Astrid Bracke writes on twenty-first-century British fiction and nonfiction, ecocriticism, narratology, climate crisis and flood narratives. Her monograph, Climate Crisis and the Twenty-First-Century British Novel, is under contract with Bloomsbury Academic. This is her final post for AcWriMo 2016.
So far in this series I’ve written about the difference between writing a dissertation and writing a book, about planning the book and about the actual writing. In this final post I want to talk about two things: when things don’t go as planned and, related to that, communicating with your editor(s) throughout the process.
Although I loved working on the book, around seven months into the process my work life outside of the book became increasingly difficult. Looking back things hadn’t been going well for months: I had struggled with boredom – even though I kept busy – and disinterest in teaching, my colleagues, basically everything. And I just couldn’t stop talking about it: about the things that went wrong, about the things that annoyed me, about the issues that I couldn’t stop thinking about. Sunday evenings became horrible: I’d sit at home stressed and worried about the week ahead. I suffered headaches and a lingering sense of nausea, had nightmares about work, felt tension in my legs and neck, and became much more emotional than I usually am. The turning point came when one day I spent all of a lazy Saturday breakfast with my boyfriend complaining about work, did the same over lunch with a friend, and then over drinks with another friend. By the evening I realized that something was wrong.
This story perhaps really isn’t part of a series on ‘how to write a book’. But at the same time it is. It’s important to me, though difficult, to tell this part of the story. Yes, I enjoyed writing the book, it went well and I am pleased with the result. But at the same time I also ended up having to take a break from writing and suffered from burnout. I know – and I’ve learnt since – that many, if not most, people working in higher education and academia experience extreme stress or burnout at some point. It seems to happen especially to people early in their career. Particularly people in their (late) twenties and thirties experience high levels of work-related stress. What weighs on many of us is the stress of trying to live up to high standards – usually our own.
By early May I was off work sick. Even though my burnout was not related to my book, I ended up taking off time from writing as well. Originally I had agreed to submit the finished manuscript to the publisher by the end of July. I was on schedule when I became ill, but had to ask for an extension. Many authors end up needing an extension on their book – either because of illness, because of work obligations or simply because of not being able to finish on time.
It’s important to be realistic when you draw up a plan – either at the beginning of the project or when asking for an extension. No one is served with you making a plan that is too optimistic. If you’ll only be able to submit the book on time if you work faster than you usually do it’s not a good plan. And even when you’ve been realistic in the beginning, things might happen that keep you from finishing on time. Sometimes people don’t communicate, or communicate too late with the publisher. They are ashamed or try to persuade themselves that they could still finish as agreed. This strategy really helps no one and will put you under (even) more pressure. Also, publishers depend on authors delivering their work on time: they draw up publication schedules in advance, and when an author is very late in asking for an extension this can affect the schedule.
Once I realized I had to take a break from writing the book I contacted the publisher and the series editors. I told them I was ill and that I would be unable to deliver the manuscript on time. But I also, importantly, gave them a date on which I thought I’d be done (three months after the agreed date). This was a bit of a gamble: in early May I honestly didn’t know for sure that I’d be feeling better, but with being off work and the summer coming up I assumed that I’d finish the book by the new deadline, September 30th.
It’s been two months now since I submitted the manuscript. It’s currently at the reviewers, with publication set for 2017. The process has been good overall: I enjoyed writing the book, and am generally pleased with how it turned out. At the same time I also had to deal with things not going as planned. What saved me in the end was drawing up a new plan and being clear with the publisher about the delay. And now, all I have to do is be patient for the reviewers’ comments and the published book!
Astrid Bracke writes on twenty-first-century British fiction and nonfiction, ecocriticism, narratology, climate crisis and flood narratives. Her monograph, Climate Crisis and the Twenty-First-Century British Novel, is under contract with Bloomsbury Academic. This is the third of four blog posts she will write for AcWriMo 2016.
So you’ve drawn up a plan for the book – now it’s time to write!
