When is a Chapter Done?

I officially submitted my first chapter (yay!). I have chunks written for all the chapters, but am now focusing on finishing individual chapters rather than writing bits and pieces throughout.

Finishing a chapter is a challenge, because how do I know when it’s actually done? It’s easy to keep tweaking, to check “just one” more article or book, and to wordsmith every sentence. There are definitely parts that I don’t consider quite done, but at this point I need feedback before I finalize. My rationale is that I don’t want to spend extensive time on a certain section if it will be removed or I need to take it in another direction.

This is a different process from writing an article, which needs to be very solid before submission (though editing and feedback will occur). The AFS series editor provides feedback throughout the whole book process, which is extremely helpful. I included notes and questions about my thought process, as well as specific parts I want advice. As I wrote previously, writing and feedback is a conversation. An editor’s review raises points I didn’t consider, and answers the questions I have.

There’s no particular way to know when a chapter is done. Truly, no chapter will be officially done until the book goes to press. Right now, it’s when what I’m doing is more tweaking and refining, instead of writing. While I want the language to be professional and clear, at some point a copyeditor will refine the text for consistency and to meet SAA’s standards. I strive to achieve those standards, but I also recognize that a fresh review will fix what I overlook. Plus, setting it aside for a while will give me a new perspective when I receive feedback and go to revise it.

It is a good feeling to officially have one chapter done, though I have several to go. It’s progress, and motivation to move on to the next chapter. Writing a book is a slow and long process, but it’s definitely moving along.

Writing Progress

I recently received feedback on my reference and access book draft. A previous post describes my writing process, and of course several times I’ve mentioned the importance of feedback. The notes I received are extremely helpful, as there are thoughts, questions, and suggestions that never crossed my mind but once I read them, make perfect sense.

Naturally, some are easy fixes and some require more thought and/or research. As a pretty scattered writer, meaning I jump from section to section, I expect that makes it difficult for the reader. I think frequently about the book’s organization. The aspects of reference and access overlap continually, and at times it’s difficult to sort out which points should go where. I also make a lot of notes about ideas and thoughts, and even questions about what should be included, what requires more in-depth discussion versus making a reference and referring to other literature.

Feedback is not a reader stating do-this or do-that and the writer complying. It’s a conversation about how to develop, organize, expand, eliminate, cite, reference, discuss, and write. That conversation leads to the writer achieving a better understanding on how the text is read and interpreted, as well as the reader gaining a better understanding of the writer’s goals and thought processes.

For me, this conversation increases my motivation. Notes and feedback provide clarity in my mind about how to proceed and if I’m on the right track. I’ve spent the past few days reviewing the comments, rewriting, reorganizing, and rethinking. And all this has now led to a milestone – 25,000 words (about 65 pages). While I still have a long way to go, I see what I’ve accomplished so far.

And writing is about accomplishments: the first page, first chapter, first draft, first feedback, etc. So as you write, don’t just think about where you need to go, think about what you already achieved.

How I Write

I have several posts that address writing. The most important point is to write, write, write. So how to write? There is, of course, no one answer. Everyone has different methods, discipline, style, etc. Each person must decide what works best for him/her.

Writing is a process. One needs to figure out what process works best for him/her. MIT has a good outline of the process, as does the Purdue OWL, and here’s a fun little video. The process is difficult, time-consuming, and challenging. But it’s also rewarding, confidence-building, and achievable.

My process, if it can be called that, is to write in a scattered way. Meaning, I’ll spend some time writing about reference interviews, the next day perhaps I’ll write about ethics, then the next day I’ll write about research methods. There isn’t necessarily a rhyme or reason, but that works for me. Some authors succeed at writing in a linear fashion, but I learned a long time ago that does not work for me and only causes stress and angst. I succeed more at jumping around to different topics.

Part of why this happens is that I’ll be reading a book about all aspects of reference and I want to make notes in different sections and chapters of my book. I’ll jump around so I don’t lose or forget those thoughts. It’s more important for me to get ideas and thoughts down, even if they are a bit jumbled, so that I can go back and revise it into coherence.

