On Writing the History of the American Bible Society: Update 119

Bible Cause CoverThe Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society is done.  Oxford University Press tells me that it will ship from the warehouse in the first week of March.

I have been pleased that several scholars have taken notice of the book’s release.  If all goes well, there will be a forum on the book at Religion in American History and HistPhil.  In November I will be making my first trip to the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Antonio for a roundtable on the book sponsored by The Society for Comparative Research on Iconic and Performative Texts.

This is all very exciting, but it is also a bit scary.  How will the book be received?  Will it be “popular” enough for general audiences?  Will scholars dismiss my narrative approach?  Though this will be the fifth book that has appeared with my name on the cover. The anxiety does not go away.

With this in mind, I really resonate with Joseph Adelman’s recent piece, “Making the Academic-Public Audience Transition.”

Adelman just completed an academic monograph based on his dissertation and is now writing a trade history of the U.S. Post Office.  He writes:

Unlike the first book, Project #2 has a tight deadline in book terms. That means I’m trying to write a book more quickly and without the expanses of time one has during dissertation research. Second, it’s aimed at a general audience, which requires a different writing voice, a different way of thinking about notes and citations, and so on. I had thought that wouldn’t be as much of an issue because I have some experience with public writing, but the scale of the project has made that a bigger challenge. Third, the project has a much longer time span—I’m writing a general history of the Post Office in America from its beginnings in the seventeenth century up to whatever’s going on in Congress when I finish the final draft of the epilogue. That means a new set of sources, including some with which I am less than comfortable. Who knew that reading typewritten primary sources could be so discomfiting?

The largest challenge by far, however, has been trying to write a synthetic work. Unlike the first project, which involved years of archival research, my post office project needs to be completed relatively quickly and stay at a relatively broad level. I don’t have time to spend five years reading pamphlets on postage reform or studying newspaper accounts of the postal workers’ strikes in Chicago or New York in the 1960s and 1970s. I need to rely on other scholarship. That goes against my instincts as a historian, which tell me to go to the archives, to pull sources, to read deeply, to wrap my arms fully around a topic before I commit my thoughts to writing.

I’m not completely abandoning archival work, both because it’s in my blood and because the book needs some archival sources to be credible. But I am working on crafting a narrative that relies on other historians for the background and bringing my voice to the fore for the narrative. It’s something I do every week in the classroom when I write lectures or lead discussions. Putting it into a book manuscript has been more difficult.

I had these identical struggles when writing The Bible Cause.  I have written for general audiences before, but Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? was more didactic and argument-driven than The Bible Cause.  The task of writing the history of a 200-year old organization was not easy.  I had to produce a narrative that was about a mile wide and an inch deep.

In the end I had to abandon historiographical debates and focus on telling a story about the American Bible Society and how it intersected with the history of the United States. Whenever I found myself writing about how historians approach this or that subject, I replaced those paragraphs with an interesting story I had uncovered in the archives.

Adelman is right.  There really is a difference between writing academic history and synthetic history of general readers.  The training in academic writing that many of us received in graduate school is very hard to shake.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update 118

Bible Cause CoverWell, the last time I updated the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home on my progress on The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society I boldly announced that “I think the manuscript is finally out of my hands.”

I was wrong.

Apparently I did not realize that I told Oxford University Press that I would be preparing the index (as opposed to farming it out).  After about 15 hours of tedious indexing, I have just sent it off to Oxford.  So now I think I can say with some degree of certainty that the manuscript is out of my hands.

After writing five books, I have come to realize that each press handles indexing differently.  University of Pennsylvania Press asked me to prepare the index for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  If I remember correctly, I also did the index for Confessing History.  But Westminster/John Knox Press and Baker Academic did the indexes for Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? and Why Study History?, respectively.

On a related matter, the “Bible Cause” tour is shaping up. We have booked engagements at National Presbyterian Church in Washington, Lincoln Memorial University, the Dunham Bible Museum at Houston Baptist University, and Trinity College and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  A lot more are in the works.

If you want to host us shoot me an e-mail and we can set something up.  You may also want to consider a talk on The Bible Cause in conjunction with the Fall release of the Second Edition of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?  I actually have been starting to think about The Bible Cause as a kind of sequel.

The last I heard, The Bible Cause will be released on March 1, 2016.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update 117

I think the manuscript is finally out of my hands.  The next time I read it will be in book form.  The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society will appear in print in late March 2016.

