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From Middle East Scholar to Global Storyteller: Landing an Agent and a Commercial Book Deal

Session II-03, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, December 1 at 5:30 pm

Special Session Description
Scholars of the Middle East are frequently called upon to share their knowledge and 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 explain 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 career scholars who are interested in better understanding the process behind finding an agent, landing a commercial book deal, learning to write in a more accessible register, and other skills related to making the transition into writing for the general public. Part 1 of the workshop will cover 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 of the workshop will be a hands-on, interactive experience, in which participants will have the opportunity to share short writing samples and drafts of their book proposals, and receive feedback on how they could be re-written to appeal to a more commercial marketplace. The workshop will be led by John Ghazvinian, Executive Director of the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Ghazvinian has nearly 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), as well as the founding director of “Scholars to Storytellers” – an initiative aimed at helping senior academics engage with general audiences.
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