Someone asked me recently about my experience of publishing my book, and as I started thinking about it I realised that I’d never really put it on the page. Looking back over emails, I sketched out a timeline of the publishing process in the hope that it might be useful for anyone curious about how this works.
I was very privileged to enjoy a smooth, helpful and supportive publishing experience, and would recommend Manchester University Press (MUP) to anyone. Obviously I have little comparison, but colleagues have told me that the process I outlined was extremely efficient and pretty quick (for a fully peer-reviewed, 280 page book). With that in mind, this is only a reflection of my experience, and not intended to be any sort of prescriptive guide or ‘how to’. I’ll leave those sorts of things to folk far more experienced than I!
My book, Terror and terroir: the winegrowers of the Languedoc and modern France, is out now, and I’m excited for people to start reading it. The book came out of my doctoral thesis, and I did quite a bit of work re-writing sections of the manuscript to make it more readable, and also to translate all quotes into English. I re-framed the introduction and conclusion, though left the structure of the book pretty much as the thesis had been. I tried to cut down on technical language a bit, and also tried to make things feel generally less like a thesis. I trimmed the dullest sections, and tried to consistently make clear whenever there was broader relevance. One of the biggest comments on the thesis was that it needed to be ‘bigger picture’ and not so laser focused on the South. I tried to take that on board by reflecting more meaningfully on France and Europe at various points. By way of example, I changed the start of chapter 3 quite a lot, building in a lot more reference to the Algerian war, and trying to stress the intersections between the global and the local. This was pretty much my approach throughout, and it has inspired my current book project, which is developing out of this effort.
My thesis was 111,170 words long, and the book typescript from Dec 14 was 103,174 words. I think I’d cut about 40k from the original thesis (perhaps more) and did a real whack of rewriting, so there was a pretty significant change. For my employment context, I had two successive 10 month Teaching Fellowships at UCL (for 0.6FTE during the years 2013/14, and 2014/15). I topped these up with other forms of employment (as I’ve spoken about elsewhere on my blog). At the end of the 14/15 year, I was lucky enough to secure a 3 year full time Teaching Fellow post at UCL, where I’m currently working. It was an increased teaching load, but it was also some stability.
MUP was the first place that I sent it. I contacted the Series Editors first to enquire informally, and they encouraged me to submit a proposal. One thing to note was that the Series Editors changed during the process. When I originally put in it was Profs Pam Pilbeam and Mark Greengrass, though it became Prof Máire Cross and David Hopkin at some point during (I think when Máire became President of the SSFH, though I can’t remember the precise date).
So, without further ado, here’s an annotated timeline of that process:
18 September 14 – I sent a book proposal sent to the Series Editors (Professors Pam Pilbeam & Mark Greengrass) of ‘Studies in Modern French History’ published by Manchester University Press. I was quite nervous, and had asked friends and colleagues for input on my proposal. Ludivine Broch was very kind and shared her book proposal (for her book Ordinary Workers, Vichy and the Occupation), which I found really inspiring as a model. At UCL, my research mentor Prof Margot Finn also looked over the proposal and gave me some priceless advice on shaping it, as did my friend Chris Jeppesen. This was a crucial part of the process for me, as it helped to get specialists on different fields to check that I wasn’t just speaking to scholars of France and that the book was moving beyond the specialism of the thesis.
I had been working on revising chapters on and off since my viva in September 2012, and used the feedback from my examiners to help shape the book manuscript. I needed 3 substantive chapters for the proposal, and when thinking about which to send, I tried to look for the ones that I thought were the most interesting and attention grabbing. Here’s the email that I sent:
Dear Professor Pilbeam and Professor Greengrass,
I write with a proposal for a book provisionally titled ‘Terror and Terroir: The Winegrowers of the Languedoc and Modern France’. It deals principally with a group of militant winegrowers from Southern France known as the Comité Régional d’Action Viticole and dubbed ‘wine terrorists’, who have not yet been the subject of a history. The book runs from the epochal wine riots of 1907 until the very contemporary past in 2007, focussing especially on the 1960s-1980s.
The book project builds upon and substantially expands doctoral research funded by the AHRC. It has been broadened to appeal to historians of regionalism, nationalism, and European integration. This book is designed to explore the way in which identity and politics in the Languedoc have been moulded by the realities of economic development, and help to broaden our understanding of France’s post-war development.