One hurdle I overcame while writing my dissertation was to not attempt perfect writing (see above resources). At first, I got stuck on trying to make a sentence perfect and I spent too much time on that sentence/paragraph that I lost thoughts and ideas. Most of the writing process is actually editing and revising, so struggling at the beginning to be perfect causes frustration and stress. The more one writes, the better it will become over time. There are many variations of the quote “There’s no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.” Plus, an editor will always change, edit, suggest, and revise.

To someone else reading it, my writing appears very jumbled. Sometimes I write full sentences, but I also write thoughts, ideas, questions, notes, and quotes. When reading, I’ll find a good quote, copy and cite it. Later, I’ll decide which quotes are appropriate in full, which can be combined, which can be deleted, which should be a footnote mention only, and which I’ll revise into my own words (keeping proper citations, of course).

Much of my early drafts are notes: include this idea, don’t forget to talk about that, brief outlines, asking myself questions, and lists of topics. It’s more important to me to get those thoughts down than to flush out every idea. I find it much easier to write through revision than try to achieve complete and coherent writing at the beginning.

Other times, I’ll just write. One tip I learned while writing my dissertation was to cover my monitor so I couldn’t see my spelling and grammatical mistakes. I did this in 15 minute chunks over many days. This was a great help to get me started and to just get the ideas written. Over time, I no longer cover my monitor but I still use that tactic. It’s gratifying to do this because I see the page numbers continue to increase, which makes me more motivated to continue.

I can’t emphasize enough to dispel the idea of writing perfectly. Just Google “there’s no such thing as perfect writing” and you will see that every author abides by it. Overcoming that obstacle takes time, but is most liberating. So go forth and write!

Finalizing a Journal Issue

Putting together a journal issue requires a lot of steps and details. As I finish my last issue of Provenance, I thought people might be interested in steps required to finalize an issue.

The editor facilitates the peer-review process, assigning submissions to reviewers. Once those reviews are complete, the editor takes that feedback to register a decision. For Provenance, it is accept with minor revisions, accept with major revisions, and declined. Submitters receive that notification along with the reviewers’ feedback. Generally, this happens throughout spring and summer, with the most submissions received around the end of July due date. Once it is known which articles are selected for publication, then the bulk of an editor’s job begins.

All articles need some editing. There is always a mix of minor, some, and major editing needed. There’s generally 1-2 articles that only need a few minor edits, mostly technical with an occasional clarification. Next are articles that require a thorough editing, primarily technical with perhaps a few questions/clarifications. Last, there are articles that go through several drafts before being publication ready. These authors have solid and strong ideas, but need to rewrite/rework paragraphs or sections, reorganize, the article, incorporate additional research (generally only one or two articles or books to support their statements), or heavier copyediting. The latter, of course, is often hard and stressful for the author, but my ultimate goal is to bring out the best in their writing.

This back and forth with authors for edit can go on for several weeks. What I do as editor is check grammar, punctuation, footnotes for proper citations and formatting, credit/citation for photographs, charts in black and white (only our cover is in color), proper use of quotes, section headings, clear articulation of arguments and evidence, and so forth. I want to retain the authors’ voices and do my best not to rewrite, though I will sometimes offer suggestions. For example: if there is a confusing section I will note that and ask for clarification; I’ll ask for citations if they were not included; or ask for reduction/expansion of thoughts or arguments.

Generally, I make a first pass for all these possibilities and return to the author with tracked changes and comments. The author will then return it with further edits and respond to comments. I try to communicate that most are just suggestions. I have had authors clarify why they don’t want to make a suggested change and I honor those requests. Then, I ask the authors to sign publishing agreements and provide short biographies. I also make sure I have addresses for non-SGA member authors.

After the content is more or less final, then I will start formatting to adhere to Provenance standards, meaning The Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition. Across all articles, I make formatting changes for consistency such as title/author headings, section headings, use of numbers, citation format, font size, paragraph spacing, etc. This goes for the articles, reviews, and any other content (like editor’s notes). It’s very gratifying to see all of that come together.

