Ask the grumpies: Delay getting the book out?

Sapience asks:

Do you have any suggestions on this issue for someone who is in a book field, but isn’t going straight into a TT position? I have a 3-year post-doc that I’m starting, and some faculty at my doctoral institution have cautioned me against getting my book out too early, because then it might not count for tenure if/when I manage to get a TT. But getting a contract would probably help me actually land a tenure track position. I do have articles in the pipeline (one not related to the diss that is in a collection that just got a contract, and one spun-off from the diss that I presented at a conference last May). I’ll add that I’m unsure whether or not I need a break from the dissertation topic; I’m not sick of it at all yet, but I can’t tell if I need more perspective on the project before I begin the heavy lifting of revising.

So, take our advice with a grain of salt, and let’s hope we get lots of feedback from people who know their stuff (Dame EleanorUndineDr. CrazyHistoriann? — may have to pop over to some blogs to give a nudge).

You have more than one book in you. Your letter writers will think much more highly of you the earlier your book is published, and the sooner you make a name for yourself, the easier it will be to get more published.  Either the book will be a book once you’ve started your job and it will count, or it will be a book before you’ve started your job and that makes you a bit of a rockstar, and chances are you’ll have a second book out before you’re up for tenure.  And that will mean stronger letters, and a better position.

So, see what happens, and don’t intentionally work less.  Continue to work on your book and to produce articles.

If you’re not sick of the topic, go ahead and start revising!

Grumpy Nation, what advice do you have for Sapience?

23 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Delay getting the book out?”

  1. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    I don’t know shit for dick about how book fields work, but it sounds like a generally horrendous idea to ever purposely soft-pedal publishing scholarly work.

  2. Perpetua Says:

    I think it depends on the place, whether or not the book will “count”. But keep in mind that completing the book manuscript to having it come out in publication is a process that takes years. You might be able to transform your dissertation and get it out in three short years following your defense, but that’s actually pretty unlikely. I’m strongly in favor of letting the project “sit” for a little while, because your thinking will become more sophisticated in the first year following your defense. Let the ideas bubble around until you get a clear sense what needs to happen. Who knows, you might want to completely restructure or add a chapter or conduct additional research. I did all of those things, and then my publication time dragged out because of a very slow reviewer. Don’t forget that the publication process (usually) works like this: Submit entire manuscript; have it sent for review; get reviewer’s comments and compose a response; integrate their suggestions for revisions (sometimes it needs to go back to them a second time, especially for first time authors this is not unusual); book goes into production; copyediting (a lengthy process); and proofs, all before the book appears, and it only should “count” once it appears in hard copy. A contract alone is not going to make it not count, i wouldn’t think. Moreover, I would say that I would not necessarily say that having a contract makes you a stronger candidate, especially with a postdoc win on your CV. Most search committees are looking for a good dissertation/ms that shows potential for scholarly creativity and long-term possibility. They tend to be gently on dissertations or ms submitted as writing samples because they understand that these are by their nature about potential, not polished pieces. I’ve been on search committees at flagship state us (R1, with 2-2 teaching loads) and we’ve hired ABDs over t-t faculty because of 1) the strength of the scholarship and 2) their interviews. Please also keep in mind that more R1s are insisting as a new tenure requirement that faculty show “progress” on a second project, regardless of when the first book comes out, so they are starting to expect more (while, ironically, giving less in terms of research money and course releases).

    • Perpetua Says:

      To follow up: I would recommend getting the articles out, then going back to the diss and doing whatever you need to do to revise into the strongest possible book, and if you get a whole ms together in your postdoc period, start looking for publishers. Don’t worry about the “counting” thing because it’s not likely to be an issue unless you are one of those unicorns with a publication-ready diss.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      But doesn’t research on creativity suggest that you have to put in the time before all the magical maturation and decisions about restructuring come about? Also that doesn’t happen if you’re no longer connected with the work–it has to still be there in your subconscious. Distance can be good, but I wonder if Sapience isn’t ready for distance yet– she can still put in the work poking around how a dissertation is different than a book and what that means for her dissertation, how the publishing industry works, and so on.

      She could not lose touch with the dissertation while also not spending 100% of your time on it. Some amount of time each day, some amount on other things– including brainstorming about future work. Too much distance can make restarting harder.

      My latest colleague who was denied tenure put her book down and then when she picked it up again, nothing happened, so she put it down again. Then when she picked it up again she pretty much gave up.

