As an avid (well, obsessed) BSC fan in my youth, I was excited when Netflix announced its reboot of The Baby-Sitters Club, scheduled for early July this year. Three months later, as I am drowning in the stress of working and parenting in a pandemic, paired with my school-aged kids needing something to do, the timing of this release has never been better.
From my days reading the original titles in the ’80s, Ann M. Martin’s concept has evolved into multiple series of over 200 books, a TV show (1990), soundtrack (1992), feature film (1995), video game (1996) and 7 graphic novels (2006 — ), with six more scheduled to be released over the next few years. Why do these characters continue to translate across platforms and generations?
To me, The Baby-Sitters Club was much more than just a series. I enjoyed other books, but only in Ann M. Martin’s world did I feel completely immersed. At one point, I even thought The Baby-Sitters Club actually existed. I dreamed about moving to Stoneybrook and joining Kristy and the gang, imagining which role I could take on in the club (snack-supplier? Poster maker?). My identification with these characters as I read, and reread (and reread) their stories helped me to escape my own reality, particularly when life became tough at home due to my parents’ divorce and subsequent remarriage.
I suspect that new generations embrace the BSC for the same reasons I did from age 8–13. While the technology has definitely changed from Claudia’s landline, the foundational themes of this series continue to be relevant. Most tween and adolescent readers can relate to making new friends, learning to be independent, dealing with a bully, living with a chronic condition, taking care of kids, dating, losing a grandparent, divorce, moving away, adjusting to camp, and the many other issues addressed in these stories.
The varying perspectives of the BSC also help to explain its longevity. Each book features a different central character as the narrator rotates among the seven club members, offering a variety of traits, fashions, and interests. As a reader, each character’s perspective interested me for different reasons. I was most like Kristy personality-wise, found Stacey’s diabetes and Mallory’s big family to be intriguing, envied both Claudia’s artsy style and Dawn’s natural ways, wanted to learn sign language like Jessi, and admired Mary-Anne’s journey toward independence. With so many characters, it’s easy to identify with one, even across generations.
Netflix couldn’t have planned for better timing. My 40-something age-group desperately needs a taste of comforting nostalgia that can be shared with our kids right now. Thankfully, they are well-acquainted with the BSC characters, thanks to the graphic novels — a genius marketing crossover that refreshed the series. As with Fuller House, it will be nice to step into another familiar narrative that I can view with my girls, allowing us to escape into (what appears to be) a 1990ish-type relatively carefree teen TV world. Unlike our current reality, the BSC is always predictable and optimistic — a perfect show for a pandemic. Plus, I still dream about its existence, especially as I work from home without childcare.
Vintage photos of masked individuals and crowds during the 1918 influenza pandemic have been circulating in news stories and on social media. What I find particularly interesting is that they all seem to wearing very similar masks, consisting of a white, rectangle and two ties, like this one worn by barbers:
Or this mask, covering the face of an elevator operator:
Why are they all so alike, especially considering the diversity of homemade and store-bought masks in our current reality?
Two factors explained the uniformity in masks then (and lack thereof now). First, many of the masks were created and distributed by Red Cross volunteers. And when people had to make their own masks, they could follow the straightforward, Red Cross-issued instructions that encouraged the use of white gauze and ties. Sample masks to be used as demos were sent to local chapters. Before masks were required, people were encouraged to use handkerchiefs, but this doesn’t appear to be as common as the gauze coverings.
The Red Cross was heavily involved in directly and indirectly caring for influenza patients. Newspapers encouraged people to do their part to help the sick, especially ill enlisted men. And they did. Volunteers donated chicken, rags, pajamas, canned jellies and fruits, and other items.
And when did wearing masks become required during the Spanish Flu? Not as quickly as some “Spanish Flu as a Lesson”-type stories may lead you to believe (messages that have been using as cautionary tales for the current pandemic. I debunk one here). In 1918, many folks were still getting used to the concept of sanitary practices in the hospital. This April 1918 gem explains why nurses sometimes wear face masks to care for contagious patients.
It wasn’t common practice for the general public to wear masks then (or now, at non-pandemic times). Doctors and nurses masked up during the spring outbreaks in the military camps (downplayed and ignored by media). No evidence suggests that regular people wore masks during this time.
In the summer of 1918, news media reported on the deadly disease as it spread through Asia and then Europe. However, nothing suggests that the U.S. prepped for influenza to come home. Articles focused on a different type of protection — the gas mask — needed to protect soldiers from poison gas attacks in the trenches.
