At the start of grad school, I wanted to build an abecedary.
(Many people have since asked me how to pronounce this term. I say “ah-BECK-eh-dairy” unlike the French abécédaire with its soft “seh” or the Italian abecedario with its “cheh” sounds. And I may be totally wrong, but hey ho.)
I was inspired by something that Eben Kirksey hosted online in the aftermath of publishing his Multispecies Salon, where Joanna Radin gave a mini-talk on GoogleHangouts about “R is for Rot.” It was in line with other academic groups trying to glossarize their terminology, like Environmental Humanities’ “Living Lexicon” and New Materialism EU’s “Almanac.” Right around then, I was fascinated by terms that crossed multiple sectors and spaces: serving plates and Petri plates, agar agar in the lab versus in dessert courses, chef’s coats and lab coats, and so on.
So in 2021, I sent out an open invite to people through fff, asking folks if they had concepts, terminology, or letters of the alphabet they’d like to think through. I figured: if there are 26 letters, and there aren’t any takers, I’d be ready to fill up to half of that. So I sent out some 40 invites expecting 10 or so maybes, only to end up with double and tripled-up letters. (In fact, only the lone letter “X” was leftover for me.) In the end, we created a self-organized, self-published, edited collection featuring a variety of contributors, including: social scientists, humanists, natural scientists, mediamakers, foodmakers, artists, and designers.
Now that it’s been over a year since its launch, and because other folks have asked about it since, I wanted to share the process:
cover image to fff’s abecedary by Eliza Wolfson
Here is the invite letter I sent. A few details were key: I wanted to make this fun and low-stakes, I wanted authors to retain copyright, and I wanted to give people the wherewithal to choose whatever option worked best for their circumstances and workload. The parameters I gave (e.g., 500 words) were arbitrary, whatever felt manageable-ish in that moment. Sometimes folks submitted more (one came in at 4,000 words to start, and we cut it down to 1200 by the end of the revisions process), sometimes less, but the editorial process became a dialogue that identified what was important in the (quite political) act of defining a term. Editing these was a dream, and I got to know people and their work better.
With every author and entry, I tried to offer more than just criticism. As in, not just “here’s what I see is wrong and why it needs to be better.” But to go that extra step and offer suggestions meant that the authors could react to what I was putting on the proverbial table, which, almost inevitably, led to more generative discussions about “mmm, not quite that, but I see what you’re saying; how about this instead?” For authors who were simply too slammed for time, having these suggestions made it easier for them to respond. Importantly, all of my suggestions were framed as such. They weren’t some wink-wink “actually do as I say” type of manipulation; I tried my best to keep repeating that these are just suggestions for how to proceed. Sure, that’s extra work some may say. And absolutely worth it.
For the weary or skeptical author, I gave many an assurance that their pieces would undergo a community review prior to publication. This meant that authors could see how their pieces were in conversation with others’ and, if need be, authors could edit their pieces accordingly. What ended up happening was a kind of intra-indexing: I shared the compiled “proofs” of the entire abecedary from A to Z on a GoogleDoc, shared the compilation with the group, and phrased this as an opportunity to ask: is all the content here? Can we at least finalize the stuff that’ll be included in the abecedary, thinking also about images and such. I worded the community review like this:
Welcome to community review.
You’re reading this because you’ve already sent me a signed contract for your entry. Of note, this is not typeset just yet; that comes next. For now, this step is about nailing down the content—text, images, and connections with other entries—to determine the total number of pages. My hope is that this community review will give you an opportunity to see how your work might be in conversation with other folks’ work from different backgrounds. I’m excited about it and hope you are too. And if I’ve mistransferred or misremembered something, please forgive me. My brain is mush most days.
How it works:
- Please do not share or distribute this document—yet.
- Locate your entry. Control-F may be the easiest way. The entries are listed alphabetically.
- Proofread your entry. This is your last chance to change phrasing or sentences. After this, I can only honor fixing typos. Make changes, if any, using the “Suggesting” tool. Or email me edits.
- If you’re using…
—images, indicate your preferred placement within your text by inserting a comment in the margins with “INSERT IMAGE AROUND HERE.” Double check that your images have captions and explicit attribution to the image’s source.
—hyperlinks in-text, verify that the links aren’t broken. Remember, only the digital version will have linked materials so be sure the text can stand on its own when printed.
