Promoting your academic book with a blog post

Has your publisher asked you to write a blog post for your book? If so (or even if they haven’t) I would encourage you to do so. Having spent so long writing the book itself, it is worth spending two or three hours on something which will persuade people to read it. If you want help to get started, or even to convince yourself that it’s actually worth doing, read on…

Writing a blog post is a great way of making your research more discoverable to others. As the author you are the expert on your book, so it is more effective if the post is written by you rather than by your publisher. A blog post provides an opportunity for you to highlight the key findings and features of your book in more detail than the standard book jacket or website blurb allows. There are no absolute rules about how long a post should be, but 500 to 1000 words is usually about right.

Blog posts should be readable and informative, and the aim is to encourage people to seek out the book by highlighting key points of interest.

In a blog post, you can reach beyond your peer group, and the text should be made as accessible and readable as possible with this in mind. Librarians and others outside your specific sub-discipline need to be able to judge whether your book is of relevance to them.

The information here is intended to provide guidance and advice to help you prepare a post.

Where do I start?

You have probably already produced an overview of your book in its introduction, so one option is to review and re-purpose this.

Or, you could use a Q&A format for the blog post, which is a good way to highlight specific aspects of the book, and which also produces text in short chunks which are easy to scan on screen.

A third option is to produce something completely new, which might be good if you want to write about something related to the book or to your wider research. For example, you might want to focus on a related conference presentation or discussion.

Re-purposing the book’s introduction

The introduction to your book is likely to contain a lot of text which can be re-used in a blog post, but is likely to benefit from a reduction of the word count and some re-ordering. People have short attention spans when assessing content online. They will scan quickly to see whether it’s of interest, so you should start with the most interesting information, presented succinctly. After that, once you have their attention, you can expand on your main points and ideas. You may find it easier to write the expanded text first, then write the succinct overview, which you can then place as your first paragraph.

Once you have some basic text, you can expand on it by adding extra content, for example illustrations or photographs, and by providing links to additional information or resources.

Some pointers:

  • Start with a short paragraph explaining why the book is interesting and what the key conclusions are. Make an immediate impact. Hit them with the good stuff first.
  • Follow this up with a few paragraphs expanding on the main ideas and arguments. Draw the reader in and provide a bit of context. Keep it interesting.
  • Perhaps include some personal comments about your reactions to your findings. Did something in your research surprise or delight you? Have you had any notable feedback from others that is worth sharing?
  • Aim for clarity and conciseness and keep complex vocabulary to a minimum. The reader may not be a specialist in your field (for example they may be a librarian or bookseller) or they may not have English as their first language.
  • Do not include information about your methodology or a review of how your findings fit into the wider literature. Concentrate on telling your story.
  • Come up with a narrative headline for your blog post, one which conveys your essential message. It is often easier to write the headline last, once your post is complete.

Further reading: Patrick Dunleavy has a very useful article on Medium about how to convert a journal article into a blog post, which contains some excellent and wide-ranging advice.

Using a Q&A format for your blog post

Many blog posts use a Q&A format, and it’s easy to see why. It provides an onscreen layout that is easy to scan, and the discussion element brings the text to life. It’s also easier to write, because the questions act as a prompt and help to kick start the process of formulating answers.

For a blog post relating to a scholarly book, try these questions for starters (but feel free to add your own):

  1. What is the main argument presented in your book?
  2. Can you summarise what your book is about? What are its findings?
  3. What inspired you to write this book?
  4. What was the most surprising or exciting thing that you discovered during your research?
  5. What impact do you hope that this book will have?
  6. What are you currently working on?

Sample blog posts with a Q&A format:

Author insights – Gavin O’Toole

Five minutes with Paul Dolan

Writing a blog post from scratch

Writing a completely new piece of text for your blog post is in some ways the hardest thing to do. But it can also be the best option. It gives you the opportunity to talk about one particular aspect of your book, or perhaps something related but which didn’t quite fit into argument or narrative of the book itself. You might want to write about how your book has been a catalyst for a new direction in your research.

Tips:

  • Make it interesting! Why will a reader be drawn to your text? Highlight the best bits.
  • Have a focus, a key idea, and structure the post around that. Make sure the blog post title reflects the main idea.
  • Have an idea of what you want the reader to do once they have read the post. Do you want them to click through to more information about the book, or to buy it? Do you want to direct them to further reading or supplementary material? Do you want them to find out more about you and your research? Add links that enable this.

An example: Global Capitalism, Fan Culture, and (Even) Stranger Things

General blog post tips:

  • Short paragraphs are good, as are short sentences and bullet pointed lists. Remember that people want to quickly scan the text before deciding whether it’s worth spending time reading in more detail.
  • Include keywords that are relevant to your argument, but not to the extent of damaging the readability of your text. Concentrate on conveying your message and making your meaning clear.
  • Add links to related information or online resources. Google judges the quality of blog posts partly on which other online information they link to (and which link back to them). Links to university pages are particularly valuable.
  • Add images or photographs. Visual elements make the post more attractive to the eye and help to break the text down into smaller, scannable chunks.
  • Tell people about your post by sharing a link on Twitter, Facebook or other networks. If you tweet, include a hashtag such as #twitterstorians to broaden your reach.