Warnings of the impending influenza appeared in July. At the end of the month, 5 cases were documented at Camp Eberts in Arkansas, but incidence remained low for the next month.August newspapers documented illness and deaths aboard ships headed for the U.S.
As ships were being quarantined at New York and other ports, September 13th, Public Health Reports published the Navy’s preparation plan for handling the epidemic, including “Methods for the control of the disease.” Quarantine and isolation, at least for the Navy, were deemed “impracticable” due to the prevalence of healthy carriers. The final section advised mask-wearing for patient attendants and discouraged gatherings:
Excerpts of this report were published in newspapers across the country, paired with stories of rising cases, for the next few months.
By mid-September, influenza had become epidemic in some of the army camps and continued to spread across the country. On September 18, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that the local Red Cross chapter had requested 4,000 face masks for caregivers the previous day. The next day, a Connecticut paper recommended masks made from gauze for those near influenza patients.
Over the next two weeks, reports of Red Cross volunteers producing masks for nurses and other influenza attendants in military camps increased, as did cases of influenza. Still, there was no indication that regular people had started wearing face masks, nor had quarantine (outside of ports) been implemented.
Approximately 23,000 cases had erupted at military camps before soldiers were advised to wear masks while training. Female volunteers made them for the Red Cross, producing an average of 1 every 5 minutes. Cases of influenza reached epidemic levels in 26 states before it became common for even enlisted men to wear masks.
Like we’ve experienced in the last three months, society shut down before masks became required. Similar to now, restrictions varied by city and state. Flu mask ordinances were implemented primarily in November and December, as barber shops, theaters, and other crowded places began to open. In some places, everyone was required to wear masks. More often, though, care attendants, those in recovery, barbers, and elevator operators were required to don masks, while others were simply encouraged, especially those riding on street cars.
Contrary to numerous social media posts and contemporary articles on “Spanish Flu,” mask-wearing did not occur immediately, nor was it universally required and accepted. That said, the wide distribution of masks by the Red Cross made them much more accessible, especially for those enlisted and/or caring for patients.
Note: In researching for this blog post, I examined newspaper coverage using the search terms “masks” and “influenza” from March through December 1918 (and beyond). I weeded through numerous articles about gas masks. Even at the height of the pandemic, war news dominated media outlets.
Note: I wrote this piece a few weeks ago. Some of my thoughts have shifted since the reopening. That said, I still feel like kids are being left out, especially as running mundane errands continue to be stressful.I decided not to revise it to preserve my unsettled nerves of the moment.
“Stay back! Stay back!” An older man said sternly to my 11-year-old several weeks ago, as she calmly pushed the grocery cart about 8 feet away from a “t” in the store. Nora brushed off his comment, and I redirected focus to our list. Inside, though, his recoil startled and upset me. I know that he was just trying to safe. At the same time, when did children become the enemy?
Past epidemics restricted the activity of minors, primarily when they were the most susceptible. In the polio epidemic of 1916, New York restricted traveling for children. The fear of later outbreaks prompted the closing of pools, beaches, and other places that attracted groups of kids in the summer. But these responses matched the fear of children contracting disease, not harboring and transmitting it to older adults, which we have seen with the current pandemic. Media stories emphasize how children typically have only mild symptoms, but can still pass COVID-19 to the adults around them. This discourse may help assuage concerns about sick children. At the same time, it stigmatizes and dismisses them in our coronavirus discussions.
Omitted from public spaces and conversation, children have been left out of this new reality that divides between the essential and non-essential. Let’s face it, everything they do is non-essential. Childhood is about toys, frivolity, and spontaneity, not n95 masks, R0 factors, and restrictions. It’s hard to fit kids into this new grim reality, in which every move feels so predictable and deliberate. Don’t touch your face. Remove gloves inside out. Have you scrubbed your phone? Wash your hands. . .no, wait, longer. Follow the arrows in the store. Is this six feet of distance?
This pandemic is incredibly tough on children, many of whom are experiencing the impact of their parents’ unemployment or fear for their safety on the job. Not to mention kids in abusive homes, thosewithout enough to eat, or without a safe place to be.
Even in the best circumstances, children are still contending with stressed-out parents attempting to both homeschool and work at the same time, while voicing their own concerns about the illness and death, the economy, food shortages, canceled appointments, and distanced loved ones. Kids don’t fit within the melancholic cloud over our pandemic reality. Day-to-day, they cannot stay in crisis mode.
Children’s experiences in epidemics have been historically ignored. We know little of their actions or feelings during yellow fever of 1793 or in the Spanish Flu. Even in polio epidemics, in which children were at the center, their voices and experiences were seldom shared, except for a sound bite or a choreographed March of Dimes poster. Only decades later did oral history projects capture adults’ recollection of surviving polio as kids.