When I started I thought I knew really well what I was going to write. After all, I’d written a detailed book proposal. But while I was writing I decided differently on a few things – and, to my surprise, discovered connections between chapters that I hadn’t seen before. I’ll discuss that in this post, and share my revision checklist for making the manuscript ready for submission.
It’s fine and totally normal to divert from the proposal you submitted. Even though the publisher offered you a contract based on it, it’s really not set in stone. I had planned to write four chapters, each on what I call a narrative of nature. Beforehand I had decided that the chapters would form companion chapters: pastoral and urban were a pair, and so were environmental collapse and polar. But I discovered another connection between the chapters: in both pastoral and environmental collapse narratives, time plays an important role. Urban and polar narratives share an emphasis on space.
A bigger change was that I decided to take out two novels and replace them by two others. I doubted for a while whether I would run this change past my editors. The novels discussed in a book also partly determine the audience so taking out an important author like Ian McEwan might make an impact. I ended up discussing it with a colleague who has experience in publishing and decided not to tell my editors. If I’d wanted to make a bigger change, though, like taking out or adding a chapter, I would certainly have told them.
When I started I believed my focus would be on four narratives of nature that show how climate crisis is imagined is twenty-first-century British fiction. As the project progressed it slowly became clear to me that the real argument of my book is slightly different. It’s not, as I thought, just that these books depict certain narratives, but rather that they participate in and reflect a wider cultural awareness of climate crisis. In practice this meant that at the beginning of every chapter I explicitly referred to a film or other non-literary example to show this cultural awareness, and that I did that even more in the introduction. My book now starts with a reference to Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2016 Oscar-speech.
When I drew up my plan I made sure to include plenty of time for revision. In general I don’t edit as I write – I very much believe in the principle of shitty first drafts and try to keep my internal editor at bay while I’m writing.
I’m a list-maker so naturally I made a revision-checklist for myself:
Make back-ups in more than one place!
First read-through and edit, paying attention especially to structure;
Second read-through and edit, with special emphasis on the argument on section and sentence level;
Revision based on first reader’s comments;
Revision based on feedback of other scholars in the field (this revision includes the next steps);
Is the argument of the chapter clear?
Do all sections contribute to the chapter’s overall argument?
Does every chapter have a strong conclusion?
Do the chapters contribute to the argument set out in the introduction?
Does the conclusion follow logically from the chapters?
Do the parts of the book taken together feel like a whole? Have I signalled shared themes and other connections between the chapters? Is the overarching argument reflected in each of the chapters?
Final revision: publishers’ stylesheet (spelling and punctuation preferences; reference style); final spell-check.
Manuscript ready for submission, including all the preliminaries requested by the publisher.
I left writing the introduction and the conclusion until the very end. First I read all four chapters again and revised based on the feedback I had received. This helped me immensely to get the distance and perspective I needed for the introduction and conclusion. More than once I complained that I thought the introduction was the most difficult part of the book to write (that is until I started on the conclusion and I complained about that…).
The introduction is where you probably make – and write about – most of your choices. This is where you concisely set out your argument, but also where you decide how much you want to write about the wider field, how your book fits in with other work. My book ties in with two fields of literary criticism. Choosing to focus on four ‘narratives of nature’ means explaining why these four are important. Focusing on twenty-first-century British fiction means explaining why British literature and why twenty-first-century fiction.
The conclusion is really about finding that sweet spot where you don’t summarize too much, but still bring together the main points, and showing the wider relevance of your book without going off at a tangent about other directions.
And then, much faster really than I had anticipated, most of the work was done. I put all the chapters in one document and set out to check whether it followed the publisher’s stylesheet. Although they recommended using it from the beginning, I hadn’t. I ended up writing the four chapters according to the stylesheet I used most often, and had to make the changes at the end. It wasn’t too bad though: I was going through the individual chapters again anyway and had made a list for each chapter of the things I had to change.
The publisher’s stylesheet also specifies what you should include when you submit the manuscript – not only the text of your book, but also preliminaries (or prelims). Depending on the publisher, preliminaries consist of one or more title pages, a series page, acknowledgements and the table of contents. At this stage you don’t yet have to provide the index: your contract will specify if and when you’ll need to provide it, generally a few weeks after receiving the final proofs.
