What is a Book Worth?

On Friday April 13th, 2012, Nick and I had lunch with caller Tony Parkes at The Other Side, a small hippie restaurant in Boston. We talked about many topics, one of them being the book review that Parkes had published about my book, “Folk Dancing,” in the Spring 2012 CDSS News. I felt that the review was accurate, well-rounded, and objective. My favorite paragraph of the review is as follows:

The book has been a labor of love for Nielsen: she immersed herself in the folk dance world for three years, doing research in libraries and at dance events nationwide. She conducted hundreds of interviews and consulted many books, including some of the latest and best. As a result, her work strikes a nice balance between “book larnin’” and first-hand acquaintance. Unlike some previous authors who based their suppositions on the views of a few opinionated leaders, Nielsen has talked to enough people to develop a well-rounded picture of the recreational dance world.

In the review, Parkes points out that the book has some typos, repeated or missed words, and few factual errors (i.e. western Massachusetts should have been eastern Massachusetts). At our luncheon, Parkes also stated that the content provided a very good, accurate overview, and that the editing issues were the main reason he would recommend that people not quote directly from the book. The fact that he would recommend the book to a layperson to learn about the history of folk dancing in our country meant a lot to me. After all, that was the objective of the book. Furthermore, I appreciated that Parkes viewed the book within the context of my research methodologies and didn’t get caught up in whether he agreed or disagreed personally with what I learned and wrote about. Another dance newsletter editor actually refused to review my book because a couple of his own experiences differed from what other people told me and I wrote about. All I can ask is that readers try to understand my book in terms of the context in which it was written, which is what people should do for all books anyway.

On book tour, one of the most annoying things that Nick and I have dealt with are people who flip through my book until they find a typo that they can point out to us. It’s not that I dislike feedback. In fact, I enjoy and appreciate when people make suggestions for ways to enhance the content, to refine my phrasing. But to all the typo-finders out there (and I am one too), please try to understand how difficult it is to put together a book and think twice before you approach an author with, “I found a typo!” I too have found lots of typos in dance books, but I don’t mention them to the author because I think it’s more important to focus on the broader message of the work. For instance, I found “cancer” instead of “dancer” in a major government-sponsored, award-winning initiative by a major choreographer; tons of typos in a recent dance/music book by a well-respected caller; and even word-for-word plagiarism by another highly revered caller in the multi-edition textbook “Dance A While.” Need a clue? Start with Lilly Groves’ 1895 “Dancing,” the section on Scottish dancing. Although Groves wrote her passage more than a hundred years ago, she should be given credit where credit is due. It just goes to show that even people who are nationally renowned in dance communities for decades can make mistakes in their writing.

I believe it’s important to be transparent; that’s why I tried to be very clear about my fieldwork methods in my book and blog. To the editing issues of my book, I will respond as follows: To write and organize my book was extremely difficult, one of the most challenging things I have done in my life. When the publishers returned my manuscript with the final edits (five months after my original manuscript submission), I reread the entire book and was not happy with the organization. I felt it had the potential to be better. The book underwent major re-organization just prior to publication, which probably accounts for some of the errors. Other errors were my own oversights, glossing over things I had read hundreds of times. It’s unfortunate. But when people approach me to point out a typo or problem (i.e. I didn’t mention their favorite dance teacher), I’ve found the following statements useful: “Yes, that typo is a mistake; I hope it didn’t ruin the whole book for you” (to which they usually laugh) and, “Remember, the book is an overview. It can’t cover everyone and everything, but it tries to capture them in trends.” Tony Parkes understood these things, and that’s why I think he wrote the best possible review for my book.

Another issue that we’ve dealt with on the road: Some people think $35 is a lofty price for a book (by the way, the earlier mentioned books with typos/plagiarism are $40, $45, and $63). I think that some people have the impression that I’m making a huge profit from this book, that I’m self-published and set the price (even though ABC-CLIO and Greenwood Press are clearly printed on the back cover and inside), and that the price is negotiable. First of all, I’ve talked to a lot of authors, and no one write a dance book to make a fortune. It doesn’t happen. I probably won’t break even with the fieldwork and book tour costs, but that’s okay. I wrote the book because I was and am passionate about the subject. Second, the publisher, not me, sets the price of the book.