      • Perpetua Says:

        Presumably, if you’re working on articles related to the dissertation, then you are still thinking with it, even it you are not working on it actively. You’ll have to write an introductory section to an article where you explain its historiographical/ scholarly significance, which forces you to think critically about the project as a whole. Moreover, I have things percolating in my brain even when I’m not dedicating time to actively thinking about them. It often works well to take a break from after grad school, to give yourself a chance to move out of grad student mode and into professional scholar mode, which affects the way you think. Presumably, the OP has put in time thinking about the project – it’s based on a dissertation, after all, something ze has been thinking about for 4-6 years already, and after the defense, when everybody gave advice on how to turn it into a book, which ze presumably wrote down and thought about at the time. Honestly, I think being able to put down for a while and pick it back up to be a very useful skill in academia, because we often have events that siderail our ability to pay attention to a project. (And if you put your book down and can’t get it back, then there may be a problem with the project itself, or maybe you’re not the type with the work style to write a book.) I had a recent prolonged family emergency which meant that all my work got derailed for over two months at a critical stage in its development. It happens. I’m not talking about taking years off for the OP, but like 6 months (again, while working on articles that are presumably related to the project). But of course it depends on individual working style. I definitely don’t need some time every day on the project I’m working on. I put it down and pick it up and put it down. Sometimes I work intensively on it, and sometimes I don’t. I believe strongly in breaks (for myself) – I used to take my summers completely off before I started my t-t job. Breaks very re-energizing and refreshing for me, and it never makes me lose my train of thought. It’s how I keep myself from burning out when jobs and life become so stressful I can’t think; I just stop, and then start again when I’m rested. So all my advice might only be tailored to myself!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The research says that breaks are good, but *when* to take the break is important. Your subconscious can’t be thinking about how the structure of a book is different than a dissertation (and how that works with your own dissertation) if you haven’t mucked about with the structure of a book yet. There’s nothing there for the subconscious to chew on.

        And things do come up… once those revise-and-resubmits and conference presentations and so on start coming in, there will be forced breaks.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        To quote that stupid book we had to read in high school, “You must grope before your grok.”

    • Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

      On the process, Flavia has a series of posts that are extremely informative and insightful; I think this was the most recent one:

      • Flavia Says:

        Thanks, Dame Eleanor! The long story of what I did in all the years leading up to the submission of the manuscript is here, and my commenters chime in with their experiences as well.

        But ultimately the answer, I think, is “it depends.” Getting the book out quickly absolutely has its advantages, but once you publish this book, you’ve published it. You can’t go back to it. I think that those who are over their dissertations — and have a great idea for the next book — are the ones best served by getting the first book under contract quickly. If you love the diss and want to keep working on it, by all means keep working on it. But sending it out early may mean not getting a top-tier press, and not having the time or intellectual growth to make it what it could be, with a little more time. Again, that may be okay, and that’s certainly better than procrastinating and running OUT of time. But there are trade-offs.

        And speaking as someone on a hiring committee, I don’t think that a recent PhD with a book contract with a merely okay press is any more impressive (in terms of demonstrating the seriousness, quality, & potential of her scholarship) than one with two or three strong, very well-placed articles. The latter are a sufficient indicator that the candidate is doing quality work, is focused and motivated, and will be tenurable (our tenure standards = five articles OR a book).

      • undinenotofgeneralinterest Says:

        I’d agree with Dame Eleanor and Flavia: “it depends.” If you can get some articles out that are strongly placed before moving on to the book, that’s a good thing. How engaged are you with the subject? How current is it? Are you likely to be scooped, and is the information likely to be dated if you wait?

        Flavia’s right about its possibly being a different and more sophisticated book if you wait, but there’s also the possibility that you won’t be as engaged with the subject matter or that the field will have moved on. Then it’ll just be something that you have to revise without having any real enthusiasm about it.

        Since you have the postdoc, it might be good to try to get the book out and use the 3 years to get a running start on the next one, since that question will come up in a job interview.

        And nicoleandmaggie–thanks for the shout-out!

  3. Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

    I’m a little hesitant to comment because I have not written a book myself, though I am in a book field. (Perpetua might call me “not the type with the work style to write a book,” though I think I have at least two books in me; I’m just a late bloomer, slow developer, whatever you might want to call it.) But I’ll put in my two cents from the POV of someone who has served extensively on committees that oversee the tenure process, at both department and college level, at Large Regional University, an R1. What “counts” can vary considerably by school and department. It is entirely possible for you to have written and seen a book most of the way through production before taking up a TT job, and then have it actually hit print in your first year there, and it will count. It seems to me very ungenerous (and the sort of thing that might happen at Ivies/Ivy equivalent) not to allow it to count.

