possession of a doctorate) we must face peer-review. If we do not publish, then we perish, and the alternative that we face translates into something quite unsettling.
Like the protagonist of 1995 hit-film, ‘Judge Dredd’, the unpublished academic is met with one choice: to face the ‘long walk’ alone. It is an uncomfortable truth but there are few options remaining and often each ends with the same inevitable call for peer-reviewed material. Unsatisfied by this, the unsuccessful scholarly graduate must leave the refines of the ivory tower to be greeted by the ‘Cursed Earth’: a space in the employment line where the skills of a doctoral researcher rarely translate into ‘business acumen’. In my case, this means a Ph.D. in Sociology, which does not directly translate into what the market requires: quick judgments, fast/competitive calls and rapid solution-based decisions. On the contrary, my forté is built around taking the necessary time to think, or explore and analyse. It often involves processes of rinsing, repeating and repeating again. If this is the case for other researchers, then, is it any wonder why the phrase resonates so deeply? Given what is at stake, there will be those for whom the publication process is both an emotional and physical challenge.
It is within this context that I jumped at the chance when Durham University’s Centre for Academic and Researcher Development (CARD) recommended that I attend a course entitled ‘Publish or Perish: an introduction to publishing and reviewing journal articles’. The course was straightforward enough. Participants submit a short article (1000 words), which is then peer reviewed by other participants. The article must be accessible to a general audience. Participants are asked to review two such articles, in accordance with set quality criteria, and are asked to supply referees reports for these items. Participants are then asked to revise their original submissions and resubmit it for acceptance. The whole process takes approximately 4 months (June-September) and finishes with a publication launch. I am currently waiting to receive feedback on my original submission but I have completed my referees’ reports.
The experience has been overwhelmingly positive and has served to contextualise the sobering depiction of ruin and catastrophe outlined above. Writing an argument in 1000 words, for a general audience, was no easy task. It took time and reflexive-critique. Through the process, I learnt the importance of writing shorter, snappier sentences. I learnt to omit concepts that I had no space to define and I would try to limit myself to a single idea or point per paragraph. These common-sense principles were impacting my writing style and it enabled me to keep the central argument of the article at the forefront of discussion. The course taught me something of paramount value: effective writing is what makes our ideas not only accessible but real. It gives our imaginarium a break and allows us to take hold of our ideas, communicating them in a style which has impact.
This moment of clarity had a lasting effect. It became the viewpoint from which I refereed the other articles. Many of the corrections I suggested were balanced on the issue of a clear and concise writing style. Unclear phrases or terminology were redressed and where conceptual rigour was an issue, I recommend omitting entire sections of the paper for straightforward, descriptive, prose. Each comment I made served an important function: it prompted a reflexive-critique of my own writing style. I was left with a new perspective on why we write as well as how we do it.
Taking this new stance, I still face the wider environment and it remains unchanged: there is a sense of urgency to publications and without them there is little chance of securing a place on the academic-tenure track. However, though the sobering nature and pressures of the environment echo in the distance, the process of publication has been demystified. The importance of effective writing has been crystallized in my working consciousness. Publishing content appears to be more straightforward when you know why you must turn your ideas into clear and concise prose. I only hope that this welcome development is enough to stave off the ‘long walk’ alone.
GET TO KNOW THE MAJOR EDITORS of the book publishers in your field. The best place to meet them is at the book exhibits associated with your annual professional conference. You will find that some of them know absolutely nothing about your field, not to mention your subject. Avoid working with such editors because they will treat your work as a commodity, like pork bellies.
