Alicia Christensen’s guide to scholarly publishing

Perhaps the greatest downside of being a writer is the worry that your work will never get recognized, largely due to the competitiveness and subjectivity of the money-driven publishing industry. This inevitable anxiety shared amongst all writers leads to a desire for direct answers on how to get one’s book published; therefore, the rare occasion when writers are granted the opportunity to speak with an insider of the publishing business can be decision, or even life, changing. UCR was lucky to have one of these opportunities on Wednesday, Feb. 10 when acquisitions editor of the University of Nebraska Press Alicia Christensen visited to reveal the “ins and outs” of scholarly publishing.

As an acquisitions editor, Christensen reviews submitted manuscripts from authors to evaluate their potential. In other words, she is the first person to determine if a proposal is worthy of being passed on to the long, sometimes endless, tunnel of the publishing process.

Christensen began by giving five tips to first-time authors. The first tip was to get your book into “conversation” with other books. Placing your book near others that are similar in purpose in publishers’ book listings will keep your work “in front of people who find it useful.” The second tip was to find a publisher you can trust and who understands the vision of your book. Christensen quipped that “you’re going to be stuck with your editor for a while, so choose wisely.”

The third tip was to look at how publishers price books, specifically the price of the book’s material. For instance, hardcover books under American studies usually range between $40 to $45. She said that the way publishers price books based on features, like the material of the book, can impact its attractiveness. The fourth tip that she offered was to look at reviews of books in your area to get insight on what your audience wants and how to make your book stand out. The last tip that Christensen gave to first-time authors was to talk to your publisher about timeline and production details. These details include how long it will take to actually print the material and how long after the release of the print version an online version be released.

After providing her five tips for first-time authors, Christensen cordially said that she didn’t want the lecture to be “super-formal,” and transitioned the lecture to an engaging Q-and-A segment.

One person asked, “Are dissertations fully fledged plans?” referring to the long essay in which writers must discuss their manuscripts. Christensen replied that a dissertation should not simply be a reiteration of the book, advising the audience to “weed out the scaffolding” in their dissertations and not be “fully fledged” in describing the material within the book. Instead, the dissertation is the author’s opportunity to speak in their own voice, so one should use the dissertation to communicate to their target audience, not the publisher’s.

Another interesting question was, “What are compelling ways to present my material?” Christensen said that the first and most important step is to remove unnecessary jargon. She said that it’s important to make your writing clear in a distilled way to make it easy for a layperson (or someone who is not experienced within that field of research) to read. Her other recommendations were to strive for clarity in the overview and summary and to establish a platform in your proposal by mentioning conferences, related activities and social media you have been involved in.

Following the conference, one woman approached Christensen and praised her for going out of her way to help potential writers, which she personally had never seen in a lecture before. Christensen modestly replied that she actually prefers it when people confront her because many are afraid to send their proposals to her. With that being said, Christensen generously provided insight into the publishing industry that could possibly lead to one of the audience members getting their work published one day.
However, perhaps the greatest piece of advice she gave was to not be afraid to actively pursue your dreams, because no “top secret” information can help you get your work published if you do not believe that you can do it in the first place.

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