If I Were a Middle-Class White Kid

Gene Marks’ instantly infamous “If I Were a Poor Black Kid” column (Forbes, 12 Dec. 2011) is a classic example of how privilege remains invisible to the privileged.  Though he acknowledges that he is “a middle aged white guy who comes from a middle class white background” and so “life was easier for” him, the rest of his column betrays too little of the awareness expressed by those early sentences. For instance, “If I was a poor black kid I’d use the free technology available to help me study” assumes that the kid in question would have access to this technology.  Even a claim as benign as “If you do poorly in school, particularly in a lousy school, you’re severely limiting the limited opportunities you have” overlooks the fact that it takes an unusual student to rise above the limitations of a “lousy school.” Sure, there are students who do this, but they’re the exception, not the rule.

Mr. Marks assumes that opportunity is equally distributed. While we might admire the personal optimism conveyed by a claim like “I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed,” the article does not sufficiently acknowledge that some people — those with access to better schools, those who do not go to bed hungry, those with health care — have a much, much better chance of success.

I owe my own success to precisely that sort of privilege. Don’t misunderstand: I have worked hard, and I continue to work hard. But my success in life derives not just from my work ethic. It also comes from unearned privilege.

If I had stayed in public school, I’m not sure that I would have gone to college at all. On my first day of first grade, the teacher asked which of us could read. I was among those few who raised my hand — I’d been reading since I was 3 years old.  She gave us literate students a book to read. I finished it first, and raised my hand. “I’ve finished,” I said.  Her response: “Read it again.” I began to read it again. On my first day of school and subsequent ones, I learned that school was boring.

The author, at about age 11, reading The Hobbit

The result was that, though I still read for pleasure, I became a terrible student. I’d finish the worksheet first, and then devote my free time to amusing my classmates. I paid attention only when it suited me, trusting that I’d be able to master the material on my own. For a few years, this approach worked well. However, by the time I reached sixth and seventh grade, it was no longer working. My grades were slipping, and I began to slip behind.

And here’s where that unearned privilege saved me.

Just before I entered eighth grade, my mother got a job teaching at private schools —  first, Shore Country Day School (in Beverly, Mass.), and second, Choate Rosemary Hall (in Wallingford, Conn.). Her employment allowed my sister and me to attend both schools for free.  That’s right: in addition to receiving a salary (and on-campus housing in the case of Choate), her labor enabled her offspring to attend gratis. Had she lacked a college degree, had she lacked experience teaching and working with computers, I would not have had that opportunity.

She’s also a great example of how privilege — or its lack — gets compounded over time. She worked hard, overcoming both the diminished expectations accorded her gender, and discrimination from male bosses. But she also benefited from privilege.  As a white South African, she had access to educational opportunities that black South Africans did not.  I can say with certainty that if my mother were from the same country but of a different race, I would not be where I am today.  That’s unearned privilege.

Attending private schools made all the difference for me. Although I had peers in public school (a perfectly adequate public school) who did well and went on to college, I too easily succumbed to the prevailing attitude (among the students) that one should do as little as possible.  In private school, however, the prevailing attitude was that we all needed to work hard.  The work was challenging, and we had to rise to our teachers’ expectations.

That was just the nudge I needed. I didn’t become an “A” student overnight. Indeed, I had to do an extra year at Choate to pass the language requirement (there was no way I was going to make it through third-year Russian), and to get my grades up enough to get into college.  Aided by a semester abroad (in Valladolid, Spain), I did three years of Spanish in two years, improved my grades, and got accepted at a couple of good colleges.

At the University of Rochester, I became a model student, and graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in both English and Psychology. But, here, too, privilege came to my aid. Having that excellent private-school education meant that I knew how to study. During my freshman year, many of my public-school friends were shocked by the amount of work. I wasn’t. The work may have been harder, but I knew what I had to do.

In calling attention to the role privilege has played in my own success, I do not mean to dismiss the role of a solid work ethic. Mr. Marks is correct to emphasize the importance of hard work. For most of college, I worked two jobs — one via Work/Study, and one as a Resident Advisor (which paid for room and half of board).  I say “most” because I became an R.A. my second year; indeed, I was one of two sophomore R.A.s that year.  (The others were all juniors and seniors.)  In addition to those jobs, I studied hard, spending long hours in the library.  I carried those work habits on to graduate school and into my career as an English professor.

However, I must point out that I was not working, say, 30-hour weeks in addition to doing schoolwork. The hours of the R.A. job varied, and the Work/Study job was, to the best of my recollection, about 8 hours a week, give or take. I have students now who work full-time, are the sole caregiver for their children, and are pursuing a B.A. That’s a much steeper hill to climb.

The problem in this country is not laziness. The problem is unacknowledged, unearned privilege.  It’s not that people lack industry; they lack opportunity. But the privileged — unconscious of the degree to which their own advantage has aided them — fail to see this, and so write well-intentioned, naïve articles like “If I Were a Poor Black Kid.” Mr. Marks means well, but his prescription for success would not have helped me.  And I was a middle-class white kid.

The photo is of me, at about age 11, reading The Hobbit.

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Advice from the Least Likely to Succeed

photo of Philip Nel, taken during his first year of graduate school (1992-1993)When I was a graduate student, I would have voted myself Least Likely to Succeed in Academe. I published nothing while in graduate school. I worked hard on my seminar papers, but none would work as an article — so, I didn’t send them out. I didn’t figure out how to write publishable literary criticism until I was working on the dissertation. For these (and other) reasons, I spent my first three post-Ph.D. years as an adjunct professor.1

So, 19 years after beginning graduate school here, it’s both gratifying and astonishing to be back at Vanderbilt as an invited speaker.  I’m both flattered and a little flustered.  I’m honored to be here and secretly surprised to be here.

In addition to talking a bit about our research (Karin on Harry Potter, me on Seuss), we’re also offering some reflections on our success in academe — professional advice, of a sort — to the current graduate students.  For the record, as a graduate student, I would also have voted myself Least Likely to Be in a Position to Offer Professional Advice.  When I look back on it, I’m mildly surprised that I made it to the Ph.D.

