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I realised that I haven’t actually noted that the book is released on this blog, and so here’s the announcement. A little late, yes, but still… it is exciting. :)

What is Religion? A Theological Answer

What is Religion? Front Cover of the South Asian edition

The South Asian edition of my book, What is Religion? A Theological Answer is finally out. While the first time I held the Wipf & Stock edition (2013) was exciting, this edition is very very special because it is a subsidized price edition that makes it more accessible to the initial intended audience.

The original Wipf & Stock edition and the South Asian edition are essentially the same, though the formatting of the South Asian edition is different (as well as the paper thickness) and so the number of pages of the South Asian Edition is more. The South Asian edition also has a few corrections, which I have informed Wipf & Stock about, and hopefully they will be correcting their edition as well. Details of the changes are in the South Asian preface. I am grateful to Wipf & Stock for entering…

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After publishing What is Religion? A Theological Answer through Wipf & Stock (US), I was ready to begin work on the South Asian edition.

Wipf & Stock had made me change my Indian spellings into US spellings (so “Saviour” became “Savior”). I decided to edit my document again for the South Asian edition and change the spellings back to the Indian (UK) spellings in which my work was original written. The other change I made was to make my quotation indents more in tune with SAIACS style guide (4-lines-or-more are indented). Wipf & Stock style guide says 8-lines-or-more are indented, which meant many of my crucial quotes were merged into the text and not highlighted as I had wanted them to be. Naturally this resulted in a change in page numbers, and yes, a change in index as well.

My mentor, Cor, strongly advised against making any changes, especially since they could change page numbers. He urged me to keep consistent page numbers to avoid confusion. But there was both political (“Indian”) and personal interest (indenting) and so I went ahead and made the change.

Shockingly, I found a few more errors in my manuscript. So I changed them in the South Asian edition and informed Wipf & Stock of the same. Wipf & Stock uses a print-to-order press, so I hoped that the few errors I did find could be corrected in a later run. With a revised layout, revised index, and even revised cover in place, I was ready to submit my document to my Indian publisher.

Ironically, and completely unexpectedly, my Indian publisher said that they were not currently ready to print my work. I had simply assumed that they would print my manuscript, once I submitted it. However, I was shocked to learn that due to a financial crunch, my manuscript was low in the priority of projects.

They did say that they wanted to publish my work, but only “not yet.” If I wanted to expedite the process, they said, I could help cover the cost of printing. But that was certainly way beyond my ability, so I had to agree to put the project on hold.

That was a big blow, something I had not considered. And so I asked my Indian publisher if I could look for alternative publishers. They agreed.

Looking for alternative publishers was itself another long process, and surprisingly for me more complex than printing/publishing in the West. I basically offered Indian publishers two choices. 1) I asked publishers whether they would co-publish the South Asian edition with my first choice Indian publisher. Which meant, they would share the cost of printing the book and then jointly market the book (along agreed upon prices), 2) I asked publishers whether they would publish my book as sole South Asian publishers (and take on the full load of marketing).

I began by asking a local Christian publisher (in Bangalore) whether they would be interested in co-publishing. This publishing house said that they found the book interesting, but they couldn’t print it because it was too academic and it had a limited market that would compete with my other publisher’s market share. It was a fair argument, so I thanked them for graciously considering my request and moved on.

I then tried a big Christian publisher. They expressed interest, and I sent them a copy of my work. But after several weeks (a couple of months actually), they still hadn’t gotten back to me. I tried contacting them, but I think they forgot about my work or that they felt it was too academic and not worth pursuing.

I then asked two other established publishers, one secular and another Christian. The Christian publisher sated that they do not jointly publish (which meant they did not even want to partner with Wipf & Stock, and were only open to publish something that was exclusively published through them. The secular press felt that my book was too specialised beyond the scope of their print profile. Both were very courteous in their mails, which was nice.

