Academic Publishing

Today I attended a panel on Publishing cosponsored by the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center and Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism. The panelists were: Marilyn Billings, Scholarly Communication and Special Initiatives Librarian, UMass Amherst, Ralph Faulkingham, Professor of Anthropology, UMass Amherst and Co-Editor of the African Studies Review, Paula Giddings, Senior Editor, Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism,  Laura Lovett, Associate Professor of History, UMass Amherst/Director, Five College Women’s Studies Research Center/Editorial Staff, The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, Karen Sanchez-Eppler, Professor of English and American Studies, Amherst College and Editorial Staff, The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, and Bruce Wilcox, Director, University Press, UMass Amherst.

The discussion was mainly about publishing articles in scholarly journals, which seems like an arduous task. Several of the speakers connected publishing to advancement in one’s career. Given that it can sometimes take up to two and a half years for an article to be published, the process seems designed to be very anxiety provoking.

One of the questions from the audience was about journals not wanting an author to submit to more than one journal at a time. Karen Sanchez-Eppler said she feels it is because the peer reviewers are volunteers so the journals’ editors want to be protective of their time and energy. She suggested that it is a system of collegiality. Of course, whether they mean it or not, it also acts as a barrier to entry for aspiring academics. The journals’ editors and reviewers are already in, to a greater or less extent, and their decision on your journal article submission can play a role in whether you rise up the tenure track ladder or not.

Another group of questions was about images and copyright issues more generally. This is a very grey area since a lot depends on whether you think somebody will notice if you have used an image or not. I tried very hard to acquire permission for all the images in Brewing Battles but I know that other authors are sometimes not as scrupulous. It can cost you a lot of money to use images; authors usually bear the cost.

Marilyn Billings is a librarian at the University of Massachusetts where they are encouraging PhD students to place their completed dissertations in an open access format, Scholarworks, that the University maintains. This is not a replacement for what in my day was UMI and is now Proquest UMI Dissertation Publishing.  Although Scholarworks is not competing with UMI, I wonder about its future.  As both print on demand companies and open access services provided by universities increase, the option of placing your thesis with UMI to be “published” seems less automatic.

I am not an academic although I am a historian and I do have a PhD. Listening to both the speakers and the audience, I realized once again what a difficult career choice academia is, certainly, until you get tenure.

Book Review: Good Morning, Miss Dove

Frances Gray Patton published Good Morning, Miss Dove in 1954. It was an immediate success. Prior to writing this novel, she had published short stories in various magazines, including Harpers and the New Yorker. Patton was also a faculty wife who lived her whole adult life in Durham, North Carolina.

I read this book because I thought I might do research on Patton when we went to North Carolina. Duke had several faculty wives organizations including Law Dames (wives of law students) and the Reviewers Club. The Faculty Wives of NCSU occasionally had joint luncheons or meetings with wives clubs from the surrounding area.

Good Morning, Miss Dove is not about a college town or an academic instruction. Liberty Hill is not even a southern town. The book is about learning and the role of teachers.

Good Morning, Miss Dove is very sentimental and somewhat unrealistic.  Patton’s portrayal of Miss Dove borrows from other literary figures, including Mary Poppins. One character in the book even remarks on Miss Dove’s similarity to the British nanny.

The two characters share certitude and high self-esteem. Miss Dove does not possess any of the whimsy or magic of Mary Poppins. They also share an ability to transform the lives of their charges. Patton does capture the phenomenon that teachers can sometimes be the most important figure in a student’s life.

The book is dated both in use of language – “colored” and in the portrayal of the relationship between nurses and doctors. Although it is set in the present, 1954, it has an old time feeling. The only modern element is her discussion of World War II and the fate of some of her students.

The plot, if you could call it that, revolves around the sudden onset of paralysis for Miss Dove.  Her hospitalization and surgery allows Patton to explore and elucidate Miss Dove’s character and memories. The outcome is unsurprisingly positive. Both the town and Miss Dove have gained greater appreciation of the meaning of her life.

