A Tale of Three Books

The last chapters of Weller for this last week of our #umwdomains faculty initiative had me thinking about my own experiences with traditional research, peer-review and publishing, and my recent attempts to become an open digital scholar.

My first book was originally my dissertation, that I revised based on comments from my dissertation committee. I got it all ready, at least I so thought, and sent out a prospectus to various university presses. One expressed interest quickly, and made me sign an agreement that while reviewing it, they had exclusive rights to it. A year later I received a scathing report from the anonymous reviewer–not a kind rejection with constructive criticism, but a crushing review that made me, for a moment, question my whole career. But I picked myself up, tried to work on the manuscript a little more, and sent out more inquiries. Another university press expressed interest, made me sign over the rights, and a year later sent me back a letter that their Board of Directors didn’t think it was appropriate for their press–no review, just “no thanks” A YEAR LATER! I was completely at a loss of what to do. But then, Rebecca Haidt, a wonderful colleague at Ohio State University whose work I admired, offered to read my manuscript and give me some comments. She suggested that I re-focus the book and gave me some very helpful insight about how I might go about this. So I did, and I also sought help from my colleague here at Mary Washington, Allyson Poska, who also gave me some great advice and suggested I submit the book to a private scholarly press. Eventually the book was re-written and published with Ashgate. Before publication, it was anonymously peer-reviewed–this time with very constructive comments–and re-worked again. I paid a nominal fee to have the book professionally indexed, which they would take out of my royalties. The press did not provide professional editing, so I hired Jane Gatewood of our Writing Center to edit the book for me. The press marketed the book in their print and on-line catalogues, and at booths in important national and international conferences. In the end I was quite happy with the results and judged by reviews and contacts I’ve had since then, I think my book has made a small contribution to my field. Each year for about 4 years after publication, I received a small royalty check from Ashgate–enough to go out to a nice dinner with my husband and feel good about the whole thing.

My second book was a co-edited collection of essays that I did with my colleague Cathy Jaffe from Texas State University. We put out a call for papers, received contributions, chose the articles, and prepared a manuscript to send out to presses. We received interest from a university press (LSU), signed over our rights and a year later received a positive review, but with suggestions for revisions. We (and our authors) did the revisions and resubmitted. A year later a different reviewer suggested a whole different set of revisions (some of them contradicting the original reviewer). Luckily we were able to negotiate with the press about what revisions we were willing to do, and the ones we weren’t. The press used a professional editor, who was brutal but very good. It also marketed the book in all the usual ways, and this book too has made a positive impact in our field of eighteenth-century Ibero-American studies. Each year since it came out in 2009, I get an invoice, showing how despite selling books, I won’t get any royalties. I just received one of these yesterday. No dinner out, but that’s not why we did the book anyway.

The third book has never happened, at least not in they way I orginally conceived it. For the past 5 or 6 years I have become increasingly interested in digital pedagogy and scholarship. This coincided with a new avenue of research on the evolution of women’s charity in Spain. I researched, I blogged, I made new contacts in Spain, I published a few articles in traditional print journals and collections, I began to involve my students and undergraduate research in my work, and I applied for a NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up grant with the idea of creating a hybrid digital book-exhibition with my students. I didn’t get the grant, which actually I don’t think I deserved. The reviews of my grant application were generally positive and constructive, but found the “humanities” part of the proposal stronger than the “digital innovation” part. Since then I’ve attended workshops on DH, sought advice from colleagues I trust and admire, continued work with my students, given up the idea of the hybrid model, and have focused on creating the digital exhibition of our work. It’s almost ready for prime-time but there are several more steps I need to take–I need permissions to publicly display some of the images from the Biblioteca Nacional, I need to do some heavy editing, and I need some sort of peer review of the project.

What do these three tales have in common? They all had their share of obstacles, delays, re-workings and frustrations. In all I have benefitted from constructive criticism, both from anonymous reviewers and from colleagues. I found the private press to be a more pleasant publishing experience than the university press, and the dissemination of the books to be about the same. Still, going it on my own in an open digital format is not any easier. There are no built-in mechanisms for peer-review, for editing, or for dissemination–that would be all up to me. So I’m still feeling my way through this, but as with the other two projects–I don’t give up easily!

This article was written by admin