Monday, December 26, 2011

Why I Love Doing My Annual Review

As we close in on 2011, it is time for me to do my year-end review. This process provides the space for me to assess my progress and take pride in my accomplishments.

Every year in December, my department chair sends a note around asking faculty to compile their annual reviews. The purpose of these reviews is to assess merit pay. In the past few years, raises have been few and far between. Nevertheless, I actually look forward to doing my annual review.


I find it rewarding to look over the past year and take stock of all I have accomplished. In academia, we often are looking forward to the next deadline or brooding over the latest rejection. There are far too few moments when we permit ourselves to bask in our success. For me, annual review is one of those times.

This year, for example, my annual review permitted me to reflect on the fact that I published two books in 2011 (Yo Soy Negro: Blackness in Peru and Immigration Nation: Raids, Detentions, and Deportations in Post-9/11 America), in addition to an article and a book review. My annual review also accounts for works submitted and in progress. Thus, I reported that I submitted two articles, and that one of them was accepted. I also reported my progress on two other books and the fourteen presentations I delivered.

In academia, it is easy to feel as if we are not doing enough. For this reason, it is important to have a clear idea as to what we are and are not accomplishing. My annual review does allow me to report what I have submitted, had accepted, and has come into print. It does not, however, take into account the time I have spent reading and preparing for chapters and articles I have not completed, nor does it allow me to account for the countless hours I have spent analyzing my data. This is fine, though, as it serves as a reminder of the importance of finishing and submitting works for publication.

My annual review also does not allow me to report my political, personal, or advice blogging. Again, this is fine with me because I do not blog for the explicit purpose of advancing my career, much less with the expectation that I will get a merit raise for blogging. I blog because I derive satisfaction from it and because it provides plenty of other rewards. For me, it is crucial to be conscious of the fact that my institution does not explicitly value blogging and publishing in online formats.

Taking stock of the year also permits me to take into consideration what I have not accomplished. I had hoped to have completed my book on deportees in 2011. I have not finished the data analysis, and thus have not finished writing the book. The main reason for this is that I let other projects with firm deadlines take precedence. This was particularly the case during the Fall semester, when I barely worked on my book. Instead, I completed two solicited chapters for edited volumes and two co-authored articles and pulled together and delivered ten presentations.

There is no point in chastising myself for what I have not accomplished. However, it is crystal clear that I need to say “no” to new opportunities, no matter how enticing they look, if I am to finish my book in 2012. I still have to put the final touches on two co-authored articles, although I hope to finish those in January. I also have taken on a new project that is unrelated to my book. So, clearly, yes, I need to say “no” to any additional opportunities, and focus on finishing my book.

I encourage you to take the time as we close out 2011 to reflect on what you have and have not accomplished this year. Reflecting on and celebrating your accomplishments will also make it clearer what you need to accomplish in 2012.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Twelve Steps from Dissertation to Book

When I finished my dissertation, I knew I wanted to transform it into a book. I did not, however, know anything about the publishing process. As I am now finished with this long process, this is an ideal time for me to outline the steps so that others can know how to publish a book from your dissertation.

In this blog post, I will explain the book publishing process. However, keep two things in mind: 1) there is a lot of variation beyond what I describe here and 2) this is generally the process for the first book, not necessarily for the second or third.

My first book, based on my dissertation

Step One: Write the Book Prospectus

Although it seems daunting, a book prospectus is not a complex document. I describe the book proposal in detail here. Briefly, it contains: 1) a summary of your book that outlines the main argument; 2) a one-paragraph summary of each chapter; 3) a timeline for completion of the book manuscript; 4) a brief description of the target audience and potential classes for course adoption; and 5) the competing literature. Usually these are short documents. Mine have ranged from four to seven single-spaced pages.

Step Two: Submit the Book Prospectus

Find publishers who might be interested in your book manuscript, and send them the prospectus. Often, they also will want one or two sample chapters. You can send your prospectus to as many publishers as you like. Most publishers list submission guidelines on their websites. These guidelines often indicate exactly what materials they would like to see: usually a prospectus, one or two sample chapters, and a two page CV.

