Writing an Academic Book | Experiences of First-time Authors

From Monday November 14 to Friday November 18, members of the Association of University Presses celebrate University Press Week. This year’s theme, Next UP, highlights dedicated work to seek out, engage, advance, and promote the latest scholarship, ideas, best practices, and technology. For the blog theme ‘What author is #NextUP on your list?’ we asked Me-Linh Riemann, author of Leaving Spain, and Pedro Moura, author of Visualising Small Traumas to share their experiences on writing their first academic book.

"I am incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity to publish my very first book in an Open Access format.", Me-Linh Riemann



Mê-Linh Riemann

What was your experience as a first-time author?
My book Leaving Spain is based on my doctoral research, which I completed in 2020. For this project, I conducted a qualitative study on the south-north intra-European movement in the context of the 2008 economic crisis. More specifically, I conducted 58 autobiographical narrative interviews with Spanish citizens, who had moved to Germany and the UK in the past decade (some had already returned by the time of the interview). When designing this study, I was particularly interested in how different phases of my informants’ lives are interconnected. By shifting the focus on long-term biographical processes, it was possible to gain valuable insights into how macro-crises (e.g., mass youth unemployment in Spain, Brexit) overlap and are reflected in the lifelines of individuals.

It has always been my conviction that social scientific writing should be as accessible as possible. For me, this meant trying to avoid unnecessarily complicated sociological jargon without compromising on the analytical rigor of my analysis. In other words, I wanted to write in a way that is understandable – and hopefully also enjoyable - for readers in and outside of academia. Turning my PhD dissertation into a book felt quite natural, as I felt encouraged to write for a broader audience, which I enjoyed very much.

What was the best part? What was the most challenging? What was the most surprising?
When I got the confirmation that Leuven University Press was interested in my manuscript, I immediately thought of how I wanted my book to look. Apart from doing social scientific research, I have always been very drawn to aesthetics and visual arts. I immediately thought of a very talented Spanish artist that I wanted to collaborate with for the cover design (https://carmenjose.com/ ). Carmen José had migrated herself from Spain first to Germany and later to the Netherlands. She could personally relate to my book, and came up with a brilliant illustration. Leuven University Press was very supportive in this process, and I am very happy with how the book turned out in the end. Perhaps my concern for the visual representation of my findings is a bit unusual in my field. That being said, I do think it has made a significant difference in how people have reacted to the book so far – and I am very much indebted to everyone who has supported me in this process.

The most challenging part of turning my PhD thesis into a book was certainly finding enough time for it. I was very lucky to find a full-time post-doctoral position at KU Leuven right after graduation. This meant, however, that I could only work on my book outside office hours and during the weekends: a schedule that was sometimes a bit tiring. I am, however, very happy that I kept going because it was all worth it in the end.

I am incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity to publish my very first book in an Open Access format. When seeing the statistics for the first time (after about six months), I was very surprised to see how often the publication had been downloaded – and also where. I had, for example, one reader in Taiwan reach out to me on Twitter, which is not a region I had previously thought about when writing up this manuscript.

What advice do you have for first-time authors?
Writing a book can be a dauting task, but I found it helpful to simply take it one chapter at the time. When breaking up this ‘big task’ into many smaller, more manageable tasks, it is much easier to get started. Another advice is to get support from other people, who can give you honest and constructive feedback on your writing. The everyday work of writing can be a tedious process, which involves lots of editing and sometimes even deleting whole pages you have worked on for days. It does sound like a cliché but there is probably a lot of truth to the saying ‘trust the process’. What I found perhaps most surprising about writing this book is that towards the end, all parts seemed to ‘fall into place’ – even though the process of getting there was sometimes a bit messy. I would also advise everyone to consider publishing in an Open Access format if possible. It has made such a big difference, and I cannot stress enough how grateful I am to the KU Leuven Fund for Fair Open Access for the generous financial support.

What were your thoughts when you finally held the book in your hands for the first time?
That was honestly one of the happiest days of my life so far. I had been working on this study for many years, and it was incredibly satisfying to hold the final book in my hands. I was – and still am – so happy with how it turned out both visually and content-wise. For me, it also signifies the final conclusion to a long, and often challenging research journey; a struggle that most PhD students can probably relate to. When I held the book in my hands for the first time, I also felt a great sense of relief because I realized that this chapter of my life has finally come to an end.

Anything else you would like to share?
I would like to again express my deepest gratitude to Leuven University Press, and all the people who have supported me during the publication process. My very first book could not have found a better home, and I do hope we can collaborate again in the future.

 

"The very moment when one's writing and realizing how fluid the process is going is a very particular form of pleasure. It's what many people call 'being in the zone'.",  Pedro Moura

 

Pedro Moura

What was your experience as a first-time author?
This was not my first book, but it was indeed my first academic-oriented book and one which surely puts me into contact with a wider, very informed, and critical audience. So, in that regard, there were always moments of surprise of what I am being allowed to do. It is really a privilege and a honor to fulfill this dream.

What was the best part?
The very moment when one's writing and realizing how fluid the process is going is a very particular form of pleasure. It's what many people call “being in the zone.” It is really a profound comprehension of being in that moment and feeling wholesome while doing the writing. But there are other moments too, when one is able to discuss a few things, or to make clear some point, or even to overcome a hurdle that at the beginning seemed very hard. In the end, there's also a feeling of accomplishment, of course.

What was the most challenging? 
The challenges happen at the same time. It's when you become self-conscious that someone will read it, attentively, and see it, warts and all. Sometimes this can be a stimulus, so you go back and revise and rephrase and try to do everything to the best of your abilities. But some other times, it can be debilitating and frightening. But you have to strive and overcome those hurdles.

What was the most surprising?
I'm not sure. Having actually finished it? Being able to re-read it? It's a mixed bag...

What advice do you have for first-time authors?
Without wanting to sound too cute, it's really the only advice one can give. Do it, do it as best as you can, don't use any excuse not to do it. And enjoy the ride while you're doing it!

What were your thoughts when you finally held the book in your hands for the first time?
Well, first of all, I really must repeat that it is a honor to be included in this book series. Not only am I grateful for all the people involved that helped me, from editors to designers, but, a little bit more selfishly, it makes me experience a sense of 'peerness' that, although probably undeserved, it's there. Also, materially speaking, to actually hold a copy of a book in your hands that you started and were able to finish brings a rush of accomplishment that is really important. Moreover, it is an experience that immediately makes you want to go back and restart, polishing all the mistakes you made along the way and hoping to be able to do better next time.

 

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