When this is complete, I decide on the table of contents. It’s subjective, but my goal is to make the reading flow well. As Provenance publishes any topic related to archives, it’s seldom that two articles are on the same topic (at least in my tenure). Sometimes it’s easy, but with the current issue which will have 7 articles, it was hard to decide.

I also do both the front and back matter. The front matter includes picking a cover photo, updating the editorial board list, and the table of contents. The cover image is sometimes easy and sometimes hard. If an article includes photos, I try to use one of those. Last year there were no photos, so I worked with an author to create an image. The 2011 issue included original artwork. As a teaser, what will be on the upcoming issue is my favorite yet. It was provided by a professional photographer who graciously allowed us to use it at no charge. Regardless of where the image comes from, it directly ties into one of the articles. The back matter is the easiest: updating the SGA board list and information for contributors.

Editors of some journals write an editor’s note for each issue. I’ve written a few, but not for every issue. I did choose to write one this year, as it is my last issue. I previously wrote ones for the special issues completed. That is entirely up to the editor.

At last, finalizing the issue is getting closer. Once I have all of this complete, I send it to the managing editor for markup. She will fix any technical issues I may have missed, format it in Publisher, and assign page numbers. After that is complete, individual PDFs are sent to the authors for one final review. At this stage, only minor corrections are completed. I review the entire issue one more time and also give any corrections.

Once all the authors approve their articles, the managing editor will fix anything necessary then work with the printer. She coordinates the printing and mailing. She works with SGA to compile a mailing list that includes members and non-member authors. We decide on a number to print, as two copies go to the SGA archives and we want to have a few extra for individual purchase or replacement. We go into the printers’ queue, so we never quite know how long it will take. But generally 4-6 weeks later, it arrives in the mail. It’s always a happy day when I see the result of the work of so many people.

SNAP Twitter Chat about Publishing

Last week I participated in a SNAP Twitter chat (#snaprt, @SNAP_Roundtable). I’ve participated before, but it’s been a while. SNAP does a great job of hosting the chats and having prepared questions. There aren’t many opportunities for such interaction to discuss publishing and I appreciate that this topic comes up every so often for discussion. Most of the conversations I have are one-on-one and occasionally speaking to groups. I’m always happy to participate in these discussions, as are others involved in publishing. From my perspective, I don’t always know who wants these conversations (beyond SNAP) so I encourage others to just ask! I’ve worked hard to make myself accessible, but I know that other editors, authors, or others involved in publishing will also participate. So don’t be afraid to ask.

There’s always so much that comes up during these chats. I won’t be able to recap everything, but I want to touch on a few of the topics. I suspect many people outside of SNAP have the same questions so I hope you find this helpful.

How do I know what’s interesting to others?; it’s already been done. Understandably, when one is new to the profession it is hard to know what to write about and whether others will want to read it. It takes time to catch up on where scholarship is. I’ve encouraged people to write about their interests or where they see gaps. No one knows every article or book written, and that’s where a good editor comes in. Many submissions to Provenance cited scholarship I didn’t know about. However, often I and the peer-reviewers recommend additional articles if we believe it necessary. No matter if you are new or seasoned, there is the question whether others will find it interesting. So, talk to your peers, coworkers, friends, colleagues, and ask. Or email an editor and ask. Pick a topic, read a few articles, and think about it. Then write and submit. The only way you will know for sure is if you submit and accept the feedback. There’s been a bunch of new journal issues (just browse the most recent posts) so start there. Read more in a previous post.Others know so much more and I don’t want to BS. That sentiment is appreciated. The longer I was an editor, the easier it was to spot a graduate course paper submission. I don’t say that as a bad thing, because grad school is about generating and discussing ideas, learning about the profession, and engaging with scholarship. When I was writing my dissertation, I frequently felt what most grad students do – that I’ll look dumb if I forget that one book, that one article, where my committee would think “How could she not know about that?” But you know what, that seldom happens. If you do appropriate research, you become the expert and you’ll find the resources. Don’t try to read every word of everything; start by reading book reviews and abstracts. Chances are, you’ll miss something and a good editor will provide it for you. And absolutely don’t BS. As long as you can provide evidence for your argument, are clear and articulate, don’t use a lot of colloquialisms, and are logical, you’re more than halfway there. The best way to learn as much as others know is through writing and research. How do you think they became experts?

