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Sociolinguistics in Scotland: Coming to a bookstore near you!

February 14, 2012 4 comments

Last year, I had a great idea of doing an edited volume on sociolinguistic research in Scotland. This idea came to me while I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep, and my brain wouldn’t let me, so I started thinking about research (as you do when you’re an insomniac academic…). Anyway, I realised that it had been a long time since there had been a volume dedicated to research in Scottish speech communities, the last one being The Edinburgh Companion to Scots (2003). This volume was more of an introductory text to Scots and Scottish Standard English, and didn’t really look at sociolinguistic work in much detail.

But since 2003, the field of sociolinguistics in Scotland has come a long way, with researchers working on some really important and ground-breaking work, and I thought that it was a shame that none of this work had been collated in an edited volume. “Aha!” thought I, “I’ll do an edited volume on all the recent sociolinguistic work in Scotland and it’ll be amazing!” So, I started putting together the proposal, thinking about contributors, possible chapter contents, readership, competition, aims and objectives, etc etc etc.

Now writing a book proposal (whether monograph or edited) is a daunting task, because it’s up to you how the book looks, and there’s a lot that you need to include. As my first task, I had to decide who I wanted to be involved in the project and what kind of stuff they would write. You can send out a call for papers, but because the field of Scottish sociolinguistics is relatively small, I decided it would be better just to ask people I knew. Because of this, in order to avoid overlap, I had to decide roughly what the focus of each chapter would be and then get the people to write towards this content.

Once you’ve done this, you then need to get people to submit detailed abstracts of their chapters, along with references, and edit these so they’re all the same style. While this is all happening, you’ve still got to go ahead and work on the proposal. What are the aims of the book? What contribution will the book have to the field? What’s the justification that this book is needed? Who’s going to read it? More importantly, who’s going to buy it? Where will it sell? What other books is in competition with? Who’s contributing? Who are they? What have they done in the past? And so on and so on… My proposal ended up being about 10 pages long, which, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t much, but once you add in the abstracts for 16 chapters, it starts to become a relatively large undertaking. Publishers usually give you guidelines on what to include in the proposal, and each publisher’s format is slightly different, so you need to make sure you follow it as closely as you can.

Once I felt reasonably comfortable about the package, I submitted the proposal to EUP in April last year. But unfortunately, this is where I made my first mistake. Sometimes, I lack the strength of my convictions, so rather than spend ages and ages collecting abstracts only to find out that the publisher wasn’t interested in the project, I simply included very short abstracts (about 50 words) on what each chapter would cover, along with the main proposal, in order to speed things up and get to a decision quicker. Unsurprisingly, when it went to the reviewers, they both said ‘we need more detail on the content’. This came back to me and since things were looking quite positive, I asked the contributors to submit a detailed abstract which I would then forward to EUP. This took about three months or so to get all of these collated, and then another month or so for the reviewers to go through them again. This was alongside my comments to each of the reviewers’ points, which also took a while to put together.

Things were looking quite good, but then it all started to unravel. I was asked if I would consider removing a few of the chapters because the editorial committee had reservations about them. I suggested that I give this feedback to the authors and ask them to address the issues raised, which was accepted. A month or so later, I submitted the new abstracts which were put in front of the editorial committee, only to be told that EUP wouldn’t be able to take the project forward due to issues with the proposed structure of the volume.

I was (rather understandably, I think) quite shocked by this decision, especially since things had been looking so positive. There were a few e-mails back and forth about whether anything could be done to change their minds, but alas, that door was closed and I had to make a decision: try someone else or give up?

As a tenacious Scotsman, I decided to go again, and I submitted it to Routledge. Thankfully, Routledge were on the ball and gave me a decision within a week: no. Dammit.

Right then, attempt number three, but not before some soul searching. Is this a good idea? How can I convince someone it’s a good idea? What is it missing? Am I just not hitting the right points? Should I get a job in Sainsburys? You get the idea.