Once you’ve submitted the manuscript it’s time to congratulate yourself for pulling this project off. And that’s when the wait starts to hear back from the publishers and the reviewers. In my next post I’ll write about the final element of writing a book: communicating with the editor(s) and publisher.
Joanna Hare is currently a Subject Librarian at City University of Hong Kong. As a research-practitioner, Joanna’s interests include information and digital literacy, research support for Humanities and the Arts, and innovative models of customer service. She continues Dave Hare’s series blog posts in the AcWriMo 2016 series.
As a librarian, I often attend presentations by representatives of academic publishers about ‘how to get published.’ These usually cover broad, basic advice like checking the journal’s scope before making a submission and using the correct academic style. One thing that is mentioned is to ‘pitch’ your article to the editor directly via a query letter. Book authors use query letters and academics can use them too. These letters typically include a brief (usually one to two paragraphs) synopsis of your academic writing, which is then sent to the journal’s editor asking if it is something they might publish. You can see a sample here.
Query letters are work. Thinking about them prompted me to reflect on whether they are actually worth the effort and if the letters actually do lead to higher publication rates. To find out, I contacted the editors of a few of the highest ranked Communication journals according to the Scimago Journal Rankings (SJR) and asked them about their thoughts on query letters:
Steve Jones, editor of New Media and Society, does not mind receiving query letters. However, he makes it clear that he ‘cannot “pre-review” manuscripts on the basis of a query, which is something writers often seem to want’. Jones adds that ‘there is no advantage to sending a query letter, ultimately, unless an author is truly uncertain about whether a manuscript’s topic is or isn’t a fit with the journal.’
Jonathon Hess, editor ofCommunication Education, is ‘happy to get letters from people who are familiar with the journal… and are asking about specifics that couldn’t be answered by looking online. But general emails pitching papers for which it’s clear the author has no familiarity with the journal aren’t a good use of my time.’ Hess goes on to say that if after reading the journal’s scope statement the author is still unsure if their work is suitable, he would ‘prefer that she or he just submit the article rather than sending an inquiry. It’s much easier for me to see the paper and offer a clear response than to try to guess based on a description. I screen most submissions within a week, so authors will find out promptly if the paper doesn’t fit or isn’t strong enough for review.’
Tuen A. van Dijk, editor ofDiscourse Studies, says he does not receive query letters that often, which is perhaps due to his journal’s practice of pre-review: ‘prospective authors get an automatic reply when they submit a paper, in which they are asked to pre-review their own paper on the basis of very detailed criteria of the journals… so they already know what kinds of paper we publish or not.’
Rasmus Nielsen, editor ofThe International Journal of Press/Politics (IJPP), says ‘the majority of the query letters I receive are not very helpful, because they either (a) reflect that the author has not actually read the journal, or just consulted our aim and scope or (b) is trying to flog a sub-standard manuscript. A minority of query letters are interesting and useful for me, but in that case almost always reflect the fact that the author already knows that a given manuscript may not be a good fit for IJPP.’ ’
So, what should you do?
It is clear from these responses that if you only do one thing before reaching out to an editor prior to submitting your article it is:
Read the journal’s aims and scope first!
An editor’s receptiveness to a query letter has a lot to do with personal preference, with most stating that they do not mind receiving letters. However, it is critical that you demonstrate that you have an understanding of what the journal is about. You can make this clear in your letter (for example, ‘I have read your journal’s aims and scope and my work fits these guidelines for reasons A, B and C’).
If you are not already very familiar with the journal you are submitting to, I would recommend going further than reading the aims and scope to reading several of the articles published in the journal. This will give you an idea of the writing style and topics covered, and how your article would fit in an overall volume. Referring to specific articles in your email to the editor is also evidence that you are familiar with the journal and committed to publishing with them.
