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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Getting Published: A Journey (Part 1) by MWA's Dr. Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor

Getting Published: a Journey, part 1

By Dr. Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor
22nd November 2013

Dr. Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor
Writing can be amazingly satisfying. It can also be time-consuming and onerous at best and frustrating and heart-breaking at worst. But lots of us want to write and get published. I have over the last 3 years managed to write and get published and I have put together a few thoughts to share my experiences with you. As far as my experience goes, I first did a PhD and then wrote a book based on my thesis – I will refer to this during the piece that follows. In my experience, there are four stages to getting published:

  • STAGE 1: Develop a Writing Plan
  • STAGE 2: Getting a contract
  • STAGE 3: Writing, Writing, Writing
  • STAGE 4: Final Steps towards Publication
My experiences are purely academic and this sequence that I have provided above will vary for different forms of publications. For e.g. in fiction publications, Stages 2 and 3 may be reversed, nevertheless this sequence is useful to think about the whole process. Today I intend to write about STAGE 1 and during the next couple of months I shall gradually write about the future stages too. Please feel free to ask me any questions that you may have. I may not always have the answers but can tell you what I know, InshaAllah.

I hope you all find this helpful.

STAGE 1: Develop a Writing Plan

1.      Ideate: I like the work ideate, although my older English colleagues do not think this is a word at all! For me the word ideate signifies the process of formulating and then thinking through your ideas. What does your idea entail? What does it mean to you? What does it mean to everybody else? Does it have impact for wider society? Is this idea something that you would be practical for you to work on? What other ideas do you have? So a hypothetical e.g.: I would love to write on Islam in Indonesia, but do I know enough about Indonesia or the language they speak or the form of Islam they practice? I do not know enough and so I do not write about Indonesia. I however have done research about Muslim women in Britain and so I write about them.

2.      Choose your best idea:  This is the idea you are best able to write about in terms of your knowledge and capacity. It is also the idea that is most important to talk about given your social and political contexts. Remember your book needs to sell!

3.      Write: It nice feeling to know that this really amazing idea is nestling comfortably among the grey cells in your brain. But not good enough! Begin writing. This is the real start of your journey. A good books requires research, knowledge, hard-work and sweat (in my case a PhD and field research all over England!).

4.     Research: You may not be writing an academic book but will still need to do a lot of research in your local library, archives, family heirlooms, - it depends on what you are writing. if your book is a love story set on a 19th century sailing ship - your description of live on a 19th century sailing ship needs to be accurate. If you are writing a biography of your late grandfather, you need to represent his life accurately. Are you writing about Islam? Well then, check the Quran, hadith, classical sources and if need be ask a qualified scholar. Inaccuracies are BAD! However do remember this is a journey – you may not know everything to begin with and may make mistakes, but you learn as you progress, research as you go and correct your mistakes as soon as you find them. Remember at this stage you are not writing to complete the project, you are writing to develop a plan.

5.      Know your work: By this stage you should begin to recognise your work and also identify the resources you will need to complete your writing. Do you need to do a PhD? Or is it simpler – do you need to spend a couple of hours for the next two months at your local library? Do you need a laptop? Or a desk? Or childcare?

6.      Know your sector: You should also start thinking about the sector / genre that you are writing in. For academic writing you do a ‘literature survey’ to identify who are the key figures in the area. I got to this stage while in the midst of my PhD and so while identifying key figures I also critically analysed what they wrote. Did I agree with X, Y and Z and why? Did I disagree with A, B and C and why? This informed my thinking and helped me decide how I would position my book on Muslim women – what story did I want to tell? My thinking led me to identify that I wanted to challenge notions of Muslim women as subjugated and oppressed. I also wanted to challenge the predominance of patriarchy and male dominance in some Muslim communities.

7.      Scout around for publishers: At this stage you also need to identify the key publishers in your area. Which are the most important books, who are their authors and who are publishing them? Whom would you like to be published with? Make a list of your top five choices. Find out more about their timelines: for feedback on your proposal, for publication. In academic publication contracts are not that important and I did not really think too much about royalties. However this may be more in important in other forms of publication and so you need to find out all you can. After sourcing all this information and weighing your choices, make a shortlist of your 3 preferred publishers (keep the other two names as backup, just in case the first three decline!).

8.      Plan: Bring all of this information together into a plan. You may want to write it down or you may keep it all in your head, but you need to have a plan that outlines what you intend to do. For my PhD I had to write a number of formal academic plans, but when I wrote my book based on my PhD my plans were mostly in my head. This plan should outline the following aspects:
  • Why are you doing this piece of work? What are your personal and professional reasons? Why is it worth it? 
  • What is it? A book, a monograph, a novel, a biography, an article, an essay, a poem, a journalistic piece? Is it academic, fiction, non-fiction, journalistic...
  • What will be its approximate length?
  • How many constituent parts / chapters / sections will it have? And what will this be? For a book it is good to have working titles for all chapters. 
  • What resources do you need?
  • What timeline?
  • Preferred publishers
Writing is a personal journey. So feel free to adapt or change all of this. Develop a plan that reflects your personality, environment and contexts. Feel free to challenge everything I have said – but still please develop a plan as it will guide your progress and encourage you to keep your momentum going. You will have bad days – that is fine and to be expected. However having a plan and goals will keep you going. And as I said make dua and seek divine guidance …… constantly!

Will write again soon about Stage 2. Hope you find this first installment helpful.

Happy Writing!


Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor is a Post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for Society, Religion and Belief, University of Derby. She specialises in the Sociology of Religion with particular emphasis on democratic research methodologies that seek to work with and for research participants. During 2011 to 2013 Sariya was a core team member on the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Project, Religion and Belief, Discrimination and Equality in England and Wales: Theory, Policy and Practice (2000-2010) which was led by Prof Paul Weller. She is the author of Muslim Women in Britain: Demystifying the Muslimah (Routledge 2012) and co-author of Religion or Belief, Discrimination and Equality: Britain in Global Contexts (Continuum 2013). She is also a member of Muslimah Writers Alliance (MWA).

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