Pitching an editor

My book, The Embodied Playbook: Writing Practices of Student-Athletes, is coming out in April with Utah State University Press.

The Embodied Playbook

My first step toward publication–beside writing the darn thing–was pitching an acquisitions editor at an academic conference. This annual academic conference happens in late Spring–often March.

On February 2nd, 2015, I sent the following email to Michael Spooner, the acquisitions editor at Utah State University Press:


If possible, would you be open to meeting briefly at CCCC so I can ask specific questions about my proposal I am writing for Utah State?

I am emailing you directly because Michele Eodice introduced us in Las Vegas (I had just been offered a job and had been asking for advice from those at the table) and Barry Kroll has written to me about how helpful you were in the publication of his recent book.

In brief I am working on a book-length manuscript on the literacy practices of big-time college sports, a topic informed by my work within athletics departments, particularly writing centers, at two Division I schools and now at a Division II school.

I am free any time before 6pm on Thursday and after 2pm on Friday.

I would be glad to email you a brief query letter and truncated CV prior to our meeting.

Hope to hear from you,

Michael Rifenburg

I tried to emphasize

  • who I am
  • why I am emailing you
  • What I want
  • What I am writing
  • When I am free

Michael emailed back 2 hours later with a time for us to meet.

On March 12–a few weeks before the annual conference–I emailed him a 1.5 page document that outlined my project. I’ll post that soon.

As academic conference season churns along, reach out to an editor, reach out to a scholar you wanna chat with. Make use of your time at the conference.


Academic Writing Video, Part II–THE DRAFT

In this second video in the Academic Writing series, I briefly use screen capture software to talk through and show my drafting process.

I’m trying to get after the process here, peel back that curtain and show the behind-the-scenes chaos that supports a published piece of scholarship.

I’m fascinating by this process. When I browse through finished journals, book, edited collections, I am looking at polished, finished pieces. Just like the folk who fill the pews on Sunday morning–smiles, make-up, shined shoes, ironed shirts–these publications look the part of refined, lofty scholarship. Ain’t nothing challenging about writing–they seem to scream. Look at how effortless and easy-to-read my introduction is, look at how adroitly I move through this literature review and make this nod to Zizek’s thoughts on the violence of globalization. 

But like those beautiful good folk in the Sunday morning pews, we only see the final product. Scroll back the wheel of time and you see Mom running frantically around the house gathering kids and making sure the iron is turned off, the oven is turned off, the kid is wearing matching shoes. Scroll back the wheel of time and you see the author muttering curse words, hunched over a keyboard, staring dejectedly at yet another cryptic note from reviewer 2.

I talk with my colleagues at conferences. Great article in the recent issue of Journal of Lofty Things, I tell them. Ha, they invariably answer back, I got so tired of revising that thing. Ha, they invariably answer back, I still hate that conclusion.

These are real-time videos. I am not reading from a transcript nor am I reflecting back on something that is already published. I have a target journal in mind for this piece, but I am not sure if the journal will pick it up.

Here’s my process. Here’s my messy room of writing. Step in but, please, don’t touch anything.



Academic writing videos–getting started

In my role with the University of North Georgia’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leadership, I spent a lot of time sitting down with faculty and talking writing.

UNG is a teaching-intensive school; most of us are on 4/4 loads. So, when we get together for faculty development work, the majority of our energy is directed to teaching–not scholarly productivity.

To get conversations going across campus on writing and research, I’ve lead faculty writing groups and offered a variety of workshops. In these spaces, I’ve drawn from my own experiences with writing and publishing and shared documents I’ve written such as revision memos, book proposals, and email exchanges I’ve had with editors.

I share my writing, my struggles, my successes with my colleagues to make the Academic Publishing game look more manageable.

As I’ve written elsewhere, many of the documents surrounding the publishing process were documents not taught in grad school. I certainly was never taught to write a cover letter, a revision memo. I was certainly never taught how to correspond with an editor or write a book proposal. (Or construct a tenure portfolio, for that matter).

Below is the first in a series of videos that offer a glimpse into how I author an academic article, submit it, and then, ideally, respond to reader feedback and usher the piece to publication.

These videos are unique because

  • they are real-time. I am not reflecting back on an already  publishing piece. I am starting these videos now, as I have a rough draft of my article.
  • they are raw. I don’t have training with video editing. I’m using Open Broadcaster and showing video of my screen. My voice over is not scripted. I’m just talking in the moment.
  • they are short.
  • they are mine. I’m not making grand pronouncements on navigating academic publishing. William Germano has that covered. I’m just showing what steps I work through, what my screen looks like, what my rough writing looks like.