So what is a book worth? To me, “Folk Dancing” was worth three years of my life and $15,000 of my money. It was worth 80-hour work weeks to save money for dance camps and eating Ramen noodles everyday for a summer. It was worth thousands of hours and tens of thousands of miles. It was worth the stress of how to best represent a wide array of dance communities and knit them together in a single work, knowing that I forever would be tied to these communities and held accountable for what was published. It’s even worth all the ups and downs of book tour.

I’m not sure how many people read my blog posts, but maybe some people will find my perspective as an author interesting. Maybe they’ll try to determine a book’s worth not solely by its cover price but by its virtues, based on book reviews by credible proofreaders and background information provided by the author. And maybe, if I’m lucky, some people will think more critically about how they want to spend their time with authors. There are more interesting topics to discuss than typos and pricing. Gaining a contextual understanding of who the author is and how the book developed is the best way to determine the book’s worth, and then a potential buyer can make a decision on whether the cover price makes sense to him or her.

Based on my book tour experience, one of the best questions people can ask an author is, “What made you decide to write a book about…?” I am always happy to discuss my process, and I always respond better to curious, open-ended questions than nitty-gritty remarks about errors or things I missed. Fortunately, the majority of people we’ve met on book tour ask curious, open-ended questions and understand the art of respectful, polite conversation. Most people ask questions and do not make a judgment on my book based on a word, sentence, paragraph, the book’s price, or even my gender or age. Still, it would be nice if more people were as open-minded.


May 6, 2012. About the Book. Leave a comment.

Book Review

Book review by Tony Parkes, CDSS News, Spring 2012

March 29, 2012. About the Book. Leave a comment.

The 2011-2012 “Folk Dancing” Book Tour!

I am a dance anthropologist with a passion for dance and people; I want to understand why and how people dance and how dance relates to socio-cultural trends. I wrote “Folk Dancing” to help contextualize the history of social dance in North America, with particular emphasis on dance forms and communities tied into the notion of “folk dancing.”

I received the book contract in 2008 from Greenwood Press/ABC-CLIO, and I set about interviewing people and immersing myself in folk-related dance communities. My research was predominantly self-funded (I work from home as a transcriptionist). I also received assistance from AZ Commission on the Arts, Stockton Folk Dance Camp, the Country Dance and Song Society, and generous resource donations from organizations and individuals who believed in the value of my project.

For three years, I worked my tail off to produce “Folk Dancing.” I gathered information through surveys, interviews, first-hand observation/participation, and a review of literature. The most difficult part of the process was figuring out what to include in the book and how to structure it. I am indebted to several dance historians who stepped up to help me with the editing process. These people and other contributors are listed in the preface, which you can preview on Amazon.com.

Ultimately, I wanted to create a resource to help people appreciate our nation’s rich dance culture beyond the performance realm; to dive into social/recreational dance history and promote greater understanding across dance communities as well as across generations.

The book was published in July 2011. The adventure continues with the National “Folk Dancing” Book Tour 2011-2012. Nick (my husband) and I just returned from 2 weeks on the East Coast. We’re doing a California road trip next, which will include the Kolo Festival in San Francisco over Thanksgiving weekend 2011. We’ll do something in the Midwest and maybe Seattle area next spring.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What does the “Folk Dancing” Book Tour entail?

We usually set up a books signing table at dance events, because we want to celebrate with the communities who helped make the book possible. Furthermore, it’s more fun to promote the book at an event where we can actually dance. We’re also trying to arrange events at colleges and other educational institutions. I recently did a lecture at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina and Sweet Briar College in Virginia.

Who is paying for the book tour?

We are, Erica & Nick. Please help us continue our tour by buying a book for yourself or a friend!

 In what publications is the book featured?

Nick and I have made three appearances in the Quarterly Report of the Society of Folk Dance Historians. Also, check out the Folk Dance Federation of CA’s “Let’s Dance,” the November 2011 issue. Have you seen the latest National Folk Organization newsletter? Yes, that’s me on the front page, and in color! Thanks, NFO! Renowned caller and dance historian Tony Parkes is writing a formal book review for an upcoming CDSS News. The National Dance Education Organization will also publish a formal review in the Journal of Dance Education in 2012.

Will the book be adopted for college dance history classrooms?

It’s an excellent resource for that setting. Discussions are underway in at least two states. We hope to include more academic lectures on future book tours, so that dance instructors are encouraged to teach more about the history of folk dancing and recreational dancing as a valuable part of our collective dance culture.

October 30, 2011. About the Book. Leave a comment.