A caveat: in my experience it can be worth reaching out to the editor for advice on writing an article if they are producing a ‘special edition’ of the journal, such as a special topic or an edition dedicated to a recent conference. The scope and type of article accepted for special editions may be slightly different and the editor might be able to guide you in a direction that is more likely to lead to publication. But of course, check the website to make sure this information isn’t already easily available!
Thank you to the editors who provided valuable advice for this post.
Astrid Bracke writes on twenty-first-century British fiction and nonfiction, ecocriticism, narratology, climate crisis and flood narratives. Her monograph, Climate Crisis and the Twenty-First-Century British Novel, is under contract with Bloomsbury Academic. This is the second of four blog posts she will write for AcWriMo 2016.
In the previous post I explored the differences between writing a dissertation and writing a book. In this post and the next I’ll write about the process of writing the book, both in terms of practical matters and in terms of deciding on the kind of book you’ll write.
There are two ways of going about writing a book: either you write a book proposal first, submit that to a publisher and wait for them to accept it (fingers crossed!), or you write the entire book first, and then submit that to the publisher. While some people go for the second option, most academic publishers don’t want you to send them an entire book immediately. If you do want to write the book first, or you want to publish your dissertation, you could write a proposal based on the finished manuscript and submit that. All academic publishers have a section on their website with details, so make sure to check that out first.
There’s a few risks involved with writing a book without having secured a contract from a publisher. The publisher might not accept it, or will require changes to be made to fit the book in with a series. Most importantly, though, having a contract in hand can be stimulating: having a deadline adds a sense of accountability to a project that can be quite lonely at times. Also, even though you haven’t yet written the book, having the contract gives you something to be proud of (and it looks much better on job and funding applications to have a book ‘under contract’, then just to be working on it as anyone can say that).
At the same time, I know of a few publishers who will express interest based on a proposal but won’t offer a contract until they’ve read a substantial part (i.e. a few chapters), or all of the manuscript. In that case it’s really up to you to if you want to proceed: if the publisher is renowned, if your book fits their list well and/or if you feel secure enough to go through with the book without the contract, you should.
I spent a few months researching and planning the book and then submitted a proposal with detailed chapter descriptions to a publisher. I was lucky to immediately be offered a contract. In my final post of this series I’ll write a bit more about this process and communicating with the publisher in general.
By the time I was offered the contract the timeframe that I had sketched in my proposal didn’t fit anymore. Hearing back from the publisher had taken longer than I had anticipated and I had decided not to start on the book until they had accepted it. Before I could start on the project I also had to write two articles I had committed to. With this in mind I asked for the delivery date of the manuscript to be pushed back a few months, which wasn’t a problem.
The process of writing a book has a practical dimension and a more content-focused dimension. You’ll have to figure out when you’re actually going to write it and, even though you’ve already written a proposal, you’ll have to figure out what kind of book you’ll write. Although I thought I had a pretty good idea about this going into the project, it did take quite a lot of work clarifying what I wanted to write, and what my emphasis would be on. I’ll discuss that process more in the next post.
First, though, the practical side. Once I actually started on the book I had about ten months in which to write it. In the beginning that felt like forever – I had all the time in the world to write this book! It would be fine! By nature I’m a very disciplined and organized person so despite feeling like I had plenty of time I drew up a detailed plan first.
My book consists of four chapters (13,000 words long each), an introduction (10,500 words) and a conclusion (5,000 words). I also needed time for revision at the end, as well as after every chapter, and wanted to schedule enough time so that I could ask other scholars for feedback.
My preferred method of making a plan for any kind of project is to use both a paper calendar – I currently use this one by Moleskine for my research projects – and an app, OmniFocus. I need to see on paper how much time I have available, so I began sketching out my plan using my paper calendar. I started off by planning in big chunks: around average 2½ to 3 months per chapter. When I began work on a chapter I drew up a more detailed plan, which I added to both my paper calendar and OmniFocus.