I then explored a print-by-demand option; where I could publish through my first-choice publisher, but I would only print about 100 copies so that the liability for the publisher would be less. However, the was quite expensive… coming to about 350 rupees per book. This was just too expensive and so I dropped that idea.

Finally, however, alls-well-that-ends-well, because my first-choice publisher got back to me and said that they had finally gotten some funds and were ready to print my book. Once approved, the manuscript went through the printing process quite fast. Especially since I had already edited, and revised my layout.

We were also able to negotiate a deal with the printers to print fewer copies (350 copies), so that the Publisher would not be stuck with a huge pile of unsold books. Thankfully, as a result, I didn’t have to pay anything either, though I realised I would have to do much of the marketing of the book, and also I had to consider how to get reviewers interested in reading/reviewing it.

It was ironic that after a pretty straightforward to publishing process in the West, I was struggling a bit to get my work to the press in India (the primary audience of my work!). But at least South Asian edition, something I really wanted, was coming out. Which was a relief.

Summary thoughts

1. If publishing in India, be sure that you have a publisher who is willing to publish your work.

2. If you are willing to finance your own work, you will find more publishers. If money is an issue for you, then you will have to be willing to wait.

3. Try to keep your options open (though that didn’t really help me initially). These contacts may come in handy at a later stage.

4. Negotiate the printing of fewer copies, so that your publisher need not be stuck with too many copies that may not sell (dissertations are tough to sell). Explore print-by-demand options.

5. Finally, be ready to market your own book. See where and how you would like to spread awareness of your work.

A Theological AnswerIt was an exciting day, when I received free copies of my printed dissertation: What is religion? It looked so much better than my thick-bound printout in the library archives. It made sense that I should publish. And certainly, this should not be the end. And now that my PhD dissertation is published (by Wipf & Stock and SAIACS Press) I have decided to pen my thoughts… about the publishing process. Hope that any doctoral student reading this will find it helpful. What I learned was quite surprising; publishing is not something to be feared, even though it does require some “more” hard work (so don’t get tired of your completed unpublished PhD dissertation just yet!).

Step #1. Say yes to publishing

This is something I had to learn, and I want to thank one of my mentors, Dr. Cor Bennema, for pushing me to publish. The end of doctoral research did not stop at “writing”, or even defending the work, but in publishing it, he would say. He urged me again and again to look for publishers, present my proposal and hope for the best. Personally, I felt “publishing” a dissertation was more like a vanity project, but his constant emphasis made me feel as if my work was incomplete until I could gain a larger readership.

Step #2. Look out for publishers as soon as your doctoral defense is over.
Do not delay the process. If you’re from a context like mine, where once we finished doctoral studies our sending institutions overload us with work!!!, then you won’t have much time to pursue publishers. So start early. Again, because of Cor’s “nagging”, I began the process of submitting my work for approval even before I had my bound copy. Now, though the entire process took over a year, I don’t regret it. (In fact, I’m really glad I started early).

Step#3: Look out for “good” publishers.

My own process of publishing was to work with the people instrumental in my dissertation. So, in India, my obvious choice was to print my dissertation through SAIACS Press (Bangalore), because I studied here, and also was going to work here. For my western printing, I looked to McGill University’s Press, because I studied at McGill for a while, and felt my work resonated with the concerns of the Religious Studies department. I looked at their author guidelines and submitted all the details I could about my work. Interestedly, they wrote back within a few weeks, but sadly they said “no” to printing my dissertation because they felt my work was “too theological” (while McGill tends to be more “religious studies” focussed), but they politely (very nicely in fact) suggested I look for a Press that prints Theological material.

My next step was to look around and a colleague was printing through Wipf & Stock (US). I looked by Wipf & Stock’s author guidelines and sent them another detailed mail about my work (which included sending them a sample chapter). Surprisingly for me, they accepted the work for published and asked me to begin the process of getting the document ready for printing.