But children do matter in this pandemic. Like all of us, they feel lonely, isolated, agitation, aimless, unsatisfied, worried, sad, and afraid. Removed from grandparents and other relatives, favorite teachers, peers, coaches, and other special people,they are experiencing a true sense of loss. Much of what structures their lives and brings them joy has been removed. Social distancing is difficult to explain and justify, even to older children, who might understand the risk, but emotionally struggle with canceled sleepovers, field trips, and competitions. Kids need to be included in the conversation. We can’t ignore the impact of quarantine, their fears of disease, or frustrations. Instead, children’s roles in this pandemic need to be considered and shared, with their experiences recorded and preserved for future generations.
After the grocery store incident, I stopped bringing my children to the store just so they wouldn’t have to experience the anxiety-ridden climate of fear. Many don’t have the luxury of shopping alone. Single parents have been cut off from their social networks, therefore, may need to bring kids along to get food or pick up prescriptions. We shouldn’t be quick to judge or ridicule children just for existing in a public space. They are not incubators of disease, but people also living in this world of uncertainty.
I’ve read the insightful article on why Zoom sessions tire us out. “Zoom fatigue,” explained here, refers to the exhaustion felt after virtual interactions and has become an issue in our shift to the online world. I would argue (and I think most would agree) that what we are currently experiencing goes beyond the impact of our interfacing platforms. Life itself is wearing us out.
For the last few months, I’ve been too consistently tired to reflect on why I’ve felt drained. However, a weekend break from our humdrum reality gave me some clarity. We took a trip to a mountain cabin (immediate family, brought food, and didn’t do extra touristy stuff) and spent two wonderful days hiking and hanging out–trying to temporarily escape from the weight of the world.
Our return prompted me to ponder why we are so generally tired, even on days that we seem to do little. We now have so many decisions to make, all shrouded in tension and uncertainty. As I wrote about in my blog post of questions, none of us really know how to approach this reopening stage. What we feel comfortable doing is constantly changing. At the same time, we, in effect, clouded by our own teeter-totter about the present contagion: Are we going to get the virus? Have we and didn’t know it? Are others the threat or am I (even though I haven’t had symptoms)? I can definitely relate to this post:
But it’s not just about the ever-present COVID-19. Minor decisions are hard now, partly because we have so many of them to make. With no school for the kids, suddenly we are deciding what to feed our herds numerous times per day. We are also deciding how to keep them entertained, engaged, and learning, while trying to navigate working from home, which comes with its own bundle of decisions.
Every big choice now leads to a hundred little choices, as we are all venturing into uncharted territory. It’s like we are living the least fun version of Choose Your Own Adventure, guided by a bombardment of conflicting media messages.
Adding to that, our support system outside of our own households has been reduced to only phone calls and social media. No FB Messenger post is a substitution for a face-to-face friend lunch at a local restaurant. It’s hard to make decisions. It’s even harder to make them alone, while your kids pop in and interrupt you (5 times in the writing of this post).
It’s not that we are tired from doing nothing, then. Our brains are fatigued from the endless decision-making. What was seemingly effortless must now be intentional and it is exhausting–especially without in-person friends or childcare.
At some point, the opportunity for editing an anthology might fall in your lap. Or maybe you organize an amazing panel that could make a great text. Either way, editing a book can be a very rewarding experience. It can also feel daunting and frustrating at times. I learned a lot with each of the 3 books I’ve edited. Hopefully, my advice will help get you started on a positive path.
Is it the right time to edit a book? My checklist for editing is the same as for writing a book. Unless you are in a discipline that prioritizes books over articles and counts edited anthologies as authored books, wait until after tenure. Even then, I recommend making sure you have other projects well underway before committing to an edited manuscript. Edited books aren’t always valued much in terms of promotion. That doesn’t mean you should do one, but know how it will impact your full professor application.
Why should I edit a book? If book editing is a lot of work and may not count, why do it? For me, editing feels different from authoring a solo book. It’s a social process that straddles research and service (how it feels to me, not for promotion processes). I really enjoy working with other people to create a collective body of scholarship around an interesting topic. It can also be very satisfying to transform an excellent conference panel to something more permanent, sometimes helping early career scholars along. In other words, edit a book because the project excites you and feels like it would be personally satisfying, not because you think it will make you money (probably not), bring you fame (um, no), or be a ticket to promotion (again, check your own university’s guidelines).
