KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Monday, February 25, 2013

Book: Journey of a Konkani Family

Book cover: Journey of a Konkani FamilySeveral books that I have edited within the last couple of years are now being published. The latest one is Journey of a Konkani Family. If you're looking for an objective book review, you won't find it here, because I consider it an honor to have worked on the book and like it quite a bit. What you will find here, though, are reasons to pick up the book yourself.

Author Mulki Radhakrishna Bhat, a Konkani from Udupi on the west coast of Karnataka, grew up in India as part of a large, close family with rich cultural traditions. He immigrated to the United States as a young adult in the 1950s, navigated its very different cultural traditions, and had a long career as a nuclear physicist. He is now retired from Brookhaven National Laboratory. He and his wife, Padma, who live on Long Island in New York, have one son, whose questions inspired him to tell the story of several generations of his family within the context of the Indian diaspora.

Mulki spent more than a decade doing research in the United States and in India, interviewing many members of his extended family, and then writing the book. And such an engrossing story it is, one that is liberally sprinkled with transliterated Sanskrit* and that explains many traditions. Here is a portion from appendix 5 about the traditions involved in naming babies:

   There are elaborate rules for choosing a baby’s name that are based on the time of birth or on astrology and local customs (Kane 1974, 2:234–55; Pandey 1969, 78–85). The customs and traditions of names have changed significantly from the Vedic age to the present. Some of these are discussed in Appendix 3: “Atri Gotra, or Clan Atri.” The current orthodox [Gauda Sarasvat Brahmana] custom is to give five names: one based on the family deity, one on the month in which the baby was born, one on the baby’s asterism, a secret name, and a customary name for daily use. The secret name is known only to the parents until the age of initiation and is whispered in the baby’s ear. The secrecy is to prevent its use by any malefactor who would perform sorcery to harm the baby. Parents have to remember the secret name, which is revealed at the time of the upanayana. The custom of using twelve names at a barso is not required by codes of law and has grown to be a tradition in some families. Boys used to be named after their paternal grandfather, whether that ancestor was alive or dead. Nowadays, some of these names are considered old-fashioned and other more modern names are used. There is much greater freedom in choosing a name for a girl. Usually, girls are named after a flower, a desirable virtue, or one of the exemplary women of Hindu epics.

Having roots in both the traditional Konkani world and the modern American world, Mulki tells the humorous tale in chapter 5 of his first encounter with American football, the U.S. religion, as part of an orientation for Indian immigrants:

   Ohio State University (OSU), founded in 1870 as a land-grant university, had about 20,000 students when I joined in 1956. After being admitted for the fall semester, all of the foreign students gathered in a huge hall to get a general introduction to university life. ...

   Football at OSU was not just a collegiate sport; it was the religion, with all of the attendant rituals. Out of curiosity, I bought a season ticket the first year to find out what all of the fuss was about. Attendance at a couple of games left me totally unmoved. All I could make out of the action was that there were two groups of huge men who looked like gorillas in armor, and they fought for the possession of one football. Somehow all of the nuances of the game were lost on me. I decided that attending games was a waste of time, so I gave away my ticket to the first person who asked for it. The OSU Buckeyes were almost professional football players masquerading as students, according to some critics. The weekly highlight of the religious observance was the Saturday afternoon football game, in which the powerhouse Buckeyes usually annihilated any opposing team, to no one’s surprise. Every OSU victory was celebrated by the ringing of the Victory Bell (a gift of the classes of 1943, 1944, and 1954), weighing 2,420 pounds and residing 150 feet from the ground on the ramparts of the southeast tower of the OSU stadium, to announce to the faithful another triumph of good over evil. The believers claimed that on a clear day,the bell could be heard five miles away. The whole university, including all of its libraries, closed down for Saturday-afternoon home games. When a few of us requested that the university’s main library be kept open on Saturday afternoons, this “heretical depravity” caused quite a stir. The university did open the library, but this grave anomaly was not publicized. The Buckeyes’ archenemy was another football powerhouse—the University of Michigan Wolverines, at Ann Arbor, Michigan. The OSU–Michigan game, which usually ended the football season, was a drama of cosmic proportions—the ultimate battle between good and evil. Over the years, this game had acquired its own mythology, saga, and portion of the faithful. Presiding over all of these observances was the head football coach, Wayne Woodrow “Woody” Hayes (1913–1987), now of blessed memory, a cult hero elevated to the semidivine status of guru by university alumni and the residents of Columbus. For most of the alumni, these games were the most important things that ever happened to them during their university years. Any other skills or knowledge they picked up was incidental or unintentional. I learned this from a letter I got from the OSU Alumni Association Club of New York City inviting me, as an alumnus, to attend one of their collegial meetings where movies of past Buckeye victories were to be shown, and of course they would all end with the joyous ringing of the Victory Bell and the singing of the Buckeyes’ fight song. These alumni wanted to savor every moment of past football victories, once more with feeling. It was truly an amazing bit of juvenile nostalgia. Unfortunately, as a nonbeliever in all rituals, I had to pass up this happy occasion.

