book cover of Explanation Points

Explanation Points: Publishing in Rhetoric and Composition

Edited by John R. Gallagher and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss

Review by Keaton Lamle

Utah State University Press, 2019.

ISBN: 978-1-60732-882-7.

Publisher Book Page


The book’s 80 chapters are broken into five sections, which loosely mimic the chronology of publication itself. The beginning is devoted to practical strategies for inventing arguments, brainstorming applications of research (especially when it comes to filtering unlikely scholarly subjects through the lens of rhetoric and composition), and managing the process of publication during semesters when it seems like there’s hardly time to sleep. What follows this is a systematic treatment of strategies for managing the fraught dynamics of collaboration, feedback, and redevelopment that may occur throughout early drafts of any manuscript. This discussion of revision segues nicely into some of the book's strongest sections, which feature perspectives on how to target the right publications, argue for scholarly fit, and understand what to expect during the editorial review process. Finally, the project pays attention to an often-overlooked aspect of the writing process: moving on post-publication.

The comprehensive nature of Explanation Points is certainly a strength. Whether readers are finding it difficult to maintain a research routine with a 5/4 teaching load or can't figure out how to convert a pedagogical experience into a paper that benefits other scholars, there is an essay addressing just about every specific roadblock scholars face in the publication process. Likewise, the collection incorporates nearly 100 distinct voices without any real hint of mission creep, all while maintaining a cohesive, conversational tone that reads like a discussion over coffee between friends (albeit one in which the friend who is speaking scans as preternaturally organized, experienced, and willing to give away trade secrets).

What follows is a section-by-section review of the book's contents.

Section !: Getting Started: Inventing, Brainstorming, and Managing

Most readers who have spent any amount of time in composition studies have waded through reams of inspirational drivel exhorting us to get up and imprint our souls on the proverbial page. While initially riveting, this kind of platitudinal inspirational advice doesn't often stick once the emotional high it creates wears off, and thankfully, the 23 writers who contribute to the most explicitly "motivational" section of Explanation Points move beyond these predictable spiels and into applicable advice on what to do after the inspiration has worn off. Even pieces explicitly addressing the need for a research routine (Jenn Fishman's "Practicing WHIMSY" or Kathleen Blake Yancey's "Trust The Process") or dropping advice on how to stay fresh day after day (Gesa E. Kirsch's "Sit Down and Write, Get Up and Move") advance beyond vague self-help sermonizing into more rigorous, researched strategies for fighting the temptation to place writing on the backburner when the competing demands of pedagogical work come calling. Similarly useful are the selections on identifying ways to explore intersections between the esoteric interests many of us try to shoehorn into our research and the cultural and discipline-specific trends that might actually make our pet projects publishable.

Section !!: Getting Feedback: Sharing Drafts, Collaborating, and (Re)Developing

While there are certainly some spectacular chapters in the section of Explanation Points devoted to collaboration—and acknowledging the fact that different writers probably read their own strengths and weaknesses into the virtues or problems of any collection of writing advice—"Getting Feedback" constitutes the weakest section of a very strong collection. That said, while it may be tempting to write off essays devoted to explaining the pipeline between conference presentation and publication, there are some useful pieces devoted to demystifying the unwritten rules that govern aspects of the research and publication process—norms which established professionals are likely to take for granted. Likewise, Ben McCorkle's "Planning the Perfect Heist: On the Importance of Assembling a Team of Specialists in Your Writing Group" is hilarious and helpful enough to justify the inclusion of this section on its own.

Section !!!: Finding a Foothold: Identifying Audiences, Targeting Publications, and Situating Scholarly Fit

One of the most consistent complaints made by new scholars entering any field is the learning curve inherent to first figuring out where specific conversations take place within a discipline and then mastering the rhetoric of submission within that enclave. The 17 essays devoted to imparting wisdom on these topics include step-by-step walkthroughs of what it means (in practical terms) to situate oneself in the "Burkean parlor" (David Blakesley's "Listen for a While, Then Put in Your O(a)r"), succinct explanations for how recent graduates (or those who simply pushed "pause" on their dissertations after matriculating) can "Remix the Dissertation" for publication (Jason Palmeri), and encouragement to reimagine the sometimes stagnant conversations that artificially close off avenues of research and inquiry (Jacqueline Rhodes, "Queer/ed Research: Disrupting the Unending Conversation"). Again, while not every topic in this portion of the collection will hit every writer at the precise gap in their knowledge or experience, the array of problems and perspectives represented allows the section to function a bit like those Whitman's Chocolate Samplers grandparents sometimes had around during holidays: Readers are free to pick what they want and come back for the other stuff when/if they get bored.

Section !V: Getting (More and Different Types of) Feedback: Navigating Reviewers and Understanding Editorial Processes

Clunky title aside, Gallagher and DeVoss were right to devote a chunk of text to the topic that probably commands as much back-channel advice and gossip as the rest combined: how to handle editors and reviewers. Lilian W. Mina offers strategies for making progress when a reviewer doesn't seem to be offering feedback in good faith ("From Editors With Love . . . or Maybe Not So Much!"), while a panel comprised of six people who regularly field and green-light submissions from the other side of the CMS provide writers with helpful perspective on the process editors wade through en route to seeing a piece in print (or HTML) (Tara Lockhart et al.'s '"Investigate, Target, Implement, Persevere: Understanding the Academic Publishing Process through Editor’s Eyes"). While some readers might complain that webtext and digital publishing is often absent in this section, the fact remains that the chapters display an impressive breadth of subject matter and retain touches of real human experience, yet also manage to feel as if they are forming one organically connected whole.

Section V: Moving On

The collection's final, briefest section is devoted to the twin tasks of finding closure on long-term projects and getting the ball rolling on new ideas. While there are chapters that lean into ponderous territory, most maintain the practical tone represented elsewhere in the collection, as in Laurie Gries's "Ten Year Plan," where readers are encouraged to build a timeline of tangible steps and deadlines for making progress on the next project. That said, though Donna LeCourt's guide to rethinking the post-publication period proves useful, there is once again a dearth of attention paid to the many ways in which writers can share their work in digital venues, continuing conversations beyond the traditional print or web publication. In a cultural environment where discourse is pretty much always inherently online, fluid, and accelerating, the failure to thoroughly explore these extra-textual avenues as a continuation of published work feels like a minor failure.