Identifying the Topic I personally believe that easiest, most organic way to do an edited book is to start with a great conference panel. The panel session is an excellent outlet for shaping the topic, especially with feedback from the audience. Furthermore, assuming the panelists all contribute, you also lock in 3-5 chapters of your book.
Another approach is to identify a gap in the existing literature that would be better addressed from an array of scholars, rather than one person. Perhaps the subject extends beyond your own knowledge, you’d like to span across disciplines, or you’d like diverse perspectives about an issue. If so, create a text with a collection of experts.
Finding Contributors There are several ways to get scholars to write chapters for your book. I’ve worked with 39 contributors over my 3 projects and have used a few different approaches.
You may be planning to create a book out of an existing committee/set of conference participants/other group around a particular interest. This is a different kind of edited book then the next section addresses. Contributors will be motivated to get their chapters done because they are invested in the book’s success. With The Graduate Student Guide, the contributors were all past or current AEJMC Board of Directors who genuinely care about helping grad students. I mapped out a broad table of contents and then had board members select chapters that fit their interests (or add chapters that they felt were missing). An open call would not have made sense for this book’s intent.
Other Ways to Get Contributors
Do an open invitation for scholars to submit abstracts to be considered for your book.
Invite specific scholars to submit their work as chapters.
Build your Table of Contents from a combination of the first two (or start with panelists and then extend an open call).
I do not advise the first option for your book. if you completely start from scratch, you have little control over who will submit proposals and what topics will be addressed. Even more than that, the quality may vary significantly and you may worry that the chapters won’t be completed.
I recommend choosing the second or third option. It may be difficult to do all invited chapters (that’s a lot of people). A more practical approach is to start with a panel of people you know, invite more scholars that do work in the general area, and then do an open call. It’s less of a gamble and early in the project, you’ll be able to draft a table of contents. Plus, it’s comforting to have a few chapters that you know will get done and will get done well. At the same time, the open call may produce interesting perspectives on the topic that you hadn’t thought of or are outside of your expertise.
Working with Familiar Faces vs. Strangers
It can be a little tricky to edit the chapters of friends or colleagues. When things are going well, hands down, I will choose the friend, particularly when I am confident that the person reliably produces quality work. Some of the best chapters in my books were written by my friends (who had done research in the relevant area). It was easy and their contributions strongly enhanced the anthologies. However, if the person is routinely late or backs out, it can be an awkward and difficult experience.
When you don’t know the contributor, it’s more of a wild card experience. Will the person drop out or just never finish? Maybe. If some of your chapters come from an open call, assume at least one person will back out. Always build in time and a back-up plan for dropped chapters (more on that later). However, it can also be easier to edit a stranger’s work since you have no prior personal connection that may interfere with your feedback. You should still be positive and constructive, but it feels different. Of course, you’ll get to know your contributors through editing the book, meaning they aren’t strangers anymore.
The Call for Proposals (CFP)
After you’ve done your conference panel, confirming panelists as contributors, and solicited chapters from other scholars you know, you may need additional chapters to round out your book. Create a Call for Proposals (CFP), which should include a general description of the book, relevant bodies of theory, sample subtopics, instructions for submission (including the deadline), and your contact information. Here’s the CFP I used for the prison book.
I suggest requesting a 300-500 word abstract and not a chapter. It’s not a big commitment for scholars to write abstracts, the turnaround deadline from the CFP release can be fairly quick, and they will give you a good idea of the quality of the writing.
Once you have your submissions and the deadline has closed, determine which abstracts fit the scope, purpose, intended audience, and theoretical frameworks of the book. Start to draft the table of contents, figuring out what fits and what doesn’t. Also note the quality of the writing in the submission. If the abstract is poorly written, the chapter will likely be poorly written. Don’t be afraid to omit submissions early on. It’s much less painful than having to cut full chapters because they are indecipherable.
As you notify potential contributors of their acceptances (and also those you can’t accept), ask if any of them have their chapters ready. It’s helpful to have 1-2 chapters to use as samples.
With the ToC outlined and the contributors confirmed, you can start querying editors. It’s the same process as with solo-authored work, except that you are highlighting the expertise of a groups of people.
Setting Up the Project for Success
I will address the editing process in a future post. But I do have some tips in getting started:
Identify a clear vision for your book and stick to it. You want it to be cohesive collection.
Have a system for organizing contributions. I use an Excel sheet to keep track of the contributor, contact info, chapter status, and my last date of communication.
Remember that you are the leader of this project. It is your job to edit. Don’t hesitate to do your job. Be proactive in reminding people of deadlines. Communicate changes that need to be made. Take charge and don’t doubt your abilities. At the same time, be helpful, friendly, and understanding. You want others to want to work with you.