About twenty minutes ago I submitted corrections to the book’s galley proofs.  I made over 100 changes to the manuscript (mostly spelling and other small errors).  I always try to get as many folks as possible to read the galleys.  This time around I had two of my most trusted research assistants–Katie Garland and Katy Kaslow–read them over.  Oxford University Press also hired a professional proofreader.

Hitting “send” on an e-mail with the galley corrections attached is always a bit nerve-wracking.  Did we catch all the mistakes?  Or will we be embarrassed when the book appears?  Only time will tell.

It is now time to start thinking about publicity.  We are promoting this book in several ways:

1.  The American Bible Society will be connecting me with Christian media outlets.

2.  Oxford University Press has two publicists working on the book in conjunction with the publicity team at the ABS.

3.  We are scheduling speaking engagements for Spring 2016 and beyond.  If you are interested, let me know.  We are targeting colleges and universities and churches and religious organizations.

4.  We are thinking about appropriate media outlets, websites, and blogs for short written pieces related to the content of the book.

All of this is coming together nicely.  Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society-Update 116

The page proofs are here!  The page proofs are here!

This morning I received the page proofs or galley proofs for The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.  The proofs are the final sample of the pages of a book.  In other words, this is the first chance to see the book in the typeset that it will eventually appear in print.  It is also the last chance to make any small corrections–mostly spelling mistakes or missing words.  

Over the next couple of weeks I will be reading the proofs very carefully in search of these small errors.  So will an Oxford University Press proofreader.  So will two of my research assistants (are you reading this Katie and Katy?).

The book is almost here!  It will be officially released on April 1, but will probably be available a few weeks before that.  Pre-order today!

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update 115

Last week I had a phone conversation with the publicists from Oxford University Press who will be working to promote The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.  Since this is a trade book (as opposed to an academic book) Oxford will be making every effort to bring it before a public audience.  This includes reviews in venues such as national newspapers and blogs, media appearances, and speaking engagements.

I am excited about hitting the road and the keyboard to talk and write about the history of the American Bible Society and its relationship to American religion and United States history more broadly.  During our phone conversation the publicists asked me to provide them with themes that they might use to promote the book.  I offer some of them below.  

If any of you find these themes interesting and want to set up a book talk or a lecture–either in the Spring ( the book appears in late March) or sometime later–please let me know. 

  • The Bible and the American founding:  Many of the American Bible Society founders, including John Jay, Elias Boudinot,and others, were also some of the founders of the American republic.  The ABS serves as a great example of the way that these religious politicians tried to build a Christian nation in the early republic.  Another variation on this lecture could be the role of reform movements and benevolent societies in building a Christian republic.  (I gave on this topic last year at Southern Methodist University).
  • The Bible and the Civil War and Reconstruction:  Two chapters of The Bible Cause deal with the Bible, slavery, and the attempt to build the nation after the War.  This topic might be appealing to Civil War roundtables or other groups.
  • Bible publishing in America:  In 1966 the ABS published Good News for Modern Man. Learn more about the  Bible that replaced Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care as the best-selling paperback in American history.
  • American missionary activity and imperialism:  Several chapters deal with the ABS work in China, Turkey, Japan, and Europe
  • The Bible and “Christian America”:  The ABS was always ready to promote the idea that the United States was a Christian nation. We see this in the generation of the ABS founders, the Civil and Reconstruction era, the 1950s and the Eisenhower era, and the Bicentennial of the United States in 1976 (among other times).  See how this theme of Christian nationalism weaves its way through the history of the ABS from 1816 to the present.
  • Protestant-Catholic relations:  The ABS was originally an anti-Catholic organization, but in the 1960s it began a relationship with the Catholic Church that continues to the present day. Both Catholic and Protestant groups might be interested in this long history.
  • The Bible and the West
  • The Bible and the New Immigration (1880-1920)
  • The Bible and the African American communityThe Bible Cause includes chapters on the ABS response to slavery, Reconstruction, segregation, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights.
  • The Bible and American evangelicalism.  In the 1990s the ABS took a decided turn away from the Protestant mainline and  toward evangelicalism.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #114

It was a slow process, but I have now responded to all the queries from the Oxford University Press copy-editor. This mostly required having to return to my notes and check the book’s footnotes to make sure that they are accurate.  Working on the copy-edits is not the most exciting part of writing a book, but it necessary.  The next time I will see a draft of The Bible Cause it will be in the form page-proofs.  

Stay tuned.  And while you wait for my next update why not head over to your favorite online or brick and mortar bookstore and pre-order a copy!

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #113

The art department at Oxford University Press has come through big-time!  Here is the cover of my forthcoming book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.

