15 November 2007

Transporting theology from Academia to the Pew

I've recently had a brush with notoriety. It wasn't completely nice.
Being criticized for what you didn't say is difficult to respond to.

Still, it resulted in an interview in Time magazine about my research on divorce,
and my research was, for a while, the most 'popular' story on Yahoo News.
Hopefully more people will read my work than they would have done otherwise,
though more people will also dismiss it, because they think they know what it says.

This experience has made me think about publicity and how to get noticed.
The web has now made publicity and publishing truly democratic,
so here is a guide to how I used the internet and what I would recommend now.

1) Publish on the internet while you are writing.
2) Get people interested
3) Publish an academic book on paper
4) Collaborate on a 'popular' version
5) Publicize the popular version
6) Communicate with pictures

1) Publish on the internet while you are writing

I wrote my book on divorce in several drafts.
The first was for my friends and family, and it was terrible.
The second was published on the web, chapter by chapter, and then edited.
The web version wasn't very well written, but it was very well read,
because search engines love text which changes and which has a wide vocabulary.
It meant that people were interacting with my ideas before
the first book came out, which created a head of steam for it.

Creating a web site is now very easy by using GooglePages.
- create a free Google account, and sign in, then click on Page Creator
- now you have a home page which you can edit like a simple word processor
- pictures, links, layouts, etc are very easy to add and change
- if you wish, you can add simple html and javascript programming
- you can chose when to publish, and can edit pages at any time

Or, use a Blog and publish each chapter or a sub-section as a post
- create a free Google account, and sign in, then click on Blogger
- there are others, but Blogger is easy to use and has powerful facilities
You probably want to make this look like a book rather than a diary so:
- in the Template, remove the "Blog Archive" which lists posts by dates
- instead, add "Labels" as a list, and use these as your section headings
A very good feature of blogs is that you can invite feedback.
- this is valuable both as encouragement and to help you see
what people don't understand, or to find out want to know more about.

2) Get people interested

I like to stay at home, so I work mainly on the web, but if you like to get out,
you might concentrate more on public speaking and going to conferences.

Offer papers at conferences and to journals
- when you find interesting topic within your subject, write it up as a paper
- this means tangential topics which don't really fit into the book are still useful
- and you can refer to conclusions from your papers in the book

Get permission to publish papers on the web as soon as possible
- some journals demand a year or two before you publish it
- many journals allow immediate publication on a personal website
- though most journals do not like papers on the web before they publish them

Build up an email list of people interested in your work
- invite people to email for irregular updates on your work
- or set up a Google Group or Yahoo Group which provide facilities for sharing

Don't put your main email address on a web page - it'll get spammed
- if you know javascript, you can protect it (like we do on the Tyndale site)
- or create a free Google address and make a filter to copy email to your main address
- then, when spammers find this address, create another Google address

3) Publish an academic book on paper

For credibility, a traditional publisher is still essential,
but it is becoming increasingly possible to do this yourself.

Use the tips from previous Tyndale Techs to save yourself time
- tips on writing multi-chapter documents with Styles, Contents, etc are here
- instructions for quickly creating semi-automatic indexes are here
- resources for Greek & Hebrew Unicode fonts are here

You can print and sell a 'real' book at publishers like www.Lulu.com
- they help you create a PDF document of your whole book and design a cover
- they provide free webspace, an online shop, and publish on demand
- their printing is remarkably cheap and produces real published books
- you can set the price at the printing cost or above (and you keep the profits)
- you can allow free download of a PDF eBook, or you can make a profit on that too

Publicize your book.
- even if you use a traditional publisher, they expect you to help with publicity
- make a list of as many journals as you can think of for sending review copies
- write some blurb both for them and for your website (and don't be modest)
- if you self-publish, offer review copies as widely as possible (the cost is worth it)

4) Collaborate on a 'popular' version

Most scholars can't write easily readable prose, but they think that they can.
Communication is a difficult skill, and people who think it is easy don't know much about it.
You can test your writing for readability here - it calculates the Gunning-Fog index

The trick is (apparently - I'm not much good at it either) to know your audience.
I found that the only way I could do this is to pretend I was writing a sermon.
This meant I wrote with lots of illustrations and less complicated language.
But then I swallowed my pride and let someone else turn it into prose.
She rewrote almost all of it, and even moved whole paragraphs or cut them out. Painful !
The 'popular' book which resulted was wonderful - as easy to digest as chocolate.

How do you find a collaborator? Ask your contact list for help.
- ask for proof readers (you need them too) and offer them a chapter each
- pick those who make the most dramatic changes, then ask someone else if the changes are good
- if you find a good editor, you must be prepared to trust them when they change your work!

To collaborate, use the Tracking function in Word
- double-click on "TRK" in the bottom bar, or click on Tools: Track changes
- now, when you or your editor make changes, they are highlighted and reversible
- use the Reviewing tools found by clicking on "View", "Toolbars", "Reviewing"
- email the documents to and fro, and keep old copies to make you more adventurous
(you probably won't refer to the old copies, but having them gives you courage to make bigger changes)

Or use the collaborative tools in GoogleDocs
- create a free Google account, and sign in, then click on "Docs"
- upload a Word document or create a new document which lives on the web
- click on "Share" to allow both you and your editor to change the same document
- it has a built-in rollback so you can rescue an older version if necessary

5) Publicize the popular version

You can wait for publishers to do this, but most are not much good at it,
though IVP USA were great, getting me radio interviews and other publicity.

Visit blog sites and join in, pointing to your stuff when relevant
- this is time consuming, and admittedly I have done little of this
- although your text soon disappears from the blog front page, search engines will continue to find it

Send press releases to any newspaper or news agency which has an email address
- provide a page of prose & facts from which they can put together a story without much editing
- include "quotes" from yourself so they can pretend they interviewed you
- include contact details and web links in case they want to do research or check facts

Offer articles to magazines and newspapers
- hopefully they will come to you, but don't be shy. They're always looking for copy.
- make sure you read them from your detractors' point of view, to make them unambiguous
(that's where I've fallen down, so that detractors were able to exaggerate what I didn't mean)

Admittedly I haven't followed my own advice about publicizing. I should have, but I'm lazy.

6) Communicate with pictures

The world is full of pictures, and they can help you communicate complex ideas.

Provide some talk or sermon outlines with pictures for powerpoint presentations
- see an example at VisualSermons.co.uk

Put pictures on your blog site or web site
- I asked my daughter to find pictures on the web and get permission from the artists
- she found an artists' community with wonderful pictures, and most artists were
keen to have their work used for a good cause if it included a link back to their site.
- see examples at DivorceRemarriage.com

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