WVU author spotlight: Daniel Renfrew

At West Virginia University Press we publish books in our areas of specialization by authors around the world, including WVU faculty like Rosemary Hathaway and Travis Stimeling, both of whom have written for our blog. Other members of the WVU community, of course, work with different publishers. In this post we continue to feature authors at the university who publish with other houses—part of our effort to serve as a forum for all things book- and publishing-related at West Virginia University.

Daniel Renfrew, associate professor of anthropology at WVU, writes about his experience publishing with the University of California Press.

Last year I was proud to publish my book Life without Lead: Contamination, Crisis, and Hope in Uruguay through the University of California Press. The finished product readers view or hold is of course only a façade veiling a complex internal scaffolding of effort, time, and multistep stages involved in bringing a book to fruition. Here I outline the combination of perseverance and fortune that resulted in my book being accepted for publication, in addition to the steps, at once monumental and mundane, that got it into print.

I started in 2013 or so by writing a detailed prospectus of my book project and “shopping it around” to different publishers. The research behind my book goes back much further, beginning as pre-dissertation research in 2002, through eighteen months of dissertation research in 2004–05, and multiple post-doctoral fieldwork visits to Uruguay from 2009–2017. I pitched the book idea to publishers sometimes through email, for instance responding to an open call for book projects through a thematic series, and at other times through face-to-face meetings at the American Anthropological Association conference. I received mostly “Sorry, not interested,” but also a few “This could be interesting, let’s see how it goes” types of responses. My skin grew thicker, and I got back to work. I tweaked and rethought the prospectus, started writing the introduction, and kept my fingers tightly crossed.

As my project advanced and matured, I completed the introduction and two draft chapters. My original prospectus changed considerably as the project morphed and took on new directions. I finally and rather unexpectedly had three respectable university presses interested in my project, one of which I was heavily leaning toward. But a fortuitous encounter with WVU Press’s incoming director Derek Krissoff pointed me in the direction of trying a new pitch with the University of California Press’s newly acquired Critical Environments: Nature, Science, and Politics series. The other “fortuitous” event, and I state this with some ambivalence, was the 2014 Flint, Michigan, water crisis that once again brought to public consciousness the socio-political salience and devastating impacts of lead poisoning. The series seemed like a perfect fit for my book’s analytical framework, and the topical relevance of lead I think granted it an unanticipated timeliness.

Then, like a long distance relay, I began the publishing process with multiple editor and reviewer companions passing the baton along the way. Here is how it went: In spring 2016 I sent an informal inquiry to one of the Critical Environments series editors, Rebecca Lave. After consulting with her fellow series editors, she expressed interest in officially reviewing the project. I then sent a formal proposal and two sample chapters to Kate Marshall of UC Press, who took the baton and sent these out to two peer reviewers. The reviews came back by the end of summer.

Based on these positive reviews, UC Press offered me an advance contract, which stipulated, among other things, page length, number of figures, timeline for delivery of the full manuscript, royalty percentage, and various legal and contractual stipulations. The advance contract, it should be noted, is a signal of intent to publish, but if circumstances change or the author does not deliver on her/his obligations, it may be terminated at any time. I got busy finishing the manuscript, taking about one year to write four additional chapters, added to the two draft chapters and introduction I had previously completed. This was a time of both great productivity and anxiety as I struggled to stay on task and meet my deadline.

I submitted the full manuscript in June 2017 and it was once again sent out for peer review, this time to three reviewers. Reports were returned in August. Then I had a chance to respond to reviewer comments and revise the entire manuscript, which I completed by January 2018. The final draft was then sent to one more reviewer, this time in-house at UC Press, for final comments and revisions. Throughout the process then, the book in part or in whole was formally reviewed by six reviewers.

Throughout this time, I continued working with Kate and her assistant Bradley Depew on selection of art (photographs), securing permissions, and cover design. UC Press’s marketing team suggested a slight altering of the book title and came up with a cool cover design drawn from one of the images I sent. I also wrote the acknowledgements section and dedication, and gave suggestions for potential “blurbers” for the dust jacket and website. I worked with a third UC Press person (Tom Sullivan) on marketing considerations and drawing up lists of book prizes for which my book would be eligible.

The final detailed stage of the publishing process consisted of working with UC Press’s freelance copyeditor (Erica Olsen), and hiring my own freelance cartographer (Bill Nelson) and indexer (Cynthia Savage). I selected the latter two from a list of previously-used freelancers with whom UC Press authors had worked. At this point the publishing baton had been passed to Emilia Thiuri, a production editor at UC Press who oversaw the final editing, design, and typesetting of the manuscript. This phase required quite a bit of work on my part as well, in answering queries throughout the copyediting and indexing process. And then, it was finally done! My book was published in September of 2018, five years after my initial queries to potential publishers, and two years after contacting Critical Environments and UC Press. This opened a new stage in the book’s “social life,” now visible and with the baton passed definitively to the broader public.


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