Very few scholars are able to just take their dissertation manuscripts and submit them as books. (I definitely couldn’t). Most theses and dissertations are not fully set up as books. Adding to that, your graduate work may not quite be up to par for what a press wants and needs. Don’t be discouraged, though. I’ll walk you through the process so that when you are ready, you’ll know what to do.
Career-wise, when should I transform my diss. into a book? Are you in a discipline that requires books, not articles, for tenure? Yes.Start right away. Identify a mentor or two to guide you in this process. No.The general advice given is to publish several articles from your dissertation and then seek a book contract when you are closer to tenure.
Has an acquisitions editor approached you about publishing your diss.? This is not common. It does happen, however. If you are in a discipline that typically expects articles first, seek advice from your chair and a mentor on whether it would be best to wait or to embrace the opportunity.
How do academic books and dissertations differ?
Obviously there are similarities. Both use primary research, include plenty of endnotes, and aim for an audience of scholars. However, they are not interchangeable.
You wrote your dissertation to prove to your committee that you were worthy of the Ph.D. Your book is not this same demonstration, but needs to have its own purpose, independent of you as the writer.
Dissertations contain lengthy theory and method chapters. Books typically incorporate these components into the introduction.
Dissertations thoroughly explicate every concept. With books, you define terms, but don’t allow the definition to distract from the purpose.
Dissertations may be much longer than their book versions. Books need to be succinct, with a clear purpose for each paragraph and chapter (other than to satisfy a committee member).
I’m ready to turn my diss. into a book. How do I get started? Unless you’ve been told otherwise, assume that your dissertation is not book-ready. So what should you do? You’ve spent years pouring yourself into this masterpiece, your pride and joy, a sliver of your soul that earned you the title of “Dr.”
It is time to break up with your dissertation.
What I mean is that you need to rethink what this manuscript is as you shift from a student looking for faculty approval to an author working on a book. This isn’t your dissertation anymore. It is a first draft, one that will be edited, revised, cut, expanded, reorganized etc. before the manuscript will be ready for submission.
Begin by reading through the dissertation on the computer (or a printed copy). Don’t look at the fancy bound book. Again, think manuscript. As you go through your work with fresh eyes, jot down notes to yourself. What works well? What could be cut? Added? I remember feeling so nervous with the first edit, like I was undoing the recommendations of my wonderful advisers (who were very helpful in the book-writing process). Fortunately, revising became easier the more that I changed.
Identify what needs to be changed in your dissertation. Are there statements that have become outdated? For me, the Affordable Care Act was passed in the time between my 2008 dissertation and its book version in 2013, greatly changing what I wrote about universal healthcare. If you have a similar time lapse, you’ll also likely find that you’re a better writer 5 years later.
Create a new Table of Contents for your proposed book. It will likely look different from your dissertation’s ToC. Unless your book focuses on developing a new theory or method, weave these elements into the introduction. Don’t include separate chapters on them.
Special Considerations for Getting the Book Contract
I wrote here about how to get a book contract. With your dissertation-turned-book, the process is just a little different. You have the manuscript almost ready to go, therefore, your estimated completion date can be much sooner. You’re still going to revise, of course, but it probably won’t take as long as writing a full manuscript from scratch.
One word of caution: write a new pitch for your book manuscript. Don’t use an excerpt of your dissertation abstract or a snippet from your dissertation elevator pitch that used to get your tenure-track job. Acquisition editors aren’t looking to see if you, Dr. _________, are capable of future scholarship. They care about your book. Period. Does it fit with their existing series? Is the topic intriguing? Aptly justified? Appealing to readers? Be professional in your correspondence, in which you will provide a clear and concise statement of purpose, identifying the scope and audience for your proposed book.
Embracing your new “love.”
As you edit and revise your dissertation into a book manuscript, it will start to feel differently than writing in your grad school days. You are not giving up on what you held dear, but moving forward in the development of yourself as an independent author. I strongly recommend having mentors. Yet keep in mind that this relationship is different than the advisor-advisee one. Ultimately, this is your work and the first step toward your next book.
Let’s start by acknowledging that I am talking in generalizations, things can happen to slow down the process, and every press is a little different. That said, this post focuses on the timeline to get the completed manuscript submitted, not the timeline for publication.