    I would not advise holding off on the book, especially if you are enthusiastic about the project and interested in revising it as a book. Perspective cuts both ways; sometimes getting perspective means you wind up reworking the whole thing from an opposing point of view, which takes a huge amount of time. I think there are people who have published Book I and then swung back around and done the revisionist POV in Book II, which means you get two books instead of one, all out of the original diss project.

    Probably the best thing you could do is discuss what “counts” with your future TT department when they make you a job offer. Get a Memorandum of Understanding (as we call it at LRU) that makes clear exactly when your tenure clock starts (when the fall term starts? when you sign the contract the previous spring? at the beginning of the fiscal year, in midsummer?), so that anything appearing after that point counts at your new school. I doubt you could get a perfectly clear outline of exactly what you need for tenure—schools want a little wiggle room—but at many places it would be possible to get general guidelines laid out in the MOU, like “in addition to the book, 3-4 well-placed articles” (rather than, say, the institution’s usual book or 6-7 articles). And even if it’s decided that the book won’t count, at least you’ll know that going in and can insist on the standard 6-year tenure clock, so that you’ll have time to write another one. Often, though, someone with a book can get a short tenure clock (usually 3 years), so that as long as you show continued productivity (2-3 articles; another book contract), and good teaching, you can cut the whole process short. Or you can take the standard clock and go up early. This is where those articles in your back pocket come in handy. Maybe send one out now, so it’s in the pipeline, work on the book, hold off—maybe—on the other articles and send one out (say) just before interviewing, and other after signing a contract, so that you have them appearing at suitable intervals after a job starts.

    LRU has been my only job, so things may well work differently elsewhere. So much depends on the type of institution that hires you, and how well documented their processes are. Unionized schools have much clearer guidelines. State schools have pretty clear guidelines. Private schools vary a lot, from what I hear.

  4. ntbw Says:

    Definitely don’t wait to write the book! If you have a 3 year post-doc, you are in an ideal position to be almost done with the book project when you have to go on the market again, assuming you plan to stay all 3 years (I would also advise going on the market at least selectively, but probably fully, every year of the post doc, but that’s another topic). You would have to be pretty speedy indeed to go from dissertation to book actually in print in 3 years. But to go from dissertation to book under contract or in press in three years is not at all unrealistic as a possibility, and doing so would put you in a great position to land a TT job. Everywhere I’ve worked (4 different R-1 institutions) would count publications during a post-doc toward tenure, though I too would make sure to get everything in writing. If your book comes out in your first or second year on the tenure track, you’re in great shape–not only will you have ample time to work on building the “evidence of a second project’ that most R-1 places require in addition to the book for tenure, but you could also potentially be eligible for early tenure and promotion or for getting an even better job.

    For what it’s worth, here’s my experience: I had a 2 year post doc straight out of grad school. I stayed for both years. During that time, I published a couple of articles and worked like crazy on my book manuscript. I sent the book manuscript to my dream press in the spring of my first year on the tenure track, got a positive response with some required revisions, got the manuscript back to them that summer, got it accepted, and the book was out in print the spring of my second year on the tenure track. Then I had a baby the summer after my second year on the tenure track (I figured if I wanted to be totally confident about the baby not being an issue in my tenure case, I would get the book done first!). I then proceeded to get grants to do research for book number 2, published a couple articles related to it, and in my fifth year was recommended for early tenure and promotion. However, that’s the same year I managed to move to a better job, though I had to give up some years on the tenure clock because of institutional rules. My second book was published the same year I was promoted to associate in that second job, but that second book DID count for my promotion to full professor, which happened 3 years after my promotion to associate.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Might it also allow her time to try different presses, aiming high, so to speak? We’re not 100% clear on how book contracts work compared to articles.

    • Sapience Says:

      My advisors seem to think it’s realistic for me to have revisions done and out to publishers in under two years–they were all proponents of writing a dissertation as close to being a book as possible, and the impression I’ve gotten is that it is a lot closer than the average diss. (I don’t know if it’s a *good* book, but it’s more like a book than a diss.)

      I will be going on the market at least selectively every year. I might not go for a full search this first year, but I will for sure my second and third year.

  5. Flavia Says:

    I’m with Perpetua. Taking a break from a book project — while still actively engaged in research and scholarship in your subfield — really does help your thinking to mature. My book is closely related to my dissertation, but it conceives of that material in a totally different and more sophisticated way; I could not have framed the book in the way it’s now framed, or have made nearly as strong a pitch for its importance and consequence, had I not already been starting work on a second project. To be blunt about it, I’m smarter, better-read, and have a much more in-depth knowledge of my field (and peripheral fields) now than I did when I finished my PhD. I could not have written as good a book (or gotten a contract with as good of a press) without letting the project mature.