Turning a conference presentation into an article. Do it! As you prepare for a presentation, keep track of your sources, write an article alongside your presentation. But please, don’t submit only the text of your presentation. Remember, writing for publication is different from reading your ideas in front of an audience. Several times, I followed up with conference presenters and suggest they submit to Provenance. So think about it before you present and you can have a solid draft or full article for submission.

Revise and resubmit is hard. Yes, and honestly, it seldom gets easier. I did write a post about this a while ago. And this question reminded me that I meant to write more (hence the part 1 of many), so I will get back to that at some point. But if any of you want to share your experiences, whether good or bad, I welcome all perspectives and guest posts. And, as noted also below, a blog post is a great way to start writing.

Write to non-archivists. This part was particularly interesting to me. We are not limited to writing to each other. Yes, that strengthens our profession and engages each other. But what about librarians, users, historians, and others? Bringing non-archivists into our writing sphere will help us understand our users more as well as raise awareness of the archival profession. Do you collaborate with donors, faculty, users, or anyone else you can co-author with? What about asking researchers to write about their experience? When I taught classes, I always try to find non-archivist perspectives. One article I used multiple times was Joan Zenzen’s “Administrative Histories: Writing about Fort Stanwix National Monument” (sorry, I wish it was open access but is available through JSTOR or request through interlibrary loan). And a excellent book is Kate Eichhorn’s Archival Turn in Feminism. Can’t help but enjoy a book written by someone who reveres archivists. In other words, think outside the box. Also, you are not limited to archives publications. Write for disciplinary journals, library journals, digital humanities journals, government resources, or whatever falls within the scope of your interests.

Some general tips:

  • don’t let your profession define what you write
  • book reviews and blogs are a great place to start
  • write with a publication in mind instead of squeezing it into requirements
  • find a writing group

It was a great conversation and lots of great ideas came up, both about writing and topics of interest. I also keep thinking about what else we need to do to continue these conversations. Don’t forget, I welcome suggestions for topics. I thank all of you for reading this blog but I see it as only one way to share experiences. So let’s keep the conversations going in whatever ways we can!

Why I Resigned as Provenance Editor

After four wonderful years, I have resigned as Provenance Editor. I originally planned to finish out my second term (another 2 years). However, as I wrote about a couple weeks ago, I signed a contract to write a book. Over the past couple months as I tried to balance being an editor and writing a book, I discovered that something needed to give.

As I explained to a colleague, being an editor and author use the same part of my brain that requires a lot of concentration, focus, and thought. Spending time editing/reviewing articles and then trying to research and write is quite taxing on both my brain and my motivation.

Many of us have the challenge of taking on too much and becoming stressed or burned out. And many of us have a hard time saying “no.” I’ve been practicing saying “no” over the past few years and am getting better. Often, we are afraid people will judge us for quitting. However, I believe that instead it’s more important to recognize our limitations. By doing so, it will be better all around. If I continued to be an editor and an author, likely both projects would suffer. And both are too important to me to let that happen. Instead, my resignation means that both will be successful – me being able to focus on the book and my successor as Editor will take Provenance to new heights.

When I took over, the previous editor encouraged me to do whatever I wanted with the journal. While it took time to learn the ropes, I definitely made it my own. Under my leadership, all the back issues are online, we moved to an online submission system, we are receiving more submissions than in the past, and there’s greater awareness of the journal. We have two special issues (one on advocacy and one with SNAP), with a third in the works.

I’ve learned more than I can possibly explain being an editor. Not only did I learn about publishing, but communication, needs of the profession, how to work with authors, practices and theories used by colleagues, and challenges of scholarship. I had great support from SGA and the Provenance Board. Most of all, the role cemented my passion about publishing as a focus for my professional activities. I dedicated what feels like countless hours to the journal over the past four years. While I will miss it, I am also relieved to know I can focus on one major project.

