Dixie’s Daughters almost never happened

Confederacy Daughters Unveil Monument
Members of the UDC gathered at the Confederate monument in Arlington National Cemetery, located in Jackson Circle. ca. 1913, Courtesy of Getty Images

I want to share a story about my 2003 book Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (University Press of Florida), which will be issued as a revised edition with a scheduled publication date of January 2019.  Woot!

When I drafted the new preface, I thought it would be interesting to provide a little background on the publishing history of Dixie’s Daughters. My justification for including it was that I wanted all of you out there who have struggled to get something published or may end up in that struggle, particularly graduate students and junior scholars who follow my work on Twitter and elsewhere, to know that you aren’t alone.

The struggle is real!!

My own road was such a bumpy one, I despaired that it might never happen.  On the advice of my editor, however, what follows will not be in the revised edition.  Nonetheless, I want to share it with you, in case it is of some comfort or inspiration.

So, for your amusement and edification, here it is:

“It may come as a surprise that Dixie’s Daughters was almost never published. Despite the fact that no less than twelve university presses expressed interest in publishing my dissertation, it was rough going. Three different university presses received the manuscript at various points in time. The editor at the first press I sent the manuscript to never sent it out to readers. Perhaps it served as a very robust coaster for whatever was in his coffee cup. A second more prestigious press did due diligence and I received readers’ reports. One of them supported publication, while the other demurred, citing scholarship that I should engage. The only problem was that said scholarship had yet to be published and remained a work-in-progress. A third regional press took it in for a proposed series that never materialized. After revisions, this press sat on the manuscript for an entire year, only to box it up and mail it to me with the note that it was no longer of interest. At my wit’s end, I reached out to Marjorie Spruill who suggested I work with Meredith Babb at the University Press of Florida. Meredith laid out the process for getting the book published, so I took the boxed up manuscript that had been returned to me and mailed it to her. Unchanged. Within two months I had the readers’ reports and a book contract and, it turned out, a new tenure-track job with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.”

And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

 

History and the YouTube Generation

You can learn just about anything on YouTube.  There are thousands of “how-to” videos for fixing things in your house, setting up the Bluetooth in your car, or solving complicated math problems.

There is also a lot of historical content, some of it very well done and surprisingly popular.  Well, surprising to me, but probably not the generation who has grown up looking for short-cuts to history lessons, which is why historians like me should be involved in their creation by providing reliable content and expertise.  Very recently, I did just that.

A video producer named Coleman Lowndes contacted me and asked me to Skype with him and talk about the “Lost Cause.”  It’s a term that I often have to explain to students and even public audiences. That interview, along with one given by historian Kevin Levin, were then incorporated into the video Lowndes produced for Vox, an online news media outlet that reaches a large millennial audience.

Here is the end result:

Now, while I might take issue with the title, the content was spot on.  And entertaining. It’s also not a lecture, although many of those exist online, too.  At least one lecture I found had been viewed over 400,00 times.  Not bad at all.  But the video above?  It’s closing in on one million views.  ONE MILLION.

I credit this to the video producer who made it, Coleman Lowndes.  He knows his audience–the millennials of the YouTube generation who want to learn and be entertained at the same time.  Please understand: I’m not saying that this generation is limited to one learning style, but if they are going to seek out a video explanation of a historical idea or an event then it’s important to grab, and hold, their attention.  Lowndes did that well.

Even we, historian/teachers, appreciate an entertaining history lesson, which is why so many of us like Drunk History, which began as a YouTube series.  Students like them, too.  One of my favorites is about Harriet Tubman, played by Octavia Spencer.

They get students’ attention and instructors can use them to enhance lectures and prompt discussion.  Just like those Vox videos.

There’s much more out there in YouTube land.  There is history in song (here’s one on the Declaration of Independence), traditional documentaries, and restored historical newsreels.

YouTube videos aren’t the only way to reach the latest generation, of course. But maybe, just maybe, they can spark a real interest among those viewers to go beyond the video in search of more information.  For historians, that’s a win-win.

Anticipation: Waiting for a Book’s Release

Whether you’re a fan of Carly Simon or The Rocky Horror Picture Show you are familiar with the word “anticipation.”  In song, it refers to waiting for a lover, but for the writer, it’s the anticipation of a book’s release.  And for scholars, the wait seems like a lifetime.

c635f6d503f5547578e0748886296821ea804ec159294e725fbc524f3454920cConsider, for example, my forthcoming book Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South, which comes out October 9, 2017. I finished a draft of the manuscript on April 30, 2016, nearly four years after I began my research.  (I will offer a separate post on why it takes time for scholars to complete a manuscript.)

