Do academic presses publish books by job market dropouts?
February 16, 2015 12:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm quitting academia after years of trying to get a tenure-track job in the humanities. My post-doc runs out in September. Should I finish the book manuscript based on my dissertation, or junk it and move on immediately?

My estimate is that it would take 3 months of intensive revisions before I could submit the manuscript to a publisher. Nearly all of the books in my field are published by Oxford (UK and US), Cambridge, Routledge, Harvard, and MIT. I've corresponded with editors at some of these who have expressed hearty but no-promises interest in seeing the manuscript, based on the recommendations of third parties. They want to see a whole manuscript, not just a proposal and a sample.

I'd be grateful for your thoughts on any of these questions:

1. Is my book going to be untouchable now that I'm leaving academia? Will presses like those publish a book by someone whose author description isn't "X is an assistant professor of Y at the University of Z"? I'll still be affiliated with a hotshot department when I submit the manuscript. Nonetheless, I'll be academically homeless six months from now. Will a publisher, knowing that I don't have a job in the field, not look twice at the book? (If that's the case, could I just keep one toe in the field, adjuncting somewhere, as a workaround? E.g. "X teaches Y at the University of Z"? I might try to pick up a course here and there anyway.) With the academic job market as bad as it is for thousands of people, many of whom have good books sitting in their laptops, there must be some kind of wisdom about this issue, right?

2. Would having a book from U of Fancy Press be helpful for getting freelance copy-editing work for university presses (both the ones above, but others too)? Currently, a copy-editing gig is my only lead on a post-academic job. Would it be worth trying to publish the book as a credential for other jobs related to the academic world?

3. Would it be valuable to finish the book just for closure's sake? I know this is particular to me, but if anybody out there has been in similar circumstances, I'd like to hear from you. For years I've been saying that I'm working on this thing, and all sorts of leaders in the field have told me it needs to be a book, it'll be a great book, etc. But right now I'm really sick of the project, and I'm more inclined to spend my time figuring out what else to do with my life. On the other hand, I don't like loose ends. So I don't know if I'd regret ditching the book or not...
posted by Beardman to Education (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
1. I don't think your book will be untouchable. If you submit it while in academia, you're not lying about anything. You might give a courteous heads-up about your decision to leave academia soon, but if the book is good, the publisher likely won't care much. Excellent scholarly books have been written by adjuncts, as well as by non-professors.

2. Writing an academic book would not likely be helpful in getting freelance copy-editing gigs. Those are two very very different skillsets. However, you should talk to any academic-publishing copy editors whom you may know and get their advice.

3. Closure, in my opinion (and in yours, I think), is a good thing. It's rewarding to see a long-term project finally come to fruition. Finish it. And if you don't get any nibbles from academic presses, publish the damn thing yourself.
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:49 PM on February 16, 2015

1) My father-in-law published his dissertation and immediately moved to administration. It's a good book on the subject and gets referenced often.

3) Different field, but I am still frustrated about my lack of closure on my academic papers which were not published.

I think you should contribute what you have studied and thought about to the body of human knowledge. It won't hurt; it might help.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:23 PM on February 16, 2015

If people will buy it, people will sell it.
posted by oceanjesse at 2:33 PM on February 16, 2015

1. If it's really a good book, publishers will be interested. I know independent scholars whose work has been published by top-notch university presses, and if people in the field think it's worth publishing, I imagine presses would be interested. Better that than a half-hearted attempt by an assistant professor whose only real reason for publishing is tenure.

2. I can't see much of a leg up in that regard. Some academic experience is helpful, to be familiar with norms and conventions of academic writing, but not being a published author per se.

3. Hard to say, because it depends on your personality. Keep in mind the sunk cost fallacy: the fact that you have done all the work up to this point doesn't matter if you don't want to spend three more months finishing. But if you would get satisfaction out of finishing the project, then it might be worth it. I will say that when my first book came out, I got a little thrill knowing that there is some chance that another scholar, generations hence, might come across it and find it useful. (When reviews came out and other people began to cite it, that provided more immediate gratification.)
posted by brianogilvie at 2:48 PM on February 16, 2015

1. Yeah, they won't know and they most likely won't care. I think it is very common to publish the diss as a book while on the job market, which often means no current affiliation, or only adjunct status. They don't need to know what your plans are. My publisher didn't even ask me about that. The "about the author" blurb was just about my PhD really. Academic publishers aren't publishing with an eye to the future of the author, like fiction publishers do. Rather it's all about whether there is a market for that specific book.

2. No, I don't think it will really help. My experience copy-editing for publishing houses was that they just wanted warm bodies who could read fast and knew English grammar. They hired undergraduates, even.

3. Bear in mind that it's not just about the 3 months to finish the manuscript. Then there will be a period of shopping it around, which could take another few months, involving writing in-depth proposals. Then once it's accepted, the publisher will send it out to readers, and when the reports come back, you'll likely have to revise the bloody thing once more, i.e. another few months of working on the project you are already sick of now. And then it goes for copy-editing, and you will have to read it through again after that at proofs stage. And THEN when it finally comes out, maybe two years from now, you will start getting emails from people in the discipline who want to discuss the book with you, and maybe collaborate on future work, and all you will want to do is tell them how much you hate that topic now. No? Maybe that's just me, then :) But I can tell you, there is no freaking way I would go from the stage you are at now to publishing the diss if I truly thought I was not going to stay in academia.
posted by lollusc at 5:52 PM on February 16, 2015

No, yes, and yes. Me-mail me if you want to talk.
posted by karbonokapi at 3:50 PM on February 17, 2015

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