SELECTING A PUBLISHER INVOLVES TRADE-OFFS. With a large publisher that issues many books in your field in a year you gain the advantage of mass marketing and advertising. Large publishers employ reps who visit campuses. However, these reps are given many books to push and their commissions depend on the number of books sold. As a result, they concentrate on freshman and sophomore texts for required courses. Furthermore, since they receive the same commission no matter which book is adopted, they have little incentive to sell a particular book. Thus, you run the risk that promotion of your book will be lost among the many others with similar titles being offered by that publisher. Small and specialty commercial publishers and university presses give you much more individual attention. You can judge whether they are a good fit for your book by looking at their publications list on their Web site, themailings you receive from them, the advertisements in your professional journals, and the experience and recommendations of your peers. If a publisher looks reasonable based on these probes, go to your school’s library and look at their books they have published. Before signing a contract, make sure that (a) your publisher will have your manuscript peer reviewed, and (b) the publisher you chose “counts” with your field’s tenure committee. Under no circumstances publish with a vanity press, that is, a publisher that charges you for publishing your book.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE BOOK PUBLISHERS’ REPRESENTATIVES WHO COME INTO YOUR OFFICE. They are a valuable source of information. These reps have two missions: (a) to flog the books their company issues and (b) to send intelligence back to the home office. They will be pleased to send you complimentary copies of the latest mass market elementary textbooks in your field. If your field is French, you can obtain many shelves of freshman- and sophomore-level French books. You can alsoobtain copies of books directly linked to specific courses you teach. It is a little more difficult (but not impossible) to obtain complimentary copies of books in your research area. There’s always the chance that you will adopt. Don’t, however, simply look at the reps as a source of freebies. Use them to find out what is going on in the book market. Sound them out on whether their firm is interested in a book manuscript you have under way. Their response will usually be positive. Ignore that. Just make sure that they get the wordabout your forthcoming manuscript back to the editors at the publisher’s headquarters.
DO SERVE AS A REVIEWER for journals, particularly top journals. Treat this job seriously. You will see much junk being submitted and appreciate why some journals reject 80% or more of their submissions. You will develop an aesthetic for what is good and what is not. You will correspond with some powerful people. When you do get a good paper to review, you will receive much earlier knowledge of an important new development. The information gained is worth more than the time you take reviewing.
You may have noticed that PhD2Published has been very busy recently chairing live chats on Twitter (#acwri) and collecting various blog posts, all concerned with the process of academic writing. Charlotte initially set up PhD2Published to find out more about academic publishing and to make use of it as a space built around peer-to-peer sharing. As Managing Editor I have tried to emulate this ethos and have found this to be incredibly useful so far. With this in mind, I am currently engaging in regular dialogues through both this site and other forms of social media to learn more about what is essentially the foundation of academic publishing; writing.
Spurred on to some extent by Charlottes AcBoWriMo initiative back in November 2011 and a chat initiated by Dr Jeremy Segrott on Twitter, it is clear that many academics have the desire to discuss and explore issues around their shared experiences of academic writing and how this may subsequently lead to different forms of written publication. In participating in this newly established online community and with the desire to share what I am learning, I have come across several useful resources that focus on just this topic and I wanted to share one in particular here today. Carol Smart’s discussion of academic writing is interesting because she explicitly confronts the particular challenges and problems faced by academic writers and offers potential shifts in thinking that may make dealing with these challenges more workable.
In The Emotional Challenges of Writing (available as a video and a written transcript) Carol draws on personal experiences to think about how difficulties in writing may be overcome. It is initially helpful that she acknowledges that writing can be challenging, even for those who are technically gifted or very experienced. I often feel frustrated that I can’t get words down on a page even though I know how to do it, so it is comforting to recognise that this is not just an issue with me. Carol argues that the reasons for these challenges often stem from the kinds of emotional questions that inevitably arise when embarking on a new project or writing task; what will my peers think? Am I as good as my peers?, and so on. She also recognises that academic writing produces often contradictory feelings and insecurities in individuals and that it can be depressing and overwhelming at times. Her suggestion for overcoming this is to try to become more aware of your personal writing rhythms, no matter how peculiar they may be and lighten up a bit about what you want to say. As she rightly points out, writing is about being part of a conversation rather than setting something down in stone.
I particularly like what she has to say about getting stuck with writing. Quite often when I write I have little idea what it is I am trying to argue and I worry that this is wrong or means my thinking and writing lacks rigour. Carol suggests though that she also does this, particularly when deriving ideas from data. While at times this may lead to dead ends, this can actually become part of the creativity of writing (and thinking) that also makes it very enjoyable.
Even though Carol’s full discussion is available online, I have briefly reviewed this resource as a way of opening up a dialogue on the PhD2Published site about academic writing. Not everyone is on Twitter or is able to join the live chats so this post is intended to be a catalyst for continuing a conversation about academic writing online and extending its reach. I genuinely believe, as do others, that academic writing is the foundation of academic publishing, yet it is also fraught with emotional and technical difficulties that are easier to acknowledge and hopefully overcome in a peer-to-peer sharing space. Please do post any useful resources that focus on academic writing that you come across here and do raise questions and discussion. What are the main challenges you face as an academic writer? What kinds of writing do you find most challenging? What do you want to learn more about from more experienced writers?