I was delighted and told Cor about it.  He however said that I could have tried for a more “prestigious” Press. Personally I was too grateful/thankful that Wipf & Stock agreed, and I didn’t regret anything. Though if anyone (reading this post) is looking for advice, Cor would suggest that you look for the more established presses and then work downwards.

This could help with greater visibility and recognition. Personally, I liked working with Wipf & Stock, especially since they were mainly theology focussed (like my work), plus they had a good relationship with SAIACS Press and were more than willing to allow SAIACS to have the India South Asian rights. This, I felt, was quite generous of them, and feel that because they were a smaller press probably they were more flexible. I also found Wipf & Stock people very approachable and cordial. So all that worked out well for me.

Step #4: Your contract

Another thing to look out while choosing the publisher is to read the contract carefully, and see if you agree with the stipulations. Personally, and I suspect for most doctoral publishers, we’re so relieved that someone is publishing our work that we don’t care that we’re getting stiffed! J I think that Wipf & Stock offered an ok deal… but here again I appreciated my mentor’s advice.

Wipf & Stock, like many publishers nowadays, expects the author to bear some of the cost of publishing the book. So, I had to pay some money (I forgot how much) to help cover the cost of the book. Since I was in no way to afford paying for my own book, my mentor suggested that I offer to do the layout of the book in lieu of the payment, so that would help mitigate the cost. Wipf & Stock agreed, and so I didn’t have to pay anything.

Step #5: Edit / format your work properly.

This is something I regret. I was so “burned out” after working on my dissertation, that I paid very little attention to editing it. Sure I made several changes in the text, and the more I looked at it, the more I felt like editing it, but probably that’s why I just wanted to stay away. Instead, I hired a copy-editor to read and format the work for my publisher’s requirements. I hardly paid attention to detail, grudgingly clarified when my copy editor asked questions, and basically was relieved to get it out of my hands.

It was only when I had to make the index (and yes, I feel every dissertation needs and index), that I was horrified to find so many errors. I was relieved that I was reading the work myself, finally, but I wished I had more time to edit. I should have joined the initial editing process.

Step #6: Make an index.

Yes, I said it earlier, but I say it again. An index is a lot of work, and no matter what the technology, one cannot escape some level of manual labour. It took me several days of working full time to complete the index. But it was worth it simply because I caught so many errors while looking at the text carefully. Also, the work really looks more profession and is certainly more useful with an index. So don’t shirk on the responsibility: make the index.

Interestingly, my Wipf & Stock editors did not insist that I make the index and felt I didn’t really need it. But for the reasons I said above, I was really glad that I did make it. And now the book looks really good with the index backing-it-up.

Step #7:  Follow up

Here I recommend that we keep following up (gently) with the publishers, asking if there is any clarification needed etc. I didn’t do much follow-up and months went by. Until when I started writing back, the publishers told me that they had let the project slide a bit and promised to speed things up. So a gentle reminder to the publishers may help keep things moving.

Step #8: Marketing / Get contacts

It’s now a known fact that authors need to participate as much as possible in the marketing of their book. As the printing of the book drew nearer, the marketing team talked to me about contacts for recommendations of the book, and also contacts for which libraries, faculties, we should send the book too. Sadly, being in India, I had very few international contacts. And here, I feel, that it would really help if we keep an eye out on which libraries, which teachers/professors, we could send recommendations of the book to. I helped a bit, but this can be done so much better.

Step #9: Free copies / buying more

It’s really great to get your free copies… and I got four. It was really exciting. However, four copies were just not enough. My problem was that paying in dollars was never really possible for me, so I couldn’t order copies. I did hope that the South Asian edition would come soon, so I could have more “affordable” copies. But getting a South Asian edition of my book was tougher than I had anticipated, but that’s another story. (Featured in part 2 of this post)

Step #10: Set up a blog, or something like that, to help publicize your book

While my blog wasn’t really that successful (meaning there were hardly any visitors and google only showed it in the 2nd/3rd page), still it helped to have a place where I could direct friends and interested people to where they could find more information about the book. I intended the blog to be a place to talk about discounts, reviews (so far there have been none). It helped to use Facebook to direct “friends” to the blog. Whether it succeeds or not, I still think it’s a good idea to have something like this. So do it, if you can.