The title of our talk — “Accidental Experts: Strategy, Serendipity, and the Places You’ll Go!” — expresses quite succinctly the combination of chance and forethought, luck and pluck, accident and planning that has made my career possible. A failed book proposal ended up yielding two successful (different) books. Writing a chapter on Dr. Seuss in a dissertation that was not about children’s literature led to a career as a scholar of children’s literature.  Creating a website devoted to an author whose work I admired led to me to write a biography (due next fall!).2

If I could offer one piece of advice to current graduate students (in addition to the advice I’ve already offered), it would be this. If you’re serious about academe, if you really want to pursue this, then give it your best shot. It won’t be easy, it will at times be frustrating, and spare time will be hard to find.  But all careers are challenging. (That’s why they’re called careers, and not merely jobs.) To be able to do work from which you derive meaning, and to get paid for doing that work… is a real gift.  You’re unlikely ever to join the 1%, but you’ll be doing something worthwhile.  And that’s a good feeling.

Thanks to Vanderbilt’s Department of English for my doctoral education, and for inviting us both back here.  If you’ll be in Nashville, the talk is tomorrow (Friday) at 2:10 pm in Vanderbilt’s Buttrick Hall, room 309.


  1. Footnote for any non-academic reading this.  Adjunct professors receive low pay, and (usually) no benefits, no health insurance.  They’re not on the tenure-track and are unlikely to get on the tenure-track at the institution where they work.  Indeed, they typically are not guaranteed employment from semester to semester: if there are classes that lack instructors, they’re hired; otherwise, they’re out of luck.  Given that, each year, the academy produces five times as many Ph.D.s in English as there are jobs in English, adjuncts are all too abundant a resource.
  2. Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature, due in Fall 2012 from the University Press of Mississippi.

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10 Tips for Writing a Biography

Crockett Johnson, "How to write a book," illus. from Ruth Krauss's How to Make an EarthquakeAs we await a verdict from my editor on the official title of the book formerly known as The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss (forthcoming 2012), I thought I’d share a few tips with any aspiring biographers out there. Since I’ve only written one biography (albeit a double biography), you should of course feel free to take this advice with a grain of salt.

1. Seek counsel from experts.  Biographers Leonard Marcus (Margaret Wise Brown), Michael Patrick Hearn (L. Frank Baum, forthcoming), Judith Morgan (Dr. Seuss) all kindly answered my questions.  For instance, Michael introduced me to editor Susan Hirschman, who knew (and edited) both Johnson and Krauss.  In addition to putting me in touch with HarperCollins’ archivist, Leonard also told me that scanning city directories (the predecessor to phone books) can help you track down where people lived.  I’ve spent an unusual amount of time at a microfilm reader, perusing city directories for Manhattan, Queens, and Baltimore.

2. Ask lots of questions.  You’ll need to learn much about subjects in which you’re not an expert. So, for instance, Mathematics Professor Emeritus J. B. Stroud explained the math behind the paintings to which Johnson devoted his final decade.  In addition to venturing beyond your areas of expertise, you’ll also learn of research methods you didn’t know existed. For example, my former neighbor Jerry Wigglesworth (a lawyer) told me that any probated will would be on file in probate court.  Acting on his advice, I obtained copies of Johnson’s and Krauss’s wills from the probate court in Westport, Connecticut.

3. Pick a subject who had a brief but interesting life.  During the dozen years I worked on my bio., I’ve often thought: “ah, how wise of Leonard Marcus to write about Margaret Wise Brown.  She only lived to be 42!”  In contrast, Crockett Johnson lived to be 68.  Ruth Krauss lived to be 91.  That’s a lot of years to cover!  Of course, I’m partially kidding about the age of your subject (and I know that Brown’s early death had nothing to do with Leonard’s decision to write her biography).  It’s most important that your subject be interesting to you: you’ll likely be spending a decade of your life getting to know him or her.  The length of a person’s life is less important, though it will affect how long it takes you to complete the book.

4. Are there any autobiographical records? Choosing someone who wrote some autobiographical narrative of her or his own will make your life a lot easier — even if the account proves only partially accurate, you would at least have something to go on.  Crockett Johnson lacked any autobiographical impulse; apart from occasional remarks in interviews (of which there are very few), he left no first-person accounts of his life.  Ruth, on the other hand, did write about herself.  She never wrote a full-length autobiography, but left a number of autobiographical fragments.  For this reason, it’s much easier to access a sense of her inner life.

5. Don’t delay! Start today! If you are serious about writing a biography, stop reading this post and start working on it right now.  I’m not telling you this because the process is going to take about ten years.  I’m telling you this because people are going to die.  Of course, if you’re writing about someone who died 100 or more years ago, the likelihood of finding living witnesses is rather slim. But, if you’re writing about someone born more recently, then get started!  I was very fortunate to talk with Mischa Richter (New Yorker cartoonist and good friend of Johnson), A. B. Magil (one of New Masses’ editors in the 1930s, as was Johnson), Syd Hoff (New Yorker cartoonist, children’s author, and New Masses cartoonist in the 1930s), Mary Elting Folsom (children’s author, member of Book and Magazine Union, also knew Johnson in the ’30s), Else Frank (Johnson’s sister), and many other folks who have since passed on.

But I narrowly missed talking with Kenneth Koch (whose poetry class Krauss took) and Hannah Baker (PM’s comics editor, who worked with Johnson on Barnaby).  Immediately after receiving a reply from Ms. Baker, I tried phoning her — she’d invited me to call, but included no number.  My attempts failed.  I immediately wrote again. A month later, a kind reply from her niece informed me that she’d passed on.  My letter to Mr. Koch arrived the day he died.  Shortly thereafter, I had such a vivid dream that Mr. Koch was talking with me (from beyond the grave!) that I got out of bed, ready to take notes on our interview… and then realized, ahhh, right, I was dreaming.  And I went back to bed.