Beyond the tales of his own experiences, Mulki recounts and discusses how events in history affected his family and the culture of his ancestors, making it clear that people are not that different from each other, wherever they may live.

I was fortunate to work with three colleagues on Journey. Stephen Tiano handled book design and layout; Dick Margulis handled book production, publication, and marketing; and Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy proofread the book.

Journey of a Konkani Family, by Mulki R. Bhat, from Ajjalkani Books. Trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0-9835757-1-9; US$34.95); 650 pages.

*Because the license that I purchased to use the transliteration typeface does not extend to being able to use it in this blog post, I have further transliterated the Sanskrit words in the book excerpts I have quoted here, using one of the typefaces available to me through Blogger.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Book Review—What Editors Want: An Author's Guide to Scientific Journal Publishing

Since 1991, I've been editing articles written for biomedical journals. I've done it as an employee of journal publishers, as a freelance editor with journals as my clients, and as a freelance editor with authors as my clients. And since 1991, I've wished that there was a reference work that taught authors about the process of getting their writing published in journals, so that instead of my having to teach them in bits and pieces, they could find all of the information in one place.

Thank goodness, Philippa J. Benson, PhD, and Susan C. Silver, PhD, have created exactly that: What Editors Want: An Author's Guide to Scientific Journal Publishing, just out from the University of Chicago Press. It's well organized, it's comprehensive, and it's authoritative. I fervently hope that medical schools and university science programs everywhere will make it part of their curriculum. Medical and science students are taught how to do research, and often how to report it, but they generally aren't taught about the publication process and how to navigate it. That makes the process unnecessarily frustrating both for researchers and for the editors-in-chief of journals—and hey, journal staff members and freelance manuscript editors too.

Before I tell you more about the book, I must disclose a few things that you may or may not believe predispose me toward writing a favorable review:

  • The University of Chicago Press sent me a free review copy of What Editors Want, at coauthor Benson's request.
  • I have a connection to Benson via Facebook. On Facebook and on Twitter, where I post a lot of publishing-related and science-related information, I have become friendly with Jennifer Kuhn, who provided administrative assistance to Benson during the process of writing the book and is now assistant managing editor for the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. Kuhn connected me with Benson.
  • I adore the Chicago Manual of Style, published by the same press as What Editors Want, and I am guided by it for some of the book-length manuscripts that I edit.
  • I have been invited, by one of my longtime author-clients, to travel to China at some point and teach the young researchers in his hospital department about writing for publication. I plan to use What Authors Want to guide me in teaching those researchers.

The writing is straightforward and a pleasure to read. As an editor who works closely with a lot of authors outside the United States who are non-native speakers of English, I believe that the writing is accessible to authors with that background. I plan to highly recommend the book to all of my authors, whether they are native speakers of English or not. Benson and Silver even have a sense of humor, as evidenced by their advice in chapter 10, "Dealing with Decision Letters," about what authors should do if they receive either a rejection letter from their target journal or a decision letter from the journal noting that heavy revision of their research paper is required:

As mentioned earlier, you should never allow your emotions to influence your response to a rejection letter. Usually, a little time and the immediate ingestion of chocolate or alcohol will sooth[e] the pain and you will start to see what you can do to get the manuscript back on track. Do nothing for at least twenty-four hours or until any strong emotions have subsided.

Part of what makes this book so valuable for researchers who are navigating the U.S. publishing world for the first time is that Benson and Silver have been on both sides of the author–publisher relationship. Silver said, of the process of writing the book, "On a couple of occasions, we completely failed to take our own advice about the book. ... It took us a while to ... see that there were some useful points [made by one of the manuscript's reviewers]."