In 1955, Jennifer Jones starred in the movie version of Good Morning, Miss Dove. I wish I could see the movie because Miss Dove was not supposed to be a beautiful woman. So far, I have been unable to find the movie in either VHS or DVD format, which is surprising.

Movie Poster Good Morning, Dove
Movie Poster Good Morning, Miss Dove

Write Angles 24

Last Saturday I attended the 24th annual Write Angles conference I have attended this conference several times before and it is always a good experience. This year the two keynote speakers, Leslea Newman and Roland Merulllo both spoke about different aspects of the writing process. The theme of this year’s conference was “staying inspired.”

I had the opportunity to meet with a literary agent for fifteen minutes.  I am at the beginning of my new project so my query letter and book proposal are not as detailed as they will be further along in the process. It was still good to try to pitch Dames, Dishes, and Degrees to her.

I attended three panel sessions at the conference. The first was “Self-Publishing Success” I have often thought about self-publishing. Depending on who your publisher is, as an author you may have to do a lot of marketing, publicity, and even editing on your own. Small publishers and university presses may not have the same access to the large chain book stores as large publishers do. According to Jason Rich, one of the panelists, if you self-publish you will not get your book in Barnes and Noble.

Self-publishing is appealing because you would retain control over your work and have the potential to realize greater earnings from the sale of the book.

Apparently Apple will be releasing an e-book reader in the near future and Jason felt that this would lead to greatly increased sales e-books. It is very inexpensive to self-publish an e-book.

I also attended a session on blogging and one  on “How Agents Think.” The panelists  who talked about blogging included Jeannine Atkins, Kathryn Hulick, B. J. Roche, and Victoria Stauss. All of them mentioned that blogging is work. Jeannine, B.J., and Victoria all have blogs that have a different focus from their websites. I would find it very difficult to maintain two completely separate web entities.

Jeannine’s blog is about the writing process; her website promotes her books. B.J. has a website, Fifty Shift for mid-life women which is not exactly a blog. Victoria runs a website, Writer Beware and blogs there. She  also writes fantasy novels. These two different types of writing conflict. I have found that writing this blog helps my overall writing but it is also true that sometimes there are not enough hours in the day for both the blog and my research.

The main practical thing I took away from the conference was that I should finally take the plunge and start using social media. I have signed up for Twitter but I have only tweeted once. Stay tuned for further developments on that front.

101 Posts

This is my one hundred and one-blog post if you count the thirty-eight I did before I had a word press blog. If anyone is interested in reading them go to my website,, and click on archives.

At the panel discussion on Monday about women and blogging, Jenny Davidson said she had started her blog because she wanted to promote her novel. I initiated my website, then the blog in both versions, for the same reasons. Somewhere along the line, however, the blog has become its own entity. I enjoy writing and I think writing more frequently has helped me to become a better writer.

My public online presence or persona has also evolved. In the beginning, I felt it was important to stick to writing about beer and other topics that directly connected to Brewing Battles. I also wanted to sell as many books as possible so I tried not to write anything controversial or potentially offensive. I also tried not to generate controversy, which may have had the unwanted effect of limiting my audience.

I still want to sell books and maintain a professional demeanor but I have relaxed about topics and opinions. Partly I am never sure whom or how large my audience is. This has given me some freedom to express myself since it is entirely possible I am talking to myself.

The internet and web have changed ideas and expectations of privacy. Because I have consciously sought a public identity, I have to expect that when I Google my name various things come up. I live in a small town so car accidents and the like are news in a way that they would not be here in Manhattan.  Because all newspapers have an online version, news items wind up being readily available.

The discussion on Monday touched on some of these privacy issues and Alexandra’s comments about the racial nature of disclosure are troubling. The real life consequences for someone’s risky behavior coming back to bite them later in life are very sobering.