6. Organize! In the dozen years I worked on this, I interviewed 84 people, investigated over three dozen archives and special collections, read everything written by or about Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss, and consulted additional hundreds of articles and books.  I looked at birth certificates, marriage certificates, census data, property deeds, wills, century-old insurance company maps, FBI files, photographs, and city directories for Baltimore, New York, Darien, Norwalk, and Westport, Connecticut.  That’s a lot of information to keep straight.  Two parallel systems evolved.  (1) Lots of file folders — both on the computer and in the physical world.  In the physical world, for instance, a separate folder went to: each interviewee or otherwise important person, reviews (this was actually two folders), biographical profiles and interviews, draft materials related to individual books, uncollected works (many file folders of Barnaby strips), census data, wills, and many more.  I’ve 6 file drawers full of materials.  And another three shelves full of printed work (books, magazines, etc).  Oh, and a box full of cassette tapes (containing interviews).  (2) A document I called “chronology.”  It has three columns: Year, Life, Published Work.  Here, for instance, is an unusually brief entry (for the year 1937):

Year Life Published Work
1937 RK not in Columbia University in the City of New York; Directory Number for the Sessions 1937-1938.  Including Registration to November 1, 1937.  Ruth Benedict is (p. 19).RK has adult measles, discovers Lionel’s infidelity, leaves Lionel.4 May: CJ at “New Masses party at Muriel Draper’s,” where he sees Donald Ogden Stewart make “a swell little talk on our [New Masses‘] behalf.” (Dave Johnson to Rockwell K., 11 May 1937 Rockwell Kent Papers, Smithsonian, Reel 5217, Frame 0971). New Masses.  May 18: CJ is one of Associate Editors. 14 Dec.: CJ is one of Editors.  9 Nov. (p. 2): CJ identified as Art Editor.“Dutch Uncle of the Arts” (9 Nov. 1937): CJ review of The Arts by Willem Hendrik van Loon (Simon & Schuster).

I didn’t put everything in each year, but what I did put in there helped me locate events in time, gave me a sense of sequence.  Some items are approximately located — the manuscript reflects the fact that the break-up of Krauss’s first marriage likely occurred in 1938, but I neglected to correct that on the chronology document.

7. Leave No Stone Unturned…  As you interview more people and visit more archives, you’ll build up a vast network of contacts, and a rich nexus of information. Pursue those leads! I drove to Denmark, Maine’s Camp Walden, an all-girls camp where Ruth Krauss spent two formative summers: there, I found her first published writing in the 1919 issue of Splash, the camp yearbook. I went to Staten Island to meet 67-year-old Thomas Hamilton, who as 7-year-old Tommy Hamilton starred as Barnaby in the 1946 stage production of Crockett Johnson’s comic strip. He had clippings and the entire unpublished script for the play, all of which he let me copy.

8. … Except for the Stones That You Leave Alone.  At a certain point, you have to stop researching so that you can finish the book.  The research can be endless unless you make a conscious decision to curtail it.  One way to help contain the research process is to start writing while researching.  Doing so will help you get a sense of the shape the book will ultimately take.  As you start to glimpse the contours of the final volume, you’ll come to realize that — although interesting — there are some leads that can be put aside.

9. Learn to Write Narrative.  Read a lot of biographies.  Read “how to” books like Nigel Hamilton’s How to Do Biography: A Primer.  Talk to creative writers and, if you can, take a creative writing course.  (I was unable to take a class, but I did consult creative writers.)  I have no training in writing narrative or character … or creating any of the features of literary fiction.  I did my best to write a book that was both scholarly and told a good story, but this was very challenging.  Reading other non-fiction (especially biographies) and talking to my creative-writing colleagues helped me figure out how to do this.

10. Leap Before You Look. Finally, it may be helpful to forget much of what I’ve written here, and approach your task with a certain degree of ignorance. If you begin with a full awareness of what you are getting into, you might not start in the first place. Fortunately, if you are serious about writing a biography, nothing I’ve said here will deter you — because (1) difficulty is but a welcome challenge to the determined scholar, and (2) only by writing a biography can you truly appreciate how enormous the project is.  Even after reading this post, aspiring biographers should still be sufficiently unaware and thus able to approach their task with optimism.

Writing a biography is a painstaking, challenging, often plodding process.  As the narrator of Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers laments, “It is to be regretted that no mental method of daguerreotype or photography has yet been discovered, by which the characters of men can be reduced to writing and put into grammatical language with an erring precision of truthful description.” However, as he also notes, “such mechanical descriptive skill” would yield only a “dull, dead, unfeeling, inauspicious likeness.” In other words, difficulty is a necessary part of rendering a life: “There is no royal road to learning; no short cut to the acquirement of any valuable art. […] There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily.”1  But, to end on an upbeat note, while the biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss has certainly been the most difficult book I’ve written, it has also been the most rewarding.  It’s pushed me, forced me to develop intellectual muscles I didn’t know existed, compelled me to improve my writing.  It’s the best book I’ve written, and may well be the best one I ever will write.

 


1. Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers, Vol. 1 (Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1859), p. 232-233.

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Professional Autodidact; or, How I Became a Children’s Literature Professor

I teach children’s literature, write books about children’s literature, and direct a graduate program in children’s literature.  But I’ve never taken a single course in children’s literature, neither as a graduate student nor as an undergraduate student.  I have no formal training in the field of my alleged expertise.

So, in the words of David Byrne, “You may ask yourself: well, how did I get here?”1

Children’s literature is the reason that I became an English Ph.D., but I did not realize that until well after I earned the degree. Children’s literature made me a reader. Since I liked reading, I became an English major. Realizing, as a college junior, that reading books and writing papers was far more appealing than seeking a “real job,” I applied to graduate programs in English. Though I enjoyed writing an honors thesis on William Faulkner, the books of early childhood were more important: they instilled in me a love of reading. So, don’t blame The Sound and the Fury. Blame Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon, Jeff Brown’s Flat Stanley, Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing, and Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham.

A chapter of my dissertation was on Dr. Seuss. That chapter — “Dada Knows Best: Growing Up ‘Surreal’ with Dr. Seuss” — became my first conference paper (1997) and, in its revised form, my first published article (1999).2  Until I wrote that chapter, I had not been aware that one could do scholarly work on children’s literature. Vanderbilt University’s Department of English did not (and, as far as I know, still does not) offer courses in the subject. The late Nancy Walker had done some work on children’s literature, but I was unaware of this fact until after I received the Ph.D.