In this US, the Wipf & Stock site has the book listed here: https://wipfandstock.com/store/What_Is_Religion_A_Theological_Answer

With PhD over, I’m strangely uncertain. For the past few (many, actually) years, my (academic) life has been focused upon one single purpose: finish. Now that I have, I am unsure about the academic trajectory I should be taking.

I know one must think about publishing their thesis. And I’ve already sent my work to one publisher. Plus, I know teaching is an important part of academics, and I already have a job teaching in an excellent seminary (SAIACS).

What I’m unsure about is “what kind of academician do I want to be,” “What kind of teacher I want to be,” “What am I to do with all that I have achieved.” Plus, there’s the feeling that I still don’t know enough… so, “how should I make up for missing knowledge, quickly,” or even, “how soon before my knowledge bank runs out!” are also on my mind.

I think the lack of focus gets me the most. Suddenly I’m missing the most significant part of my (academic) life. Everything else was secondary. Now the secondary has suddenly become primary… and I feel lost.

Anyway… this “lostness” is also causing some confusion about the purpose of this blog. It began with the purpose to telling my old classmates/friends about the process and struggles about getting a PhD. Now suddenly that, that is over, what is the new purpose of this site.

Anyway. My dissertation supervisor feels that these feelings are normal. He even states that once you finish a dissertation, a student is prone to depression and feelings of being a failure. Must say that while I am not in any great struggle… there is some truth in that. Hopefully this is a phase and things will become clearer soon.

It is truly a big day when a doctoral student passes the viva. It is the final examination of almost a decade’s worth of work (in my instance at least). Everything hangs on how two examiners feel about your work… everything seems to hang on how you answer each and every question not matter how hard (in my case really hard). Still, when they approve your work, and better still say how they liked it, it feels like a huge accomplishment. A vindication. A triumph.

So why am I feeling low?

My supervisor, days after my viva, told me that it was normal for doctoral students to experience a form of depression after submitting their viva. Another PhD colleague vouched for this very thing. I can’t imagine how it makes sense. But neither does my feeling low at this moment.

Somehow I’m filled with feelings of embarrassment, sadness, in-completion and the huge daunting fear of all that lies before. I am overwhelmed.

On one level a PhD feels like an overstatement. Sure it is a big deal… to me. But does that justify the huge celebrations from friends and family all over? I never got these many congratulations even for my wedding! All that attention makes me cringe, and I want to hide.

I also feel a lot of shame. I see the inadequacies of my own work. I see the “hidden faults” that no one else can see (it’s only a matter of time, I think). I feel unworthy… why did I pass, and others (a few) didn’t?

Being overwhelmed about the future is also there. But more specifically, it seems useless/pointless. What will I achieve? Will I truly be significant? I know I will struggle to get my work published… chances are that it will never get accepted for printing. Even so, what else should I be doing? Where truly lies the impact that I want to achieve?

I am exhausted too. I am not motivated to even correct my work. Currently, all I want to do is watch movies. Or day-dream. A busy schedule with many administrative tasks (that my college has assigned to me) doesn’t help. I’m not just busy, but am involved with what seems inane/pointless and the whole PhD seems like a stepping stone… without having worth in itself. I am also getting no time to truly reflect on all this.

Looking back at what I’ve written… perhaps my supervisor is right. I am depressed. :)

He forgot to tell me that this is a phase. So let me pretend that he did say this is just a phase, and let me now wait for this “phase” to pass.

I submitted my second draft of my dissertation without fanfare. When I submitted my first draft for my PreViva, it felt like a really big deal. I had finally finished my work.