—resources at the end of the entry, please list title, author, and year of each resource.
—footnotes, please include the full reference for each citation (i.e. no separate “works cited” lists). Style can be whatever is common for your field (e.g. Chicago, APA, etc.). And don’t worry too much about the numbering; I’ll reset them with each new entry.
- If you’d like to read other people’s work,
—feel free to note where there might be a connection to your entry. Add a comment in the margins indicating something to the effect of “this connects with my entry on X!”
—be respectful with your commentary. We’re coming from an array of backgrounds with different kinds of expertise, different intentions for writing, and different degrees of professional vulnerability. Let alone different worldviews and geopolitical perspectives.
You have until 28 October 2021 to review this work. After that, I’ll be up to my elbows in typesetting, so again, only typos will be fixed. If that’s an impossible timeframe for you, please reach out so we can find an alternative, but know that this is the final stretch involving all of the contributors listed here, so please: no entire rewrites. Remember, the layout is tentative. For pieces with intensive typesetting (Hoven/Kneading, Talja/Offering, and Donati/Rumination), I’ll send you visual proofs once more for your approval, before everything goes to print.
As always, if you have any questions, write me a note. Looking forward, and thanks again, Mframing of community review for the fff abecedary
And goodness did people luxuriate with the intra-indexing. Folks wrote such enthusiastic comments in the margins: “love this idea… If you don’t mind, I’ve integrated this in my piece and suggest a link here,” or “yes! I’ve been trying to put words to this… and you phrased it so perfectly!”
Typesetting was intense, but I took a handful of entries at a time when I needed a break from dissertating. I used Adobe InDesign and made templates to help me plug-and-chug. I created a style guide for myself to keep the visuals consistent, and then I had a few “external reviewers” look it over for aesthetics—not content. I worked on the poems first and sent them to the authors as PDF proofs: “does everything look okay? does anything need to be shifted?” I worked on the image-heavy ones next, sending digital proofs for confirmation that picture placement was good or good-enough. I saved the text-only ones for last. After I got the thumbs up on digital proofs, I sent the manuscript off to the printers to print two test-copies to make sure the everything (images especially) weren’t grainy or off. (And then, I moved to a different country, making coordinating publications a logistical nightmare.)
I used Lulu Publishing because they offer on-demand printing (an important detail when academicking in short stints and not operating a bookstore out of my suitcase). I know there are other options out there, but not many that are better than this given our scope and not-for-profithood. To date, our digital version of the abecedary has been accessed over 1,200 times from about a dozen different countries, which I passively track using Bitly. I had a few randos use it for teaching, writing me that they enjoyed the variety of entries. I find myself citing it often, because the flexibility and variety of entries allowed the authors to say what they wanted to say.
In hindsight, I wish I had the womanpower and brainpower to do (or have done) the following:
- Listening to suggestions from within fff, I would’ve attached DOIs to each entry. I’ve been in conversation with OSF (Open Science Framework) about attaching them retroactively, but I’ve not had a good chunk of time to troubleshoot with them. (The first two times I attempted, my account was flagged as spam. Alas.)
- I would’ve had a launch party with sublaunches scheduled across a few time zones. We had 32 contributors in the end, spanning seven different countries (USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Finland, Japan, Australia), and launch parties spread out every 8 hours-ish would’ve been a great way to feel like a digital convergence.
- I wish I had been conversation with local (or nearby) publishers who would’ve sold our hard copies at cost. I wish I had the written the funds to have footed that bill. I wish I had the financial wherewithal to print author copies for each person and sent it to them worldwide. What a treat that would’ve been.
- Social media promotion came to a halt when my work schedule got the better of me last year. I’ve dropped the ball since, and I need a solid few days to dive back in. Le sigh.
Plenty of other wish-a, coulda, woulda’s but I’m still quite proud of what we produced. It’s a testament that one scholar (who I’ve been fangirling for the better part of a decade) wrote back to my invite: “While I am too busy to do it, I am too interested in it not to. Count me in.” Now I have longtime fff contributors wanting to build their own community and asking me how; and I keep coming back to convergences like this where I could build my intellectual thinking-and-doing community over the course of editorial dialogues. I am all the more for it, and, should you have any specific questions, I would be more than happy to tell you what I know.