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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #63 by Linda Levitt
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Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)What will you call it? When I teach public speaking, I encourage students to title their speeches in progress, often as a first step in writing. That title may never be spoken, or known to anyone but the speaker, unless someone read a written version of the speech. Perhaps even better than writing a thesis statement (which often seems to vex undergraduates), the title helps students remember what they are working on and stay on target as they are researching and writing. This method can be useful for any essay or manuscript in progress. Giving it a title is also a way of making it manifest.

 

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #62 by Linda Levitt
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Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Did you make a resolution? Now make a plan. A goal without a plan is likely to go unfinished. We’ve talked about setting microdeadlines here before, and breaking big goals down into small pieces can make clear how to meet your goals in a manageable system. If you set a project goal, try to get an idea of all of the component parts. You might then set a backward timeline: if you know that you want or need to have that article finished by mid-April, how much work do you need to do each day or week in order to complete it on schedule?

Is your resolution to write every day? If so, determine if you can adequately manage that. That some days are quite full with other responsibilities may make daily goals difficult, so setting them quite small can be helpful. And if you miss a day? So be it. Set it aside and get back on track. It’s easy to abandon daily resolutions when goals are met for a day or two. Don’t give up, and don’t give up hope!

 

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #61 by Linda Levitt
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Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Forgo resolutions and write a statement of purpose instead. With the new year around the corner, many of us have given thought to what we hope to accomplish in 2015. From quitting one habit to adopting another, many aspirations are affirmed on new year’s eve. While we often resolve what to do, how often do we articulate why we want to do it? As a writer, researcher, and scholar, what is your fundamental purpose? Examining why we do what we do can facilitate progress and productivity. Your statement of purpose can also be a reminder to stay on track when struggles arise.

 

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #57 by Linda Levitt
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Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Engage in bracketing. This is a tip that comes from conflict management, and it carries over well to research and writing. When we are engaged in conflict, many different issues and concerns might come to the fore. If those issues create a digression, the original source of conflict might get lost and might never get resolved. Instead, the effort toward resolution turns into an even muddier puddle. In managing conflict, you should be mindful of those side issues and point out that they should be bracketed for a later conversation, once the current conflict is resolved.

As interested, engaged researchers and writers, we often find side interests that might take us down rabbit holes. This happens even after you have stopped reading your email and shut down your internet connection. Keep a notepad or an open document where you can jot down the “save for later” topics and keep yourself on track.

 

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #52 by Linda Levitt
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Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Find friends for peer review. Good friends, colleagues, and collaborators don’t only help solve problems and figure things out, they also catch typographical errors. Finding a small network of those who do work similar to your own can be a tremendous benefit to preparing articles and manuscripts for submission. Having someone read through your work with a critical but kind eye can mean everything from noticing style points to recommending additional sources and helping smooth out complex arguments. When you return the favor, you are likely to learn more about your own writing style from reading someone else’s work in progress.

 

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #51 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Read before you write, part III. Whether you are seeking inspiration, guidance, writing prompts, or tips for productivity, there is a wealth of information available to get you started. PhD2Published.com and its archives can be a good starting place, as many guest bloggers here also blog elsewhere. Setting up an RSS reader or creating a list of bookmarks or favorites can give you quick and easy access to good sources.

Deciding on a publisher for your book by Astrid Bracke
Astrid Bracke

Astrid BrackeIn 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.

Writing a book proposal part II – the market section & avoiding dissertation style by Astrid Bracke
Astrid Bracke

Astrid BrackeIn 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.

Writing a book proposal part I – structure & significance by Astrid Bracke
Astrid Bracke

Astrid BrackeIn 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);

  • Market;

  • 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.

Should you turn your dissertation into a book? by Astrid Bracke
Astrid Bracke

Astrid BrackeThis is the first in a series of posts from Astrid Bracke regarding the process of moving from disseration to book. Astrid Bracke has a PhD in ecocriticism and contemporary British fiction and teaches English literature at the University of Amsterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.

Over the past months I’ve been working on a book proposal for a monograph based on my dissertation. In this and the next three posts I’ll be sharing my experiences and advice on getting from finishing your dissertation to submitting a book proposal, and going on – hopefully – to publish a book. In this first post, I’ll be talking about making the decision to turn your dissertation into a book, and everything that comes with it.

It’s easy to follow the advice of only those in your Department, such as your supervisor and immediate colleagues. This may not be the best advice, though, no matter how well meant. For instance, in the Department where I did my PhD, most of my colleagues focused largely on articles – and barely on monographs. Hence, the advice to recent PhDs was to turn their dissertation into a series of articles, rather than seek to publish it as a monograph. Indeed, as I learned later, the monograph – while seen as the Holy Grail in many academic fields – is of considerably less importance in others.

