Recently, we posted some information on programming and different ways to structure your proposal. Today, we're going to give you an in-depth look at how to put together a proposal for a paper.
The papers option includes lectures and presentations, so this presentation style can range from a formal reading of a prepared paper to a more relaxed speech where the presenter refers to notes to make her points. The presenter can go solo or work with others on a paper, and there's also the option for a group of several people to submit pre-empaneled papers, meaning that they have some connection, no matter how small, and the group would like to share a 55-minute time block for presenting. (The only difference in the proposal process is that beyond each person needing to prepare an individual biography, summary, and abstract, the person who begins the proposal in the system will need to provide a title and summary for the group as a whole, as well as e-mail addresses for co-panelists, who will be contacted separately to provide their information.)
This type of presentation is very good for analyses--documenting patterns, looking for hidden or subtle meanings, bringing together knowledge from different areas to expand on what's in the books you've read, comparing and contrasting, reporting on research, or critiquing novels, for example. It's also good if you prefer to speak from a pre-written paper or speech, and you have the option of a shorter presentation or a longer one. It's especially good if you need to lay significant groundwork for your audience; if you suspect that you'll have more information than you audience will, please present it!
We're going to use "paper" as a shorthand through most of this post, but please note that this post applies to other sorts of talks, lectures, and presentations.
As with other types of presentations, you'll need to choose your focus, as well as a target for how long you'll need to present. (See below for the available timing.) From there, while you don't have to write a complete paper to turn in--we won't ask for it at all, unless you'd like to be published in the conference compendium--you'll need to put together a strong abstract.
First, we'll ask you for some contact information (which is not shared with the vetting board). All correspondence about your proposal will be sent via e-mail, so make sure to use a contact address that you'll have through the end of 2010 and that you check regularly. Please don't use your LiveJournal address! We get a lot of bounces from those addresses, even if they're otherwise valid. You should also add (programming at sirensconference dot org) to your safe sender list so that correspondence is delivered to your inbox.
Next, we'll ask for a name to be published for presenter on website, schedule, and program. While we ask for some personal information to allow our registrar to confirm your status as a registered attendee, we know you might want to use a different name for your presentation, whether that's a pseudonym, an online handle, or a formal name that you use professionally. (Please note that we do drop titles on our schedule and with presentation summaries, but you're welcome to note titles and professional credentials in your biography.) The "name to be published" will be the name we show to the vetting board, programming volunteers, and other attendees.
We'll allow you to specify professional affiliation. This is for those presenters who wish to note their association with a university, and occasionally, a business or professional organization if their presentation is related in some way. Some people use this field, and others don't.
If you are starting the proposal for a group of pre-empaneled papers, you'll need the e-mail addresses of the other presenters. You won't give us the names or biographies of your other presenters--instead, we'll send them a private request for that information. Your other presenters will need to respond to the information request e-mail for your pre-empaneled papers to be considered, so please let your co-presenters know that this e-mail is on the way and ask them to reply promptly. As with the rest of your information, presenters e-mails must be provided before your proposal is reviewed; you can't submit a panel of papers and find other presenters only after (or if) the panel is approved. (Also, a co-presenter, rather than a moderator, can be the one to submit the proposal, but it's probably easiest all around if the moderator takes care of this task and becomes the point of contact.)
Finally, we'll need your biography. Tell us, in under 100 words, a little about you. A couple of sentences works fine! You can explain any experience or studies--or even long-term interest--in your topic, tell us where you're going to school, or what you do as a job or as a hobby. Shorter is better, because space is limited.
There are three items that you'll need for a complete paper/presentation proposal.
First, you'll need a title. Remember that this will be shown to the vetting board, so neither "Untitled" nor "TBA" is a good title idea! On the other hand, you don't have to come up with an obscure or witty title--just one that explains what the paper, lecture, or presentation is about.
Next, you'll need a summary of no more than 100 words. This is the very short version of your presentation that will be published in the program book and on the Sirens website. This is where you have the chance to impress and attract an audience who will be interested in attending your paper. It should be concise, written for a general audience (in other words, avoid slang and jargon, if you can), and give people a sense of your perspective on the topic. Here's one example that we've borrowed from a paper that was presented at Sirens in 2009:
This presentation examines Holly Black's and Melissa Marr's works of faerie fantasy and explores how each author's series complicates and/or subverts faerie tale conventions both to deconstruct gender binaries and to resist new (and equally constraining) reconstructions of gender roles. Through their respective reimaginings of faerie tale narratives, Black and Marr effectively problematize the traditional dualities of the faerie tale: good and evil, virtue and vice, self and other, and--most particularly--masculine and feminine.
Finally, you'll need an abstract of no more than 500 words. An abstract is a complete--but very short!--version of your presentation. For a paper or lecture, it should outline the topic you plan to address and points for discussion, explain your conclusion, and point to major sources or theories that have influenced your thinking.
Here are a couple of resources you might use to put together a brief but cohesive abstract section for your proposal:
How to Write an Abstract by Philip Koopman at Carnegie Mellon University
an article on abstracts prepared for Terminus, a past event from Narrate Conferences
And some tips for newbies:
An abstract is the part of your proposal where you get a little more room to convince the vetting board that your presentation should be chosen. Most abstracts range from 100 to 300 words, though they can be up to 500 words, and are 1-3 paragraphs long.
The abstract is the short version of your eventual paper, and should be able to stand alone. A good abstract will include your thesis or approach, supporting details or arguments, and most importantly, your results, recommendations, or conclusion. The vetting board wants you to spoil the ending! (In a summary, you probably want to write something more like jacket copy instead.)