One Year and Counting

It’s hard to believe 10 months have passed since beginning the fieldwork process; and only 12 more months until the scheduled completion of the book. I feel the work is progressing nicely, thanks to the help of over 100 people who participated in interviews, and over 1,000 people who helped with surveys (due Oct. 1, 2009). There are a few people I still need to contact, a lot of emails to which I need to respond, but I’m going to call this the end of my major fieldwork phase. Celebrate the “small” goals along the way!IMG_2254

 Dancing at Timber Ridge Camp, English/American and Family Week

August 26, 2009. About the Book. Leave a comment.

A little bit of background

Hello dance enthusiasts! Thanks for coming to my site. You’re probably here because you want to get more information about my book project. Well, here it goes.

I’m writing a book on recreational folk dancing for Greenwood Press. It’s part of a social dance book series by different authors.

How the idea for the series came about: Dance TV shows nowadays are turning recreational dance into competitions, leading people to believe that in order to dance one has to be technically perfect and perform onstage in front of an audience. What ever happened to dance for dance’s sake, a group of people getting together and just enjoying themselves?

Greenwood Press provides reference books to libraries across the U.S., directed at the general reader. This is my first time working with them, and I anticipate finishing the book August 2010. Because I’ve done ethnographic research before, I know that my best strategy is to first conduct fieldwork and immerse myself in the cultures, conduct interviews and collect resources during this period, and then sit down with everything and have an intense writing period. So this year I am attending dance events and talking with insiders, as much as time and money allows. Fortunately, my regular job as a transcriptionist affords me a relatively flexible schedule.

How I got connected with Greenwood Press: In 2008, I went to a conference (Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association) to present research on another dance project. Because I was at this conference as a dance panelist, my name was put on an email list. Subsequently, I received a “Call for Authors” for the social dance book series. I applied to write the book on recreational folk dancing, and my vision and approach were in line with what the editor was looking for. Furthermore, I had recently gained some credibility as a dance writer, because I had just published my first article “Bulgarian Dance Culture: from Censorship to Chalga” in Anthony Shay’s book Balkan Dance (2008). This stemmed from three years’ work on my master’s thesis for the Department of Dance at Arizona State University, “Dance and Nationalism in Post-Communist Bulgaria.”

As far as my book goes, from my fieldwork and interviews thus far I’ve decided to concentrate on the following American or Americanized dance scenes: traditional and modern western square dance, contra dance (and English country), clogging, international folk dance and culturally/regionally specific groups (e.g. groups that only do Israeli, Balkan, etc). I will also address the international gay square dance and gender-free contra dance communities. Of course, I expect other recreational dance forms will come up in the context of these scenes (such as round dancing in the square dance scene). I’m interviewing a range of people in all these groups to learn about the culture from their perspectives, and to see what common themes come up amongst interviews, in order to understand the most important overarching things that the book should address. For example, in the gay square dance world, everyone talks about how great the national convention is, so I made a point to go this year and to see firsthand why everyone loved it so much. I am forever changed from that experience; it was truly amazing.

Here is a list of some of the major events I’ve done/will do this year. Some of them were paid for by a grant from AZ Commission on the Arts.
Wheel Around the Saguaro, a GLBT square dance weekend in Tucson, AZ
Tucson Area Square Dance Festival in Tucson, AZ
Phoenix Folk Dance Festival in Phoenix, AZ
International Gay Square Dance Convention in Washington D.C.
Glen Echo in Washington D.C.
May Madness Contrafest in Prescott, AZ
Albuquerque Folk Festival
National Square Dance Convention in Long Beach, CA
Balkan Music and Dance Workshop in Mendocino, CA
Stockton Folk Dance Camp
Timber Ridge Camp

I’ve interviewed probably around 70 people so far either locally (Phoenix/Tucson) or at these events, and I have more people to talk to over the phone later this year. I’ve also designed a survey that I bring to dance events; it is based on preliminary interviews and essentially asks people when/where/how they’ve danced as well as other hobbies/interests they have, to get a broad sense of the people who comprise the folk dance scene, and to make sure that I’m truly getting a national perspective.

I’ll be adding to this blog periodically with details about the places I’ve been and what I’ve observed. Please come visit from time to time, and feel free to leave comments or contact me! I can be reached at ericawritesdance at gmail.com. This summer is really busy for me between my regular job and conducting lots of fieldwork, but I’ll do my best to follow up.

I love this kind of fieldwork!

I love this kind of fieldwork!

June 16, 2009. About the Book. 1 comment.