Genre

I’m currently reading books about academic writing (none nearly as useful as the Belcher workbook, unfortunately). At the moment, Anthony Haynes’ (2010) Writing Successful Academic Books has my attention. Yesterday, I read the first chapter of his book, where Haynes highlights a few things I had thought about only peripherally. Most importantly, Haynes writes very straightforwardly about genre and its relation to audience. Haynes identifies four categories of books: reference works, monographs, adoptables, and trade books.

 

I never thought of my book as either a reference work or a trade book, so those two are out, but I definitely had some confusion about whether my book is a monograph or an adoptable (as in, a book you would use to teach). In the original, preliminary proposal I wrote (which is still sitting in my desk –more on why I’m skipping the proposal and going straight to writing the book later), I definitely fell for what Haynes identifies as a fairly common trap: I pitch my book as appealing to an excessively broad audience (advanced undergraduate and graduate students, medical anthropologists, policy specialists, health care advocates) and argue that the book is somehow theoretically sophisticated and accessible enough to be potentially adoptable as a supplementary ethnography in undergraduate anthropology classes. In Haynes’ words, “If, when you are trying to define the market for your book, you find yourself yoking together a long list of increasingly disparate groups, that is probably a sign that you need to think the book through more rigorously” (37). On “supplementary texts,” books that somehow fall between textbook and monograph (sort of where I saw my book) Haynes is even more disparaging “I don’t believe in them. Supplementary books all too often fall betwixt and between: the book proposals that support them typically allude to student sales that never materialise, whilst libraries too, for one reason or another, tend not to see them as must-haves” (13). The biggest problem with these books, Haynes identifies, is that they lack the depth and rigor of the monograph and the teachability and learnability of the textbook.

 

One of the reasons I was thinking about my book as both a monograph and an “adoptable” was the fact that I always rely on monographs when I teach undergraduate classes, and so do the people I learned to teach anthropology from: In the past, I have used Nanda’s Neither man nor Woman: the Hijras of India, Brandes’ Skulls to the Living, Bread to the Dead, and Basso’s Portraits of ‘the Whiteman’: Linguistic Play and Cultural Symbols among the Western Apache. These monographs all share a few things in common: they are interesting, readable, and not overly theoretical, yet they deal with complex issues in a sophisticated way. They are all excellent anthropology books for someone who knows very little about anthropology.

I thought that pitching my proposed book as a work that could be adopted in undergraduate teaching would increase the chances that the book would be picked up by a press. After reading Haynes, I realize that I am better off following my instincts and writing the book I want to write. What is clear to me now is the genre: I am definitely writing a monograph. If it happens to appeal to a broader audience, that will be a happy coincidence. I think my narrative voice leans toward accessible and clear, and I’m not a big fan of convoluted writing, so the final product may ultimately be precisely the kind of ethnography I like the most –but that can’t be my end goal. My end goal is to write an ethnographic monograph of mental health services, their users, and providers in Yucatan, Mexico. My audience is comprised of other scholars in my field and possibly related social sciences. And from what I can surmise, the best way to sell it is to keep it within its genre and argue that the work is an important contribution to the field.

 

Books Mentioned

Basso, Keith. 1979. Portraits of ‘the Whiteman’: Linguistic Play and Cultural Symbols

           Among the Western Apache. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brandes, Stanley. 2007. Skulls to the Living, Bread to the Dead: The Day of the Dead in

           Mexico and Beyond. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

Haynes, Anthony. 2010. Writing Successful Academic Books. Cambridge: Cambridge

            University Press.

Nanda, Serena. 1998. Neither Man nor Woman: the Hijras of India. 2nd ed. Wadsworth

              Publishing.

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One thought on “Genre

  1. Haynes is certainly good at giving potential authors a crash-course on genre as it appears to publishers and aquisitions editors. It’s odd that he isn’t better known amongst new academic writers. I would also recomend, if you don’t already know about it, K. A. Kendall-Tackett, How to Write for a General Audience (Washington DC.: APA, 2007). She has some good content on writing proposals and structuring for a broad readership.

    Anyway, best of luck and thanks for the blogging.

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