Still not convinced? Read these…

Why should academics use social media?

Are you skilled in the dark art of social media?

Yes, Serious Academics Should Absolutely Use Social Media

 

Laura Portwood-Stacer – 7 mistakes I made when I published my academic book

This post from Laura Portwood-Stacer originally appeared on Medium

Laura Portwood-Stacer is a freelance editor and consultant for academics working toward publication. For more see manuscriptworks.com.

**

I’m proud of the book I published from my doctoral dissertation, really I am. I think it’s well researched and well written. I think it does justice to the topic — the politics of subcultural lifestyle choices within the modern-day US anarchist movement — and to the people among whom I did my fieldwork. But I have some regrets, not so much about the book’s content, but about things I didn’t do during the publishing process. Maybe that’s why I eventually decided to make a livelihood of helping other academics navigate the journey from proposal to publication — I want to save people with great book manuscripts from committing the same errors I did!

In order from most regrettable to least, here are 7 mistakes I made along the way:

Mistake #1: Not spending more time on the cover copy

Cover copy is that paragraph-or-two that appears on the back of the paperback consumer edition of the book. I think I always assumed that publishers had a staff of copy writers who would carefully read the books and generate snappy, engaging blurbs for the backs. Um, duh, that is not how it works. Authors write their own cover copy. When I was asked to do this, I dashed off a few paragraphs and sent them to the publisher, now making the erroneous assumption that someone would vet this draft, edit it, and let me know if it sucked as cover copy. Once again, nope! What I gave them is what ended up on the book, and I cringe every time I see it and imagine potential readers picking it up in the bookstore and then… putting it right back down, with a combination eye-roll/yawn. And guess what else, that cover copy is also what gets posted as the synopsis on online retail sites and the publisher’s own website and the little snippet that comes up when you post a link to it on Facebook. So it haunts me. Everywhere.

What I should have done: at the very least, ask someone to look over my cover copy and tear it apart before letting me submit it to anyone who had the power to put it into print. Better yet, I could have paid someone with more distance from the book’s material to write the cover copy for me. Someone who understood that it’s less important that the cover copy perfectly summarize the academic content and contribution of the book, and more important that it gets people to freakin’ read the book.

Mistake #2: Not being a little more difficult about the cover design

Sometimes I see the spine of my book on my bookshelf and think, “wait, what book is that?” Ok, not really, because I’d recognize those blurry, illegible letters anywhere. But the average customer perusing a shelf in a bookstore or library? They’re not even stopping to think “wait, what book is that?” because they’ve already blown right past it. The front cover has the title and my name in a sort of hip, two-tone, graffiti-style typeface, which honestly does look kind of cool. It is pretty readable when the letters are an inch high. It is totally not readable when squished onto the spine of the book. I don’t know how this design got past the production team, but when it got to me for approval I should have insisted that it be changed. I probably didn’t say anything because I didn’t think I had a say, but I regret not at least making the argument.

Mistake #3: Not hiring someone else to do the index

Just as there’s no crack team of cover copy writers on standby at your publishing house, there’s no expert indexer waiting in the wings to pore over your text and create a beautiful catalog of all the nouns in your manuscript. This is another thing that you, the author, will be asked to do or arrange for on your own. I had visions of an index full of thought-provoking cross-references and clever little “see alsos,” and so I decided to create the index myself. The secret I discovered: once your mind is numb from deciding which terms will get entries in the index and finding all their locations in the page proofs (and no, you can’t just use ctrl+F because you have to think conceptually, not literally), you will have no energy left for jokes. You will want to never look at the thing again. Now I realize that I should have paid someone else to do the first pass. Then I could have come through and finessed it with my sparkling wit and high-level understanding of the nuanced relationships between concepts. (Of course, approximately 4 people would ever have noticed, so maybe this one should not be so high on my regrets list. Whatever; I would have been able to take pleasure in my charming little index.)

Mistake #4: Not doing more “publicity”

I think a lot of academics (especially those most vulnerable to imposter syndrome) struggle with the whole “self-promotion” thing. I’m not against self-promotion in theory, and I honestly admire the many friend-colleagues I know (shocker: mostly white guys) who promote the shit out of their new books with a seemingly endless stream of public lectures, well-placed op-eds, media appearances, and blog posts. Why didn’t I do these things to promote my own book? Mostly, I find that stuff exhausting. But there’s a little part of me that was afraid, if I appeared to be too confident in my book and too insistent that it become well known, I’d become a target of unkindness. This was clearly silly, since I’ve not heard a word of harsh criticism about the book; even the few people who reviewed the book for journals, and by definitionhad to say something critical, didn’t come up with anything that was so mean or unfair as to hurt my feelings.

Even if my particular personality is not suited to a full-on book tour and media blitz (it isn’t), I could have at the very least written a blog post for the publisher’s website when they suggested it. I kind of didn’t want to do it, so I told myself that if it was really important they would follow up and make me do it. But, of course, that is not how it works. Adults make themselves do their own damn blog posts, and I really should have done the thing.