Though there are more opportunities for graduate study in children’s literature now, many of us in the field are autodidacts. Appropriate, perhaps, that the book that inspired me to take children’s literature seriously was written by two non-experts: Judith and Neil Morgan’s Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel: A Biography (1995). Before reading it, I hadn’t known that Dr. Seuss was a political cartoonist.  Or that, during World War II, he’d worked with Chuck Jones on the Private SNAFU cartoons.  Fascinating stuff.

The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity: Small Incisive ShocksMy move into children’s literature began by chance, but became pragmatic. The Seuss chapter was the only part of the dissertation on children’s literature. The book version, The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity: Small Incisive Shocks (2002), included a second children’s lit chapter (on Chris Van Allsburg). The other chapters were on (mostly) American literature and music for grown-ups: Nathanael West, Djuna Barnes, Donald Barthelme, Don DeLillo, Laurie Anderson, Leonard Cohen.  When I got the degree, I thought I was a twentieth-century Americanist.

But I couldn’t get the time of day as a twentieth-century Americanist, much less an MLA interview.  So, I reasoned, if I market myself as both a twentieth-century Americanist and a Children’s Lit specialist, then I ought to increase my odds of finding that elusive academic gig. This decision to publish and present in both fields seemed to help. Two years after receiving the degree, I had my first MLA interviews: two in children’s literature, and one for teaching with technology (I’ve had a website since 1997). Though I then only had one refereed article on children’s literature (“Dada Knows Best”), that piece plus two other under-consideration children’s literature essays — one a new Seuss essay, and the other on Crockett Johnson — proved persuasive enough to get me one campus visit. I used the Crockett Johnson piece for the job talk, and spoke of my plan to write a biography of Johnson. The combination of my slender publication record, plans for future projects — coupled, of course, with a native ability to bluff — worked. During that hiring cycle (1999-2000), I finally landed a tenure-track job … at the university where I still teach today.

For a time, I thought I would remain active in both fields.  But, as the chart below indicates, it proved impossible to keep up in both children’s literature and twentieth-century/contemporary American literature.

Gratuitous Chart of Philip Nel's Scholarly Work in Its First Decade

Books written or edited by Philip Nel, as of 2011

I taught my last “20th-Century American” class (a seminar on Don DeLillo) in 2001.  Although I continue to venture beyond books for young readers, first and foremost I am a scholar of children’s literature.

It’s taken some time for me to become comfortable making such a claim. I am a scholar of children’s literature, but I am also keenly aware of how much I don’t know about children’s literature.  On the one hand, this can be a source of anxiety (Aaah! I’m unqualified!). On the other, it can be a source of inspiration (Hooray! So much to discover!). Though I’m more inspired than anxious, one hazard of autodidacticism is acute consciousness of one’s status as disciplinary outsider.  Since I never studied it formally, I’m not always sure what I should have mastered by now; since the field is so vast, I know I’ll never master it all.

Happily, one benefit of graduate school is learning how to learn.  So, I read the relevant scholarly books and articles, regularly attend the children’s literature conferences,3 and read lots of children’s books — which, after all, is the reason I chose this line of work in the first place.


1. Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime,” Remain in Light (Sire/Warner Bros., 1980).

2. The conference: Second Biennial Conference on Modern Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature, Nashville, TN, 11 April 1997.  The publication: Children’s Literature 27 (1999): 150-184.

3. I go to the Children’s Literature Association, and the International Research Society for Children’s Literature.  The former is the big North American one (ChLA is international, but most members are from the U.S. or Canada); the latter is the big international one.  There are others, of course — regional ones, and ones that develop from other disciplines, such as Library Science or Education.  So, look around and find the ones that intrigue you the most.


Note: You can also read this essay on the Children’s Literature Association’s “Scholarly Resources” page — scroll down to “Pursuing a Degree in Children’s Literature” (the items are in alphabetical order).  There, you will also find a great autobiographical essay by Marah Gubar.  Its title? “All That David Copperfield Kind of Crap.”  Check it out!

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How to Write a Book

Since I’m an English professor and this advice derives from my experience, the following will be more pertinent to writers of non-fiction than it will to writers of fiction.  For good advice on fiction (and on writing in general), please read Elmore Leonard’s “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.”

1. There is no one foolproof way to write a book.  The main thing you need to do is write.

2. Write the book you’d like to read.

3. If this is a scholarly book, figure out what questions you want to answer, and then draw upon whichever critical methodologies will help you answer them.  To put this another way, I align myself with no one critical approach: the questions I’m asking determine the approach I use.  For a pair of essays on Don DeLillo and gender, I took a feminist approach, but for “Don DeLillo’s Return to Form: The Modernist Poetics of The Body Artist” (Contemporary Literature, 2001) I was an old-school formalist — heavily influenced by Arthur Saltzman’s This Mad Instead: Governing Metaphors in Contemporary American Fiction. For “Horton Hears a Heil!” (the second chapter of Dr. Seuss: American Icon), I was very historicist, but for that book’s fifth chapter, I was more eclectic, more cultural studies.  Experiment until you find what method works, and then be practical — deploy approaches best-suited to your questions.
Books written or edited by Philip Nel, as of 2011

4. Write regularly. Sometimes you write 50 pages to get 10 good ones, but other times you write 10 pages to get 10 good ones.  Once you have text, you can revise, reshape, edit, and so on.  But you need the text first.

5. When I’m writing a book, I often think in terms of writing chapters.  When I’m writing a chapter, I often think in terms of writing individual paragraphs.  When I’m writing paragraphs, I just focus on the sentences.  In other words: take this one step at a time.  Sentences become paragraphs, paragraphs become chapters, chapters add up to form a book.  You’ll get there.  Just keep writing.

6. Write in whatever order makes sense to you.  For academic books, I often write the sections out of order — I write the pieces of the larger work as they grab my attention.  Later, I figure out their sequence in the book, and revise accordingly.  This method works well because I tend to think of each chapter as a stand-alone essay that explores one facet of the larger question or questions.  When writing a narrative, as I did for the biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss (forthcoming June 2012), I worked mostly in chronological order.  But only mostly.  I had written versions of later pieces (such as 1950-1955) earlier in the process.  I also wove in other information as I found it, and trimmed sections that went on for too long.

