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When you secretly don't want people to read your book
Hi Manuscript Workers,
I was listening to a podcast recently where the guest was an experienced public speaker. He shared a story about his first public talk, which had a record turnout for the organization that was hosting him. Yet, instead of being happy that he’d drawn such a large crowd, he described feeling terrified because, in his mind, more people attending meant more people would soon realize that he had nothing valuable to say.
I connected with this story instantly, because I know that so many scholarly authors feel this exact same way. We know that we’re supposed to want as many people as possible to read and learn from our books, but deep down we fear that getting more readers will lead to a greater likelihood of people criticizing our ideas and maybe even people thinking that we don’t deserve whatever successes we’ve managed to eke out so far.
These fears are what people in the coaching and personal development space call “limiting beliefs.” I have some issues with this concept, because it’s often thrown around without enough attention to the material structural conditions that make these fears quite rational for a lot of people. You can’t just “mindset” your way out of the institutional racism and sexism that actually do make some scholars’ ideas more likely to be criticized!
But, that said, I have seen time and again how scholars talk themselves out of pursuing publishing opportunities that, from my perspective, they are perfectly qualified for. This could take the form of not submitting a book proposal to their dream press because they’ve already been approached by another press that seems good enough. Or not wanting to promote their book once it’s out because getting no attention for it seems safer than risking getting bad attention. Or never finishing their book or submitting a proposal at all.
I really hope that if you’re reading this and relating to it, you aren’t feeling personally attacked. The last thing I want to do is heap more shame on anyone when there’s already more than enough of that to go around in the academy.
What I do want to do is help authors come to a place of confidence in their work so that they can feel those fears—which, again, are not entirely irrational—but also be able to talk back to those fears and say, “but wait, I’ve put a lot of work into this and I feel good about it and I know it has value to offer others. And I know that they can’t experience that value unless I make an effort to put it out there.”
This is the underlying motivation behind the programs I offer, especially my book proposal programs. There is so little we have control over in the publishing process, but we do get to decide where we will send our work and how we will present it. The knowledge I share about book publishing is aimed at helping scholars make informed decisions about both those things. And in my most hands-on program, the Book Proposal Accelerator, I take it a step further, serving as another set of eyes on participants’ actual proposal drafts.
Everyone in the Book Proposal Accelerator is smart enough and hard-working enough to write a great book proposal (they’ve all earned PhDs after all!), but I know that sometimes you just need someone with perspective to say “this is great, you should feel really good about taking this to your top-choice press. I think it will make an editor there want to see more of your work.” Or to say, “I think you’ll make a stronger impression if you reframe this section like this.”
I’ve helped hundreds of scholars write book proposals that they could feel confident taking to their top publishers. My hope is that having someone like me giving supportive feedback early on will have cascading positive effects on your scholarly publishing career, so you can aim high to begin with and only go up from there.
If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, do check out the info page for the upcoming Book Proposal Accelerator cohort. General enrollment opens on May 31st at 9am Pacific.
If you’re not sure about committing to a whole program just yet, I also have a 60-minute workshop coming up next week. It’ll cover the essential elements of the scholarly book proposal and give you some quick tips on how to make yours stand out in the eyes of publishers. Sign up for that here if you’re interested.
Questions about any of my workshops or programs? You can post in the comments below or email me directly (reply to this email or send to firstname.lastname@example.org).
I hope you have a great week!