I’m here because of others. I working on and with examples of book proposals, cover letters, revision memos, others shared with me. As graduate students move through their program, I hope these videos will be of use. As NTT and TT and even T faculty continue getting words on the screen, I hope these videos will be of use.

Book Revisions

It’s on the website. My book, The Embodied Playbook, is hanging out on UP Colorado’s website. If it was a movie, this would be the trailer endlessly streamed on YouTube by eager fans.

Looks like it is dropping in April. Page proofs should drop on my desk this month.

I’ve written before about the proposal process, sharing my cover letter and shared my annotated TOC.

Below I share my revision memo I drafted in September 2016. The book went through two rounds of revision. I think this memo is for the first round of revisions.

My revision memos look the same for articles. I follow a template Kevin Roozen gave me back when I was an MA student at Auburn. The first paragraph and final two or three paragraph largely stay the same. I just do some updating with them.

This semester, I led some faculty writing groups and passed out copies of my revision memos. Like tenure documents and book proposals, these are genres not often taught in grad school. I learned from example. I share my example.

And finally a thanks to my reviewers, Barry Kroll and Rita Malenczyk. My book is better because they read and thought carefully about it.

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Preparing a Tenure Portfolio

At the University of North Georgia, faculty apply for tenure after year four. The faculty handbook outlines the specific documents needed and these documents are uploaded to UNG’s course management platform (D2L) by the second Monday of September. Committees form, committees review, committees make recommendations, and an email arrives, then a letter, signed by the provost announcing the decision.

Faculty apply for tenure at the beginning of their fifth year. That date doesn’t budge—though it can be extended, if needed.  But promotion, at UNG, can be uncoupled from tenure. Faculty can apply early for promotion. Much thanks to my colleague in the College of Business who noticed the single-sentence paragraph in the Faculty Handbook stating such. With the endorsement of my chair and my dean, I applied for early promotion last AY; I received it and the increase in pay as stipulated, again, in the Faculty Handbook.

Since I applied for early promotion, I have all the documents needed for tenure. The same documents are needed. I have spent the summer updating.

In general, here are the requirements for tenure, which I’ve cut and pasted:

The criteria to be used when considering a faculty member for tenure or promotion are as follows: 

  • Superior teaching; Demonstrating excellence in instruction
  • Professional Growth & Development / Scholarship / Academic Achievement
  • Outstanding service to the institution, profession, or community

Faculty provide evidence of these three bullet points by uploading a lot of documents:

  • A cover sheet
  • A “full professional CV”
  • A teaching CV
  • A service CV
  • A scholarship CV

 These three additional CVs, of course, echo the full professional CV. But there are additional items requested on these specific CVs that I don’t have on my full professional CV, such as how many advises I work with.

  • A summary statement of 6 single-space pages
  • And a bunch of supporting documents to “prove” scholarship, teaching, service. I include pdfs of all my articles and syllabi.
  • All annual performance evaluations
  • All student evaluations
  • Letter from chair
  • Letter from at least 2 colleagues, one of whom needs to have tenure

If the Department Promotion and Tenure Committee approve the portfolio, then they write a letter. If the College Promotion and Tenure Committee approve the portfolio, then they write a letter. Then the dean writes, then the University Wide Promotion and Tenure Committee writes.

What I have below is my 6 page single-spaced summary statement. In this summary statement, I connect my work with the UNG’s Strategic Plan, with AAC&U best practices, and with material from the Faculty Handbook for defining service and scholarship.

This document, then, is grounded in the language my university speaks, as I seek to show my value to UNG—not my value to another university, another college.

Finally, as I am at a teaching school, teaching is foregrounded in this summary statement. 60% of my contract is based off my work in the classroom. I’m a teacher at heart who does some writing/research.

Like book proposals, I don’t think grad students get much, if any training, in writing tenure documents. But this is a critical genre, and I am thankful for the examples I have looked over and the wonderful workshops our Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leadership offer on preparing for tenure and promotion.

Start preparing week 1, day 1. Start compiling documents. Start reading the Faculty Handbook, the QEP, the Strategic Plan. Learn the language of your school.

And then write.

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Thankfulness: I’m Here Because of Others

I’m here because of others.

Question: What is here?