Factors to Consider
How much of the research will you have to conduct as you are writing? If your book requires months or years of research before you get to the writing stage, you’ll obviously need to build in that time. Some authors prefer to do all of the primary research first and then start writing the manuscript. Others switch off by chapter. Your approach will depend on the type of research, external considerations (i.e. travel to an archive), and your own preferences. I generally prefer to work chapter by chapter, but have had to be flexible based on archive trips. For me, it is easier to live and breathe a particular time period and topic than to jump around. Always take detailed notes and keep your materials organized so it is easy to access them even when you’ve been away for a bit.
What other work and personal obligations will you have? Build in extra time if you have a life-changing event coming up, lengthy trip, or other time-consuming work/home project. Note: you will always feel like there’s never enough time until writing becomes your priority.
Are you a quick writer? Are you used to writing every day? How much time do you need to edit your work? Writing a book will help you become more efficient. If you are not already doing so, start blocking off part of each day to write and set detailed goals for your self. Consider joining the “Any Good Thing Challenge” for extra motivation. To write a book, you need to write consistently and productively, routinely making your daily, weekly, and monthly objectives. It’s the only way to write a book.
Have you written book chapters before? I ask because the style differs from writing peer-reviewed journal articles or popular works. If you are already accustomed to writing chapters, creating your own manuscript will probably be a little easier. I will post about writing book chapters in a later blog entry.
Estimating the Length of Your Book
How do you go about estimating the length of your proposed book? Different presses have preferred word count rages–the longer the book, the more expensive it is to produce. To give you an idea of the word count vs. finished product, here are the approximate counts/pages of my books:
85,000 words = 152 pages in Microsoft Word= 263 pages in the proofs 56,741 words = 176 pages in (edited) book 81,118 words= 148 pages in Microsoft Word= 286 pages in book 133,169 words = 352 pages in (edited) book 108,424 words = 316 pages in (edited) book 48,000 words = 120 pages in book
I won’t get into how long your book needs to be, except to advise you to be mindful of the length. If you are estimating more than 250-300 pages and this isn’t a sought-after, advanced contract for a senior scholar situation, consider saving some of the content for a second book later on.
Start with your proposed Table of Contents (ToC). For single-authored books, I usually estimate about 6-8,000 words for the introduction and conclusion and then 8-10,000 per regular chapter. With this formula, a book with 8 chapters would be approximately 80-85,000 words and a 10 chapter book would be about 96,000-100,000 words (I rounded up the range). Figures, tables, images, references, appendices, and other extra features will also impact the page length.
Does your estimated word count range work with the press guidelines? If it’s not specified, look at the typical length of books that the press has recently published in your area. For my epidemics book, my press (University of Massachusetts) requested a maximum of 85,000 words. I omitted several chapters from the original ToC to make this word count. You can always expand your work to fit the word count or cut your material down later. However, your completed manuscript needs to match your book contract. Do not produce a manuscript that is significantly under or over the number listed in the contract.
Contract Question: Manuscript in Hand or to be Completed?
Some people prefer to seek a contract with only sample chapters. Others like to complete the manuscript and then find a publisher. There are pros and cons to both approaches. If you get a contract with much of the work ahead, you can shape the manuscript to the press guidelines and consult with the editor on the content and scope of the project. Yet, it may be more difficult to get the contract and you may run into issues if you can’t finish on time. On the flip side, it may be easier to get a contract with a manuscript in hand. This might make sense if you are turning your dissertation into your first book. If you are starting from scratch, though, I don’t recommend waiting to write a full manuscript before getting the contract. It is helpful to work with an editor as you are writing your book and it’s also motivating to have a deadline. Plus the contract can (positively) factor into hiring and promotion decisions.
So how long do you need?
Going forward, I’m assuming you do not have a completed manuscript as you query editors. Save deciding on the estimated completion date for the last step of the proposal. You should write the sample chapters, query editors with emails, and apply for grants (if applicable) first. Once an editor requests a proposal, then you think about the date — after you’ve written the other parts of the proposal. Why wait? Because writing sample chapters and querying is time-consuming. Going through this process will also help you clarify the scope of your project.
Estimating your timeline in your book proposal is a tricky deal. On one hand, you want to be fairly realistic in your approximation. Don’t list 6 months from now as the completion date if you really mean 2 years. On the other, if you list a date that is too far away (and this is your first book), you likely won’t get the contract. If you honestly don’t think you can finish and submit a manuscript within the next year, I recommend writing more of the book before you seek a contract.
Setting (and Making) Your Own Deadlines
I’m a big fan of using an Excel sheet for all of my books, noting the chapter #, tentative title (or topic), deadline for my self, status, and word count (once it’s finished). Like this:
Once you’ve laid out your chapters and identified the general word count, determine the order for writing your book. Do you want to work chronologically? Are there resources you need to request that will take time? Do you have research trips planned? Are some chapters going to be easier to write than others? What chapters currently exist as peer-review articles and just need revision? (Get permission NOW for the reprint).