7. Write in whatever medium makes sense to you at that moment.  I do most of my writing on a computer.  However, when I’ve been stuck, I’ve also written longhand.  And I’ve jotted down ideas and sentences on scraps of paper, post-it notes, concert programmes, even the iPhone’s “Notes” app.

8. Write whenever you can.  If you can set aside a specific time each day, that’s ideal.  Some people work best in the mornings, others in the evenings.  If you can’t set a precise daily routine, then just grab pieces of time where you find them — an hour here, 15 minutes there, and so on. (Since I can’t set a daily routine, this is what I do.) The main thing is to write regularly — preferably every day.

9. Read good writers, and then aspire to write as well as they do.  From reading other writers, I learn about style, narrative structure, sentence structure, ways of thinking, and … everything.  Mike Davis‘s City of Quartz taught me how to structure The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity.  Aiming for accessible but smart literary criticism, I wrote Dr. Seuss: American Icon under the influence of The New Yorker — especially Anthony Lane and Adam GopnikGil Rodman‘s Elvis After Elvis: The Posthumous Career of a Living Legend helped me figure out how to write Chapter 6 (on Seuss’s legacy) of that book.  Many, many books have influenced the biography of Johnson and Krauss: Louis Menand‘s The Metaphysical Club helped me figure out how and why to launch a confident digression into contextual material, Carol Sklenicka‘s Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life taught me how to create character, and many writers taught me the importance of ending a chapter on something suggestive.  Most of these books have little or nothing to do with the subjects of my book.  I saw them solving problems that I was having, and then borrowed or adapted their solutions for my work.

10. Save to help you delete. Worried about “killing your darlings”? Don’t fret. Just save the current manuscript with yesterday’s date, and then close that document.  Open up the manuscript again, give it a new file name, and — knowing that you have a copy of all of those “darlings” — be ruthless.  Cut, reword, restructure.  It’s much easier to do what needs to be done if you already have a backup copy.  I do this often, and rarely do I re-open the older versions.  But knowing that they’re there helps me move forward.

William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style, Third Edition (1979)11. The two most important things I learned from Strunk and White’s Elements of Style (Third Ed., 1979) are: 1. “Omit needless words.”  2. “Write with nouns and verbs.”  When I’m writing or editing, I apply these rules all the time.

Explaining the first point, Strunk and White state, “Vigorous writing is concise.  A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.  This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell” (23).  (Neither Strunk nor White believed in gender-inclusive pronouns: so, please edit the preceding pronouns according to your taste.)  Elaborating on the second point, they tell us: “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs.  The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place” (71).  Though careful “not to disparage adjectives and adverbs,” they argue that, in general, “it is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give to good writing its toughness and color” (72).

12. “Writer’s block” is a myth.  If one part of your book is giving you trouble, then write another part.  Or get up, take a walk, and come back to the troubling bit.  Or write about the trouble you’re having.  Or write through the trouble.  But keep going.

13. To those who say “I don’t know that I have the time or energy to write a book,” I’d respond: “If you really believe that, then you don’t and you won’t.  But if writing this book is important to you, you’ll find the time and summon the energy.”  Of course, if writing the book isn’t that important to you, that’s OK, too. Writing a book is a lot of work, and there may well be more pleasant ways for you to spend your time.

14. Finally, if any of the preceding methods do not work for you, then ignore them.  Write in whatever way or ways you find most effective.  Realize that what works may vary from project to project, and even from day to day.  As I said at the outset, there is no one foolproof way to write a book.  Mostly, what you have to do is… keep writing.

Related posts from Nine Kinds of Pie:

Recently finished a dissertation and want to transform it into a book?  Begin by reading this excerpt from William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book (Princeton UP, 2005).  Then, read the rest of the book.

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Introvert Impersonates Extrovert

Comedy and Tragedy MasksYou might think that, with a job like mine, I’d be an extrovert.  I’ve taught thousands of students.  I’ve given dozens of invited talks.  I’ve done a hundred or so radio interviews, and have even appeared on TV a few times.

But I don’t come by extroversion naturally.  It’s something I’ve learned to perform, a role I play, a character I impersonate.  I’ve become so adept at this impersonation that, on those rare occasions when I’ve mentioned my native shyness, the general response has been disbelief.

It’s taken me a while to get here, though.  It began, as many things do, in adolescence.

As a sixteen-year-old, I happened into a minor role — the Second Dead Man in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.  The director, Terrence Ortwein, was my teacher for a “Theater 101” class.  The student originally playing that role got expelled, and Mr. Ortwein asked me if I would undertake it.  I agreed, memorized the part, and began to attend rehearsals, where I became an extra in other scenes.  Though it was a bit nerve-wracking to be on stage, I also found that… I could do it.  I went on to have minor roles in Spoon River AnthologyGrease, Oliver, and Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. I lacked the confidence (and, no doubt, the ability) to land a major part, but I was glad to be a member of each cast.

I have no idea why Mr. Ortwein thought I could do it.  Perhaps he thought it would be good for me?

It was good for me.  Acting allowed me to a glimpse a different self.  It taught me that I could discard the script I had been using and try a new one.  When I set off for college, I decided that my tendency towards introversion was unhealthy.  Thus, I would deliberately cast myself in roles that required me to interact with others.  As a freshman, I ran for dorm council president … and won.  I also applied to become a Resident Advisor, and became one of two sophomore RAs the following year — a job I held through my senior year.  I joined the Arts Committee (a student group), and became president of it for a year, too.

In each case, I figured that the job would force me to rise to the occasion.  It did.  Inhabiting these new roles wasn’t easy: I had no leadership experience whatsoever.  But I managed.  Though this seems silly to me now, for each of those dorm council meetings, I would print up and then photocopy an agenda.  Having an agenda gave me a script.  It helped me to perform.

Learning to teach was much harder.  I say “was,” but I should probably say “has been” because it’s something I’m still learning to do.  (And I hope I’m getting better at it!)  Teaching was and is harder because it can’t all be acting.  It also has to be you.  You have to develop a teaching persona that’s a version of yourself — the classroom version.

