The mission of SAR Press encompasses not only publishing research at the forefront of anthropology and Southwest and Native studies, but also providing resources to our past, present, and future scholars, as well as any scholar looking for more information about the publishing process. To that end, we are starting a new blog series comprised of interviews with diverse scholars including first-generation scholars and scholars from marginalized communities who have recently published or are in the midst of publishing their first book and who can offer guidance and encouragement to colleagues who are just starting to think about publishing. We hope that these interviews make a small contribution to supporting junior scholars as they begin the publishing process.
I’m Nicholas Barron, and I finished my PhD in April of 2019. I’ve been teaching as an adjunct professor at different community colleges in the San Francisco Bay area for the past year and a half, and I study the history of applied anthropology in the US Southwest.
And where are you in the writing and publishing process?
I have an advance contract with a press, and I will provide the full manuscript in late December. I was fortunate because I had a committee that was very encouraging about writing the dissertation with the intention of publishing, so I haven’t had to do as much reworking of some chapters, but there’s definitely work that needs to be done. Now that I’ve had more time away from it, I’ve been able to think about the project in a new context.
What about your background as a scholar?
I’m the first person in my family that has ever gone to college as far as I know. I didn’t come from an academic family—I came from a very smart family and a very hardworking family, but definitely working class and raised by a single mother, so we always had our financial struggles. There was no real plan for me to go to college in part because there were no funds to go to college, so it was one of those things: if you can get yourself there, that’s great.
I feel like most of my academic career is driven by revenge. The weird thing is, I don’t know who wronged me, but I’m going to get back at them at every opportunity. I do think it’s a chip on my shoulder about having not had any sort of understanding of academia. I’ve just been in so many of those situations at a workshop or seminar with fancy folks from fancy schools whose parents also went to fancy schools, and there’s a strong class dimension to it. It’s a super cheap fuel in some ways, it’s not the healthiest fuel, but it burns so brightly, and it’s the thing that gets me up, keeps me going. I think now even more so.
I’m an adjunct at community colleges, which in the world of academia is looked down on big time. I love the fact that I get to teach at one of the community colleges that I started out at—I cannot put into words how fulfilling that is, how strongly I feel about that—but knowing that most other people starting out in their careers, working on their first book, are probably in a nice postdoc, maybe a tenure track position—not everybody because things are harder—but knowing that’s where a lot of other people are makes me more motivated to get this done, to have accomplished it without the traditional support system that one would get in academia. I understand that I still have all the benefits of being a white male in academia, but the short answer is my background is revenge [laughs].
Everything, I mean I had no understanding of the process, and so every day is a learning curve for me. I think the best thing that I was able to do was reach out to colleagues who were already in that process, who had recently finished their books. They were very open and willing to share examples of their proposals that they sent to presses, some of the sample chapters and how they presented them. The cover letter to a press is a genre in and of itself that you have to figure out, figuring out the ways to pitch it, the etiquette around meeting with people. Really just asking others what we might perceive as the dumb questions: “How do you do this?” Having the opportunity to hear other people’s experiences and what they did is vital.
I like what you said about getting over your fear of asking the dumb questions because I’ve certainly been there. I think that probably applies to a lot of people in a lot of different situations. Do you have any other advice for scholars who are just starting out on this path?
There’s the side of trying to court presses and figure out what’s good for you based on the type of work that you’re doing, but along the way also trying to make sure that you’re still revisiting your work. Basically that you’re still writing, which I think is the hardest thing to do, especially for people just starting out. If you can, set up or join a weekly writing group, which I’ve benefited from a lot these past few months. It’s really just an opportunity to hold yourself accountable. I’m in writing groups where we don’t necessarily talk about the material that we’re working on, but we check in at the beginning—this is our objective for the next couple of hours—and we check in every hour or so, and it’s an opportunity to feel that there are other people you’re doing this work with.
Do you mean you’re actually writing alongside other people?
You come into the Zoom call for five minutes, everybody says what they’re going to work on for an hour, you plug out, and the idea is that you’re writing for that time or you should be writing or you’re staring into the void. Then you come back and check in with people—what did you accomplish, what did you not, what do you want to work on for the next hour. You have a sense of momentum, even if you’re working on stuff that is not manuscript related. I’ll be in writing groups with people working on a manuscript, but this time I’m working on a postdoc application or I’m working on an article. Even just the process of putting together the cover letter to send out to presses takes up a lot of time, and it can be demoralizing at times. So to always feel like, hey, I’ve got that writing group on Saturday or Sunday, I’m going to be working on stuff—I think can have a really positive effect. There’s a psychological side to it, but at the end of the day you’re just getting work done. I’ve been able to get a lot of to-do-list stuff checked off over the past year, and I think it’s because those groups are really good for helping you to stay accountable to yourself. I know other people do other things—breathing exercises, Zoom yoga—but as I said before, I’m driven by rage [laughs]. You probably do need something of a community to get this stuff done, as much as you might want to imagine yourself as a lone wolf out there. You know it’s never that way to begin with, so better to admit that and recognize when you need help and support.
Do you have any more specific advice about reaching out to publishers or editors?
Definitely reaching out to the acquisitions editor at a press in a kind of formal but short message to introduce yourself, and put in a brief element of your elevator pitch—what you’re working on but not including a formal cover letter. Even though most presses will have detailed steps of how to submit, I would still say send a personalized message to the relevant acquisitions editor just to establish that conversation, and then if you’re fortunate enough to attend some of the conferences, make sure that you check in with those folks in person. It is good to be able to create those personal relationships with people in the publishing world because my experience has been, they want to find cool stuff to publish, and if you have something that sounds interesting to them, they want to help you get it out there. I think it’s better if you can both recognize each other as people, so whatever you can do to establish that personal connection early on before you do the formal application process and stay up late nights freaking out—try to do that first.
*Feature image by Patrick Tomasso.