I can’t advise on how long conducting your primary research will take. Nor will I delve into the particulars of writing a book chapter (maybe in a later post). What I will say is that you need to a). WRITE everyday (not just listing literature or taking notes from your microfilm. Actual writing that will lead to a chapter, which will lead to a draft). and b). Make every deadline that you set.
Break it down. If you have a 8-10,000 word chapter to write, with the primary research completed and organized, you should be able to produce a chapter draft in a month. 8,000 words/30 days is only 267 words per day. Or, if you’d like 2 days off per week (following the Any Good Thing Challenge), is only 364 words per day (but write at least 400 for the challenge). Set a word count goal per day, plus other assigned tasks (editing, finding sources, reviewing literature, etc.). It’s not really a secret. The best way to get writing done is to write. See my tips here. In other words, have your big deadline (one week before your manuscript submission date), individual chapter deadlines, and then micro-deadlines for each chapter. Give 5-7 days between each chapter deadline to allow for additional edits, elaboration, etc.
Remember that this is only the first draft. You want to produce quality work, yes, but you also need to finish your manuscript. A draft is the beginning and can be revised. An empty Word doc cannot. Don’t become so worried about the final product that it halts your writing. The more that you write, the more that you will learn about your project and gain confidence in creating the manuscript.
What if you don’t make your deadline?
Don’t allow one missed deadline to sabotage your project. If life truly gets in the way, then you’ll need to do extra to get back on track. Reevaluate your daily goals for just that chapter so that you can catch up before you miss the next deadline.
If you come to a point in which you do need to ask for an extension, be upfront and polite in asking your editor about pushing back the deadline. Only ask once though. Presses have deadlines too and your project is part of their production schedule.
The Timeline Beyond the Timeline
As I will cover in a future post, completing your manuscript is really just the first (HUGE) step toward a finished product. When you submit your manuscript, definitely celebrate the accomplishment! Know that it’s only the beginning of revisions, proofs, cover design and other steps. Then again, you’ve come this far so you can get the rest done!
A colleague recently asked me this question, prompting my post. I’m assuming you have an idea and that you are a good person to do the project you have in mind.
Have you conducted research in this area before? It would be difficult to write a book on something completely out of your area. If you are breaking into a new sub-discipline, you may want to start with conference papers and journal articles to get a handle on the literature, method, terminology, and other aspects.
Have you published on this topic? If so, do you plan to use published articles as chapters in your book? It’s great to begin a project with a few chapters semi-completed. You will need to get permission for the reprint. Do note that most presses want mostly original content. I recommend not having more than 3-4 chapters based on articles. Exceptions exist, of course.
Is this the right time for you to write a book? As I wrote in my “Book Contract” post, unless you are in a field that requires books, I advise waiting until after tenure to seriously focus on such a time-consuming endeavor.
Did a meeting with an acquisitions editor prompt you to think about writing a book? If so, really consider (as in #3) if this is the right time for you and the right press. Know that you don’t have to go with that particular press unless you’ve signed a contract.
More Prep Work
Before you are ready to completely plunge in, spend time doing your pre-research research for the book. Look over related books, noting style, archives used (if applicable), existing literature, and presses that published on similar topics. Identify people that may be helpful to your project and speak with them. I also recommend seeking a book-writing mentor: someone who has successfully written books before and is willing to offer guidance.
Throughout this time, take plenty of notes, including lists of literature to consult and ideas about your book as they come.
Planning Out Your Book
This is my favorite stage. In fact, I think I write books because I enjoy planning them out so much. Before you approach a press, you need to have a clear idea of what your book will cover and accomplish. Figure out the answers to the following questions. My answers for my epidemics book are in red.
What is the conceptual question that drives your book? “How have media products constructed epidemics, both in the moment and in collective memory?”
What will its purpose be? “To study all media content available during a particular epidemic, as well as depictions of a disease in contemporary media.”
What will your book accomplish that others haven’t? (In other words, how will your book fit the gap in the literature)? Existing books either focused on a media coverage during one particular epidemic or broadly addressed epidemics without giving much attention to media. My book, then, was the first to examine media various roles across epidemics.
What are the parameters for the book? What will be included? What won’t be? I took a case-study approach and selected 7 epidemics in American history that were significant for different reasons. Each had a local focus. I did not include international coverage or epidemics outside of the seven selected.