The benefit of my paper calendar for me is that I get a month at a glance – and I find it easier to plan on paper. OmniFocus, on the other hand, syncs with the app on my phone and iPad, so I always have it with me, and allows me to create projects. My book was one of those projects, and I could add to it even tasks that I didn’t need to schedule immediately but that I didn’t want to forget. Using the review-function, I was able to go back to these tasks and assign a date to them when they became important.
While planning, try to be realistic. The first chapter I wrote was the sample chapter I had submitted with the proposal, so I was rewriting more than writing from scratch. Consequently, this took me about two months at most. The next chapter’s subject matter was already very familiar to me from my PhD, so I knew beforehand that I wouldn’t be needing that much time for it either. Chapters three and four, on the other hand, were on new material, so I needed about three months for each.
Using my calendar helped me to keep other commitments in mind. I knew that by the time I had to write my introduction and conclusion I wouldn’t be teaching so I planned one month in which I wrote both. In practice, though, I wrote the book on one day a week.
While I wrote the book I used the proposal as the basis, but as I went along I ended up making changes and had to figure out in more detail what kind of book I was actually writing. I’ll discuss this process in my next post, as well my revision process.
Dave Hare is currently a part-time lecturer at City University of Hong Kong. His research work concerns film studies, specifically contemporary cinema stereoscopy.This is his second blog post in the AcWriMo 2016 series.
So, following last week’s post, you’ve decided to use AcWriMo to finalise and submit your work to a journal. The next thing to do, according to almost every academic blog ever, is to create a ‘publishing strategy’ or ‘publishing agenda’. You can read about strategies and agendas here, here, here, here, here and here, and also here (and basically everywhere else*).
Publishing strategies don’t always come about in the prescribed way. For me, it was made clear in a job rejection email that I wasn’t being considered for a position because I didn’t have enough Arts & Humanities Citation Index (A&HCI) and Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) publications. I knew that I needed more work published, but I applied for the job anyway and (Surprise) got rejected. The upside of that downside was that I got specific feedback on how to shape my publishing strategy: to look to journal ranking lists, which university departments obviously use to gauge job candidates (as well as a bunch of other stuff, as in exchange knowledge, apply for funding grants, evaluate staff performance, build careers etc.).
There are issues, however, with this type of publication strategy. Tseen Khoo, one half of The Research Whisperer blog team, discussed a few of these issues in a post back in 2014. She concluded the post with the thought that ‘you may still end up “publishing to appease” every so often, but don’t let it be your life’; which is to say there are particular times to focus your attention on journals that others favour. For me, given the response to my job application, the time is now.
For the uninitiated, journal ranking lists are LONG. The A&HCI, for example, is almost 200 titles across multiple fields of study. So, you need to start by filtering out irrelevant titles. A friendly academic librarian can help you with this task; I know, because one helped me. Here is a summary of that librarian’s advice:
Step one: Create a spreadsheet to list the journal titles you are going to target for your publications. The spreadsheet should include all the relevant information about the journals you plan to target, such as the name, links to the Aims and Scope, recommended article word counts and a ‘Notes/Comments’ column for any extra details about the vibe of the journal.
Step two: Skim the title lists to identify titles relevant to your field. My field is contemporary cinematic stereoscopy, so keeping my outlook broad I selected any titles that seemed to be about film or media studies, as my work spans both aesthetic and industrial aspects of contemporary cinematic stereoscopy.
Step three: As you find a title that seems relevant, visit the journal website and find their ‘Aims and Scope’ information. This should tell you if your work will fit in the existing scope of the journal. Add any titles that seem promising to your spreadsheet. At this stage be prepared to be both disappointed and surprised: you may find that the well-regarded journal you were hoping to publish in is actually not ideal, while the scope of journals you are less familiar with might end up being the perfect fit.
Step four (optional): Email the editor/s of the journal/s and ask if your work sounds appropriate for their publication (more on query letters in the coming weeks). Suffice to say this email should be short and to the point, with a brief description of your work. A typical response to this email will (1) note that your work is interesting and (2) that you should submit it for consideration, providing that (3) you have followed the journal’s style guide. It may not provide too much information, but it might just help you decide which journal you’ll submit to first.