Realizing this makes me more determined to behave online in an appropriate and professional way.  My blog persona is therefore close to my real life persona but not necessary how I am in the safety and security of my home and family.

This is a little more serious than I initially planned to commemorate my 101 posts. I will keep posting about beer, politics, women, and any other subjects that interest me. If you have been reading, I hope you stay around. If you are new, welcome and cheers!

Tea in Philosophy

Part of the reason for our stay in New York is that my husband has research to do here. For the last week or so he has been going to Columbia University and looking at materials in Special Collections. Both he and I have Ph.D’s in history from Columbia so it has been a bit like old home week to go back. When I was in my first year of graduate school, I  often went to Philosophy Hall and had tea and cookies in the afternoon. I remember being served by older women.  This is a pleasant memory and actually relates to my own research for my new book. I am working on a social history of academia and want to focus on faculty wives.  Columbia and other colleges and universities had faculty wives organizations whose activities often included  holding teas. The Columbia Association of University Teas dates back to 1898.

Women, Blogging, and Academia: Part Two

After each of the woman had give short description of how and why they began blogging (see Part 1), Jenny Davidson asked a few questions and then there were also questions from the audience. Much of the discussion focused on pseudonymity versus anonymity, as well as issues of creating characters and naming people. Both Claire and Tedra used pseudonyms but are now out. Tedra misplaced where she was writing from and created some amalgam characters.

On the other hand Jenny always used her real name since her blog was linked to her publishing a novel. She feels that there are other issues connected to this concerning how you talk about other people. She used the example of being on a job search committee and how it would be inappropriate to blog in a negative fashion about the meetings since the job candidate could read it.

Eva started her blog as a graduate student which she described as being a cheap lab employee. She used her first name only but on other more serious blogs she uses her full name.

The issue of how fully you disclose your identity when blogging is connected to the potential risk of blogging for graduate students and nontenured professors. None of the panelists felt that they had suffered in their careers because of blogging but they all agreed that it is a personal decision. People should use common sense. Alexandra did say that “being public about being wrong can be a racialized privilege.”

Although the panelists did not really discuss in any depth issues of class and race in blogging,  Alexandra’s  comment reveals some of the issues inherent in writing in a public forum. Tedra see blogging as primarily social media and therefore likes the comments. All of the panelists delete obnoxious and offensive comments.

One of the questions from the audience was about blogging counting as publications for tenure. Both Jenny and Tedra felt that if anything it would be counted as service. Claire pointed out that there is still not agreement about how to handle publications from online journals, even if they are refereed. Thus she feels that counting blogging as writing is far down the line. Tedra said that blogging is “raw” writing while published works are “cooked.”

The panelists pay some attention to the news cycle and the immediacy of blogging about events as they happen. However they are not journalists and don’t claim to be.

The discussion made me think a lot about my own blogging and on-line persona. I will say more about that tomorrow.

Good Beer Test

My friend,Jan Whitaker, who blogs at Restaurant-ing Through History sent me this item. I am pretty sure Lyn Hoffman wrote it

One provocative suggestion comes from physicist Mark Denny, author of the entertaining little book Froth!. Denny suggests that you pour out about six ounces of beer, cover it and allow it to go flat and come to room temperature. Taste it without its chill or its bubbles. Good beer, Denny says will still taste good when it’s flat and warm. Bad beer will display all its faults after the masks of temperature and gassiness are removed. Denny concedes that without foam, beer loses it’s refreshing character, but he’s not out to make you happy here. He’s trying to offer up a tool for evaluating beer by removing some of the distractions.

It’s easy to see one objection to this idea: each beer is designed with a serving temperature in mind, so what’s the point of evaluating-and comparing-beers under conditions that weren’t what the brewer had in mind. We wouldn’t start an ice cream tasting by melting all the samples first and we wouldn’t serve portions of pizza at body temperature. Closer to home, we’ve all tasted the unpleasantness of wine served too cold or too warm.

