Author Conversation… R. Neil Scott

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

This month, our author series continues with R. Neil Scott, Professor and User Services Librarian at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. In addition to his most recent book, Neil is the author of two additional books:  Postmarked Milledgeville: Flannery O’Connor’s Correspondence in Archives and Library Collections, and Flannery O’Connor: An Annotated Reference Guide to Criticism. He is also the founder of Timberlane Books, an independent publishing house that “strive[s] to publish award-winning books that advance knowledge and learning for present and future generations of scholars and readers.”

What is your most recent publication?Flannery O’Connor: The Contemporary Reviews

I compiled and co-edited, with Irwin Streight, Ph.D., Flannery O’Connor: The Contemporary Reviews. It was published this past June by Cambridge University Press.

How did you decide to write this title?

I stumbled upon some of the author-specific volumes of Cambridge University Press’ American Critical Archives Series and realized that, because I had already researched and identified all the reviews of O’Connor’s books for my previous book, Flannery O’Connor: An Annotated Reference Guide to Criticism (Timberlane, 2002),  it would probably be fairly easy to type, edit and proofread the reviews for an O’Connor volume.

I then sent a detailed proposal/query letter to the series editor, Dr. M. Thomas Inge at Randolph-Macon College, and was pleased when he responded that he was enthusiastic about including a volume on O’Connor in the series. Then, after some back-and-forth correspondence regarding style, length of the proposed manuscript and royalty rates, he recommended the title to Cambridge University Press. I was then issued a contract and was soon writing another book.

Please talk about the research and writing process.

Unfortunately, once I began work on Flannery O’Connor: The Contemporary Reviews, I found that, while I enjoyed editing and typing the reviews, I had seriously underestimated the time it would take to identify and acquire the necessary permissions to include them. Time passed–one year, then two–and I began to sense that the project was “pulling me under.” It was difficult to do the scholarly work necessary to type and edit the reviews while trying to correspond with hundreds of copyright holders.

I turned to my friend and fellow O’Connor scholar, Dr. Irwin Streight at the Royal Military College (Canada), and asked him to join me as a co-author. Thankfully, he agreed, and immediately started editing and writing the Introduction. Meanwhile, I gritted my teeth and turned my attention to acquiring the remaining more difficult copyright permissions, one-by-one. Indeed, I was negotiating back-and-forth with the New York Times and other corporate rights holders right up to the day we returned the marked-up final version for printing.

The book was a good idea and is a valued contribution to O’Connor scholarship, but it was a tough, arduous journey to see it through to completion. What saved the project was the fact that Streight agreed to join me, did more than his fair share of writing and editing, and we both were able to tap into faculty research funds at our respective institutions to pay for the permission fees.

What did you like most about the process/project?

I enjoy the sense of purpose that each writing project gives me. While I was writing my first book, Flannery O’Connor: An Annotated Reference Guide to Criticism, I was serving as Coordinator of Public Services, then Associate Director for Library Operations at Georgia College & State University. My days were filled with a lot of personnel-related decision-making, dealing with budgets and customer-service related issues, “putting out fires,” attending committee and other meetings, writing reports, and — if it were a good day — some public services librarianship.

In contrast, my O’Connor-related reading and writing was a purposeful, peaceful and meaningful activity. And, because I often dealt with scholars working with O’Connor’s manuscripts, I knew, intimately, what the scholarly trends were, what was being written for theses, dissertations, articles and books in progress, and was able to use this knowledge to develop an intuitive feel for the essence of the criticism that I was reading and summarizing for that book.

Unfortunately, with this more recent volume, even though I am in a more enjoyable position as a Professor and User Services Librarian at a mid-sized state university (25,000 students), the clerical effort required to acquire permission to reprint the reviews detracted from the writing and editing, and this book wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as my previous scholarly projects.

What did you like least about the process/project?

I’ve found that — to do a good job on a literary project — it’s hard to estimate when you can actually complete it. So, while going back and forth in my negotiations with scores of copyright holders I missed the first couple of agreed-upon deadlines. These situations were not well-received by the production editor at Cambridge, but I was adamant. I refused to give up and leave some of the reviews out. It became a bit stressful for all concerned, but in the end I managed to include every single review we had identified and Cambridge published a truly excellent volume.

What suggestions do you have for other LES members who are interested in publishing a book?

Get in the habit of writing — book reviews, articles, blog entries, pathfinders, whatever — just write. Then, browse your library’s “new books” cart to get a good feel for what’s being published. Try to identify a series that may have a niche that matches your own interests and/or a literary collection in your library or community. (For example, the Cambridge Introductions to Literature Series, the Scarecrow Press’ Literary Research Series, and other such series offer excellent opportunities for publication.)

Once you identify a need that attracts your interest, send the series editor a well-written, enthusiastic query letter. Introduce yourself and impress him/her with your desire, knowledge and qualifications. If you haven’t made a record for yourself yet, just seek out someone who has and “pitch them” on the project. You’re likely to find them happy to join you as a principal or coauthor.

Why are research and publication important to you?

Besides the obvious requirement to conduct research and publish to meet promotion and tenure criteria, I’ve found that I enjoy the idea of contributing something meaningful to the scholarly community and to those who will come after us.

I feel a satisfying sense of accomplishment to know that my books are now part of the written record of my generation; that individuals, as yet unborn, will be using them to better understand the life and writings of Flannery O’Connor and her world.

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