Tuesday, May 3, 2016

How To Plan a Book Manuscript Workshop

In my previous book post, I mentioned an insight that I had gained from a book manuscript workshop -- an event that I put together towards the end of the long book-writing process. A curious reader asked for more information about this, so here it is: 

To give credit where credit is due, I got the idea from my UC Berkeley friend and colleague Katerina Linos. Prior to submitting the final version of her book (The Democratic Foundations of Policy Diffusion (Oxford University Press, 2013)), she hosted a day-long event to workshop a full draft. As I've blogged about previously, I was having a hard time letting go of the manuscript and I thought this exercise could help me. I was also attracted to the idea because of the nature of the publication process at Cambridge University Press (at least for the Studies in Legal History series). The Press provided me with incredibly useful reader reports on the front end of the process, when what I had was a detailed book proposal, a very rough draft (a.k.a. my dissertation), and a memorandum detailing all my research and revision plans. Once I was under contract with the Press, the normal process did not involve any additional external reads. I knew that I could count on the sage advice of my series editors, Sally Gordon and Holly Brewer, but I thought that the manuscript could benefit from additional sets of eyes at the back end.

The first step was securing the funding. I would recommend doing this a year or more in advance, depending on who you're asking.
To fund my manuscript workshop, I applied for a grant from the Hellman Fellows Fund, which supports research by junior faculty across the University of California system. I imagine that many institutions have something similar, or that you could apply for a small grant from your department or academic division. If I hadn't received the grant, I probably would have used my own research budget and done a smaller-scale version of what I'm going to describe below.  I realize that many scholars may not have access to even these smaller pots of money, making this all seem fanciful. But as I'll discuss below, the key resource here is your colleagues' time and wisdom, and I suspect you know at least a handful of people who are generous with both.


Because I ended up receiving a generous amount of outside funding, I shot for the stars and invited three participants from outside my home institution. I aimed for people whom I had met at least once and whose work I admired, but who had not read the manuscript previously. In assembling the group, I tried to think of scholars who could speak to different aspects of my project. I would recommend inviting external participants 12 months in advance and even allowing them to set the date, if you want to maximize your chances of getting on their schedule.
For the other participants, I tapped into the rich reserve of local talent, including some people who I already knew and others whom I admired and wanted to meet. Some were my colleagues at the law school, but others came from History, Sociology, and Political Science. The schedule below provides a sense of who accepted.

As the date approached, I also invited a handful of advanced graduate students to attend, figuring that they would benefit from the experience and that I would benefit from having them there.


After you have set the date, the main thing you'll need to secure is space: a room that your group can occupy for the better part of the day and that lends itself to seminar-like conversation. If you have the resources to go fancier, choose a venue that will allow you to bring in lunch and coffee, or that will cater meals for you.
I also arranged to have my session audio recorded, so that I could really listen in the moment and not feel burdened by note-taking. (To be honest, though, I never listened back to the tape. If your experience is like mine, you will hear multiple iterations of the main comments and critiques, and they will stick with you.) 

Another logistical piece to consider is how and when to circulate the draft manuscript. I promised participants that I would send them a full draft a month in advance of the workshop. This deadline loomed over me for months and was a source of stress -- but also a source of motivation. As I'm sure many of you would agree, there is nothing like a hard deadline to encourage writing! When the day arrived, I sent participants an electronic copy and also offered to send them a hard copy. 

There are surely a number of ways of running a workshop like this. Here's what I did:

Discussion led by:
Breakfast (casual)

Welcome, opening remarks
Karen Tani
Introduction and Chapters 1 and 2
Moderator: Cybelle Fox
Commentators: Laura Kalman and Rebecca McLennan
Coffee break

Chapters 3 and 4
Moderator: David Lieberman
Commentators: Hendrik Hartog and Reuel Schiller

Chapters 5 and 6
Moderator: Leti Volpp
Commentators: Margaret Weir and Jim Sparrow
Coffee Break

Chapter 7 and Conclusion
Moderator: Phil Rocco
Commentators: Jeff Selbin and Sean Farhang
Wrap-up discussion
Moderator: Sally Gordon

Most of the participants stuck around for the other sessions, so there were usually at least 10 people in the room for every panel.
At the end of the day, I also hosted a small dinner for the external participants.

All in all, planning an event like this was a decent amount of work, but it paid dividends that far exceeded what I put into it. I gained a better sense of how others perceived my project and how to make it stronger, in concrete ways. (For example, after the workshop, I added a section to the Introduction where I really nailed down what I meant by "the state" and "governance." I also pushed the end date of the project forward in time, from 1965 to 1972.) Meanwhile, the conversations that the workshop generated were wide-ranging and productive, extending well beyond my manuscript.  I'll continue to reflect on what I learned for years to come.

I'm not sure how the other participants experienced the day (perhaps they will chime in in the comments), but many told me that they enjoyed the discussion and appreciated the opportunity to build scholarly community. If nothing else, they gained my lasting gratitude! 

Let me know if I've missed any key details and I'll happily reply in the comments or update the post.