Surviving the Shark Tank

My department started this incredibly helpful, cruel, beneficial, nerve-wracking thing they call the Shark Tank. It’s open to any staff or postgraduate in the Humanities (I think the Sciences have a similar thing). Every so often some brave soul offers themselves up as bait, submits a paper they’re intending to submit for publication, and lets the group rip it to shreds in an hour after lunchtime.

I, being a bloody idiot, decided to be the first postgrad to suffer this fate. Well, I didn’t decide it; I thought my officemate and fellow New Media PhD was going first. But she took baby steps, letting our New Media Research Circle take a bite on her paper first, rather than facing up to the entire College. That dropped me headfirst into the water.

I’d been working on a paper since last semester, using online author websites (like Neil Gaiman’s, Jasper Fforde’s, and Jim Butcher’s) as models for a bridge for readers to learn digital storytelling conventions. By interacting on these feature-rich websites, based on print storytelling, readers learn the networked, interactive communication mechanisms central to the efficacy of digital stories.

Anyway, I don’t write anything anymore just for it to sit and look pretty. I intend for the issue of my tap-tap-tapping fingers to work for their supper, gol-darn-it!

By the time Shark Tank rolled around, I’d already submitted to one journal, Convergence. I sent the paper off to Shark Tank to be distributed, and then checked out my publication options. Convergence had a Call for Papers out for a themed issue on “Writing and the Web,” whose topics included coverage of such things as author websites.

Only the deadline was three weeks past.

I emailed the editor with my abstract anyway, figuring it was worth a shot, particularly since my paper is so related to their topic. She agreed, and is currently reviewing the piece. So the worst part – getting the nerve to submit to academic publications – was over before it really began.

That only left the Shark Tank, where everyone I knew and respected could see what a hack I was. I shouldn’t have worried so much. Apart from a few notes on some areas where I could deepen the analysis if I so choose and some terminology confusion (most of which I agreed with), the group had no major notes for me. No one said I was an idiot, or had used useless references, or that my theory was far-fetched and unsupported by the evidence I presented. My language is a bit too colloquial (hello, fiction author and blogger for the last decade), but I’m sure with a little practice I can make it academic, jargony, and dull.

Now that’s over, it’s time to get back to what I actually do: write fiction. I’ve got a short story to write and adapt to digital format by June. Let the stress hormones flow refreshed.

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