But the fire in my mind that this was an idea worth pursuing was too strong, and I decide to put myself through it one last time. Enter Palgrave Macmillan.

I looked through the Palgrave website and found out that woop, they have a series in minority languages and communities. Wait, Scots is a minority language! Oh, and so is Gaelic! Wow, we’re onto a winner here! I look through their instructions and of course, it’s a whole new document to fill out. I dutifully go through it point by point, refining my thinking here and there, trying to think about a wider readership, go through it with a fine toothcomb and submit the proposal along with the detailed abstracts. By now, we’re in December 2011, almost 10 months after I first had the idea…

Palgrave are quick to respond and they’ll let me know how it goes, but at the moment, the commissioning editor is on holiday and it’ll be a while until she’s back. How dare people take holiday time during Christmas!! In January, I get an e-mail asking for reviewers and they’re going to consider it. Right, we’re getting somewhere now.

February, I get an e-mail saying that the reviewers have looked at it and that they’d like me to respond to their comments. The reviews are detailed, meticulous, and very helpful, and I take into account the majority of the recommendations in my response. I then send my comments back to the commissioning editor and wait for the inevitable ‘thanks, but no thanks’.

And now, to the point of this entry…

A week ago yesterday, I received an e-mail from Palgrave saying that they really liked the book and they want to publish it! Huzzah! And yesterday, I received my contract from them, so now, THE BOOK IS ON! It should be finished by March 2013 and hopefully be coming out towards the end of the year, so it’s all very exciting now.

Although it’s been a long, hard, sometimes painful slog which has made me really quite down sometimes, I’m very glad that I stuck with it (if only for validation that it actually was a good idea in the first place!). Rejections can be very difficult to deal with in any situation, and they can certainly make you wonder if you’re in the right job. As an academic, a big part of my job is to get published, and when that doesn’t seem to be going right, it’s hard to pick yourself up and keep on going, but it is, unfortunately, exactly what we have to do. It’s worth it in the long run.

– The Social Linguist

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When is an article not an article? When it gets rejected three times…

November 30, 2011 2 comments

First off, apologies for not posting yesterday. I had an attack of a particularly virulent stomach bug that laid me low all day and it was all I could do to lie in bed in a pathetic, shivering, sweaty, stomach-cramping heap. The bedroom and bathroom have now been declared official biohazard zones and I’ve order one of those biohazard suits (you know, the kind the scientists wear in ET) for Rebecca for Christmas, just in case the bug strikes again. I suspect I picked it up over the weekend when Rebecca and I were doing our weekly galavant across the country visiting friends. The people we were visiting (an old work friend Rebecca hadn’t seen in about two years and Rebecca’s brother and his wife) have young kids (all under three), and as such, they have very little understanding of appropriate hygienic behaviour (the kids, not the parents). After spending two days with them coughing, sneezing, spluttering, snottering and generally being all kid-like, I can’t say that I was surprised by the full-frontal assault on my immune system… It seems to have abated now and 40 hours later, I’m able to eat a little bit of toast and some crumpet. So much for my big strike action…

Anyway, moving onto matters more mundane.

A few months ago, you might remember that I was really excited about a paper I was writing on ‘co-opetition‘ (or co-operative competition). I managed to finish it and I submitted it to my first choice journal, Language in Society. Unfortunately, it got rejected because it didn’t fit in with the aims of the journal and was too specific a focus for a journal that was supposed to be about more general issues of, well, language in society. ‘Ok, not a problem’ thought I, ‘I’ll just submit it to another journal’, and so it got sent to Narrative Inquiry. ‘Nay’ said Narrative Inquiry (well, more precisely, Michael Bamberg), ‘it does not fit. Why not submit it to a language and gender journal?’.

