Fulfilling the Authors Role - From Consumer to Producer of the Literature - Writing as Professional Development

Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016

Fulfilling the Authors Role
From Consumer to Producer of the Literature
Writing as Professional Development

Many an author has launched a book project with a period of hopeful dreaming. He or she envisions a wide audience for the work, eager to get their hands on a copy and poring over the pages. An author may imagine hefty royalties akin to those earned by the celebrated authors of bestselling novels and popular nonfiction. As a first step, it is better to set more realistic expectations. Think about your own behavior as you browse through the book displays at a conference or look at a publisher’s catalog. Most of the time, only a few books grab your attention and fewer still would cause you to request an examination copy to consider as a textbook for a college course; even fewer would urge you to part with your hard-earned cash and place an order. Furthermore, the potential audience for scholarly works is much, much smaller than a popular press best seller and competition is keen for those small markets. To illustrate, suppose that an author is proposing to write a college-level textbook on adult learning theory. The audience for that book probably consists of graduate students—a very small percentage of the total population—and, to narrow it even further, graduate students enrolled in a program that has an adult learning theory course. The instructor for that course also has to be willing to switch to a different textbook and rewrite the syllabus. Many times, the book currently in use has: been written by an internationally recognized expert in the field, been so successful that it is now in its 10th edition, and garnered considerable support from the publisher’s advertising budget. Knowing all of this helps to explain why most college-level textbooks do not survive beyond the first edition. Nevertheless, new books are needed to propel the field forward. Most of the time, this requires authors to invent something with an element of originality and to anticipate future trends in the field (Clark & Phillips, 2014). Use the material in Activity 10.3 as a way to analyze your suitability for book authorship.

Activity 10.3 Initial Questions About Book Authorship

Consider each of the following questions before you commit to working on a book:

· Does the book project mesh well with your expertise, interests, and work life?

· Have you identified a work that is largely original rather than relying heavily on previously published sources?

· Will you rebound from numerous recommendations for revision from the reviewers and revise the work accordingly?

· Are your expectations for direct financial rewards realistic? Can you accept that they could be nonexistent or insignificant?

· What is your employer’s perspective on the value of the project? Will the book be recognized as a bona fide scholarly achievement, given the departmental, college, and university-wide policies of the tenure, evaluation, and promotion committee?

Review the points in Table 10.4 to reflect on book authorship as a possibility for you.

Table 10.4

Useful characteristics for authors of scholarly books and monographs

Experience commensurate with the role. Whatever book-related project you undertake, it should be at or slightly above your existing level of competence with the task. If, for example, you have experienced success with teaching undergraduate students, preparing a student study guide or an instructor’s manual for a college-level textbook could be an excellent way to develop as an instructor. Collaborating with a more experienced book author is another way to boost potential for book authorship

Knowledge of competing (and complementary) works. Before you can make a contribution, you first need to thoroughly assess what is already out there. Practically every book publisher will require you to complete a market analysis as part of a book proposal, so do this as a first step. Otherwise, you run the risk of producing a proposal for a book that is very similar to what is already in print

Resilience in the face of disapproval. You can expect that, if a book proposal (also called a prospectus) is subjected to multiple reviews, there will be many recommendations for improvement. As with the dissertation, the author’s responsibility is to formulate a response that would address those concerns, not based on how much work it will be or time it may take, but in the spirit of improving the work. Much of the time, potential book authors give up at the first whiff of criticism

An ability to anticipate future directions in a field. If you merely follow trends and it takes 2 years from proposing the book to publishing it, the material might be dated before it is printed. Successful authors use their knowledge of the discipline to “look down the road” and predict trends, issues, controversies and policies that will produce changes in the field

Commitment to the task and to deadlines. Book authors who have acquired a good reputation with publishers hold themselves to deadlines just as assiduously as they hold college students to deadlines. They get the work done, do it well, and turn it in on time—no excuses

The capacity to generate many good ideas. In the field of creativity, words such as “generativity” or “fluency” are used to describe the individual who is capable of coming up with many different ideas, solving problems, and producing something with a fresh perspective or approach. It is misleading to think that “having an idea” for a book is sufficient; actually, any useful book is replete with good ideas

Realistic expectations for outcomes. If the motivation to write and publish scholarly work is skyrocketing to fame and amassing a fortune, you are almost certain to be disappointed. A more reasonable and modest goal is to make a worthwhile contribution to the field. If, by chance, that work gains recognition and earns some revenue, then it is a pleasant surprise

Interpersonal skills and business sense. Academic authors need to attract the publisher’s attention to their project, persuade the editor that is worthy of the investment, negotiate the contract, respond to peer review, and go through the entire production process. Many book authors are surprised to learn that their job is far from over after the entire manuscript has been submitted. Usually, there is rewriting, responding to the edited copy, making corrections to the proofs, tracking down missing references, and so forth. Authors also are expected to respond to marketing questionnaires, help with writing advertising copy, or promote the book through conference presentations. Authors need to deal with all of this with aplomb and professionalism