Second Edition: Official Publication Day

Cover of Research and evaluation for busy students and practitionersWhen a book is first published, it’s a strange and slightly confusing time. Exhilaration, panic, longing and impostor syndrome all collide in a big smash of emotions. There’s often a formal launch – sometimes more than one – and an anxious wait for feedback from readers and the first review.

Publication day of a second edition feels very different. I know it’s a good book, otherwise it wouldn’t have got to the second edition stage. Most of the reviews were good last time, and I’m confident that it’s a better book this time around, so with any luck they’ll mostly be good again. There is no formal launch, just a day of whooping online and then back to business.

While the impostor syndrome isn’t striking this time, I do feel a bit fraudulent, as I’ve actually had my copies for three weeks, and I know the pre-orders went out around the same time as I’ve been getting emails from readers since a week before Easter. But today is official publication day, so today is the day the blog post happens.

I say ‘the blog post’ but actually there are four, including this one. On Petra Boynton’s blog you’ll find the story of my career as an independent researcher and writer. Over on the Research Whisperer blog I talk about the process of writing the second edition. There wasn’t much information online when I started work on mine, so I hope that post will be helpful to others in the same position. And on my publisher Policy Press’s blog I add my two penn’orth to the debate about whether academia is (or should be) ‘fast’ or ‘slow’. I’ll keep this post short, in the hope that you’ll have time to read at least one of the others.

I’m also holding a Twitter competition for a signed copy of my second edition. Tweet your motivation or inspiration for doing research, using the hashtag #researchinspo, before 10 am GMT on 27 April. Then I’ll put all the names in the hat and pull out a winner, to whom I will send a signed copy, wherever they are in the world. Good luck!

There’s no formal launch this time round, but I’ve got the Prosecco chilling for a little celebration after work with a couple of good friends. Until then, I’ll be cracking on with the next book, because that’s what writers do.

Want to see my book proposal?

Creative research methods in the social sciences [FC]Writing academic books can seem like a mysterious ‘dark art’ to those who haven’t done it, but there is lots of help available. I’ve written before about how to succeed in writing academic books, but I didn’t say anything in that post about the book proposal. Yet it’s a key part of the process.

If you are a novelist, you have to write your whole book before you talk to an agent or a publisher. If you are an academic writer, you can forget about agents (there aren’t any, at least not in the UK, and only about two in the US) but the good news is that you don’t have to write the book before you can get a publishing contract. You do, though, have to write a proposal.

A publisher worth their salt should have a book proposal form, guidelines, or similar on their website for you to download. The guidelines from my publisher, Policy Press, are here. The publisher is also likely to want a sample chapter, particularly if you have no track record as a book author.

From time to time, aspiring academic writers ask whether they can see one of my book proposals. Of course, I say, give me your email address and I’ll send it over. This happened again last week and it occurred to me that I could write a post here, and include an embedded pdf, to make an actual book proposal available to anyone who would find it useful.

I need to say a few things about the proposal first. It is the version that made it through the Policy Press acquisitions process and led to a publishing contract. There was an earlier version which was sent out with a draft chapter for peer review. This is normal with academic book proposals, and also hugely helpful. I got four sets of comments on this proposal, and was able to make it significantly stronger as a result.

In this proposal, the outlines of what will go in each chapter are quite brief. That was OK for this book; headings gave the reviewers and the publisher enough information to go on. Other books would need more details. For example, the proposal for the research ethics book I’m currently writing has a full paragraph for each chapter. (I’m not ready to share that proposal yet, as it’s currently out for peer review; watch this space!)

Finally, the publisher’s acceptance of the book proposal doesn’t mean you have to write the book in exactly the way you said you would. Publishers understand that writing is a creative practice and books change and grow in their creation. Of course it has to be in line with what you’ve proposed. It would be unusual to make significant changes to the overall structure, for example – but what you put in a chapter might change as you read and think and write about your subject.

The proposal I would like to share with you is for my second research methods book, Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide. If you have access to a copy, you can compare it with the proposal and see how the book developed from my original plans. And here is the proposal itself. I hope you find it useful.

How Independent is an Indie Researcher?

independent womanI have always loved being independent. My parents like to tell the story of the time when, soon after I learned to walk, they took me for a picnic in a local park. My father put me down on the grass, and I got to my feet and toddled away. My mother looked anxious, and my father said, reassuringly, ‘She won’t go far.’ But his confidence was misplaced, because I headed determinedly off into the wide green yonder, and he had to do a quick sprint to bring me back before I came to grief.

When I began researching, I called myself a freelance researcher, or a consultant researcher. I didn’t start calling myself an independent researcher until Immy Holloway told me I should, at a terrific research methods conference in Bournemouth in 2006. (The same conference where I met the incomparable Ken and Mary Gergen, as a result of which they kindly wrote the foreword for my creative research methods book.) As soon as Immy suggested the phrase, I took to it immediately. It seemed to suit.

I love working independently. Particularly at the moment, when I’m mostly home-office-based and writing – though after a few weeks I’ll be pleased to have the meetings and teaching that are scheduled then. But for now, I’m really happy sitting alone at my desk, looking out at the garden growing into spring, listening to the birdsong and the squeals of next door’s children on their trampoline, and writing this blog post.

