This afternoon’s session focused on publishing & grant writing with a particular emphasis on newer scholars preparing to enter the field.
Jen Fishman and Joan Mullin presented about how basic writing scholars can get involved with REx: the Research Exchange Index.
Susan Naomi Bernstein gave a beautiful talk about the process of writing Teaching Developmental Writing 4th Edition. She led the audience through the experience of losing her friend and how that informed her decisions in crafting the text. She ended with a final tribute to him, “Identify what you love and find co-conspirators.” These were his words & the group was compelled to take this on as a mantra in writing and publishing.
Four or So Publishing Clues—Or, Dr. Peacock in the Study with the Typewriter—Or, Be Machiavellian, Cocky, Not Too Cocky, and Weird by Hannah Ashley (full talk published below)
That title was just to put you and me in the right mood: play. Getting published is very serious, but it does not have to be solemn. It’s a game—we are rhetoricians; we are not immune to the effects and openings of rhetoric. Onward.
First of all—be Machiavellian. What I mean is, it’s not amoral to be opportunistic and crafty. As long as you are not deceitful. I don’t mean make up your data because it just takes too long to actually gather it. I mean: we can do good by doing well (too). If there is an opening to give an invited talk, even locally, and then to convert that talk into a paper, and then to convert that paper into a grant application, and to turn that grant into an alternative work assignment so you have more time to write—do it. Ask for GA’s, see if there are English Department interns you can supervise to their benefit and yours. If I could have had my pre-schoolers coding data for me, I would have.
Being Machiavellian also, paradoxicall,y means collaborate. Collaborate with editors. (You can contact editors with synopses of article ideas, inquires about what your revise-and-resubmit feedback means, or at conferences like this one). By the way, revise and resubmit, in case no one has mentioned this? That’s really, really good. No editor asks for a resubmit if they are not serious about the article; that’s a close-to-yes, not a probably-no. Collaborate with students (some journals and institutions value that highly, and it’s good for your workload, and it’s good for them too—as long as we don’t steal their work). I can honestly say I can attribute some of my career success to collaborating closely with students. Collaborate with colleagues (especially more well-known ones!). In sum, be a totally shameless self-promoter and Oprah-Winfrey-like self-care buccaneer.
Second, follow the orthodox advice. Here I will credit many prior panels, plus a fantastically opportune discussion on the WPA-list in February which was digested and sent back out, and which I craftily saved for this talk. I would summarize the standard advice as: Be cocky, but not too cocky. Let me elaborate, with some of the standard orthodoxies and a few less standard ones.
Being cocky means conveying your article’s importance. The leading journals in the field want leading contributions, articles that will change the way we do business (or at least the way we talk about doing business). What is the tiny corner of the field that your piece is going to redefine, re-evaluate, revolutionize…or just plain fix? Theory, practice, even methods—it all counts—your piece has to do something new, challenge someone or something.
Being cocky can also mean starting high. Don’t be afraid to submit to leading journals. At worst, you will get a good slapdown, and at best a great line on your CV, and often, a rejection with significant feedback for further revision. I have been soundly slapped down by some of the very best journals. Thank you.
Finally, being cocky means: Don’t write like a graduate student (anymore) (or still). Journals do not need a demonstration that you are Being Good, and have read (seemingly) everything in the field, and understand it. Don’t summarize interminably. Just enough literature that readers believe you have read everything in the field—we have to play the part.
So that’s the cocky part.
But don’t be too cocky. Do actually read a whole lot prior to submitting, drafting, or even thinking about an article beyond your first cup of sweet-and-light coffee. Every editor’s roundtable says it, so I feel obliged to repeat it here: New to you is not new to the field. Do read several back issues of that particular journal. Do pay attention to editorial guidelines. Do make your thesis and argument clear, if only in an abstract, if you prefer to be obtuse. If you can’t write your abstract concisely, you probably have a problem. Don’t assume your reader will ignore your typos or formatting deviations. In sum, don’t submit first (or second, or even third) drafts.
Not being too cocky also means paying your dues. Lower profile publications are good too. Lower stakes projects like book reviews help your CV and help you keep up with the field—that’s being opportunistic again. You can often volunteer to do a book review and there you have it: a nearly guaranteed publication. Also, volunteer to serve as a reviewer on some journals. Serving as a reviewer gave me a whole different sense of process and product. Once you start reading as a reviewer, it is a lot easier to write for one.
Lastly for the orthodox advice, while you are busy being cocky but not too cocky, be careful not to insult people. That duck could be somebody’s mother. That research you diss could be your potential reviewers’, or your reviewers’ bff, or worse, your reviewers’ kid. So foment nice revolution. I’m actually still learning this one.
As for the unorthodox advice, it sums up as: Be weird. Don’t be afraid to bring in unusual stylistic moves, unusual connections. Go outside the usual dozen citations that everyone uses, or the expected disciplinary moves. Quote a sociologist, or better yet, a physicist. Surprise sometimes works; good weird titles and unusual (but still useful) subheadings.
Personally, I have had success with showing myself, by which I mean, being a subject in my writing, being clear where I sit, breaking the now-somewhat-more-often-broken rules of removed objectivity. But much of my work has called for that kind of writing from our students, so it was an affected and self-conscious subjectivity I was enacting. Perhaps better advice is to match medium with message: enact your own brand of studied weirdness. Dr. Peacock in the Study with the Typewriter.