Tweed Editing's Blog
Tips, Strategies, and Updates for Academic Writers
When your academic book is coming together, do you know how to get it in the hands of an interested publisher? It’s not as easy as sending out complete manuscripts to your favorite university presses without any forewarning (in fact, please don’t do that!), but it’s a manageable process if you know ahead of time what will work and what press editors expect to see from you (and in what order).
I’d like to know what you want to know. What aspect of author-publisher relationships is most mystifying to you? Perhaps you don’t know how to make that initial contact, or maybe you’ve been offered a contract but don’t understand what it means. Did the publisher send your manuscript out for reviews, but you haven’t heard about it in months? Have you been asked to find your own indexer and don’t know where to start? Are you wondering about the etiquette of sending inquiries to multiple presses?
The more I know about your concerns related to placing your research with a press, the better the content I can release for you.
I’ll tackle your most resonant concerns as soon as I can. In the meantime, you do know about Tweed’s dissertation-to-book guides, right? The fourth and fifth installments deal specifically with contacting press editors and proposing your book to publishers.
Thanks for your help!
This spring, my main squeeze, Rich, completed a course of study in economics. He now has four degrees to my mere three. To celebrate, he had the idea that we should take a trip—something significant but eminently feasible. He suggested Iceland, somewhere that he had already visited briefly and that I had long dreamed of exploring.
I can’t pinpoint the earliest spark of my Icelandic fascination (perhaps it began with Björk, whose Debut album became a favorite of mine in the early nineties). But I do know when I first took a disciplined look at the small island nation.
In my freshman year of high school, my honors world-history class required an in-depth investigation of a country, any country. I picked Iceland. I remember being nervous that one of my classmates would choose it before I could, but when my number was drawn from the hat, the tiny Nordic nation was still available.
The research required was deeper than I’d done before. My sources went beyond encyclopedias; I remember using LexisNexis and microfiche at the library. I ended up citing the Los Angeles Times, the Economist, OECD documents, and Ms. magazine.
According to the original WordPerfect files my father miraculously dug up for me, the resulting paper was 30 pages in length, plus appendices that included images and, I recall, Icelandic currency. It must have been my first “multichapter” work, with each of eight chapters homing in on a different issue facing Iceland at the time.
Bringing the paper along with me on the trip we took last month brought everything full circle. It was oddly moving to introduce my almost-twenty-year-old attempt at scholarship to the place that inspired it, and to greet Iceland itself with a token of its own power to inspire.
I’m waxing profound, but the research we do really can stick with us through the years, informing and shaping the choices we make. When we realize (as in complete) the journeys—literal and figurative—they open up for us, a measure of true satisfaction sets in. Thanks for sharing this slice of life with me.
Section headings, a.k.a. subheads, can be powerful tools for the academic writer. Without them, chapters in scholarly books and journal articles would be huge, undifferentiated blocks of text.
Subheads can announce topics, they can transition for us, they can display wit, and they can scaffold. Perhaps that’s why it’s tempting to rely on them a bit too much.
As an editor, I have seen pitch-perfect subheads, but I have also seen them overused and haphazardly phrased. (I sometimes wonder whether ineffective subheads are left over from much earlier drafts and are simply out of place in the revised material.)
Clearly, subheads can be powerful, and they can strengthen already strong manuscripts. They can’t, however, make up for deficiencies in argumentation. So to use subheads well, we must implement them judiciously and conscientiously.
So how do we strike that balance—employing subheads strategically without basing too much of our organizational strategy on them?
Let’s start with The Chicago Manual of Style‘s take:
1.53 Subheads—general principles
Subheads within a chapter should be short and meaningful and, like chapter titles, parallel in structure and tone. It is rarely imperative that a subhead begin a new page. The first sentence of text following a subhead should not refer syntactically to the subhead; words should be repeated where necessary. For example:
The secondary spongiosa, a vaulted structure. . .
This vaulted structure . . .
So subheads should be brief, informative, and parallel in structure. And running text should not immediately refer to them.
I would take this advisement a bit further: the first part of a section following a subhead should act as if the subhead were not there. This is the cornerstone of my philosophy—we’ll call it the Tweed philosophy—on subheads.
The best manuscripts remain functional without their subheads.
Let’s say subheads cost a million dollars apiece. If you had your wits about you, you’d want to avoid that ridiculous fee by electing to remove all the subheads from your manuscript. Your subhead-free argument should still make sense and not have any strange, abrupt transitions that leave readers scratching their heads.
What good are subheads if we shouldn’t need them? To my mind, their job is to help us skip ahead or glance back over a text. That’s it.
Subheads are not for readers who are engrossed in an argument as it unfolds. Those ideal readers may appreciate subheads as they go, sure, but do not write your subheads to be read in situ.
Crafting subheads that way—with engrossed readers in mind—is lazy subheading behavior because it excuses us from writing cogent arguments that transition authentically from idea to idea and topic to topic. I’ll say it again:
Think of your subheads as handy aids for readers who are skimming, not reading.
Will all editors and publishers agree with me here? Probably not. The Tweed philosophy on subheads isn’t for the rulebooks. It’s a frame of mind that I hope will challenge authors to go above and beyond in their subheading practice.
If you write brief, meaningful, and symmetrical subheads that don’t usurp the role of authentic argumentation—which should be accomplished in the running text itself—but do act as aids for readers who are skimming, then you are indeed using subheads judiciously. Congrats!
Questions? Ask them in the comments!
(Are you troubled by my use of big, bold textual snippets in this blog post? Do you think those are subheads that don’t abide by my own philosophy? Well, those aren’t really subheads. They’re more akin to pull quotes in magazines—sort of. Take comfort in this: writing for the Internet and writing an academic manuscript are not the same thing. But I like the way you think.)
Happy Valentine’s Day, scholars!
May your new year be bright!
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