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November 18, 2002

Anyone need a book doctor?

By Michael Terrazas

To help ameliorate a recent and disheartening trend in scholarly book publishing, the provost’s office has launched a pilot program in manuscript development to give Emory faculty some professional assistance as they ready their work for publication.

In the recent past, even before the country entered into an economic recession, university presses have been increasingly hard pressed to publish as many books—and of the same editorial quality—as they had before. To cut costs, some presses are reducing the quantity of titles they publish and trimming editorial positions. Hence, not only are faculty members competing for fewer publication slots, but they have less help in making their manuscripts more competitive.

“When publishers’ budgets are cut, one activity they tend to cut is developmental editor,” said Kim Loudermilk, assistant vice provost. “These are people who take a manuscript that’s not in perfect form and help get it into a publishable state.”

If the publishers don’t provide this service, perhaps Emory can, at least for a limited number of faculty. The pilot program will select two manuscripts and provide their authors with professional editorial assistance for one calendar year, beginning Feb. 1, 2003. Amy Benson Brown, associate editor of Academic Exchange and a twice-published author herself, will serve as a “book doctor” for the two faculty projects. After completing a doctorate in literature at Emory in 1995, Brown taught writing while seeing two of her own books—one scholarly and one trade—through the publishing process.

“In many cases, scholars don’t get close to the kind of editing they really need,” Brown said. “This kind of attention can help make a book’s arguments more cogent, its rhetoric more persuasive and its style more effective.”

Developmental editing is especially important, Brown said, in an age when scholarly presses increasingly are selecting “crossover” titles—books that could appeal not only to the author’s subdiscipline but also to the larger discipline, some interdisciplinary scholars and even a certain number of laypeople.

Faculty wishing to be considered for the program are asked to submit a brief overview of their manuscript along with a CV, which will be reviewed by Brown and a committee of five faculty: Douglas Bremner (psychiatry and behavioral sciences), Lucas Carpenter (English, Oxford College), Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (women’s studies), Catherine Manegold (journalism) and Sidney Perkowitz (physics). Submissions are due Dec. 9, and award recipients will be selected by mid-January.

Both Brown and Loudermilk said response to the pilot program, which was announced over the summer to department chairs and early in November through the all-faculty listserv, has been extremely positive, and Loudermilk said that if all goes well and sufficient interest is shown during the first year, the program could be expanded in the future.

“I don’t know a faculty member alive who doesn’t need someone to read their work,” said Loudermilk, who credits her own writers’ group with helping her revise her book manuscript, which recently was put under contract by Routledge Press. “Many of us ask friends, family and colleagues for editorial help, and that’s great, but to have a professional look at the work and give feedback is a real gift.”

For more information or specific application guidelines, contact Brown at 404-712-9082 or