And yet there’s something appealing about the simplicity of the Denny Good Beer Test. We know that human taste buds start to lose their efficiency when tasting liquids below 40F (4C) and we may suuspect that all the emphasis on super-chilled beer is just a way of covering up some pretty foul stuff. Denny suggests that if we were able to look past the distractions (serving temperature), we could at last see the essentials (the ingredients and the brewing techniques).

I’m more curious than sceptical. I think he might be on to something even though I’m not sure what that something is. So I’d like to ask you to give the Denny Good Beer Test a try. If you can bring yourself to sacrifice a few ounces of beer for the sake of discussion, pour some out, let it sit and give it a taste. I’ll be doing this myself and I look forward to hearing your results and discussing them in public.

I haven’t tried this yet but I have a few thoughts.  I agree if beer is really cold in a frosted mug, it doesn’t have much taste. However I think warm beer, which is how the English serve all drinks, doesn’t taste very good. I still think you can just ask for your beer cold but not iced and then decide if you like the way it tastes. My son feels there is nothing wrong with pizza at room temperature and plenty of people eat cold pizza for breakfast.

Book Review: “The Wettest County in the World” by Matt Bondurant

The Wettest County in the World, by Matt Bondurant, (Scribner:New York, 2008)is well written. The device of placing Sherwood Anderson within the story is more problematic. Anderson does serve to frame the story as a mystery. Under the guise of writing a story about the Bondurant boys and moonshine, Anderson’s character helps guide the reader through the narrative maze. It is interesting that Bondurant starts his story of hardship for the family in the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919. This certainly gives his book a timely feeling.

Bondurant presents illicit distilling or moonshine production as occurring because of both hard times and thrill seeking. Moonshine, governmental corruption, and tax evasion have a long history, dating back to 1862 and the creation of the Bureau of Internal Revenue to finance the Civil War.

Until the passage of the Volstead Act, which established enforcement procedures for Prohibition, the federal government had a limited view of its proper role in the regulation of the liquor industry. From 1862 on, officials conceived of liquor taxation as an easy, painless, and morally expedient way to raise revenue. High excise rates led to speculation, corruption and illegal distilling, significantly reducing the amount of money the government received. The Internal Revenue Act of 1862 created many new patronage positions and new opportunities for spoils. Because officials established a bureaucracy but paid little attention to administration, time honored patterns of political appointments and gain continued.

Despite reform efforts by David A. Wells and others, the combined forces of speculators and government spoils men dominated the federal tax policy and its administration. In the generally lax atmosphere of the Grant presidency, corruption reached new heights. Using the need for funds for Grant’s reelection as a pretext, mid-level revenue officials in St. Louis and other Mid-west cities set up a collection ring that cost the federal government millions in revenue from St. Louis alone.

Following the breakup of the Whiskey Ring, the administration of the Bureau of Internal Revenue stabilized. Although fraud by licensed distillers did not disappear, the Bureau shifted its attention to moonshine, particularly in the South.1 These unlicensed distillers are the characters in The Wettest County. During Prohibition, any production of alcohol for commercial purposes was illegal but the Virginia distillers in the book had a history of illegal production dating back to the nineteenth century.

After Repeal, widespread illicit distilling subsided but Southern moonshine has remained a perennial problem for the federal government. Federal legislation prohibits distillation of spirits for home use. Distilling sprits always requires payment of taxes and filing of paperwork prior to beginning production. In the early twentieth-first century, the ATF was the lead agency in Operation Lighting Strike, formed in Virginia and North Carolina to fight the big business of illicit distillation of alcohol. In a first, Operation Lightning Strike used federal money-laundering legislation to combat moonshine.2

Jack Bondurant is the chief protagonist; the author does not fully develop his character. The epilogue, which ends the book, although factual, is the least developed aspect of the book, particularly because the author does not really explain why Jack left the family business. Overall, The Wettest County is enjoyable to read and provides some, good historical information.