After two beat-downs, I was getting quite annoyed by the failure of this paper to get any sort of reception, but I doggedly carried on with it and sent it to Gender and Language, thinking that it would at least get a look in. Alas, at the beginning of November, I got a decision from the editor that said, unsurprisingly, ‘rejected’. But it wasn’t even as though it was a close run thing. In fact, it was unanimously rejected by both reviewers and the editor, all of whom said that there was nothing new in my article to warrant publication. Instead, I was treading ground which had been trod about 20 years ago and the reviewers didn’t think that there was anything innovative or interesting enough in my analysis. A little bit more than disappointed, I managed to force myself to read the reviewers comments, and was surprised to see that it wasn’t the massacring that I expected. The general observation that it was well-written and contained some nice data, but that the focus was all wrong and concentrating on speech style wasn’t appropriate given the amount of work that had been done on this over the past 20 years or so. Instead, they advised me to abandon the idea of ‘co-opetitive’ and concentrate on the discursive construction of masculinity in my data.

Now, what’s really annoying about this is that THIS WAS ALREADY IN THE ARTICLE. But what I hadn’t done was recognise the potential for developing the paper along these lines and build the story of the article around this idea. My blind loyalty to the original idea and analysis meant that I was wholly unwilling to abandon it. Looking back on it, I think that deep down, I knew the idea of ‘co-opetitive’ was wrong. When I read through the article, I kept thinking to myself – ‘I’m pushing this reading of the data too much. How convincing is my analysis? Would someone reading this be convinced by my argument?’ I now know that if I was doing that, it was a good sign that the argument wasn’t especially robust. But when you spend so much time and effort on developing an idea, it’s hard to reject it outright.

To be fair, the first two journals I submitted it to didn’t give me any feedback besides ‘it doesn’t fit’, and Gender and Language was the first article to send it to reviewers. And the feedback from the reviewers has helped me write a brand-new article which I’m actually happy with and I’m not sitting thinking ‘is this analysis convincing?’ (it’s also a case where peer-review shows its strengths in terms of academic development). For me, the lesson I’ve learnt (in very much a The Wonder Years kind of way) is that it’s not a bad thing to recognise (and more importantly, accept) a failure of an idea and be willing to abandon it.

The Social Linguist

Categories: Research, Writing Tags: , ,

Balance

September 17, 2011 Leave a comment

One thing I struggle with, two years post-PhD, is being able to sort out a proper balance in my work. Generally, the things I do as an academic fall under three categories: research, teaching and administration. Under each of these, I have various things I have to do (and probably more I’ve missed):

Research

  • Journal articles
  • Conference presentations (and abstracts)
  • Books (edited and monograph)
  • Developing ideas
  • Reading up in the field
  • Reviewing articles/chapters
Teaching
  • Teaching preparation
  • Marking
  • Actual teaching
  • Professional development
Administration
  • Meetings
  • Departmental responsibilities (1st year tutor)
  • Office hours
  • Emails
  • Phone calls

What normally happens is that I’m able to work on one general category like a demon, but I find it really difficult to be able to shift and swap out in one week or one day between the different things I have to do. So, during the summer, I was able to do a manic amount of writing (edited book proposal, rewrote and submitted an article, wrote up a research bid, did a book abstract, did a conference abstract), but did very little in terms of attending conferences or presenting at conferences (it’s been nearly 2 years since I’ve presented at a sociolinguistics conference, although not two years since I’ve presented at a conference…). This week, I’ve done loads of teaching preparation (in the process becoming very intimate with Moodle), but my research has suffered and I’ve done zero writing. This is likely to continue to be the case since teaching starts next week which will take me up to December, and I’ve got a few deadlines after Christmas I have to meet, so it’s going to be interesting to see if I actually get some writing done during the semester.

Part of the difficulty is that I only feel like I’m actually making progress when I’m able to properly get stuck in to a task. So when I’m only able to write for an hour, I don’t think I get a great deal of productive work done, and when I’m doing teaching preparation, I have to work on it for a couple of hours to feel like I’m making any progress with it. I worry about how effective and efficient it is that in order to make head way in my work, I have to throw myself completely into it.