But after the grueling PreViva stage, I made several significant edits, and then submitted again. This time it was supposed to be a bigger deal because this draft would go to the external examiners and determine the fate of my work. However, I somehow felt that after this draft, and after the examiners look at it, I would again have to make changes/alterations and it would be the final (third) draft that would be more significant. This draft just feels like a mid-way point.

However I know it is a really big deal. Just didn’t feel like it… because I was feeling cautious. I also enjoyed writing the acknowledgements page… partly because it was good to see free-flowing writing for my dissertation. Sadly, I missed an important name, so will have to correct that when I get the draft back to correct.

I do feel a little scared as well. I was disappointed with the PreViva because the comments were largely structural and there was very little engagement with my content. And I fear that now with specialists (theologians) reading my work, some content problems may arise.  So there is some anxiety within.

Currently, my Viva is set for 10 February.

A few weeks ago I got a mail from McGill University’s IT department telling me that on July 1 my McGill University library database id would expire. Since I was only a student at Presbyterian College till July 1, I knew this was inevitable.

The McGill library database was a immense collection of many e-resources that helped me supplement my other research. It was particularly useful when I was in Canada, but more so when I was allowed to extend my use by Presbyterian College for a year.

I used the McGill database primarily for its articles through google-scholar. It had a great feature that when I logged on to McGill, and then opened Google-Scholar, I could see which articles McGill had full-text access to. Apart from that, I really used the ProQuest dissertation database and also some ebooks.

Sadly, since I had been so busy with teaching in June that I wasn’t able to scour the McGill e-files for one-last run for more stuff. And silently it was all gone.

And now, I am a plain old PhD student from India without superpowers! :)

I am currently in Chennai doing some supplementary research at Gurukul Lutheran Theological College. Actually the full story is that I am running away from my college so that I can focus for two weeks on writing my chapter four. SAIACS is having so many activities and people asking me for one small thing or another, I really needed to force the issue and get out… to write. But back to Gurukul, I’d heard about this college from my Mentor, but actually had no idea about it. So coming here was a journey into the unknown.

Thanks to google-maps, I found out where it was. Even though I struggled over the one-ways to get there.

The Gate-guard let me in after I said I wanted to go to the library, and even helpfully guided me where I should park my bike.

The library was up, above the auditorium, I think, and so I had to climb a bunch of stairs to get there.

The library itself was a large one hall-size room, with a smaller level up for the archives.There were about four tables for reading/working, in the front, while the stacks were at the back. There were two computers for online catalogues (they used the same software as UTC), but when I did some preliminary search queries, I found it was best to check the card catalogue as well.

While the librarian was not there that day, another person (assistant librarian perhaps?) handled my admission to the library. I had a letter from SAIACS, plus my id card. I had to fill a form, and pay Rs. 50 per week. Also, I had to give a photocopy of my ID card, something I didn’t have on me, so I said I’d do it later.

There were limited plug points though, for computer laptop/notebook purposes, but that is just like UTC.

My first impression was that it was smaller than expected.  Upon glancing on the shelves, there was a lot on Luther and related subjects. So I know where to go, if I want to study Luther!

I immediately found the resources that I needed, which was what was important. And so since so far, the Chennai weather is not too hot, the library itself wasn’t that uncomfortable to study in.  I’ve already made some progress, and so, for now, this trip and library is very much paisa vasool.

I recently heard this (true) story, and I have still not figured out whether it encourages or discourages me. Anyway, here it is. A Phd student colleague of mine heard this from his mentor (dissertation supervisor):

When I was a PhD student, I shared my academic struggles with my own mentor. I told him I was struggling to make any progress. My mentor asked me “Are you working hard?” I said,  “Yes. I work 10 hours a day in the day time and then another two at night.” My mentor said, “Then, you are making progress!”  And sure enough, within a few days I was able to make a huge breakthrough.

source: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive/phd012111s.gif

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