You know, though, I’ve been thinking recently that despite being officially an independent researcher, I’m actually very dependent. For example, I am completely dependent on others for my income. If nobody chooses me, or not enough people choose me, to do available work, I will go under – particularly as there is so little research funding for which indies can apply. Also, I often need to ask for favours, from small (please can I put your name down as a referee for this research tender?) to large (please will you write a foreword for my book?). As an independent writer, I am dependent on readers for reviews, whether official written ones on websites or in journals, or unofficial verbal ones – the coveted ‘word of mouth’ (at least, it’s coveted if the words are complimentary). More worryingly, I am also dependent on readers to help get my books translated into other languages. My publisher tells me that this usually happens when a bilingual academic makes a proposal to a non-English publisher and offers to support the translation. I am only fluent in English, and although I have good international networks, they’re mostly in English-speaking countries. Unlike institution-based scholars, I have never been able to afford to go to a conference outside the UK where I might make contacts with bilingual academics who could help with translations, perhaps in return for other favours. As a result, I know very few people who I can ask to help with translations. (If you know anyone in the social sciences, arts, or humanities who might help, do tell me please!)

I remember when my supervisor and I were planning my viva. I knew who I wanted for my external examiner, but my supervisor over-ruled me, because she didn’t know the person I wanted, and she did know someone else who she thought would be good (and was). She said she was sure he would do it because he owed her a favour. I have learned since then that a lot of academia seems to work through giving and calling in favours. In such an environment it feels odd to call myself ‘independent’.

The book I’m writing is on research ethics. In the Indigenous research paradigm, reciprocity between researchers and participants is a key ethical principle. However, in the Euro-Western paradigm, researchers have found that attempting such reciprocity where there is an imbalance of power is difficult and can even have dangerous consequences (Israel 2015:137-8). I can’t find much work on reciprocity between academics, and what I can find addresses reciprocity between countries or disciplines and doesn’t say much about power imbalances. I haven’t found anything about reciprocity across the walls of the academy, where there is undoubtedly a power imbalance. I’m glad to say that, in my own experience at least, academics have mostly been courteous and often generous with their help and support for my work, even though, as an indie, I can’t reciprocate in all the same ways that I could if I was based in an institution. This potentially makes me even more dependent, because I have less to offer than salaried mid-career academics. As I progress in my work, will this power imbalance grow? Will it adversely affect the reciprocity on which my entire career depends? Or am I needlessly worrying about something because it feels insecure, when in fact it doesn’t really matter?

Writing The First 10,000 Words

writing deskYesterday I hit 10,000 words of the first draft of my research ethics book. That’s a huge milestone which has taken me two years to reach (though most of that was preparation – I started the actual writing earlier this year). I still have around 65,000 words to write, but having the first 10k safely on my computer and backed up is an enormous relief.

The photo shows one side of my desk, this morning. The other side looks much the same, piled high with books, some of them open and face-down to keep a place. Although I have spent two years thinking about this book, talking about it, interviewing people around the world, and reading reading reading, I am still reading – and re-reading – more than I write. So far I’ve mostly been reading books, but yesterday I started delving into journal articles, and of course there are gazillions of those to explore.

As a result, it’s taking me a full day to write 1,000 words. It feels frustrating to be building my argument so slowly, but I know it’s inevitable at this stage. I read, and think, and read, and think, and sometimes the reading and the thoughts coalesce into a sentence, and I write it down. Then I read some more, and think some more, and so on.

When I teach writing to doctoral students, they often express frustration at the slow pace of their writing. I tell them it’s common, even for experienced writers, and they look at me with sceptical faces, as if they think I’m trying to soothe their feelings rather than telling them the truth. But it is true. I’ve written a masters’ dissertation, a PhD thesis, 2.5 books, and several journal articles, and this is how it is, especially at the start of a long and difficult piece of work. I’m sure the pace of my writing will speed up later, especially when I get to the easier chapters, but for now all I can do is plod on.

Another myth is that writers start writing at the beginning and carry on until they get to the end. Unusually for me, I did draft the first chapter first, and then drafted most of the second. But I have also written 491 words of chapter 3, 60 words of chapter 6, 18 words of chapter 10 and 36 words of chapter 14. This is because, as I have been reading, I’ve come across sections that have been relevant to those chapters, and at this stage it’s easier to create a new document and write a sentence or a paragraph in there than to add to my already copious notes.

I’m doing the early chapters first, this time, because they’re the hardest. The first part of the book has five chapters of context-setting: research ethics, political ethics, institutional ethics, professional ethics, societal ethics, individual ethics, the connections between them, and case studies. The second part has nine chapters about research ethics in practice at each stage of the research process and will, I think, be much easier to write. I often counsel students to start with an easy part, whatever they most feel like writing, and have usually done so myself. This time, though, the later chapters will need to draw on the earlier chapters, so I have to write the harder part first. (Though I do start with the easiest part within each chapter.)

Luckily for me, I’m home-based for the whole of April. I have some client work to do, but I should be able to spend quite a lot of time working on the book. My aim is to get the difficult chapters drafted by the end of the month. I’ll let you know how I get on.