Step Three: Submit the Book Manuscript

When acquisitions editors receive your prospectus, they make a decision as to whether or not they will send your book manuscript out for review. If they do not, they will send you a letter with their regrets. However, if they are interested, they often will call or email you with a request to see more materials. Some presses want to wait for the whole book manuscript to be completed. Others will send out just the prospectus for review. Others will send out 1-4 finished chapters. That depends on the book and the press. They will let you know.

Step Four: The Press Sends Your Manuscript out for Review

You wait between one and twelve months for the reviews to come back. If just the prospectus is under review, this will not take very long. If it is the whole manuscript, usually you will wait several months.

Step Five: You Get a Contract

The press makes a decision based on the reviews. They can decide to a) offer a contract based on the reviews; b) ask you to do more revisions and send it out for review again or c) decline to offer a contract based on the reviews. If it is c), you go back to Step Two.

Step Six: You Sign a Contract

If the reviews are favorable, the press will offer you a contract, which you first negotiate and then sign. Here are some items often up for negotiation: 1) who will pay for the index; 2) who pays for the cover and inside pictures; 3) who pays for the copy-editing; 4) the royalties rate; and 5) when and whether the book will be released in paperback.

Step Seven: You Revise the Manuscript

You revise the manuscript based on the reviews. Some presses will send it out for review again once you revise it. Others will review it internally and ask you to make further revisions. Still others will send it as is to the copy-editor after you make your revisions.

Step Eight: Copy-Editing

Once the book manuscript is revised, it goes to the copy-editor and they proofread the text. This usually takes 1 to 3 months.

Step Nine: Revision

You revise it again, based on the suggestions made by the copy-editor. You then send it back to the copy-editor who sends it to the press after your final approval. You usually have one month to respond to the copy edits.

Step Ten: Page Proofs

Your book is put into page proofs that you get to read and revise again. At this stage, however, you can only make very minor changes. You correct any mistakes and then it goes to the printer.

Step Eleven: In Press

The page proofs are sent to the printer, and you wait for your book to be printed. Printing usually takes a couple of months.

Step Twelve: On the Shelf

Your book is available for sale! Now that your book is for sale, be sure to include a link to the publisher's website or to in your email signature to advertise your book.

As made clear in these twelve steps, publishing an academic book is often a very long process. It is important to keep in mind that it can take years to publish a book, even after you have completed the manuscript.

For example, I completed the manuscript for my first book in May 2009 and sent it to a publisher who had agreed to review it. I received the reviews in November 2009, and the publisher offered me a contract on the basis of the reviewers’ evaluations at that time. I signed the contract and then revised the book according to the suggested revisions and returned it to the publisher in March 2010. In June 2010, I received and reviewed the copy-edits. In October 2010, I received and reviewed the page proofs. The book was released in February 2011 – nearly two years after I had originally “finished” the book manuscript! Keeping this timetable in mind is particularly important if your university prefers you to have a bound book when you go up for tenure.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Another Secret to Success: Hiring a Professional Editor

One of the secrets of academic success is that many academics use professional editors to help them move towards publication. This may come as a surprise if you are not aware of this common practice, but it is a strategy worth trying for many academic writers.


When I was in graduate school, I met with one of my mentors – a new Assistant Professor – and asked her if she planned to submit an article based on a recent talk she had given. She told me that the manuscript was too long and she was considering hiring a professional editor to get it from 10,000 to 8,000 words. I was astonished.

I had no idea that academics used professional editors, and something about it did not seem right. The idea that an intellectual would pay someone to do their intellectual labor did not sit well with me.

It was not until many years later, after I finished graduate school and had a job of my own, that I came to see the benefits of using a professional editor. Moreover, I began to use one myself. In this post, I will discuss three of the benefits to using a professional editor. 1) Many academics do not have the skills to edit their own work. Using a professional editor is one way to teach yourself those skills. 2) Professional editors are just that, professionals. This means that they can edit your work quickly and professionally and save you time. 3) Using a professional editor can help get your work accepted at top journals.