Revisiting Old Posts

I have recently been thinking about the thirty-eight posts from my pre-wordpress blog.  I  realized that people might want to see what else I have written on a topic and there isn’t an easy way to do that. I thought about re-posting all of them, but that seems like too much work. I also thought about linking to them every time I am on a topic again, but I would get stuck in an endless loop. So I will just remind all of my readers that you can go to  my website and find the old posts. Click here to do so.

This was cross-posted from Women Grow Business

“Am I a Woman in Business?” Learning to Promote Yourself the Same Way Businesses Do


Am I a woman in business, a businesswoman?
That is an interesting question for me to contemplate in writing a post for Women Grow Business. I started my website,, and my blog, Musings, because I wrote a book, Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer.

Many years ago, I had a business, Academic Publicity, that provided promotional help for academic authors.

In retrospect, my business plan had a fatal flaw: academics didn’t want to pay for my services.

In general, academics do not think of themselves as writers and thus do not want to pay to increase their book sales. The existence of the book itself punches their tenure ticket. And most academics write only one book. The one major business success I had was getting my husband‘s book, Nazism, the Jews, and American Zionism, 1933-1948 into paperback.

New business, young family, and next steps
At the time that I was running Academic Publicity, I had completed a PH.D in American history and had two small children at home. I had started the business because I was realizing it was unlikely I would be able to get an academic job without significant disruption to my life.

The perfect vision of hindsight
Because of life’s increasing complexity with family, including buying a new home, I ended the business after two years. With the perfect vision of hindsight, I realized that was too short a time to grow a business. I pulled the plug on Academic Publicity so quickly because I was losing money and I already had some feelings of guilt because I had been unable to find an academic position.

I think inadequacy, guilt, and feelings of illegitimacy are all common problems for women as they negotiate between professional goals and family life. I ended the business and quickly looked around for some way to be gainfully employed.

I settled on becoming a nurse.
I have been a nurse for 14 years and have worked in many different healthcare settings. I do not feel that being a nurse replaced being a historian. I brought all the skills and lessons I had acquired from my academic career, my business, and my family life to my new profession. Again, I think this is typical for women.

Many women’s lives do not occur in a linear fashion.
Both male and female baby boomers are famous for second acts and continually reinventing themselves. I believe this has always been truer for women and has certainly been true for me.

Contemplating a book on beer
Although I enjoyed being a nurse, I had always wanted to publish my dissertation as a book and that remained a goal. About seven years ago, with an increased focus, I began to contemplate taking material from my thesis and writing a book on beer. I was fortunate enough to obtain a publishing contract in the spring of 2006 and Brewing Battles was published in December 2007.

I believe persistence was the key to my achieving this long held goal.

And to achieve anything you probably have to have a passion for the endeavor.

Algora Publishing (who published Brewing Battles) is a very small press, providing very little marketing support for my book. So I have had to market the book myself. Luckily, I had the experience from once running my business Academic Publicity to fall back on. However, in the 15 intervening years since I ended the business, publicizing and marketing books changed completely.

I have marketed the book in both traditional and new ways.
I sent out advance copies to various academic and trade journals, hosted a book party, and have given book talks. Of course, almost all of my correspondence and press releases have been via email (…haven’t done any direct mailings). And many blogs also received my press release about Brewing Battles, in addition to traditional print media.

Learning curves and achieving mastery on the blogosphere
The blogosphere represents the most significant change from the world of book marketing 20 years ago. Setting up my own blog was definitely a challenge with several false starts. Every new task I have attempted has come with a new learning curve and a deep sense of accomplishment when I achieve mastery.

Persistence is key here as well.

Finding the answer to “Am I a woman in business?”
So in answer to my original question, I am a writer and that means I am in business for myself. My varied life experiences have taught me that everything in life is about marketing, marketing yourself. Not in a conceited or self-absorbed way but in the sense that…

You have to put yourself forward and promote yourself in the same way that businesses do.