Michael Owens with Amy Benson Brown 95PhD


Publish or perish?

As the author of dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and conference presentations, Assistant Professor of Political Science Michael Leo Owens was no stranger to the craft of writing.

Still, Owens was intimidated by the prospect of turning his dissertation on the politics of race, religion, and social welfare into a book.

First, he would have to rewrite his manuscript to make it more accessible. Then he'd have to court scholarly presses, who already have more suitors than they can handle.

"It's difficult to get good advice about what makes an effective proposal," says Owens. "How is my product different from others on the market?"

Enter the manuscript development program, launched in 2002 by the provost's office.

"Like professors at all research institutions," says program director Amy Benson Brown 95PhD, "faculty at Emory are facing rising requirements for publication at the same time that scholarly presses are trimming their lists, devoting fewer resources to developmental editing, and seeking manuscripts that appeal to a broader audience."

Brown and Elizabeth Gallu consult on the entire spectrum of writing, from improving structure, coherence, and style to crafting proposals and finding the right publisher.

Owens credits the manuscript development program with giving him the "tools and resources I needed, as well as motivating me to send the book off to the press by deadline."'

Owens' Pulpits and Policy: Changing African American Church Politics is now under advance contract with the University of Chicago Press.  

Even when all goes smoothly with a book's writing and editing, it's hard to predict how the topic will be received. A case in point was Roads to Reconciliation: Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to Conflict in the Twenty-first Century (2005, M.E. Sharpe), inspired by Emory's year-long symposium on the theme of reconciliation and edited by Brown and Karen Poremski 00G .  

The book, a compilation of essays by such notables as former President Jimmy Carter and biologist E. O. Wilson, was in final edits when the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, occurred and suddenly "any hope for reconciliation seemed overshadowed by calls for retaliation," says Brown. After a cooling-off period, the book was published with a new preface and several additional essays specifically about terrorism.  

Such publishing successes are the goal of the manuscript development program, which is open to all Emory faculty and is one of the only such university programs in the country.

"Scholarly authors have the same problems all authors face—finding time for writing while juggling other responsibilities, or speaking clearly about what's at the heart of their subject," says Brown. "They can speak quite eloquently about their ideas, but when they start writing for peers they think it needs to be dense and intellectual."

In addition to working one-on-one with authors, Brown and Gallu sponsor workshops like "Quick and Dirty Editing for Academics," "Dissolving Writing Blocks," and "Coping with Copyright and Permissions."

"Well-written and accessible scholarship," says Brown, "helps bridge the disconnect between the academy and the larger society."—M.J.L.



© 2005 Emory University