After following these steps, my list included about 25 relevant journals, five of which stood out as being clear targets. In addition to these, I also included journals that might be useful for future research. Now, I am ready to get on with the task of editing, re-writing, and proofreading. A quick note for those AcWriMo-journal-writing peeps that already have a publishing strategy: Your target journals may have posted a recent call for papers, redefined their aims or have a new editorial board. A quick check to see if journals have changed is a good idea before settling down to write.
Forming a publishing strategy (or agenda), conducting research into a journal index, and creating lists, all count toward your AcWriMo success as well as the goal of journal article publication. If you’re doing these tasks, please share your experiences on Twitter and Facebook using the AcWriMo hashtag.
*because the interwebs is loaded with academic blogs talking about strategies … including this one.
In this series of posts, Astrid Bracke writes about the process of moving from disseration to book. She has a PhD in ecocriticism and contemporary British fiction and teaches English literature at the University of Amsterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.
At the same time that you’re thinking about and starting work on your book proposal, you’ll also have to decide on a publisher. Although you needn’t have a definite list by the time you’re starting on the proposal – particularly since most publishers’ guidelines are so similar – it’s good to familiarize yourself as early as possible with suitable publishers and their criteria.
One question to think about is how important it is to pick a renowned publisher. Should you hold out for a prestigious publisher if that means taking years to get a contract? In the end, a book contract from a publisher that is not a top-ranking university press like Harvard or Oxford is worth more than no book contract at all. Particularly a first book will be difficult to publish with a top university press, since you will most likely not have made a name for yourself yet, while these top presses usually publish work by authors who are authorities in their fields and thereby ensure a certain level of sales.
More important in choosing a publisher are the books that the publisher publishes, and whether they’ll be able to display your monograph at conferences. Find out where the books you admire are published, and which publishers have series that match your monograph. Reviews in journals, as well as announcements on forums and listservs are also useful in this respect. It makes sense to pick a publisher that has a relevant series in your field, or which has a list broad enough for your monograph to fit in. While many authors are critical about ‘mega-publishers’ like Routledge and Palgrave Macmillan, these are often well represented at the academic conferences your intended audience attends, which is worth to take into account when making your decision.
Conferences also present a good opportunity to talk to publishers, who are often as keen to hear about your research as you are to discover whether your work fits in with their lists. In rare cases, publishers contact delegates before the conference to set up an appointment, but approaching a publisher yourself while there is also a good idea. Publishers are continually looking for new authors, and conferences are one of the ways in which they meet them.
Colleagues and others in your field can alert you to publishers and series, but may also be able to tell you about the workings of individual publishers, for instance, the quality of the editorial process, and how much work the author has to do in terms of proofreading and indexing. In all of this, you’ll also have to feel good about the quality of work published: a series might be right up your alley, but if the quality of the monographs are consistently mediocre, you need to ask yourself whether you want to publish in this series at all.
While I know people who submitted a proposal to only one publisher and immediately succeeded, it usually takes several tries. A friend recommended making lists of publishers: an A-list with the ones you’ll try first, a B-list with back-ups, and maybe even a C-list. If your book fits into several fields, research publishers in those fields, and tailor your proposal accordingly. For instance, you can tweak the market section for each publisher: while it should show your knowledge about existing work in its full breadth, referencing works that are published by the publisher you’re addressing shows how well it fits in particularly with their list.
Once you’ve decided on your A-list, and have finished the proposal, it’s time to submit. Keep in mind that while it’s acceptable to submit your proposal to several publishers at the same time, some publishers explicitly ask you for sole consideration. The academic world is a small world, publishers frequently know each other, and peer reviewers are often asked by several different publishers, making it a real possibility that the publisher discovers if you’re cheating – so don’t.
The time it takes for a publisher to review your proposal varies, and you can always ask: a commercial publisher I recently talked to said that it took them two months from submission of the proposal to decision. Finally, never, unless a publisher specifically asks for it, send your entire manuscript: while publishers want to know as precisely as possible what you are planning to do with your monograph, they also want to know that you can still tweak or adjust things if the peer reviewers suggest it.