Enclosed you fill find a CV, three sample chapters, and a full proposal that outlines the details of the project. I was motivated to approach this Series because of the quality of its previous output and the excellent reputation of the Press. I feel the work of the SSFH is extremely valuable for promoting engagement with French culture and society, and that this series is an important demonstration of these principles. I think this title would be a good addition to the Studies in Modern French History Series, with an interesting and original topic that would complement existing studies.
Please do not hesitate to get in touch should you have any questions or concerns. Thank you in advance for taking the time to look through my work.
All the best,
Andrew W M Smith
3 October 14 – I received a report on my proposal from the Series Editors. If I’m totally candid, Pam Pilbeam hated what I’d done to Chapter 1, so I worked pretty feverishly on revising this and got a bit red-faced at having dropped the ball publicly. Her input was really useful to ensure that I was framing the first chapter beyond the mind-set of the thesis, and I was really pleased that she was so thorough. We spoke after the IHR Modern French History seminar about it one night, and she gave me pretty full and frank feedback in person which was nevertheless very supportive and constructive. My lasting impression was that she cared deeply that I achieved the full potential of the book, and wanted to give me the tools to do so. This helped me get my act together, and to pull the chapter together more effectively. In her email, the Editor at MUP had also attached a guide on adapting the thesis for publication, and I tried to make sure I was taking this on board as well.
16 October 14 – Having worked on what Pam had advised, I resubmitted the samples taking her report into account. My Editor at MUP looked over the samples and, with the support of the Series Editors, said she was happy to send it on to peer reviewers. I had other irons in the fire during this time, and had submitted an article on a different topic to Historical Reflections/Réflexions historiques on 22 October. I’m not sure, on reflection (pun intended), whether it was the best idea to do this at the same time as my book, but… there you go.
22 December 14 – After an anxious wait on the book proposal, in which I convinced myself that everything was going to be spectacularly rejected (including, retrospectively, my Primary School Report Cards and Driving License), I got my reviewer reports back. When the email arrived, I actually left my mouse hovering over the files for a solid minute before opening them. In the tight, claustrophobic confines of that small moment I panicked. I really was not at all sure how I’d process a roasting. Amazingly, both were really positive, and after skimming them I actually jumped up in my office and cheered. I settled down and started reading them thoroughly, making notes of what they were looking for. Both wanted a little bit of tweaking to the introduction (in order to bring out the broader context), and some more structural work in the later chapters.
20 February 15 – I was excited to have the reports to respond to, and excited to try and impress the reviewers. I worked on the manuscript pretty constantly, and then submitted a response to the reports, along with a document showing how I would address each comment specifically. I said that I was happy to stick to the submission date for a full manuscript that I’d outlined in the proposal (end of July 15). The reports for the article I was working on came back on 6 February, with a deadline for response by 15 July. There was a fair bit of work to do, so I started thinking carefully about balancing my work time.
2 March 15 – My Editor at MUP got in touch with possible contract terms, and I replied saying I was happy.
18 March 15 – My Editor let me know that my proposal was accepted at their meeting without any problems and a proper contract would be prepared.
2 June 15 – I got back in touch with my Editor to give MUP an update (all on track), clarify some things (references etc) and suggest a cover image. She was helpful and liked the cover image.
10 July 15 – I responded with some last minute queries (and a worry about being over contracted length). My Editor again sorted through my queries, and reassured me they were happy to work with me on the issue of word count until we were all happy. I tried my very best to keep cutting, rephrasing and condensing to get myself within the word count.
20 July 15 – I submitted my full manuscript (and felt pretty proud of myself for doing it ahead of schedule!). MUP again sent it out for peer review (with one of the original reviewers). Feeling like a Stakhanovite, I also resubmitted the article I’d been working on to Historical Reflections/Réflexions historiques on the same day. After a few small clarifications, that article was formally accepted on 19 August. The only downside was finding out that it wouldn’t appear until 2017! The article is called ‘African Dawn: Keïta Fodéba and the Imagining of National Culture in Guinea’, so keep your eyes peeled next year!
1 September 15 – I got a peer review report back on the full book manuscript. It was super positive and I was really pleased. There were a few bits and pieces to work on, but on the whole the manuscript was being accepted, which was *a tad* thrilling. After some loud celebration once more, I agreed re-submission by 30 September
30 September 15 – I resubmitted the full manuscript with a sense of finality. It was done!
7 December 15 – My manuscript got passed to the production department at MUP, and was managed by my Production Editor (who was again really helpful, pleasant and supportive). She said they’d work on it and get back to me with proofs.