Answer: a tenure-track position landed out of graduate school at a four year university located 45 minutes from my two parents and 4.5 hours from the Wife’s two parents. A stable job where the Chair is supportive, the Dean is supportive, the colleagues are supportive. A position where I received early promotion and am confident in landing tenure next AY. A teaching career with flexibility in my class schedule and students engaged. A service career where I lead faculty development workshops, oversee the FYC program, sit on the honors program advisory council. A research career where I have two book contracts, multiple articles, inside access to the athletics department, to the Corps of Cadets.

Question: where else is here?

Answer: this house; a new house in a new neighborhood with room in the house for our family of five; this city with strong public libraries, park and rec association, easy access to interstate and state parks; this state where I was raised, where my wife was raised, where both sets of parents still live; this time, where my kids don’t have to work in factories at a young age, where my wife can safely give birth, where I and my family have easy access to vaccinations and health care, where my wife and I and my kids can vote for whoever we want and then safely voice our support or displeasure.

I’m here because of others.

With none of my involvement or skill or intelligence, I was born to two middle class white people who also have two sets of supportive parents and who had the money to raise a child. I was born to a dad with a college degree who wanted to be in my life and who worked a steady federal gov’t job. I was born to a mom who went back to receive her college degree when I was in elementary school and who could rely on the dad to watch the kids; she didn’t have to pay a babysitter, leave us home alone. I was raised by two white—now upper middleclass—people both with a college degree. I got a head start.

I was raised in a house my parents owned. When they sold that house, they moved into another house they owned. In a neighborhood where the only cause of concern was the length of the grass—gotta cut your grass per HOA rules.

When the local high school didn’t work out, I went to a private school because that was possible. Not because I did anything to earn it.

I went to college. I graduated with $7000 in debt and paid it off within three years.

I got engaged and paid cash for a engagement ring and then wedding ring. I used the money from my summer job, which was a construction gig because my uncle owned a construction company. Where did I live during the summer? At my grandma’s place. For free. Because she was alive and interested in me.

With support from parents, my wife and I bought our first house and I landed a job teaching high school because the principle knew where I went to college and wanted to send her son there. That’s all. She recognized my alma mater.

During graduate school, I never took out a loan because my wife worked. We lived off her teaching salary. I graduated in four years with my PhD. I graduated without any debt because of my wife’s job.

I landed a book contract with Utah State University Press, partly because I met the acquisitions editor, Michael Spooner, through one of my mentors, Michele Eodice. Michele and Michael are good friends who share a love of whiskey and cigars. I met Michael through Michele in Las Vegas at a conference. When it came time for my to pitch my book, I already had a connection. And that connection worked.

On and on. I can now start tracing the head start my kids are receiving. Hard work is needed, sure. But so much depends on the celestial roll of the dice. I wouldn’t be upper middle class if I was born in England in the 14th century. I would be a farmer, live a farmer, die a farmer. Hard work wouldn’t move me up the ladder. So much depends on the roll, the bounce, the spin, looking over the edge of the table with hopeful eyes and seeing the black dots on the stark white of the die.

It’s so much luck, this life game we play. But we also gotta give people a chance to play. We gotta let them sidle up to the table, finger the die, blow on them, toss them down on the hard felt, watch the roll, the bounce, the spin, and see what the black dots say. The Celestial Casinos need to invite all. Not just those who have won in the past.

But also those who have lost in the past.

I’m here because my parents and their parents entered the Celestial Casinos and rolled well. I, then, got entry and rolled, too.

I’m here because of others.

Annotated Table of Contents

Somewhere in Colorado, my book is undergoing production. I just got an email from Laura Furney, the assistant director and managing editor with the University of Colorado Press. She wrote to tell me that they are prepping my manuscript for copyediting and adding XML coding for the ebook edition. Around October, copyedited files will fall on my desk for review. The book should come out in April.

The Embodied Playbook: Writing Practices of Student-Athletes will soon be born.

I posted a few weeks back about the book proposal process. Book proposals are unique genres, ones we don’t get much—if any—training on in graduate school. Unlike article or books, they aren’t published; they are a hidden genre that gives rise to a public genre. Kinda odd, right?

I’ll glad some found that helpful.

Below, I’m posting my annotated table of contents. Per the submission guidelines for my press, I needed to send along a proposal, two sample chapters, a cv, and an annotated TOC. I modeled my proposal after Chris Carter’s; I modeled my annotated TOC after Chris’s, too. I even kept the same font and fully justified the text—just like Chris.