Separately, there are some things that do not belong in your abstract. The vetting board does not care to consider whether or not you'll present in a costume, for example, or how you're going to make it funny by telling jokes; they're looking at your point of view.
Again, make sure that your proposal is complete. The vetting board wants to know that you have a clear plan. No "maybe we'll do this, or maybe someone in the audience will suggest something, or if you want, I could do this or that." Include a completed abstract, not your first draft. "See my other proposal for X" usually results in a declined presentation, because the board members may not have access to your other proposal for a variety of reasons: it could be on hold while collaborators check in, the board members may not yet be reviewing your other proposal, or they may simply decide that they are unwilling to search through the proposals to do this comparison for you. Also, abstracts should be carefully reasoned, even when persuasive in content; presentations are not soapboxes for "getting people to see it my way."
Finally, be sure to have a volunteer who is willing to provide you with honest feedback look over your proposal, both to proofread it and to offer suggestions for organization, focus, and purpose. Remember, the vetting board won't see your entire paper, and won't know if you're the most engaging speaker to present in a hundred years. They'll decide whether to accept or decline your presentation based on your abstract!
Timing and Audio-Visual Requests
When you make your paper proposal, you can choose to request a 25-minute or 50-minute time block, which will include your reading or speech as well as any discussion and questions from (or for!) the audience. We'll match up shorter papers and presentations so that they fill a 50-minute time block. If you'll be reading from what you've prepared in advance, a 6-10 page double-spaced paper is about right for the 25-minute time block--assume 2,000 to 3,000 words. For a 50-minute time block, assume a little less than twice that to leave time for discussion and to catch your breath or take a drink of water. Of course, it depends also on how fast you speak, whether you take time out for explanations, and so on, so determine in advance whether you need to err or the short side to make it to the conclusion during your allotted time.
Paper presenters are routinely provided with microphones when the space is larger than a small classroom, and we will request that presenters use the microphone to assist the audience in hearing the entire presentation. You can make a request for an easel, LCD projector (with computer), or DVD player, but please remember that we prioritize use of equipment for visually-oriented presentations, and consider what you might do if extra audio-visual support isn't available. Some presenters will bring several copies of a handout to pass around and then collect e-mail addresses of those who would like a copy after the conference, which saves room in everybody's suitcase and is environmentally friendly.
FAQ about Proposals for Papers, Lectures, and Presentations
Do you accept all papers/presentations?
No; we forward all proposals to the vetting board, which selects which papers will be accepted for Sirens.
If my paper is declined, can you tell me why?
Unfortunately, we can't. We simply have too many proposals, and we don't ask the vetting board members to write up formal feedback. We can say, however, that proposals are never declined because they include unpopular opinions or controversial takes, or on the basis of personal relationships; the board is designed so that no single person accepts or declines a submission. In the past, we've found ourselves in the lucky position of having more excellent ideas than we could include, and that will likely be true in the future as well.
Should I contact the vetting board about my paper/presentation?
Please do not contact the vetting board members about your proposal. They make their decisions confidentially, and can't answer questions about the status of your paper. Instead, please write to (programming at sirensconference dot org) if you have questions.
How many proposals can I make?
As many as you like. If you find that you've had a high acceptance rate and that you're overcommitted, we do request that you consider whether or not you can make that many presentations before we complete the final schedule.
What are the requirements for presenting? Do I have to be a teacher or scholar?
Our only requirement is that you be eligible to attend Sirens, which means that you must be at least 18 years old by October 6, 2011. We have no academic or professional requirements, and in the past we've received excellent presentations from high school students, grandmothers, professors, musicians, fans, and teachers, among others.
What is the proposal deadline?
May 7, 2011.
What if I make a proposal and it's accepted, but I can't come?
If you find out that you won’t be able to attend before May 7, 2011, you do have the option of withdrawing. After that, we strongly encourage you to advertise--here or on the message boards--for a proxy reader: someone who will be attending Sirens and can read your paper in your place. In order to complete our schedule as quickly as possible--so that we have the necessary lead time to make arrangements for equipment, so that we can proofread and publish the final schedule, and so on--we do not keep a waiting list for presenters, which means that someone else may have lost their chance to present. Our position is that while extenuating circumstances do arise, it is unprofessional to not make an attempt to find someone to fill in for you if you suddenly can't attend.
Can I change the title of my paper later? Can I change the format or focus of my presentation?
If you provide us with the information before the paper is passed on to the vetting board, then yes, you may make changes to the title or summary, as long as the focus of your paper is not substantially changed. We will ask you for a final confirmation upon acceptance, and you will have a short time to make updates before the information is published and final. You may not change your presentation's direction or format once it has been accepted; the proposal that you entered is the one that the board approved. If you wish to make substantial changes to your presentation, and it is earlier than May 7, 2011, please write us to withdraw your existing presentation and then create a new one through the submissions system.
Can I request a specific day and time for my presentation?
Unfortunately, no. While we will take certain immovable factors into account, such as jury duty or presenting at another conference during the same weekend, we have so many presenters and constraints that we're unable to take scheduling requests (everyone wants to present at the same time, but without being at the same time as any other presentation!). The schedule depends on our ability to create thematic tracks of presentations, our need to accommodate presenters with multiple presentations, any restrictions on space and available hours, and availability of audio-visual equipment.
Do you "track" presentations?
We make an attempt to schedule presentations into morning and afternoon tracks by theme and by type of presentation. The advantage here is that an attendee could spend half a day absorbed in a topic or theme without needing to move from room to room.
How can I connect with other presenters or collaborators?
Please feel free to post responses here, and to check out our message boards to suggest ideas that you’d like to see someone propose, to search for collaborators, and to brainstorm topics.
Questions? Concerns? Please e-mail general queries to (help at sirensconference dot org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference dot org).