24 Feb 16 – The production editor at MUP got back to me with a schedule for production. The schedule said that I could expect a PDF by email by 22 March, with a hard copy in the post to follow. I had to return the proofs on 15 April, when they also wanted the completed index. They then said they expected to get proofs back from the typesetter on 3 June 2016, which would be sent to me for approval. The book itself was meant to appear in September 2016.
22 March 16 – Sure enough, I got a PDF of the proofs right on schedule and started working on them immediately. It was amazing to see them formatted like a book, and it really started to feel that I was getting into the publishing process.
I had contracted an indexer to do the index for me (on someone else’s advice), but that turned out to be a bit of a disaster, so I had to do a lot of work to recover everything. She was from the Society of indexers and had good references and everything, though suffered a family bereavement. Understandably, this meant she had to step back from the commission. Unfortunately, with changing horses midstream, the index she turned over was full of errors and omissions, so I had to recheck every entry and essentially re-index the book at *extremely* short notice (I had 3 days). I had my official deadline, though I also had a more personal deadline that meant the proofs needed to be worked on pretty intensively if I was to meet MUPs deadline…
15 April 16 – In what I felt was a herculean achievement, I resubmitted my corrected proofs and also my index on time and within the deadline.
19 May 16 – After my Production Editor had thanked me on the day for submitting, my Editor at MUP confirmed that the book was scheduled to go to print in July and should arrive in August.
By way of justifying my sense of self-satisfaction, I feel I should probably outline the competing demands in what was (I think) the most stressful month of my life. After living in Putney for 7 years, my heavily pregnant wife and I moved house in anticipation of needing more space. We left a top-floor, one bedroom flat in Putney, to a roomier if eminently more suburban place out near New Malden. The move, which had been awaiting confirmation for a while, accelerated suddenly and everything had to happen on 31 March. It’s worth mentioning that Holly was due to give birth on 15 May.
Handily enough, amidst building furniture, unpacking, and helping look after a profoundly pregnant lady, I was also trying to finish off the manuscript for an Edited Volume that I was co-editing with Chris Jeppesen (look out for it in January 2017 from UCL Press!). I’ve got a chapter in the volume, and we also co-wrote the introduction and conclusion. After some very late nights, and very early mornings, we submitted the manuscript for Britain, France and the Decolonization of Africa: Future Imperfect? on 23 May. By this point, Holly was 2 weeks overdue and we were waiting on imminent yet unpredictable life-changing developments (and unpacking, and building furniture)! The night before Holly was to be induced, everything started in earnest, and my daughter Penny was born on 27 May. Both she and Holly are amazing, and I couldn’t be more proud of them. Thankfully, I had 4 weeks paternity leave to help Holly and spend some amazing, truly invaluable time with my baby daughter.
16 June 16 – I got index proofs for the book and approved them with no corrections. And now… the wait began!
8 August 16 – I’d begun to wonder when I’d get to see the book, and was characteristically impatient to see the final prodcut. While working in my office one morning, a tantalising email appeared in my inbox. I had, the Departmental Office told me, received a rather large box in the post. I jumped to conclusions and I jumped to my feet, running headlong down Gordon Square. Was it? Could it be? It was! I got a box with 6 copies of my book in the post! Celebrations and selfies began in earnest, and I phoned my wife to share the news. What a rush to see the hard copy of the book, and feel it in my hands! After all the effort of preparing it, the book felt remarkably small, but none the less satisfying for that. A bit like my baby daughter really.
19 September 16 – I started receiving congratulatory calls and emails from family that had pre-ordered a copy (more out of duty than desire, I trust). The book was finding its way into the wild! The book had been officially released!
31 October 16 – I have organised my book launch at the IHR – please come along! We’re having a round table discussion of Terror and Terroir with Professors Kathy Burk (UCL), Máire Cross (Newcastle) and Julian Jackson (QMUL).
So, there you go! The story of a significant chunk of my intellectual life tied to the publication of my book (and a few other bits and pieces). I hope that’s helpful for anyone that is thinking about publishing their academic book, and hopefully gives some clarity and detail to what can seem an intimidating and opaque process when one first starts out. This, along with teaching, is the closest I’ve ever felt to “doing history” as a professional, and having the hard copy of the book is a great anchor for my own self-confidence. That said, I’ve yet to see the reviews!