You’re Never Writing for Your Academic Doppelgängers

I often say that as an editor, I try to inhabit the perspective of an intelligent nonexpert. Yes, by training I’m a specialist in the field of religion, but even when I’m editing books and articles in religious studies, I’m never an expert in the specific subject matter being analyzed. That’s because my religion PhD is the product of a lot of choices that aren’t written in fancy display type on my degree. There’s some breadth to the degree, certainly, but within religion, I focused my studies on scriptures. Within scriptures, I focused on the Bible, and the New Testament, and the letters of Paul, and his Letter to the Romans in particular. And of course I don’t just approach that material from any old perspective: I employ a signifying-on-scriptures hermeneutic, identify myself as a feminist interpreter, and draw on ideological criticism. My religion PhD is not your neighbor’s religion PhD. So virtually all the manuscripts I edit are not really in my precise area of research expertise. Sure, some projects overlap with my training more than others, but for an editor that matters less than a commitment to adopting the role of intelligent, interested nonexpert. Only in that mindset can I effectively advocate for the proverbial reader, which, when you get right down to it, may be the most meaningful aspect of my work. Alas, even though audience advocacy is a significant part of editing, nobody hires me expressly to be a readership stand-in. And presumably my clients care more about my PhD and postgraduate editing training than they do my ability to be a generalist. But thinking like a...

One-Question Survey about Getting Your Manuscript Published

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? Whatever your question, you can email, message, or tweet me anytime. And now I’ve made it easy to pose anonymous questions about soliciting publishers—just fill out this one-question survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TZCMNQW 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...

Lost in Spaces (between Sentences)

If you’re submitting articles to journals or shopping around your scholarly book proposal, content is key. But when you also adhere closely to a publisher’s or journal’s style guidelines, you demonstrate professionalism and your ability to honor parameters. It shows that you can work in the service of something larger than your own project. If you could do something simple to send the subtle message that your submission fits and enhances the image of your target journal or press, would you do it? Attention to details—like the spaces between sentences—can give your work a leg up. Luckily, there are only a couple dominant standards for the number of spaces between sentences: one space or two. And the best way to enforce consistent between-sentence spacing is by using a function built right into Microsoft Word: find and replace. (For a basic introduction to this feature, here is Microsoft’s own guide. Find-and-replace functionality is available in every version of Word I’ve ever had, but this link is specifically for Office 2010. I believe find and replace operations are also possible in Google Documents and OpenOffice, but I can’t vouch for some of the advanced techniques below. If you try them out, let me know your results!) These tips are tried and true, but before you make any big find-and-replace moves, save your document! That way, if anything goes haywire, your precious work remains unharmed. Chicago and MLA: One Space Chicago and MLA styles go by the one-space standard. No matter how many times you accidentally hit the space bar while typing your manuscript, achieving only one space after every period is...

Alternative Dissertation Binding: Blurb

UPDATE: Blurb has created a Microsoft Word add-in that’s designed to make this process much easier. It’s only for Windows environments right now, so I (a Mac user) haven’t tried it. But it looks very promising. About one year after first Blurbing, I’m realizing how beneficial it is to have a handsomely bound volume. I’m revisiting my dissertation, this time as if I were reading a book off the shelf—in fact, that’s exactly what I’m doing. And I’m able to see just how strong the research and writing actually are. It’s great motivation for moving on to publishing articles from chapters and putting together a proposal for presses. By the time I finished my PhD, my university had done away with hard-copy dissertation submissions. All I had to do was generate a PDF of my work and upload it to the UMI ProQuest servers for inclusion in its database. The process was easy enough, but it was hardly what I would call tangibly satisfying. Online submission freed me to have a little fun with the dissertation binding. I looked into traditional binderies that offer embossed leather covers—in boring typefaces, with lengthy turnaround times, and at high prices. I peeked at what mass-market services like FedEx Office and the UPS Store could do for me. Those options were cheap but even less aesthetically inspiring. Then I noticed Blurb. At first, I thought of it as one of those websites that produce glossy photobooks (which I happen to love). But then I noticed its black-and-white-text format for hardcover books made of words (and grayscale images, if desired). Blurb construes itself as...

Signposting Rachel Toor’s “Think of Yourself as a Writer”

On March 7, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an advice piece by Rachel Toor, assistant professor of creative writing at Eastern Washington University. In “Think of Yourself as a Writer,” Toor draws from her experience in scholarly publishing to urge that academics consider their readers. Imagine that! The first part of the article sets the stage of her time at Oxford University Press, populated by professionals with various, and often competing, concerns: for ideas, for style, for basic readability. Toward the end of the piece, Toor has delivered several concrete and powerful tips for writers. At the risk of compromising the integrity the article as a whole, I’m pulling out the action items that she shares. To co-opt her term, I’m signposting them for you. These points are too important, too insightful to miss. Avoid: many and long quotations, which are easy to spot because they’re usually extracted (blocked) lots of obscure words, especially at the very beginning of a manuscript or section extra-long sentences overuse of semicolons glib discussion of sophisticated ideas Do: Get an aerial view of your document by scrolling through it at a view setting of 50 percent. Do you have a good mix of short, medium, and long paragraphs? Are you quoting too many sources at length? Make your argument clear as close to the beginning of the manuscript as possible. Editors focus on the first 50 pages—at most. Plant sentences and paragraphs encapsulating your ideas so that editors can extract them for use in presenting your work to the press. Push your ideas past the obvious. Notice your attempts at being snappy,...