I struggle mightily with abstracts, and annotated TOCs are just a bunch of abstracts. This was nasty hard for me. But just like an IRB application, the process helped me better understand my project. It helped me see the throughline of my book, how the sections fit together; the process helped me feel where I was spinning bullsh*t, and where I really knew my plan for the chapter.

Below is the finished doc. Through reader feedback, the chapters changed a bit—especially the title of my book. But this is the original demo (to borrow some music lingo). Final note: my book has five chapters and always has. I’m not sure where the chapter 5 blurb went. Hmm.. Musta been there at some point.

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Rhetoric & Comics

For the second time, I am teaching a rhetoric and comics class. It’s officially titled “Rhetoric and the Graphic Novel” to lend some gravitas to our Important Scholarly Work.

It’s not really my area. I got the visual rhetoric theory, which I also bring to bear on my work with scripted sports’ plays and how athletes make sense of the kaleidoscope of images swirling in a play. My first publication, a Composition Forum piece, made work of some of this theory and so do portions of my forthcoming book–The Embodied Playbook: Writing Practices of Student-Athletes.

But comics? Never published here. But I do read a lot of em.

I got into comics as a grad student when I made my way into Atomik Pop on Main Street one  day. I’m not sure what pulled me into that space; I don’t know what I was looking for. But I had a great talk with the dude behind the counter (it’s always a dude behind the counter at our LCS). I think I walked out with an issue of Daredevil, a series I purchased consistently for 15 months or so.

I’m now full-on with DC. I reread Geoff Johns’s wonderful Infinite Crisis over the past two days.

No Marvel for me, please.

But the texts that stay with me the most are the graphic novels, not the serialized paperbacks or the one-shots.

Alan Moore’s From Hell–possibly the most unsettling text I’ve read; and I’ve read Stephen King entire oeuvre.

Jeff Lemire’s Essex County–I teared up when the hockey team tapped their sticks to the ground in a sign of respect.

Grant Morrison’s We3–another one that caused my tear ducts to get to work.

Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan–one I keep finding new areas of exploration in the narrative.

Craig Thompson’s Blankets–evidence that all graphic novels don’t need to be negative, dark, weighty, angsty.

I’ve brought my love of the narratives, the images, the lines, the lettering, the inking to my class this summer. Below is what we are doing–my full syllabus.

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Book proposals

On July 1, 2015, I sent a book proposal to Michael Spooner, the acquisitions editor at Utah State University Press, an imprint of the University Press of Colorado.  The book came with a tentative title: The Literate Practices of Big-Time College Sports. And I included an annotated TOC with my proposal.

I received an advanced contract in mid-August.

After two rounds of reader review, I sent in the complete book (newly titled as The Embodied Playbook: Writing Practices of Student-Athletes; thanks to Michele Eodice for help there) in January 2017.

As I type out these words, the book is undergoing the publication process right now, and I am thankful for an old high school friend who designed my cover.

Below, I include the exact cover letter I send onto Michael. The book proposal format is a tough one: rhetorically tricky that asks for a dash of marketing and salesmanship that many academics feel uncomfortable with. I’m wired as an introvert; so getting me to bang my own drum, shout from the mountain top for recognition in the loud and busy world book publishing–well, that’s tough. And the ego it takes to think someone should publish MANY copies and MANY pages of your writing. Yikes.

Examples are key for thinking through new genres. I am grateful that Chris Carter shared his book proposal with me. His book, Rhetorical Exposures, just came out with the University of Alabama Press. Paying the love forward, I share mine.

One final note: check out William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book and Getting It Published. I could take you to the exact booth at my university’s cafeteria where, when reading From Diss, I realized, I had a book buried and screaming for release from within my dissertation.

Rachel Toor also has a good series of posts on Chronicle.com about writing a book proposal.

I’m keeping things brief here, but if you wanna talk more, then let’s.

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Comedy and Writing

About two years, I interviewed comedian John Crist after his show at the University of North Georgia.

As a writing teacher-researcher, I am fascinated by what writing means for different people and how writing is accomplished for different jobs.

John has developed a strong following with his clean comedy and self-deprecating approach to his Christian upbringing and faith. One of his more watched YouTube bits is titled “Christian Girl Instagram,” a short satirical video of how to post social media content of one’s daily spiritual quiet-time.

My article focused on John was just published by the Journal for the Assembly of Expanded Perspectives on Learning. The full pdf is below. Further down is a link to a Soundcloud clip of my interview with John. Apologies for the 30 second gap near the end; Audacity and I don’t always get along.

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