Either way, it’s important to seek advice outside of your immediate academic environment, by asking external advisors or committee members, people at conferences or even following discussions on Twitter and using websites such as PhD2Published or The Research Whisperer. It can also help to look at job adverts when making this decision: they don’t always specifically list The Book as a requirement, but often do add a published monograph to their list of desired qualities.

That should be one of the first questions you ask yourself: how much do I need The Book for my career, or does a series of articles carry equal or greater weight in my field? Of course, in literary studies, the monograph is generally seen as very important, which made working on and submitting a book proposal important if I wanted to get a job outside of my own Department. At the same time, the dissertation doesn’t have to be your first monograph – although it will probably take longer to publish a book based on a wholly new project, than one based on your PhD project.

I deliberately gave myself a year from my PhD defense to decide whether or not I wanted to turn my dissertation into a book. During that year I didn’t look at my dissertation at all. Instead, I talked to people – mostly outside of my own Department –about their experiences and advice. The number one advice I got is that you should only turn your dissertation into a book if you can find the motivation to do so. If you cannot be enthusiastic about it, don’t take it on. Similarly, if you realize that large parts of your dissertation are already outdated, or make it unfeasible as a book for other reasons, you’re better off turning the best parts into articles – if you hadn’t done so already – and move on to a new project.

One of the biggest reasons why I eventually decided to turn my dissertation into a book is that I felt that otherwise the work I did in the four years it took me to write the dissertation would go to waste. I still believed in my dissertation as a whole, yet also realized that although I wanted to use the material, I also wanted to rework it. Consequently, the book proposal that I’ve now written describes a book that is more a spin-off from my dissertation than actually based on it.

In the following three posts I’ll discuss the next steps: writing a book proposal and deciding on a publisher.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #46 by Linda Levitt
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Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)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.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #33 by Linda Levitt
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Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Try microcalendaring. There are so many adages about how to tackle big projects and multiple deadlines, but getting from feeling overwhelmed to having a manageable process can be daunting. One approach is microcalendaring (not to be confused with the popular app MicroCalendar). Begin with your terminal deadline, and see how many project units you have available. For example, if you were submitting an article two months from now, you would have about 60 units to work with, or fewer if you were to take weekends off from working. Knowing the number of available units enables you to determine the size of each unit: some people work well with word counts while others find text sections more manageable (i.e., for Tuesday, finish writing the argument in section two). Either way, knowing the size of the task that awaits you helps you prepare better and see a reasonable goal in sight by the end of the day.

Hackademic Guide to Networking: Subspecialize
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under this licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en_GBImage by http://www.flickr.com/photos/fiddleoak/ under this licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB
Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/fiddleoak/  under this licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB

Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/fiddleoak/
under this licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB

Hybrid Pedagogy’s Jesse Stommel and our very own Charlotte Frost continue their Hackademic series with a new set of hints, tips and hacks focused on academic networking.

 SUBSPECIALIZE. Build and promote an expertise that’s cross-disciplinary or even tangential from your main subject area. A more generalised, let’s call it ‘sub-specialty’ is going to attract a wider group of people to your work. Engaging with folks in neighboring and related disciplines will help you build a more diverse network. The points of intersections between our own work and the work of our peers is often what most inspires us to push off in new directions. We’re fans of networks built around related but divergent interests. Fiona Barnett, the HASTAC Scholars Director, coined their fantastic mission statement, “Difference is our operating system.” This is something we believe strongly of academia and scholarship. Ultimately, our work is only as good as the connections it makes and the discussions it gives rise to.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #28 by Linda Levitt
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Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Sort your projects. Many readers can see summer break around the corner, along with the opportunity to delve more deeply into research. If you don’t have that circumstance ahead of you, this is still a good time at the change of seasons to assess your research agenda. A writing group chum suggested sorting projects and project ideas into three categories: urgent, priority, and save for someday. Getting a sense of what you have to do and what you want to do—and making some choices in the process—can be a good first step to setting yourself on a productive trajectory. Don’t discard those “save for someday” ideas, as they may be a good for a call for proposals or a collaboration down the road.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #21 by Linda Levitt
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Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Set early deadlines. A brief anecdote: my cousin asked if I could drop him off at the airport to travel home. When I asked what time his flight was scheduled to depart, he wasn’t entirely honest with me. By modifying the flight time, he built in a cushion of comfort so there was no panic about getting to the airport on time.

Set early departure times for your abstracts and article submissions. Putting something on your calendar the week before it’s due will bring it to your attention earlier. Additional time to start thinking about and working on your submission might potentially alleviate last-minute, rushed writing.