Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Challenge (Part Two)

After hearing scant word from the commissioning publishers I'd written for [see earlier post "The Challenge (Part One)"], I was somewhat surprised to hear from the lead editor, David, last November.

Reading in-between the lines, the publishing house had put itself through a phase of restructuring to face a toughening economic environment, and this particular project had gotten itself ensnared in that process. The wrought changes struck me as seismic with a near-complete replacement in editorial committee, and yet it seemed to have resulted in renewed energy - a new submission deadline for all work by contributors was set for the end of March.

I reckoned that the deadline wasn't a big deal: my entry was already in, approved, and the contract signed. I was safe. As a matter of fact, a tight deadline meant earlier publication.

Silly puppy.

David yanked away my security blanket; he asked me if I would consider re-writing. Now normally, one expects to do a little fine-tuning (although not post-approval) and I don't mind putting pen to more paper to make a better article. But this was a completely different kettle of fish: the original brief required an international slant but the editors, realising that there was an definite space on salsa in South America to be filled, felt that adjustments to my entry could address that gap and yet retain the global outlook. They estimated the article as being already 80% of the way there.

In effect, this was a change of brief.

There were two considerations: the demands on time (bloggable activities plus those unconfessable); and the amount of effort required which, to complete a task, increases exponentially towards its conclusion. I estimated that the remaining 20% would require about half again the original amount of effort to complete the work.

In chess it's called "zugzwang" or compulsion to move - if I didn't, there was the possibility that all the work might be wasted; if I did, it would require more effort. Deep down, I couldn't help but wonder if this additional commitment would pay off in a publication; the first commission happened almost two years ago.

Three months, two additional books, a handful of DVDs, and several research papers later, the alterations [] to the original structure looked like this:
  1. Introduction describing transnational salsa as a music and dance genre
    [primary emphasis on Caribbean and South American practices, secondary emphasis on non-indigenous practices];
  2. Origins of the word, from flavour term to stylistic label
    [expansion to the debate as to whether salsa is a genre or not];
  3. Properties of the music including the psychoacoustics for dance;
  4. Structural elements of a 'typical' salsa song;
  5. The five main schools of salsa performance with a comment on corroborating dance movement;
  6. Historical perspective on the development of each school;
  7. Other areas of production including the re-Africanization of salsa
    [section split into additional Caribbean and Extra-Caribbean sites of production, and expanded];
  8. [Additional section - Major themes in salsa: gender, and Latin unity as a label marketing concept];
  9. [Additional section - Patterns of salsa consumption between Latin and non-Latin communities];
  10. [Additional section - Areas of relevant research]; and
  11. References and recommended reading/listening/watching.
The re-write came in at five thousand words, two thousand more than the original. David had relaxed the word limit - actually he removed it altogether. I didn't realise what an important gesture that was until a day later, at a seminar by Peter LaPlaca, editor of Industrial Marketing Management. Editors of print journals are given an annual budget... in pages, not money; and the removal of a word count, well, is no trivial gesture.

The change in commission did consume the amount of effort estimated, but I think the entry is much stronger for the changes.

Now, it's back to waiting for word.

Loo Yeo