I love the image.  It is a colporteur manning a Bible stand sometime in either 1919 or 1920. This was the best image I could find in the ABS archives that reflects the organization’s historic interest in disseminating the Bible and contributing to the Christian identity of the nation.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #112

I am still working through the copy-edits for The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society (now available for pre-order at an online bookstore near you!  I was pleased to see that the endorsements/blurbs were recently added to the B&N and Amazon pages).

As part of any book that it publishes, Oxford University Press requires a 100-150 word abstract for every chapter.  Since the Bible Cause is twenty-seven chapters long (plus and Introduction and Epilogue) it took me all morning to make sure that these abstracts met the required number of words. When I originally submitted the manuscript in June I did not take this assignment seriously.  As a result, most of my abstracts were well under the 100-word requirement.  My copy-editor was not fooled and asked me to add words to every abstract. 
In addition, Oxford requires five “keywords” for each chapter.  I think this has something to do with the e-book version.
My responses to the copy-edits are due today, but I have asked for a two-day extension.  Stay tuned!

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #111

I am still hard at work on the copy-edited manuscript of The Bible Cause.  I have until October 12, 2015 to respond to the copy-editor’s changes and make whatever changes I think are necessary.

The good news is that you can now pre-order the book at Amazon.  Click here.

There is some additional material about the book, including the Table of Contents, at the Oxford–UK website.

We are still waiting the cover art.  Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society: Update #109

Bible Translation team: Shanghai, circa 1900
Still waiting on the copy-editing. 

In the meantime, Laurie Maffly-Kipp of Washington University in St. Louis has provided a very kind blurb to go along with the previous blurbs from Peggy Bendroth and Mark Noll.

Here it is:

“In an engaging survey of the American Bible Society, Fea leads us through Bible distribution in ever-widening circles.  His expansive sweep highlights dissemination on the U.S. frontier, within the war-ravaged communities of the postbellum American South, and around the globe.  He shows how the Good Book both followed and accompanied U.S. imperial aspirations, and also how its influence motivated believers to see America as a Christian nation united by reverence for the Word.”

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #108

I continue to be in a state of limbo on the American Bible Society book.  I am waiting for the good folks at Oxford University Press to finish the copy-editing process so that I can make some final changes to the manuscript.  I am expecting that the document will arrive any day now.

In the meantime, I have been working with the marketing department about promoting the book.  It looks like the American Bible Society is going to help in this regard as well.  The folks at ABS read the manuscript and offered suggestions for changes, but in the end I had complete academic freedom to write the story in my own way.  (I did, however, incorporate some of their suggestions when I thought they were fair). Some of the ABS brass were a bit uncomfortable with a few chapters and had some small concerns about my attempt to position the ABS as a promoter of Christian nationalism, but overall I think that they are relatively happy with what I have written.  

Two endorsements have already arrived.  Here they are:

“John Fea’s history of two hundred years of the American Bible Society is full of unusually perceptive insights.  The book shows how the society advanced both evangelistic and nationalistic purposes, sustained great activity at home and abroad, balanced heavenly-minded goals with up-to-date business savvy, promoted an old religion through modern technologies, and prospered with inter-denominational cooperation while surviving considerable controversy.  It is a splendid book to mark a noteworthy anniversary.”
—Mark A. Noll, author of In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783 (Oxford University Press, 2015)

The Bible Cause is far more than a definitive history of the American Bible Society, though it succeeds admirably in that respect. John Fea also tells a broader story about American culture, how religion came to play such a central role in shaping national identity and how, in turn, secular ideals have shaped American belief and behavior. It is an important story, told with affection, care, and thoughtful critique.”
—Margaret Bendroth, Executive Director of the Congregational Library & Archives

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #107

Things are moving along very well with The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society. Oxford University Press accepted my effort to reduce the manuscript from 203,000 words to 162,000 words.  They now tell me that readers will not need a magnifying glass to read the book.

The book will be close to 400 pages in length with twenty-four images that will be included in a glossy insert.  If all goes well, it will appear in March 2016.

The copy-editors are now working on the book.  When they are finished, I will have two to three weeks to respond to their edits and make any other changes.  Right now I am in a state of limbo, waiting for the edits to arrive in my mailbox.

Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #106

Cutting 50,000 words from a 203,000 word manuscript is not easy.  No author wants to leave roughly twenty-five percent of his or her book on the cutting room floor.  But this is what I have been doing over the course of the last two weeks. It is all my fault.  I delivered a manuscript to Oxford University Press that was way too long. My editor required cuts and I made them. Surprisingly enough, I think “The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society” will now be better book.  I am, however, going to miss some of the stories that did not make the final draft.  Maybe at some point I will post them here at the blog.

