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Writing Beyond the Academy: Securing an Agent and a Commercial Book Deal

Workshop VII-1, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 8:30 am

Workshop Description
Scholars of the Middle East are frequently called upon to share their expertise with a diverse range of publics outside the confines of academia—from policymakers to civic organizations to the media. A critical part of this public engagement— and the place where it often begins—is the publication of a book with a “trade press” (i.e., a commercial, non- university/academic publisher, with a powerful marketing and publicity apparatus). Not all academics have a desire to do this kind of work. However, for those who do want to engage with the “public sphere”, there is often confusion about where to begin, and a lack of resources to help with the process. Worse, there are sometimes institutional disincentives, in the form of tenure clocks, skepticism from colleagues, or the pressure to produce “real scholarship” that advances the field. This special two-part workshop is designed for scholars interested in better understanding the process of finding an agent, landing a commercial book deal, writing in a more accessible register, and other skills related to making the transition into writing for the general public. Part 1 covers the general landscape of commercial publishing – with special emphasis on how it differs from academic publishing, what to expect, the pros and cons of trade publishing, and some of the resources available for scholars wanting to make this transition. Part 2 provides participants with practical, actionable advice about the nuts and bolts of writing a non- fiction book proposal for a commercial press and the process of finding an agent--including common pitfalls to avoid. Time permitting, it also allows for participants to share and get feedback on their own writing samples, proposals and book ideas. The workshop will be led by John Ghazvinian, Executive Director of the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Ghazvinian has two decades of experience as a journalist and academic, having written for such publications as Newsweek, The Nation and the Washington Post. He is the author of Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil (Harcourt, 2007) and America and Iran: A History, 1720 to the Present (Knopf, 2022) -- named by the New York Times as one of "100 Notable Books of 2021". He is founding director of “Scholars to Storytellers” – an initiative aimed at helping senior academics engage with general audiences.
  • Dr. John Ghazvinian -- Organizer, Presenter