    That’s not to say that it’s not worth continuing to work on the book. But breaks can be valuable even when you’re still interested in the material, and breaks don’t mean you’re not working.

  6. professorsusan Says:

    For one thing, at least at my R 1 a tenure decision is a “career review”: it asks about the shape of your career, and whether you’ve demonstrated the ability to move significantly beyond the diss in your research.What that means in various fields is very different, of course. But it does mean not to worry too much about “counting”. Unless you end up in Texas, where the goddess knows what crazy rules the legislature will put in place.
    It’s great to have a post-doc — and I had one too — but as Flavia suggests — I needed some intellectual distance to revise my ms. into a really good book. Teaching does it for most people – it helps you think about a bigger audience. The great thing about three years is that you have the time. What I’d recommend is to focus the first semester or so on things in the diss that you don’t think will be in the book — develop a few articles, push some new ideas. Even such a slight shift of focus allows you to come back, look at the diss and say, “Did I know that? Wow!” And then, “But this really needs to have more on X”. Alternatively, if you already think you want to add a chapter or two on topic Y, go to work on those — that will push you into new material, and then when you think about the book, you’ll have that material in mind. (And I don’t think I’m the only one who finished their dissertation only to realize what it was really about.)

  7. chacha1 Says:

    Here’s an ignorant (set of) question(s). Has the academic community discussed the “new publishing”? Would there be rampant violent revolution at the thought of publishing an academic piece via, for example, Create Space? Does it *have* to be an academic publisher? Does published not = published if the publisher doesn’t pass the white-glove test?

    I’m just a fiction writer with low expectations, I know nothing. :-) But I self-published my master’s thesis just for the hell of it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Pretty sure most places it has to be a named publisher with peer reviews.

    • Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

      It has to be a university press or near offer—Boydell and Brewer is fine, Ashgate and Routledge are fine, but self-publishing is Right Out. Edwin Mellin is also out, and in the States I think Peter Lang is not well thought of because people don’t really grasp the role of the dissertation in Germany, much less the Habilitationschrift. Among the university presses, there are definite hierarchies, varying to some extent by field.

  8. Sapience Says:

    Thanks, everyone, for the input. Sorry for not replying earlier, my hard-drive fried and I had to send it out for repair. Thank goodness for back-ups and Applecare, though. This really has been the summer of everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

    I’m probably going to start revising the dissertation in the somewhat roundabout way some of you have suggested (working around the edges of the dissertation, etc.). One of my committee has suggested I try roughing out the book proposal before starting revisions, to help me see the shape and contributions of the book before I start the heavy lifting of revisions–that seems to fit with what a lot of you have said about what you needed as you revised your projects.

  9. Dr. Crazy Says:

    I am coming to this SOOOO LAAAATTEEEE! But basically, my response is in line with Perpetua, Dame Eleanor, and Flavia. I would also add this: I don’t actually believe that a book under contract is more valuable on the job market – particularly at non-R1 places, but probably at some R1s too – than a few well-placed articles – forthcoming or out – post-diss. I say this for a few reasons.

    1) If you invest all of your energies in whipping the book into shape, but if you don’t get a contract or if you get a “less than desirable” contract, your cv will look “thinner” than if you show that you are building a reputation in your field.

    2) At my shop, nothing counts for tenure that wasn’t “produced” when in the job. Thus, if you get the job on the merits of the book, the book won’t count for tenure. Now, if you have another book project ready to go – or a series of articles on a different topic ready to go, as soon as you’re done with the book, that can be ok. But speaking as a person who published a book out of her “close to book” dissertation, I can tell you that I had a bit of a “hangover” after that process, and my productivity dipped for a couple of years. It was good that I’d done some articles in the interim between finishing the diss and between going full steam ahead on getting the book in shape.

    3) I can’t say enough how good it is to let the diss “sit” for a bit. Whatever your mentors say – and mine similarly said that I had a dissertation that “was” a book – your dissertation is a dissertation. It is going to need to be heavily revised, if only to get rid of weird dissertation-ese and (if you’re me) aggressive attacks on eminent scholars that you put in notes.

    It sounds like your plan for your postdoc time is really, really good. It will put you in a position to really attack the book project after you’ve had some time for reflection, and some time to devote to the t-t market (which is really a job in itself). Ideally you’ll get a couple of great articles out in the meantime. Everybody says crazy stuff about needing a book in English (you’re in English, right?) to get a job. That is a LIE. But you do need a record of consistent and clearly peer-reviewed publication, particularly if you’re not a “fresh” PhD, in most cases. The book isn’t necessary to get a job, but a strong scholarly profile is important. Those two things are not identical. Just my two cents.

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