More later…

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #105

This pic is too small for the book

In my last post in this series I mentioned that I had submitted the manuscript of “The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society” to Oxford University Press.  I also mentioned the anxiety that comes with such a submission.  You can read all about it here.

Several things have happened since I submitted the book last month.

1.  My editor really likes what she has read so far.  This is good.

2.  I need to cut 50,000 words.  Some advice to new authors:  When your book contract says the manuscript needs to be 140,000 words long do not submit a manuscript that is 190,000 words long.  I should know better than this.  I have one week left to cut these words. At the moment I have 34,000 words left to cut.  (By the way, my book Why Study History? was 55,000 words).

The manuscript I submitted has an Introduction, 27 chapters, and an Afterword.  At this point I have managed to be rather surgical with my cuts.  They have all come by reducing each chapter from about 7500 words to 5500–6000 words.  I also combined Chapter 9 (on late 19th century immigration) and chapter 10 (on the late 19th century Bible work in the West).

3.  Six images are too small to use.  Unfortunately, these are some of my favorite images from the ABS collection.  I now need to replace them with other images.  The book will have 30 images total.

4.  Oxford assures me that they will have no problem meeting the May 1, 2016 publication date.

5.  At the moment the President of the American Bible Society and the in-house bicentennial historian are reading the manuscript.  While they have no control over the content, I am eager to get their impressions.

More later…

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #104

ABS Bible for the visually impaired

After a few short extensions and some late nights, my manuscript “The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society” has finally been sent to Oxford University Press and the process of transforming the manuscript into a book is underway.

Submitting a book manuscript requires a lot more than simply hitting the “send” button.   Here is what Oxford requires:

  • The manuscript, of course.  It needs to be formatted in 12 point font and double spaced. Each chapter needs to be sent as a separate file. This includes the table of contents, the acknowledgments, the dedication page., the bibliography, etc…
  • An “Author’s Questionnaire.”  This is a very important document because it helps the publisher promote the book.  Oxford’s questionnaire has close to forty questions. If you are thorough, filling this thing out could take several hours or maybe even a full day.  This is the point when the author writes the material that will appear on the cover jacket.  In addition, shorter statements (50 or so words) need to be written for catalog copy and the website.  For me, one of the fun parts of the questionnaire is picking potential blurbers and suggested places where the book should be reviewed and advertised.   
  • A “Manuscript Submission Form.”  On this form the author answers questions about the production process.  Will you be creating the index yourself or do you want to pay the publisher to do it? Do you want a “light” copy-edit or something more extensive?  Have you secured permission to publish all of the images and pictures that will appear in the book? Fortunately, all of my images come from the archives of the American Bible Society and I was granted free permission to use them. 
  • The”Oxford Scholarship Online Key Word and Abstract Form”.  This thing is a beast.  It requires 3-5 sentences abstracts for every chapter in the book and 3-10 key words for each chapter.  The “Bible Cause,” as it now stands, has twenty-eight chapters. Enough said.
The submission of a book like this also comes with some anxiety.  Oxford offered me a book contract based on the first two chapters.  They have not seen anything since then.  After spending so much time on a book project you start to lose perspective. Is this thing really any good?  Is my editor going to like it?  Is he/she going to send it back with orders to conduct a complete overhaul? How painful will the copy-editing process be? 
In my case the number of words in the manuscript that I submitted is much greater than the contracted word-count. How will the editor respond to this? Authors think that such extra words are absolutely necessary to tell the story that they want to tell.  Will the editor agree?
On the other hand, it is nice to be done–at least for now.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society: Update 101

I hope to end my history of the American Bible Society with a postscript that deals with the organization’s future and its move from New York City to Philadelphia.  With that in mind, I took some time this weekend to do some field research.  I was in Philly for my daughter’s volleyball tournament and had a window of time on Saturday afternoon to walk from our hotel on 12th and Market St. over to the future home of the ABS on Market St. between 5th and 4th streets.  Residents of the City of Brotherly Love will recognize it as the Wells Fargo Building.  

This summer the ABS will be moving into 10,000 square feet on the 8th and 9th floors of the Wells Fargo building.  The first floor of the building will eventually be turned into a Bible Discovery Center that will focus on the history of the Bible in Philadelphia, the United States, and the world.
I snapped some pics:

New home of American Bible Society.  Picture is taken a few steps from the Liberty Bell
New home of the ABS is located across Market Street from the National Museum of American Jewish History