Apart from running one of Christendom’s most popular blogs, Michael Bird is a widely published author. His presentation this morning is a piece of self reflection on his process from student to scholar, and the process from idea to publication. Though “A Bird’s Eye View on Paul” was not his chosen title.
Motivations for Publishing
- To disseminate research
- If you end up in an academic career publication is linked to funding. This is especially the case in the UK where universities depend on world class, brilliant, erudite publications for grants. Lots of institutions expect their faculty to be research active in their fields.
- To contribute to scholarly discussions and academic knowledge.
- To contribute resources for the wider church, to be a bridge between the academy and the church.
Bad reasons to publish
- Fame and fortune – most publishers would only be expecting to sell 300 copies of PhD dissertations. Most monograph series don’t pay royalties.
The initiative more often than not comes from the writer, not the publisher (unless you’re famous).
Origen: “A biblical scholar is like a hunter walking through a forest when a flash of movement catches their eye.”
Mike’s story: In the late 90s he read through Jesus and the Victory of God got him thinking “how did Christianity move from a fringe Jewish movement into a movement, within 50 years, that a Gentile emperor was making policy about.” Looking to explore that question became his PhD thesis.
Looking at what’s around on a topic and thinking about how to contribute to a conversation is a good start. Don’t think of your book as the definitive word on a subject. It’s a conversation that will continue after your contribution. That is how you should think about it.
How do you get this idea to the market?
Who is your audience? Academics? Students? Lay people? Once you’ve picked your audience find a publisher who will meet your audience.
If you’ve killed your academic audience through publishing journal articles then look at other audiences (possibly more lucrative too).
Bird says, on the question of when to start writing, sooner or later you’re going to have to start, so it might as well be sooner.
Preparing Your Submission
Step 1. Get ready for rejection. If you can’t handle rejection do not try to publish books.
Step 2. Write a proposal. Don’t bother with unsolicited manuscripts.
Writing a Proposal
Proposals look a little something like this:
- Short bio of yourself
- Competing volumes
- Potential endorsers
- Word Length
- Submission Date
- Sample Chapter
Getting the Proposal heard
- Meet an editor – network like crazy, meet people, schmooze. You’re incredibly unlikely to be published via an unsolicited manuscript. Your chances dramatically increase if you know the publisher. The editor has to believe in your project over and above the other projects on the table. They have to sell it to their editorial colleagues and the publishing company.
- Consider the market, ethos, values and theology of the publisher.
- Be willing to make changes. Negotiate on the size, the scope, the content, the audience… everything is on the table.
- Be prepared for it to be a long process filled with corrections, proof-reading, endorsers, indices…
Be Prepared for…
Some more things to be ready for in the process:
- A long delay waiting for a response, it’s ok to make enquiries about the status of your proposal a few months later
- Work and family commitments, your circumstances can change which will effect delivery dates.
- Editors can be brutal, there’s a difference between an academic supervisor and an editor. Supervisors want you to produce defendable work, editors want you to produce marketable work.
- Copy editors can be incompetent
- Publishers can change stuff
- Criticism in reviews
In the writing of books there is much sorrow, mainly for the authors. Bird writes because he learns the most in the publication process. Autonomous learning is the goal of any Christian scholarship. The first beneficiary of the process is yourself, but it’s good to see others. Writing is an avenue for participating in the debate, being part of the conversation, it’s fun.
How the blog interplays with books
Starting a blog was one of the best things he ever did. In the year after submitting his PhD he got several knockbacks. The blog opened doors with publishers (they even took him out to lunch). Some posts now prompt emails from publishers.
The blog has been great for bouncing ideas off people. and nutting out ideas.