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How to write the introduction of a book manuscript

I am a member of the Public Outreach Committee of the International Studies Association’s Environmental Studies Section (ESS of ISA). At ISA 2018, recently held in San Francisco, I participated in a Publishing Roundtable organized by Dr. Beth DeSombre as part of our Speed Mentoring Series, which is organized by the Public Outreach Committee.

Water scholarly books

I was asked to participate because I do a lot of writing on academic prose, and because of my experience publishing journal articles, book chapters, and editing journals, so I was thrilled to contribute to these mentoring sessions, as they’re intended to help graduate students and early career scholars, but also established and seasoned academics. Over the course of the session, we all shared our own tips with doctoral students, postdoctoral researchers and assistant and associate professors who were writing book manuscripts and/or wanted to publish journal articles.

All participants shared lots of pearls of wisdom, but perhaps the one that stuck the most with me was that coming from the commissioning editor of Oxford University Press for politics, Angela Chnapko.

She suggested that we should read published books, particularly their introductions, to see how we could craft our book proposals and in turn, our own manuscripts. This piece of advice has stuck with me, and now that I’ve read about 45 books in the past 3 months, I’ve come to realize why she said what she said.

Reading the introduction to a published book gives you amazing insight into why an author undertook the project, how they went about the research, fieldwork, data analysis, etc., and what the book’s implications are for the specific body of scholarship we try to contribute to, for the field, and the discipline, as well as society at large.

Intuitively, I understood this. William Germano indicated it in his two books, From Dissertation to Book and Getting It Published, but it wasn’t until Angela said it that it all clicked in my head.

Read the book’s introduction.

While I am writing my own book manuscripts, I would not feel comfortable showcasing my own work as an example for how you should write so what I did was take examples from a few books I had at my Mom’s house or that I was travelling with. These five examples are just a few, but the basic lesson stands: READ OTHER BOOKS’ INTRODUCTIONS IN ORDER TO LEARN HOW TO WRITE YOUR OWN.

In my thread, I provided an overview of three books’ introductions (the three I had purchased during AAG 2018). The first one was “Resigned Activism” by Anna Lora-Wainwright.

I also read an edited volume (”Untapped”) to show how the editors made it clear to the reader what’s the common thread throughout the book.

The third book whose introduction I read and suggested be used as a model was Elizabeth Hoover’s The River Is In Us, an excellent multidisciplinary examination of pollution in a community with Indigenous heritage.

In my Twitter thread I also wrote about Diane Coffey and Dean Spear’s “Where India Goes” and Josh Lepawsky’s “Reassembling Rubbish”. You can go back to the thread by clicking on any of the tweets shown above. I hope this post helps those who are writing their first books or transforming their dissertation into a book manuscript, or even editing their first volumes.

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