Mistake #5: Not knowing how to respond appropriately to reader reports

Here’s the process of scoring a book contract (at least this was the process for me): send informal letter of inquiry to series editor(s); send formal proposal and sample chapters to acquiring editor; wait for anonymous reader reports on proposal and sample chapters; write competent response to reader reports that communicates your capacity to address any concerns; acquiring editor uses your response to make a compelling case to her editorial board that they should offer you a contract. Can you guess where I messed up? Yeah, when I got the reader reports back, they made sense to me and I knew I could easily incorporate their feedback into my revision of the manuscript. Except my response basically just said that, rather than demonstrating, in precise detail,how I would improve the manuscript. I realize now that “Hey guys, I promise I know what to do and the next draft will be better” is not actually enough for the acquisitions editor to build a convincing pitch around.

Fortunately, my series editors gently suggested that I might want to have another go at the response to the reader reports, and I came back with something that showed, not told, that I could produce a kick-ass manuscript. Unanimous approval from the editorial board = book contract in hand, cha-ching. This mistake is very low on the list because obviously it all turned out fine, but had I been more prepared I could have saved everyone a step (and myself some momentary embarrassment).

Mistake #6: Not shopping my proposal to multiple presses

This one isn’t a full blown mistake per se, because I’m happy with where the book ended up for a lot of reasons that are more personal and political than professional (see below for one of them). I submitted my book to the series I did partly because the series was a perfect fit for my subject matter and I (correctly) anticipated that I wouldn’t have to do much revision of the dissertation to get it published there. At the time, I was on the academic job market and I figured having a book contract in hand as soon as possible was the key thing. With the wisdom of experience, I now see that this may not have been as strategically advisable as it seemed at the time. Yes, I had a contract in hand, but it was with a hybrid academic/commercial press (Continuum, which became Bloomsbury Academic), on a list outside of my field (my book is on Bloomsbury’s Politics list, but the jobs I was applying to were in Communication and Media Studies), in a very niche series (Contemporary Anarchist Studies) that isn’t exactly screaming “marketability” to hiring committees.

Had I submitted a proposal to one of the highly respected university presses in my field, I might have had to do more work to score the contract, but I would have had the prestige, and more importantly, academic confidence, that would come from the imprimatur of one of those presses. In the end, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten a contract from one of those presses anyway, and even if I had, it still might not have translated to a tenure-track job. I’ll never know, so I’m going to call this one less “a mistake” and more “something I still wonder about sometimes.” If I were advising a first-time author today, I’d tell them to at least submit proposals to a few different kinds of presses and see what kind of response they get. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, etc. etc.

Mistake #7: Not publishing Open Access

Psyche! One of my favorite things about my book is that it’s completely accessible. This was one of the (aforementioned) reasons I went with the press I did: the series editors had already negotiated with the publisher to have the books in the series be accessible and downloadable via the publisher’s website. Because the topic has to do with radical activism — and the book contains the voices of so many activists who freely gave me their time — it would have been a real shame if the kind of people I wrote about couldn’t freely access the material. This is probably my favorite thing about the publication of my book, and it almost cancels out any other regrets I have about not shopping the proposal around. That said, more and more presses are offering options like this these days, so it’s worth asking about it wherever you end up taking your manuscript.

If you’re getting ready to publish your own academic book, I hope you’ll avoid the pitfalls I didn’t. If you’d like to be extra sure, you can always drop me a line at manuscriptworks@gmail.com. I promise to tell you if your cover copy sucks.

Which Open Access licence is best? What’s the difference between CC-BY and CC-BY-NC-ND?

Open Access is a fast moving area, with different publishers offering different options. If you are considering publishing your book open access, it will have a Creative Commons licence attached to it. The terminology surrounding this can be confusing. CC-BY, CC-BY-NC, or CC-BY-NC-ND – does it matter which one applies?

There’s a very good bullet-point listing on the Manchester University Press website of how the licences differ. It’s part of their general Open Access glossary, which I would recommend taking a look at if you’d like some guidance.

Here’s the bit about the licences…

CC-BY licence

  • Anyone is free to share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format.
  • Anyone is free to adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material
  • Appropriate credit must be given to the author.
  • The license must be linked to.
  • Commercial re-use is allowed.

CC-BY-NC licence

  • Anyone is free to share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format.
  • Anyone is free to adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material
  • Appropriate credit must be given to the author.
  • The license must be linked to.
  • Commercial re-use is not allowed without permission.

CC-BY-NC-ND licence

  • Anyone is free to share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format.
  • Appropriate credit must be given to the author.
  • The license must be linked to.
  • Commercial re-use is not allowed without permission.
  • Remixing, transforming, and building upon the material are not allowed without permission.

CC-BY is the licence favoured by Open Access purists, as it’s the least restrictive in terms of allowing people to share and develop the content. However, CC-BY-NC-ND is an attractive option for authors in the humanities and social sciences, who may be less comfortable with the idea of their material being remixed and transformed.