René Magritte, The Son of Man (1964). Restored by Shimon D. Yanowitz, 2009.I’m sharing this personal narrative because I sense that many “book people” — in which I include academics, librarians, writers, artists — are introverted, or at least tend in that direction.  Yet, as Morrissey sings in the Smiths’ “Ask,” “Shyness is nice, but shyness can stop you / from doing all the things in life you’d like to.”  So, many of us bookish folks have learned to perform a more extroverted version of ourselves.  Indeed, we might even create such a successful “confident” persona that most people would be surprised to learn that they’re talking to a naturally shy person.

One of the most liberating things I learned in college was that, although psychologists study personality, it’s nearly impossible to prove that such a thing as “personality” exists at all.  This insight affirmed my sense of the self as malleable: you may feel shy or insecure, but you don’t always have to be that way.  You can change.

Years of acting have changed my personality.  I’ve become more extroverted.  I enjoy socializing.  I like giving talks.  But I’m also glad when the talk finishes, the party’s over, and I can go home again.

Images: Comedy and Tragedy masks (from FanPop!); René Magritte, The Son of Man (1964).
Explanation for the Images: The first is obvious.  The above piece discusses theatre, after all.  The second — the Magritte painting — is here because it’s a self-portrait in which the artist has hidden his face, which is also a motif of this narrative.

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How to Find Good Children’s Books

Children's Book Week Poster, 2009.  By Ian Falconer.I’m thinking, in particular, about how to find the good new ones, from among the many thousands of children’s books that appear each year.  This is a question I’m often asked, but it’s a question of particular interest to my Literature for Children classes right now, since their third paper requires them to find a “new” book (published in the last ten years) that’s different than the childhood favorite they’ve already written about.  So, here are some tips for them — and for all of you.

Awards.  Some good books win awards.

But plenty of good books do not win awards.  So, you need to look elsewhere, too — and not only at the runners-up for these awards.

Mock Caldecott.  All around the U.S. each fall, local libraries hold Mock Caldecott Awards, in which they bring in that year’s crop of U.S. picture books, invite anyone who’s interested to peruse them and vote on their favorites.  Here are the results for the one we did at the Manhattan (Kansas) public library this past fall (2010).

Your local public library.  See what’s new in the Children’s Section, Young Adult section, Graphic Novels section.  Often, the new works are on display.  If you have more specific questions, you might consult the children’s librarian or librarians.  Children’s librarians keep abreast of what’s new and nifty.

Children’s Literature blogs.  It will not surprise you to learn that many of these are run by librarians.

And, yes, there are many other excellent blogs.  Do feel free to recommend your favorites below.

Bookstores.  Preferably, independent children’s bookstores.  But, really, any bookstore.  Just go to the children’s section and look at the books.  You don’t have to buy anything.  Make notes on the books you like, and seek them at your local library, or perhaps return and buy them at a later date.

CHILD_LIT listserv, maintained by Michael Joseph (Rare Books Librarian, Rutgers).  Members of the listserv include librarians, teachers (from grade school to university), graduate students (and a few undergraduates), authors, illustrators, and anyone with an interest in children’s literature.

Stay curious.  Wherever you go, keep your eyes and ears open for good books.  Read publications devoted to children’s literature, like The Horn Book, and Kirkus Reviews of children’s books.  Talk with children’s book fans of all ages.

If you have other tips to add, please post in the comments below.  Thank you!

Image credit: poster for Children’s Book Week 2009 created by Ian Falconer.
For helping me expand this resource, my thanks to: Julie Walker DanielsonMaria Nikolajeva, Monica EdingerJudith RidgeDebbie Reese, and Ali B.

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Meritocracy in Academia: A Useful Myth?

Sisyphus signI’ve previously blogged about enhancing production as a way to develop a more robust CV, and have suggested that publishing well and widely may (for instance) increase one’s odds on the job market.  Both imply that academia is a meritocracy.  It isn’t.  But meritocracy can be a useful myth.  Please note: that’s can be, not is.

A friend (who has asked to remain anonymous) and I have been talking about this over email. Friend argues that increased productivity does not in fact increase one’s odds on the job market. Although I disagree, I do think Friend is correct to note that many other factors (over which the job candidate may have no control or may be unable to anticipate) play an important role, too.  To name one personal example, one of my MLA interviews (in 1999) led to a campus visit, which in turn led to my coming in second place for the job. First-place candidate turned it down, and the job went to me. That’s luck! However, it’s also not entirely luck: having the publications helped me get to second place. To name another personal example, I later learned that my ability to create a website was one thing that attracted the department — this wasn’t something I anticipated, but for a department that does all its own web work, web ability turned out (in 1999-2000) to be a marketable skill. And so on.

But, as I’ve noted elsewhere on this blog, publishing is the currency of academe, and we get to print our own money: If you publish more, you increase your cultural capital (within academia).  Please understand that I am not arguing that the system should work this way. I think that young scholars should have more time to develop; the rush to publication may create more scholarship, but it does not necessarily create better scholarship.  Furthermore, I’m troubled by academia’s failure to reward teaching and service in the same ways that it rewards research.  All three are equally important.  That said, though I take my three obligations equally seriously, I also know that research is valued more — and thus I tend to work overtime so that I can invest a little extra in research. If I cannot change the system, then at least I can figure out how to succeed within its terms, right?

Well, it’s not that simple.  In allowing the system to guide my professional choices, I in fact help to sustain those very features that I criticize.  By gaining from a system of which I disapprove, my actions uphold that system’s assumptions — that industry and productivity provide a path to success for all.  Friend summarizes the paradox nicely:

in another context, Lauren Berlant has argued for the necessity of sentimentalism as a means of survival, even as it reinforces the structures of oppression that make survival difficult. In the context of the job market, meritocracy is one such sentimentalism.

In other words, the belief that hard work will eventually lead to success encourages academics to undertake lots of unpaid labor … which helps keep academe running, but may not necessarily help Ph.Ds to land that elusive tenure-track gig.  As Friend points out, the excellent scholarship being done by those beyond the tenure track refutes the idea that academe is a meritocratic system (if it were, then all adjuncts and post-docs doing great work would swiftly find good jobs on the tenure track).

So.  What should an aspiring academic do?