Using a professional editor will improve your writing

Most graduate programs do not include writing training. As a consequence, many academics are not very good writers. We split verbs, dangle modifiers, use too many adjectives, use long and convoluted sentences, mis-use words, and misplace punctuation marks. Using a professional editor will help you to see which errors you commit most frequently, and to correct them. The first time I used an editor, I learned grammar and style rules I never had known before and realized that I repeated the same errors over and over again. The best way to find out which errors you make most frequently is to have a professional edit your text and tell you.

Using a professional editor will save you time

For those of you on the tenure clock, time is of the essence. The less time you spend poring over every detail of your article, the quicker you can get it under review and accepted. Paying a professional editor a couple of hundred dollars to turn your almost-finished article into a well-polished piece of work can be a fantastic investment. It is no secret that many academics are perfectionists. Paying someone to do the final editing can take off some of that pressure to be perfect and save you a lot of time. It may seem like a lot of money to pay for an editor, but, sometimes, you have to ask yourself: "What is the cost of not hiring an editor?" Additionally, if you have research funds, this is a perfectly legitimate use of them.

Using a professional editor will help you get more articles accepted

A well-written paper gives you an edge in the peer review process. When reviewers receive papers that have grammatical errors, it turns them off. Many think that your grammatical carelessness could be indicative of carelessness in other areas. If you write “loose” instead of “lose,” perhaps you coded a variable incorrectly or did not transcribe your interview quotes or archival documents with precision. On the other hand, having an article free of grammatical and stylistic errors allows reviewers to focus exclusively on the quality of your work, and not on your minor errors. Even if your article is not accepted, the feedback you receive will be more useful as the reviewers’ critiques will not be influenced by their negative opinions of your writing.

Have a nearly finished article on your desk that you are nervous about sending out? Consider sending it to a professional editor to help you get to that last hurdle of finishing and submitting it.

Looking for a professional editor?

As people often ask me to recommend professional editors, I keep a list of active professional editors. Hopefully one of these editors will work out for you. Like writers, editors have different styles, and it can be hard to find one whose style matches your own.

Kate Epstein's helped many writers bring their books into the world. She'll point out the weaknesses in your arguments, show you how to use structure to make your writing easier to read, and all the while cheerlead for your work. Assistant Professor of Sociology Joan Maya Mazelis at Rutgers University wrote, "Whether early or late in your writing process, whether you need help hashing out ideas and figuring out what you want to say or you need line-by-line editing services to make your arguments clearer and stronger, Kate is an excellent developmental editor!" You can find her at or email her at

Here are Kate's 2015 prices:

$75/hour for substantive editing (10% off for students and post-docs)
$85/hour for coaching (10% off for students and post-docs)
query critique and feedback $90 (flat fee)
publishing consultation for folks dealing with trade publishers $125/hour
literary contract review $200 (flat)
copyediting $0.02/word (see website for some additional fees that apply for extra checking)
thesis prep (making a dissertation conform to official guidelines) $45/hour

rush fee 10%, typically only if a client’s schedule absolutely requires working at night/on the weekend/on a holiday

I've really enjoyed working with Kristy Johnson: she's fast, knows her stuff, has an eagle eye, and brings what I have found to be very useful insights to my writing (in other words, she's not afraid to tell me when I make no sense). So the next time you find yourself in the final stages of writing a manuscript you've read one too many times, let Kristy give it a fresh look, clean up your mess, and get you one step closer to publication! I no longer send out an article without passing it by Kristy first, and my nerves are the better for it. You can email her at

Kristy S. Johnson –MFA in creative writing, Freelance Editor for 10 years.
Focuses: Dissertations/Thesis, Academic Articles/Book Chapters, Newsletters, Annual Reports, CVS/Resumes, Fiction and Non- Fiction Books, etc. Field focuses: Humanities, Social Sciences and Education. Services & Fees: Proofreading/Copy Editing, $2/page, Content Editing, $4/page (non-book length), Content/Copy Editing for books negotiable.