Next, sketch out a Table of Contents for the chapters. Don’t worry about chapter titles, just the topic. Consider how broad you would like to be and what resources you would need to successfully write this book.
On the Timeline
How much time do you realistically need? Book manuscripts can be very time-consuming to write. And it’s not just about writing the book. Conducting the primary research can take months or years, as you take pages and pages of notes. I will do a separate post on breaking down the timeline. In general, though, after the primary research is done, I would allow at least a month per chapter, plus two months for editing/additional work.
What needs to get done before seeking a press
If an acquisitions editor has approached you, great! Skip the next few lines (but know that you’ll have to complete these steps anyway). Assuming you don’t have a specific press, don’t seek a contract until you have sketched out answers to the above questions and written at least one sample chapter. Although book proposals differ by press, they all contain variations of the planning questions that I listed. Don’t waste your time on a proposal yet. Instead, spend time crafting a quality sample chapter or two. I recommend writing the introductory chapter and one chapter that demonstrates the style and content of the bulk of the book. Have 1-2 friends give you feedback on your materials.
Once you have your scope, purpose, parameters, ToC, and 1-2 sample chapters, then you can move to the “book contract stage.” I’ve outlined it here.
Writing a book is a stressful, all-encompassing journey, but it’s also really fulfilling. There is nothing like the first time you see your manuscript published as a real book.
Last night, a pensive version of myself only had questions for the blog. After thinking about my uncertainties, the professor in me feels that I should at least try to offer answers (or at least points of discussion). I will address each numbered question, one post at a time. Tonight, it’s about how we start to venture out in public.
When we inevitably reenter the public sphere (as I assume everyone is planning to do at some point), it will be like a public swimming pool at the beginning of a season.
Some people will stay home until the weather warms up. Of those who decide to head to the pool, many will stay wrapped in towels on the deck. A few people will kick off their flip flops and cannonball in, not caring if they splash the dry onlookers.
But most people will proceed rather cautiously for that first dip, testing the temp by dangling toes in the water. Looking around, these individuals seek the comfort of others also venturing into the pool. “You go first!” One yells. “No, you!” A friend replies. The two agree to go on three and eventually jump in.
As with getting in the pool, we will (or already have) seek the confirmation that our friends and family are on the same page as we are in beginning to enter the public space of this new reality. If they are not, likely they won’t be invited or consulted about the next step in undoing isolation.
Where can we go and should we are two different questions. Because there are no clear right answers, I won’t offer false advice about what is “safe.” I do, however, find Dr. Erin Bromage’s explanation about risk particularly helpful. What I can say is that the decision of where to go and when is a personal one. It’s okay if you feel anxious and don’t know what to do. At the same time, we shouldn’t be rushing out to party like it’s Y2K or that COVID-19 has been eradicated.
Like the pool, folks clearly have different opinions of when and how to do this. Unfortunately, one lesson I learned from my lifeguarding days is that crowded water often leads to contamination, quickly shutting down the facility. In other words, if most people abandon social distancing measures and refuse to wear masks, stay at home orders will soon resume.
The farther that we get into this [what do we call it? And to what am I referring? Pandemic? Isolation? “Crisis-schooling?”], the more that my thoughts are filled with questions and not answers. Thus, I am launching into a cathartic list of my current uncertainties. Some of these questions (concerns, issues?] have answers, but are they the right ones? Other current mysteries will be resolved soon [by me? Others? No one?].
If/when we do this reopening [or as?], how do we do it? Who should go? Where can we go? What is okay? What is not? How do we balance safety with a need to take care of certain things [and what are those things?]? If wearing a mask is for other people’s protection, why do other people get to decide the level at which I am protected?
Why won’t my kids go to sleep so I can write my post?
How do we keep doing the impossible balance of caring for children and working from home? Who gets the short end of the stick? Or is it a regular stick with so many branches that it is the tree that suffers? When can a sliver of uninterrupted time become a regular expectation and not a moment of luxury?
At what point can we acknowledge that online learning at any stage is not the same as an in-person experience [or did I just do that?]?
Is it okay to admit that this time of isolation is hard, even though we are safe and healthy?
What does the future hold? For my kids? For my students? For everyday life? Will I get to enjoy my office in the Fall, especially the chocolates I left on my desk? Why did I leave them there when I need them here more?
When will we reach a point in which we can stop contextualizing everything with [COVID-19, “this weird time,” “the current situation”]?
As someone who has studied epidemics, should I have more answers?
How will this pandemic end? When? In how many waves? With how many lost?
When will we move beyond this crisis? Will we remember? How do we make sure that generations after us know about these experiences?