I am handing the reins over to Heather Oswald at Emory University. I told her what I was told, that she should take it and make it her own. As I’ve worked with her on the Provenance Board and as Associated Editor over the last couple years, I know she will continue to build upon what I’ve done as well as create new directions and initiatives. I’m excited to see what the future brings.

This decision has no impact on this blog. I am dedicated to continuing this as a platform to share ideas and practices about scholarly publishing in the profession. I’ll continue to use my experience as an editor and now as an author. There’s much to be said about publishing and I hope others continue to suggest ideas and contribute posts.

Guest Post: Starting an OA journal: The Reading Room

Starting an OA journal: The Reading Room
by Amy Vilz and Molly Poremski

The Reading Room: A Journal of Special Collections is a peer-reviewed, open access journal focusing on special collections. At the time of our launch, there was a lack of comprehensive, open access journals for special collections at large, and our journal helps to fill this niche. Furthermore, we believe academic libraries are currently, and for the foreseeable future, focusing on the resources that make them unique: namely, their special collections. Given this environment, we have a large, identified community of readers, authors and peer-reviewers.

Traditionally, a special collections librarian would present research findings or a case study at regional and national conferences before the results were published in a journal, with many times a year or more lapsing between project completion and dissemination via publication. While there’s nothing wrong with print-based journals and the present and publish system per se, we wanted to offer an open-access, online, and free peer-reviewed journal, to hopefully be a bit more accessible and publish articles quickly to increase responsiveness to challenges and successes in our field.

We use Scholastica as our back-end journal platform. It’s cloud-based, there’s nothing to install, the interface is intuitive and easy to use, and it’s cost-effective. You can publish your journal on Scholastica, but we chose to have our Libraries’ Web Management team create a front-end website to showcase each issue. For metrics, Scholastica has a built-in analytics program to gauge information regarding editor performance, acceptance rate, average days to decision, manuscript progress, etc. We use Google Analytics to measure traffic on the in-house public interface.

We applied for funding for Scholastica through our institution, the University at Buffalo. In 2014, UB Libraries offered innovation grants to faculty and staff. Fees for Scholastica are limited to a small cost per unique journal submission. Our grant funding will support the submission of articles and serve as bridge money until the journal can become self-sustaining from database royalties. Current criteria for inclusion in database directories are two to three years of established publication. This seed money gives us the opportunity to test the Scholastica platform and create a back catalog of journal issues enabling us to meet the requirements of disciplinary journal indexes (i.e. Library Literature & Information Science Index) and periodical directories such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). A successful transition from Innovation Funding to a self-sustaining income within three years is our goal.

We created the journal for many reasons, one of which was somewhat selfish! We each had articles in mind regarding our special collections, but felt there was no appropriate journal for publication. Our ideas related to the stories our collections tell; this was the impetus for our Narrative Features. Our Narrative Features provide a unique outlet in a peer-reviewed environment. Collections tell stories, stories that are revealed by librarians, curators, and researchers within the reading room. Yet there are limited outlets for these types of articles in a peer-reviewed environment. Examples include unique circumstances relating to the donor or acquisition of materials, significance of documentation within a collection or an institution’s collecting area, or how the format of materials in a collection enhances or inhibits understanding of the collection. We also welcome and encourage interpretive works on collections. Feature articles are meant to offer insight into a collection’s significance (either a discrete collection or collection holdings at large) and address the context within its applicable field or within institutional holdings. We think this sets The Reading Room apart, and indeed, just over half of our article queries and submissions are for these types of articles.

At The Reading Room, we made a conscious effort to expand our submission base, and include articles from those using special collections (researchers) as well as students working with special collections. We did this not only to increase our readership, but the conversation in our field about how our collections are being accessed and used, and broaden the measure of scholarly impact. For example, if a researcher has used unique collection material for their research article, why not publish that article for a special collections audience in a special collections journal? We want to showcase not just how professional librarians, archivists, and curators work with special collections, but how our users and researchers work with special collections. In that way, we believe it gives a better context and measure of the impact of cultural collections.