  1. Focus on what you can control.  Having been on hiring committees, I know that publishing does set you apart from other job candidates.  Friend disagrees with me on this point, but I believe publishing more does increase your odds — and this is the sense in which meritocracy is a useful myth.
  2. You have to act as if your actions will have an effect, even though you know full well that they may not. On the one hand, you sustain some level of belief in the meritocratic fantasy, and on the other, you acknowledge that, at most, all you’re doing is improving your odds. In other words, maintain a kind pessimistic optimism (or optimistic pessimism?), in which the “optimist” portion is always 51% or greater.
  3. But Friend has the best advice here. The best reason to be productive is that you believe in your ideas, and recognize that you’re doing real work in the world. This is a much healthier approach than “productivity increases your odds.”  The satisfaction of doing good work that you believe in is a more spiritually sound way of living.  If you’re only trying to expand the CV, then the focus is too much on the production and not on the reasons you do the work in the first place.

Finally, I should say that I do not find my answers to be wholly satisfactory. So, as always, do feel free to critique them, and — better — provide stronger answers of your own.

More posts on academia from Nine Kinds of Pie (this blog):

 

Image source: Michelle Kerns’ “Hilarious yet Heartbreaking: The Reviewerspeak Awards for May 2010.”

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Get on that pig, and hold on tight.

Baby Monkey (Going Backwards On A Pig).  Artwork by Nathan Mazur.With a hectic new semester about to begin (or, for many of us, already begun) and our new governor’s proposed assault on some of Kansas’ most vulnerable citizens, let us seek solace — and inspiration — in the verse of our greatest living YouTube poet, Parry Gripp.  As he counsels, when

The world has gone insane

and you don’t know what is right,

you got to keep on keepin’ on:

get on that pig, and hold on tight.

This of course is excellent advice for that baby monkey riding backwards (below).

It’s also sound advice for the rest of us.  The world does have a tendency to go “insane,” as Mr. Gripp suggests.  But we must not lose our grip (ha!).  We must “get on that pig, and hold on tight.”

Gripp‘s tunes offer insight into many other predicaments.  If you visit his website, you will also find hummable wisdom on the benefits of oatmeal (in your face, cholesterol!), the dangers of excessive self-Googling, and of course the versatility of our good friend the hamster.

In case you’re curious how a baby monkey came to be riding backwards on a boar, this wasn’t staged.  Both animals were orphaned, and live in the same zoo (in Japan, I think).  The zoo staff introduced them to one another, and they bonded.  Here’s the video clip that inspired Gripp’s song and video:

As aficionados of Gripp know, the “Baby Monkey” song made its debut in September 2010 (not incidentally, also the beginning of a semester).  And he posts a new song on his site every week.  So, check there or follow him on Twitter.

But, come what may, don’t let go of that pig!

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How to Publish Your Article

The sequel (or prequel?) to “How to Publish Your Book,” here’s something else they don’t always teach you in graduate school.  As in that earlier post, this is what has worked for me.  Results may vary.

Please note: the advice below derives from my experience as an English professor who specializes in children’s literature.  This advice will be most applicable to those in English/Modern Languages and, more generally, the Humanities.  If you’re working within a different discipline, then please consult someone in that field.

1. How do I know when my article is ready to send out?

GlassesThe short answer is when it’s in the best possible shape it can be in.

The longer answer is if you’re not sure what that shape looks like, then seek help.  If you’re an assistant professor or adjunct, then seek help from a colleague — at your current or former institution — or from a colleague you’ve met at a conference.  If you’re a graduate student, ask a professor.  Or ask a graduate student who’s already published something.  Have people whose advice you trust — and whose writing you admire — critique the article.  What works?  What doesn’t?  What isn’t clear?  But don’t revise endlessly: Set yourself a deadline for revising it, make the essay as tightly focused and as clearly written as you can, and then send it out.

2. Where do I send my article?

ChLAQ 35.4 (Winter 2010) cover: Winter and Ford's BarackWhat journals cover the subject of your article?  If you’re not sure, you might look at the journals you consulted during your research.  You might also seek advice from someone else in the field — if you’re a graduate student, then perhaps from a professor.  After you’ve a list of possibilities, read some articles in each journal and think about which would be the best fit.  In the field of children’s literature, some journals you might consider include: Children’s Literature, The Lion and the Unicorn, The Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Children’s Literature in Education, The New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship, and Jeunesse (formerly Canadian Children’s Literature).  That’s by no means an exhaustive list.  For a more complete (if decade-old) list, see Wally Hastings and Michael Joseph’s page of Journals that publish articles on children’s literature theory and criticism.

Two other general principles:

  1. Aim high and then settle.  That is, if you think the article can be published in the top journal in your field, then send it there first.  If that journal doesn’t like it, its editors will let you know.  And you can move on to the next one.
  2. Publish widely and well. If this is your second (or third, fourth, etc.) article, consider sending it to a different journal.  It’s a-OK to publish more than one piece in the same journal (especially if it’s a good one), but publishing in more than one place (especially good ones) shows that your work has been approved by multiple venues.

3. What does a cover letter look like?

Nearly all submissions happen on-line, so this is probably a cover email rather than a cover letter.  Here’s my most recent one, sent to American Quarterly on 2 August 2010:

Dear Editors,

I am attaching “Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: Seuss and Race in the 1950s.”  I’m also attaching a document containing images.  I’ve read your guidelines concerning images, and — should the article meet the needs of American Quarterly — I will (of course) send hi-res scans and obtain all necessary permissions.

Should you have any questions about the manuscript (or the images), please don’t hesitate to contact me.  Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

Philip Nel

[followed by full contact info.]

As you can see, the letter is brief and to the point.

4. The journal’s guidelines ask for Chicago citation style. I’ve used MLA style. Do I have to re-format my article?

Yes.  Follow all of the journal’s guidelines, including suggested page length.  It’s not that hard to switch from MLA to Chicago, or Chicago to MLA, or any of the other styles.  It may not be especially exciting work, but it’s simple enough.  Do it.  And you may as well save a copy in your original citation format — just so you have it.

 

5. I’ve sent it in.  Now what?

First, the journal should acknowledge receipt of your work.  Generally, this happens within a week, perhaps even within a few days.  If a month passes or even a couple of weeks pass without acknowledgment, then follow up.  If more time than that passes, then follow up again.  If you reach six weeks or so and there’s not yet been any acknowledgment, then write again, politely informing the journal that you have decided to submit your article elsewhere.  Each time you correspond, you should include the record of your correspondence — easiest way to do this (in email) is by simply forwarding the earlier one each time, and appending your latest query to the top of the message.