There's an aspect of the book that editorial professionals like me might find surprising, though it is minor compared with the importance of the book's content: Throughout the book, the word editor is capitalized. I wondered about that style choice, so I asked the authors about it. Silver explained that the University of Chicago Press "argued with us a lot about that because it's against their style. Our point was that in this book, [editors have] a starring role. It's their wants and needs that are being discussed. They were an important character in the book." Benson added, "We wanted to build the persona of the editor, and one of the ways to do that was through capitalizing [the word editor]. We had to pick our battles carefully with Chicago. We really were very mindful about the things we pressed hard for, and this was one of them."

The book takes readers through these issues:

  • Who cares what Editors want?
  • Changing perspective from author to Editor
  • Judging the newness of your science
  • Authorship issues
  • Choosing the right journal
  • Understanding impact factors
  • How to write a cover letter
  • Preparing for manuscript submission, or "What Editors wish you knew"
  • Who does what in peer review
  • Dealing with decision letters
  • Ethical issues in publishing
  • Trends in scientific publishing

The authors' coverage of those issues is thorough, and I did not find myself wishing that they had dealt with additional topics. All of their advice is on target, especially for would-be authors to look at issues of their target journals before definitely deciding to submit manuscripts to those journals, to read and follow in detail the author instructions of their target journals, to educate themselves about the permissions process, and to learn how the peer-review system works.

I found only one problem with the book: The cross-references in chapters 4 ("Authorship Issues") and 5 ("Choosing the Right Journal") to sidebars 8.1, 8.2, and 8.3 from chapter 8 ("Preparing for Manuscript Submission, or 'What Editors Wish You Knew' ") are incorrect. For example, in chapter 4 the authors refer readers to the sidebar on choosing a language-polishing service, and they note that this is sidebar 8.3, but it is actually sidebar 8.1.

Benson heads the firm PJB Consulting, where she is currently working with organizations such as PLoS One and the American Society for Nutrition on author education and publishing-services projects. She is also on the faculty of the Master of Professional Studies in Publishing program at George Washington University. Silver is editor-in-chief of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, published by the Ecological Society of America. She has held editorial positions at Academic Press and the British Dental Association and was editor of Biologist and The Lancet Oncology.

Benson and Silver told me that they got to know each other through annual meetings of such U.S. organizations as the Council of Science Editors and the Society for Scholarly Publishing. The book grew out of workshops that they later led together in China to teach, as Silver said, "young researchers how to navigate the Western journal landscape." Silver said that some colleagues wondered why she and Benson were "going all the way to China" to teach this material, saying, "We need this stuff here." Benson said that the content of the workshop evolved each time they taught it, and it occurred to her that it would be very helpful to have a textbook to use in teaching. Benson suggested to Silver that the two of them should write that textbook, and Silver, the more cautious of the pair, eventually agreed.

The authors have impressive credentials, but they told me that they thought it would be good to have input for the book from other authoritative sources in journal publishing. The pieces that those contributors wrote became helpful sidebars scattered throughout the book. "With the exception of one person, everybody [we asked] immediately agreed" to contribute to the book, Benson said. Here are some of the sidebar authors and their topics:

  • Carol Anne Meyer of CrossRef: "What authors need to know about CrossRef DOIs [digital object identifiers], CrossCheck, and CrossMark"
  • Monica Bradford, executive editor of Science: "Honesty in authorship"
  • Catriona MacCallum, senior editor of PLoS Biology and consulting editor of PLoS ONE: "Choosing open access for your paper"
  • Lyndon Holmes, president of Aries Systems: "Online manuscript submission and peer review systems"

The authors told me that they welcome feedback on the book because they would like to make any necessary corrections or additions to its next edition. You can write to them at whateditorswant@gmail.com. Silver added, "And if there are any additions [for the book], we can still include it in our teaching."

Without reservation, I recommend this book for those new to the publish-or-perish atmosphere of science, to those who work with science authors, and especially to those who teach them. There are already other resources available to teach researchers about good science writing, but What Editors Want is the first map that I know of through the U.S. science publication process. It's a map that no one who plays any role in science publishing should be without.

What Editors Want: An Author's Guide to Scientific Journal Publishing, by Philippa J. Benson and Susan C. Silver, from the University of Chicago Press. Available in several formats: cloth (ISBN 978-0-226-04313-5; US$55), paperback (978-0-226-04314-2; US$20), and e-book (978-0-226-04315-9; US$7 to US$20); 192 pages.

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