Over the summer, I revised the draft through a back and forth with my editor.  Then, in August 2016, I submitted the “final” draft of the manuscript to my press.

At that point, it was sent out to two reviewers–specialists who can provide feedback and critique to assess what works and where I, as the author, might find ways to improve or expand certain sections of the book.  This part of the process, while scheduled for two months, can take more time given the already busy schedules of the reviewers.  In my case, it took three months to get the reports, after which I responded to any necessary changes and by November I had the final contract.

Now it goes into the copy editing phase.  A professional copy editor pores over the manuscript to correct errors of grammar, suggest word choices, and ask questions.  Mine was so terrific, I refer to her as the “fox terrier of copy editors.”  And I mean that as a compliment, because she rooted out errors that I would never have seen.  After I receive the copy edited manuscript, then I have to fix all of the errors and resubmit it to the press.

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Almost done? Not quite. Now the book needs an index.  Some of my colleagues in the history world do this part themselves, since hiring a professional indexer costs money.  I don’t have the patience for this kind of tedious work, so I pay up.  More time goes by, the index gets done, I delete or ask questions about the final result, and now there’s an index.

At this point, we are about seven months in since I submitted the manuscript, and nearly a year since the original draft was completed.  Along the way, I must also complete a log of images and illustrations, and get permissions from various repositories to use them.

Now we’re rolling!

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Next stop:  book jacket.  I’ve written about that process here.  That’s the time when you realize that this is going to be a book.  But, we’re still four months out!

That means it’s time for the publicity team to help you kick this thing into high gear.  And marketing is doing its job, too.  This is where an author can help herself and the press by assisting with the book’s promotion on social media. I do this through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and this website.  You are not a press’s only author, and in the case of university presses, they have a limited budget.  So, do your part and let there be no shame in your game. (I’ll be posting about that, too.)

anticipation-cat-oh-pleeeeease-let-me-read-it-nowAs of this writing, the book is three months out. But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. All of the online retailers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Powell’s ) have the book listed.  Now we wait. And by we, I mean me, my family, my friends, the many wonderful people who assisted me in the research of my book, and so many others who ask:  when will the book be out? And why does it take so long?  I hope this post helps you understand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring the Land

Exploring the Land

Whenever I begin new writing projects, I do so not by heading directly to the archives, but by going to the place where events happened.  There’s usually something about the geography, the architecture, street patterns, and even the climate that helps me better understand the places I write about.

Burwell School, Hillsborough, NC
Burwell School, Hillsborough, NC

I’ve been doing this ever since I wrote my first serious undergraduate history paper.  The place was Hillsborough, North Carolina, and I wrote about a female seminary called the Burwell School that operated there beginning in the 1830s.  I went to Hillsborough, once the colonial capitol, to familiarize myself with the place. Fortunately, the building that housed the seminary was there, too, so I spent time in and around what had also been a large home.  In fact, very often such schools operated out of peoples’ homes–a fact I learned by going there.

Dunleithtourguide
Sarah and I had a very entertaining tour guide at Dunleith

More recently, I’ve spent time in Natchez, Mississippi, where it all began with an exploratory trip with a fellow historian from Mercer University, Sarah Gardner. We flew into New Orleans, rented a car, and made the 3 hour drive to the little town on the bluffs. Had I done a better job of looking at a map, the closer airport for reaching Natchez is in Baton Rouge, less than an hour and a half drive away.

It was a great beginning to a new book project.  Seeing the town, walking its streets, touring some of its mansions, and going to the edge of the bluff on which the town overlooks the Mississippi River helped me gain a better perspective of the town’s historical importance in the antebellum era.  Over the course of several visits there, I continued to learn more about the town through its streets and geography.  So well, in fact, that I have even given people directions when I’ve been there on a research trip.

Mississippi River from the Natchez bluffs
Looking at the Mississippi River from the Natchez bluffs

It’s not always easy to get to the place one studies, especially for students.  Still, I think it’s a worthy goal to encourage them to go if they can, and find ways to assist them when they can’t, by encouraging them to study maps or even go on Google Earth to “see” the landscape for themselves.

Cypress bog in front of Melrose
Cypress bog in front of Melrose, a suburban estate in Natchez

Exploring the land–both the natural and built environments–is a wonderful way to get to know the places we write about.  It also adds to our historical perspective.

Cheers,

KLC