This is the final installment of the How NOT TO Write Your Second Book roundtable. Catherine E. Kelly is a Professor of History at the University of Oklahoma and editor of the Journal of the Early Republic. Her books include In the New England Fashion: Reshaping Women’s Lives in the Nineteenth Century (Cornell UP) and Republic of Taste: Art, Politics, and Everyday Life in Early America (UPenn Press).
Let me begin with a cautionary tale:
I had just returned to the University of Oklahoma after an extended research trip for the project that would eventually become my second book, Republic of Taste. I was a very recent hire; I’d only been on campus for a semester before leaving to spend six months back east, including a four-month fellowship at Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. My Chair invited me to his office to tell him how the trip had gone and what I had to show for it. Continue reading →
We are pleased to have yet another excellent contribution to our “How NOT To Write Your Second Book” Roundtable. Tamara Plakins Thornton is professor of history at the State University of New York, Buffalo, and the author of Cultivating Gentlemen: The Meaning of Country Life among the Boston Elite, 1785-1860 (1989), Handwriting in America: A Cultural History (1996), and Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers: How a Nineteenth-Century Man of Business, Science, and the Sea Changed American Life (2016).
And Now for Something Completely Different
Remember this old chestnut? “A fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing.” It applies to historians too, and you’ll probably find out which one you are when you turn to your second book project. Building on your first book, making a new contribution to that historiographical conversation? Hedgehog. Or are you drawn to a topic pretty much unrelated to your earlier work? Fox. Make no mistake. Neither is smarter, more original or creative, or produces more important scholarship. But their experiences do differ. Let me share a fox’s perspective on the risks and rewards to your scholarship, intellectual development, and professional standing if you follow your nose into brand-new territory.
Continuing our roundtable “How NOT To Write Your Second Book,” Timothy Mennel, an executive editor of University of Chicago Press, looks at how the second book differs from the first.
Tell me if this sounds familiar, either for yourself or for scholars you know: “So my plan is to complete my dissertation by next May. After that, I’ll be on the market. I’ll take whatever job I can, but my focus is going to be on getting a book contract from a university press, speeding through the peer review process, and getting the leverage I need to move to an R1. And then I can start my real work. The second book is where I’ll do what I really want to. And it will be trade. I’m tired of writing just for SHEAR.”
Now, what happens, of course, is that the dissertation takes three years to finish, the job market is worse than anyone could have imagined, the peer-review process is brutal, but the book does finally come out. And no matter what else has happened—that dream of doing what you really want to, which often is framed as writing that second book as a trade book, lives on. Continue reading →
As an agent and historian, I’m here to explain the process of finding an agent. Don’t worry—you can do this!
Before you initiate contact with agents, you need to collect the materials that an agent will likely request. If you’ve written a novel, you need to have the manuscript completely finished. Many agents will also want to read a synopsis of the novel. On the other hand, if you’ve written a work of non-fiction, all you’ll need are a book proposal and the first three chapters. The book proposal will compare your book to other books in the field, explain your plans for marketing the book, and outline the full manuscript. (You might consider writing a proposal for your novel, too—it never hurts to have a well-thought-out plan for publicizing your book.)Continue reading →
In summer 2010 I sat in the house furnished by Rhys Isaac in Colonial Williamsburg, and attempted to write my first dissertation chapter. I’d just finished my first research trip, to Library and Archives Canada, in Ottawa, and was in the middle of my second, at the John D. Rockefeller Library. I was trying to follow advice I’d read to write as I researched. There was no Wi-Fi in the house, which was a curse and a blessing. I couldn’t get distracted, but I also did not have instantaneous access to articles and books, which meant I couldn’t check basic facts and chronologies, which, turns out, tend to be missing from your research! Continue reading →
Historian Thomas Kidd recently published some suggestions on the dos and don’ts of promoting your academic book. His recommendations, which included suggestions of not joining social media just for the purpose of promoting your book was good. My aim here is not to repudiate Kidd, but rather to add my own thoughts. Since the content of The Junto is written primarily by early career scholars, I thought I might also contribute some points that may be self-evident to more senior historians, but perhaps less obvious to those who are newer to the field. This advice is also mainly geared towards those who publish with academic presses. Trade publishers function differently.
Consider the sixth-grader of 1907. Gertrude F. Greene’s syllabus passed over Plato, sidelined Scottish ballads, and resisted the Alaskan derring-do of The Fur-Seal’s Tooth. At the top of her reading list—first to devour on a snowy winter break from the old Belcher School—she ranked Francis Parkman’s Oregon Trail (1849). In under a century, Parkman had gone from cliffhanger to canon. Why? What might students learn from a 23-year-old romantic historian’s rambles in the Indian country of 1846? Glints of Parkman’s early artistry shone through, but only when you shook up the story a bit. His sketch of life with the Oglala Sioux melded ethnography and emotion, sense and sensation. His Oregon Trail had been greatly curated, edited, and revised in the retelling. And yet Ms. Greene’s sixth-graders missed out on the juicier bits. What Parkman saw (“a strange variety of characters”), what Parkman heard (“harsh and guttaral” dialects), and what Parkman ate (buffalo, fish, dog) on the road filled his private journals, first made available to readers in the 1940s. There, stashed away in the “no-filter” notebooks that Parkman used to piece together his first blockbuster, lay the real adventure. Continue reading →