Now, I’m not sure how far I’m supposed to be a super-star, all-singing, all-dancing, do-everything-and-never-sleep kind of chap, and I think that in general, I’m doing well to meet the various demands required of me as an academic, but sometimes I can’t help but think ‘should I be doing more?’. The fact that it often comes during those times where I have a number of conflicting demands pulling me in various directions which prevent me from getting my teeth stuck in to a task can’t be coincidental, so I suppose I have to try and find ways of dealing with this.

Oh, and right now I’m not able to type as freely as I’d like due to a sore right hand (and those with smutty minds will make of that what they will…). I think I bashed a nerve during my krav maga class a couple of weeks ago and my pinkie and ring finger on my right hand feel really stiff and sore, so typing is more difficult than normal. If anything, this has forced me to stop cracking my knuckles, but I hope that things return to normal sooner rather than later so this semester doesn’t become any more difficult.

The Social Linguist

Categories: Research, Writing Tags: ,

On writing (or ‘on not writing’)


Yesterday, I had an unfortunate episode of writer’s block, probably the first time since I submitted my PhD that I’ve properly struck by it. This was particularly frustrating because I’ve felt in quite good form recently with my writing in that I’ve managed to put in a couple of funding applications, a conference abstract, a book proposal, a chapter abstract and all of my blogs posts (all… six of ’em) over the past six months or so. So yeah, things were going quite well and then Friday came along and… nothing… My mind was just completely frozen up and every time I looked at the screen I just couldn’t find the words. At all. Maybe it’s a bit of a mental hangover from finishing my competitive co-operation paper I submitted on Sunday (in which I used the very attractive term ‘co-opetition’. It just trips off the tongue, doesn’t it?), or maybe it’s just changing gear to something completely different. Whatever it is, I hope it runs its course sometime soon and let me get back on it, especially since I just recently found out that I won’t be returned as an Early Career Researcher for REF2014, meaning that instead of submitting two ‘pieces of assessment’, I now need to submit four. Not a big deal and I would have had the four by the end of 2013 anyway, but now that it’s ‘mandated’ by my department, I feel a little bit of pressure on to get it done.

So this current article I’m working on is about orientations towards violence among working-class adolescent males and the most I was able to do was take a conference paper I’d done on it from about 10 months ago and reorganise it into something resembling an article (if only in terms of section headings rather than actual content). I had originally planned to submit it to the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, a very highly respected publication edited by a colleague of mine at Birmingham City University (Professor David Wilson), but since the majority of their publications are focused on the penal industry (stop snickering), I didn’t think that my article was a particularly good fit. So, I’ve decided to submit it instead to the British Journal of Criminology where it seems to fit a bit better. I did get massively excited when I stumbled upon this research centre at the University of Glasgow and was particularly taken by the following quote:

“The tradition of the hard man has tremendous currency in contemporary Scottish popular commentary and in literature but there has been little serious discussion of his antecedents or of the constituents of manliness that have seemingly prevailed in Scottish society.”

In my article, this is more or less what I’m investigating: what is it to be a ‘man’ in contemporary Glasgow today, what role does violence play in the construction of ‘tough’ masculinity in the city, and how far do adolescent males resist, contest and challenge dominant ideologies of ‘tough’ masculinity? I’m especially interested in the impact of violence on adolescent male constructions of masculinity because the image of the ‘hard man’ is such a dominant cultural touchstone for young men (promoted in large part by parents and caregivers). I’m analysing narratives (again) to see how the participants in my ethnography talk about their experiences of violence and what it means to them to be a ‘man’. My biggest argument is that violence really is a part of the lives of many adolescent males in Glasgow, but not in the ways we might stereotypically think (especially because I problematise how far violence can be considered the preserve of only ‘neds’. And yes, I know the term is an issue, which is why it’s in scare quotes).

Maybe, just maybe, by the beginning of the week the fog will have lifted (metaphorically speaking) and I’ll be able to make some headway on this article before I have to start thinking about putting together yet another funding application…