In this series of posts, Astrid Bracke writes about the process of moving from disseration to book. She has a PhD in ecocriticism and contemporary British fiction and teaches English literature at the University of Amsterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.
In the previous two posts I wrote about making the decision to turn your dissertation into a book, and what to include in the book proposal. In this post, I’ll continue by discussing the market section of the proposal and the importance of making your book look – and sound – less like a rewritten dissertation.
While the market section may seem a particularly difficult section to write, you’ve established yourself as an expert in the field through your dissertation, so you most probably already know what’s out there in terms of other works. For the publisher, this is a vital aspect: they need to know that the book will sell, otherwise they’re unlikely to take it on. This section is not just about proving how unique your book is: just writing “no one has ever done this before” is not enough. In fact, you’ll have to explicitly refer to other books that are somehow similar to yours, or that present an argument that you’ll continue, in order to show that their readers will also be likely to read your book.
Rachel Toor’s very useful article on the market section really helped me to think this through more: she recommends starting to think about the author questionnaire, which asks specific questions related to marketing your book, early. While writing the market section of your proposal, it is also useful to think about the conferences that where your book might be put on display, and the professional organizations that you belong to of which others members might be interested as well.
In the previous post I wrote that the piece of advice I got most frequently when I asked people about their experiences of turning their dissertation into a book, is that you should only do it if you can find the time, but especially the motivation and energy to do so. Another piece of advice that I heard again and again is the importance of making your monograph – even if it’s based on your dissertation – look less than a dissertation. Although it may seem that this is a matter that can wait until you start writing the book, it is actually an issue that you need to think about when you’re writing your book proposal. Some publishers explicitly ask whether the monograph is based on your dissertation, but even if they don’t explicitly do so, you’ll have to demonstrate in your proposal that the monograph is an actual book, not a dissertation.
So what is the difference between a dissertation and a book? One of the biggest differences is its purpose: the purpose of your dissertation is to prove that you are worthy of belonging to the academic community. The – published! – monograph, on the other hand, implies your membership of the academic community, so you don’t need to explicitly show it. Instead, the monograph will have to be both intellectually thorough, and broad enough to appeal to an audience large enough to merit the publisher taking it on.
William Germano, in From Dissertation to Book, also provides an interesting discussion of the dissertation versus the book. He suggests that in addition to differences in purpose and audience, a dissertation “rehearses scholarship in the field,” while the book “has absorbed scholarship in the field, and builds on it” (157). For instance, many dissertations include lengthy literature reviews or initial chapters that set out precisely what kind of work has gone before. While these demonstrate your so-called “cabinet making skills” as a PhD student, they are less relevant to readers of monographs, and often need to go. The audience for your book is interested in your argument, and far less in seeing that you know everything that has gone before in your field.
Other signs of “dissertation style” that Germano warns against are an overdependence on citation and reference, and repetitious statements of intent (“In this section I will demonstrate that…”, “Following the preceding discussion of X, I will now move on to analyze Y…”). These are all things to avoid when writing your book, and require you to take considerable critical distance from your dissertation before turning it into a monograph. Rewriting the dissertation, then, may very well turn out to be more about extensive cutting and revising, than about giving it a mere polish.
While you’re determining the focus of your book you’ll also have to decide on a publisher to submit your proposal to, which I’ll discuss in my next post.
In this series of posts, Astrid Bracke writes about the process of moving from disseration to book. She has a PhD in ecocriticism and contemporary British fiction and teaches English literature at the University of Amsterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.
While every publisher has their own book proposal guidelines – available on their website – these tend to cover the same elements, such as the title, short summary, a longer chapter-by-chapter outline and a section on the significance of your book. Some publishers ask you to fill in a form that covers all of these elements, and others simply require you to submit a document that incorporates all the required elements in a running text.