You can, of course, wait longer than six weeks.  Perhaps it’s a very prestigious journal, and you feel it’s worth the wait.  That’s up to you.  But the essay is your intellectual property, and it deserves to be treated with respect.

 

6. When should I expect to hear from the journal?

American Quarterly 62.3Three to four months after it sends your article out for review.  Some journals take longer, and some are more swift.  On the longer side, American Quarterly now takes 6-8 months just to decide whether to send out the article to reviewers.  On the shorter side, the editor of a special issue is most likely to offer the most prompt response.  Indeed, the fastest way to get published in a journal is through a special issue: it allows you to bypass the journal’s backlog of unpublished articles.

If three months pass, and you’ve not yet heard from the journal, then follow up.  Be polite and brief.

Dear [person at journal],

With apologies for bothering you at a busy time of the term, I thought I would follow up.  Have you any sense of when we might receive readers’ reports on my manuscript?

Thanks in advance for any information you may have.

Best regards,

[your name, contact info., etc.]

The journal will then follow up with the reader(s).  As a reader myself, I find these follow-up emails very helpful.  I get overwhelmed with work, and I use urgency to bump this task up my to-do list.  So, when I get a “where is the reader’s report?” email, I get right on it.

Two related points:

  1. You can withdraw your article. Depending on how tardy the response, you might decide to withdraw your article from consideration.  When?  That depends on how prestigious the journal is and how long you’re willing to wait.  It’s reasonable to expect readers’ reports within three to six months time.  This is your intellectual labor: if the journal isn’t treating it (and thus you) with sufficient respect, then take your submission elsewhere.
  2. One journal at a time. Very important: you must withdraw the article from consideration at Tardy Journal before submitting it to another journal.  You’re not allowed to have the same article under consideration at more than one place.

In case you’re curious: yes, I have withdrawn work and submitted it elsewhere.  In one case, I withdrew work from a proposed essay collection (the editors of which were not responding as swiftly as I’d liked) and submitted it to a journal’s special issue — where, in short order, the essay was published.

So.  Be proactive!

7. I heard back from the journal!  What do I do now?

That all depends on the response.  There are four possible ones.

  1. Accepted.  In this case, express your delight to the editor, make the (presumably minor) editorial and typographical changes you need to make, and do whatever you need to do to prepare the piece for publication.  For example, are there images you wish to include?  If so, start seeking permissions immediately — image permissions can take months to obtain.  And, of course, update the entry on your CV to indicate “Forthcoming,” along with the article’s page length in manuscript form.  And pat yourself on the back.
  2. Accepted with revisions.  Make the revisions.  Cede the point when you can, and hold your ground when you need to.  But do your best to address the readers’ concerns.  Accept the helpful advice with gratitude and respond graciously to the less helpful ones.  Important: Respond onlyto the content and never to the tone.  Sometimes, a reader’s report can be snarky or sarcastic or even cruel.  This isn’t the norm, but it does happen.  In those cases, remember that your objective is to publish this article.  Viewing an obnoxious reader’s report as an invitation to verbal sparring may be emotionally satisfying for you, but it will not help you achieve your objective.  So: don’t go there.  Be professional.  If you’re worried about your tone, have a friend or colleague read your note before sending.
    • As you make revisions or after you complete them, you might consider creating a separate document in which you sketch a map of your changes.  You don’t have to do this, and it may be that the cover letter will provide you enough space to indicate where changes have been made.  But one thing I’ve done (though I do it much more rarely now than I used to) is indicate how I specifically responded to the reader’s suggestions by pointing out where, in my article, I made the changes.
  3. Revise and resubmit.  If you get this response, you have two choices.  If you feel that the reviewer is completely missing the point, then perhaps this isn’t the journal for you.  Thank the editor, withdraw your piece and submit it elsewhere.  More often than not, though, I’d advise you to pursue the other choice — revise and resubmit.  If the reader has suggested that you revise and resubmit, then he or she sees some potential in your work… but your piece is just not yet where it needs to be.  You will likely have to do some fairly extensive revisions — rewriting sections, throwing parts out, creating new parts.  But you’ll learn something and, in the process, will improve your essay.  See the “Accepted with revisions” guidelines above.
  4. Reject.  Three choices.  If you think the journal is wrong, then send the piece out to a different journal.  Or, first, make a few revisions and then send the piece out a different venue.  The first journal to which I sent “‘Said a Bird in the Midst of a Blitz…’: How World War II Created Dr. Seuss” rejected it — and took its time in doing so.  I then sent the piece to Mosaic, where it appeared in a special issue.  If the essay is important to you, your second option is to revise the piece and then submit it again — either to this journal or to another.  The third option is to put it aside for now.  Work on something else.  Perhaps, in time, you’ll return to this piece, and be able to salvage what’s salvageable.  Perhaps you won’t.  But don’t fret too much about one article.  You’ll write others.  The main thing is that you learn why this one isn’t working so that you don’t repeat those mistakes in other essays.

8. How much do journals pay you?

In the Humanities, they don’t.  If your work appears in an edited collection, then you should expect to receive a copy of the book.  Again, though, getting paid for contributing is rare.  If you’re writing an essay for a reference work, you’re likely to get paid but not get a copy of the book.  That depends: sometimes I’ve been paid for those, and other times I just get a copy of the book.  And “payment” is fairly loosely defined.  “Payment” can be a certain $ amount of books from the publisher’s catalogue.

9. When will it appear in the journal?

As indicated above, if it’s in a special issue, then quite soon — as soon as a couple of months.  But that’s the best-case scenario.  More likely, your essay will not appear for at least a year.  If the journal has a backlog of accepted essays, you may wait for several years.  You can still mark the piece as “Forthcoming” on your CV, of course.

10. Geez.  That seems like a lot of work just to get something published.

Yes, it does.  But, as is the case with many things, the more you do it, the better you get at it.  If this is something you want to achieve, then persist. To quote the Desmond Dekker song, “You can get it if you really want, but you must try, try and try, try and try… you’ll succeed at last.”

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