Kathleen (Sarah) Wood, an editor in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has provided editing and transcription services for academics and other professionals throughout the country since 1989. She has edited dissertations, proposals, papers, and books for professors and students in a broad range of fields. She has extensive experience in transcription of interviews and focus groups for qualitative researchers. Her business sector experience includes report editing and research assistance for marketing companies, transcription of oral histories, newsletter formatting and editing, and more. For more information on her services, she can be contacted at, or 734-929-2866

Morelia is an English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English translator who specializes in producing thorough, high-quality media and academic translations. She also offers editing and proofreading services and takes great care to provide quality work for your media and academic needs.

Contact info:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Accountability really works: Writing and Weight Loss

As one moves up the academic ladder, there is less and less accountability for writing. For many academics, the lack of accountability leads to less productivity. For this reason, many faculty development experts suggest we incorporate more accountability into our lives to become more prolific writers. In this post, I’ll suggest a few ways to do this.


As a graduate student, we have papers to write for classes and deadlines to meet for degree completion. On the tenure track, we have mid-tenure review and the full tenure review. As many of us know, even that level of accountability is not enough to get us to be consistently productive. For consistent productivity, we need daily accountability.

I first learned the value of daily accountability by participating in an online discussion forum led by Kerry Ann Rockquemore. There was something very motivating about being able to go online at the end of each day and have a group of supportive people to whom I could say: “I wrote for 60 minutes today!”

To keep myself accountable for writing these days, I participate in an online writing accountability group on Facebook. I also have an accountability partner whom I call each week and we report to each our our accomplishments and obstacles.

Today, I am reflecting on the importance of accountability as I have seen how it has worked in other areas of my life, and perhaps blog readers will be able to relate to this.

A story of accountability and weight loss

May 2011 was the end of my sixth year on the tenure track. I hardly ever weigh myself, but got on a scale at my mother’s house and was surprised to see that I had gained 15 pounds during those six years on the tenure track. I honestly never have dieted in my life and never have been too worried about weight gain. (I know that is weird, but it has to do with how I was raised and where I grew up.)

I spent the summer of 2011 in Spain and France, and, despite the good food and wine, was able to shape up just a bit by walking for miles every day. When I returned from Europe, I had shed five pounds without really trying. That is when I decided I would actually try and lose the remaining 10 pounds. Why quit when I was ahead?

To accomplish this, I incorporated lots of accountability into my life. Specifically, I did three things.

First, I wrote down my weight every single day. I went out and bought an electric scale, as I did not have one before, and used it to weigh myself. Just writing down my weight every day made me more conscious of any fluctuations.

Secondly, I downloaded My Fitness Pal to my iphone and kept track of every single thing I ate. When I reached my caloric goal for the day, I either had to exercise if I wanted to eat more, or stop eating. To my surprise, I was able to stay at or under my caloric goal nearly every day.

Thirdly, my friend organized an exercise accountability group on Facebook and I posted to it every day.

With these three forms of accountability, by the end of the semester, I had shed the remaining ten pounds.

Why am I telling this story? Because I suspect that many blog readers are aware of the fact that accountability works for weight loss. Isn’t that what Weight Watchers is all about? I am hoping this parallel will help you to see that it can work for writing as well.

How do you incorporate accountability into your life for writing? Here are a few ways:

  1. Join or create an online group. Academic Ladder has a paid group with lots of benefits. Or, you can create your own online writing group with Facebook or Blogger or a free discussion forum like proboards.
  2. Find an email partner. Make an agreement with a friend that you will email one another at the end of your writing time.
  3. Write down each day how many words you wrote and/or how long you spent writing. You can do this privately or publicly on Facebook or Twitter, if you are into social media. Writing down and keeping track is a great accountability mechanism.
  4. Find an accountability partner. This is where you agree with a person that you will call one another once a week and discuss your writing goals for the week and whether or not you met them.
  5. Join or form an accountability group. This is a group where four people get together once a week and discuss their writing goals and whether or not they met them.
  6. Join or form a writing group. This is a group where each person in the group agrees to write five pages a week and group members share drafts with one another.
  7. Get creative and think of another form of accountability that might work for you!

Get some accountability and get to writing!