An obvious but nonetheless worthwhile piece of advice is that if a publisher suggests a certain structure, follow it. While you may feel that deviating from the requested structure reflects originality and individuality, the editors and reviewers that will evaluate your proposal are used to a certain structure. Choosing a different structure will more likely confuse or even irritate the editors and reviewers – who usually have little time – rather than make your proposal stand out positively.
When I started working on my book proposal, I found it nonetheless hard to determine what my book proposal should look like. Asking a friend who works more or less in the same field as I do whether I could look at her – successful – proposal helped me a lot. Another valuable resource is Palgrave Macmillan’s Open Peer Review Trial. Although primarily meant to encourage open peer review of submitted book proposals, its archive gives examples of book proposals and the feedback they received.
Eventually I decided to write a proposal as a running text that includes the elements that most publishers require. This allowed me to really conceive of my proposal as a whole, rather than a series of fields to be filled in as part of a form. Once I’d written the proposal – and had asked feedback from trusted colleagues – I could tweak and adjust the proposal to the specific forms or guidelines provided by individual publishers.
I structured my proposal as follows:
A longer section describing the book’s main argument, the gap(s) it will be filling and the texts and theories I’ll be concerned with. This section ends with a paragraph that sums up the specific contributions the book will make (total length about 6 paragraphs);
Table of contents with titles of chapters and word count. Includes notes and bibliography;
Chapter outline (about 500-650 words per chapter);
About the author;
Timeline for completion.
A number of these elements are particularly important, and worth thinking about some more.
First, you’ll need to demonstrate the significance of your book. Why should others read it? What does it contribute, and to which fields? This may require you to broaden the scope of your dissertation somewhat. The challenge is to turn your dissertation from something that is interesting primarily to your supervisor and committee members into a book that will gain the interest of a larger group of scholars.
For instance, my dissertation was aimed explicitly at expanding ecocriticism through readings of contemporary British novels. While this may be of interest as well to some scholars working outside of ecocriticism, my primary audience consisted of ecocritics, and I explicitly engaged with and responded to existing work in the field. In order to appeal to a wider audience – and hence make the book more interesting to publishers – my monograph is less explicitly concerned with ecocritical theory and practice. Instead, I’ve shifted my focus to the second element of my dissertation: an analysis of representations of nature in contemporary fiction. Since my own interest as well as work in the field is moving towards post-millennial British novels, I’ve adjusted my corpus from novels published between 1975 and 2011 – as was in the case of my dissertation – to British novels published since 2000. Consequently, the audience for my monograph increases, as I aim to appeal to several scholarly communities equally: ecocritics as well as those working on contemporary fiction, especially post-millennial British fiction.
In the next post I’ll discuss another key element of the book proposal – the market section – and one of the most frequently heard pieces of advice for recent PhDs: making your book sounds less like the dissertation you based it on.
Top Tip: Meet deadlines. Once I was working on a submission in response to a call for chapters for a book. I did not make time adequately and got behind on my writing schedule. I had to finish the last section and conclusion when the deadline came. I wrote to the editor and asked for a few more days. He replied that no one had met the deadline, and he did not want to work with a group of authors who clearly didn’t have a vested interest in the project. The book was abandoned.
Editors are certainly pleased by responsive authors, and your ability to meet a deadline makes the process move not only more efficiently but also on time. You can only enhance your reputation and network by completing your work on time.
Consider your audience. An often-repeated reminder: your dissertation or thesis cannot be repackaged as your first book without significant revision. Many students find themselves in a position where they are writing primarily for their director and committee, each of whom plays a critical role in the student’s success. If your committee does not see your project making a meaningful contribution to the field, you may get sucked into a spiral of revision that keeps you from completion.
Once you have succeeded and graduated, your audience changes. Do you have a publisher in mind? A press that you would most like to put out that first book for you? Take a close look at what that press publishes. Will your manuscript be a good fit? Is there a particular editor to whom you would submit the manuscript? What books are in that editor’s repertoire? The degree to which you would write toward a particular audience/market changes from one discipline to another, but it can be helpful to bear in mind that an editor will need to know your book is marketable before offering you a contract.
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!