During the American Anthropological Association conference last week, I spent a lot of time in the Book Exhibit. But I wasn’t just checking out the newest anthro titles, which can be its own small joy, especially when friends and mentors have new offerings to share. I was actually walking the exhibit with students, trying to introduce several current dissertation writers (and a few newly minted Ph.D.’s) to editors at academic presses. I don’t know many editors, but one or two introductions are better than none.
Every introduction won’t turn into a publishing match made in heaven, but it is important to grease the wheel for students as they attempt to clear that important hurdle. Indeed, it is an adviser’s job.
When I was writing my dissertation, my adviser told me to “write a book,” which is something I also ask of my current students. I realize that that isn’t an uncontroversial position, and it is far from self-evident what the call to “write a book” even means. When you haven’t even successfully written a dissertation yet, the suggestion can feel like replacing one opacity with another.
One of the things it means, I think, is to approach writing with actual readers in mind, to make your claims with attention to the dramas, tensions, and story lines that will keep audiences oriented and invested. It need not demand sacrificing rigor for readability. It just asks for a little emphasis to storytelling (along with argumentation).
After I defended the dissertation, my adviser made it her job to introduce me to several university press editors. In fact, she spent a lot of time helping me to think through my pitch, boiling my arguments down to their most interesting (and publishable) permutations.
My adviser made a point of saying that graduate students aren’t “islands” isolated in some academic sea all by themselves. As most academics know, if the process works the way it is supposed to work, a dissertation adviser takes on a career-long role. And one part of the job description entails demystifying academia’s backstage, helping students as they (i) prepare for “the market,” (ii) negotiate job offers, (iii) deal with the challenges of postdoctoral life (committees, new colleagues, more service-related demands, etc.), and (iv) publish their research.
In terms of the publishing maze, things are changing quite a bit. There used to be a time when it was roundly frowned upon when authors tried submitting book manuscripts to several academic publishers at once. That is increasingly becoming less true. Indeed, the only bit of leverage that a junior faculty member might have these days (vis-a-vis potential publishers) is the threat of going with another press that is equally invested (and also pressuring reviewers for reader reports).
Again, this isn’t uncontroversial, but there is a lot to recommend such multiple submissions, as long as authors are up front with editors about it. For one, if an editor is really interested, he or she might promise to expedite the review process (pushing readers even more adamantly about quick responses) to preempt competition. Indeed, I only submitted my first manuscript to one publisher, but only if they promised to expedite things (and not leave me waiting around for months and months without word).
The other benefit of multiple submissions is the fact that you get more critical feedback. If Publisher 1 sends it to three anonymous reviewers and Publisher 2 sends it to three more, you can feel pretty confident about the coverage your material is getting. There is less likelihood that you have missed a key critique.
Academic journals still routinely disqualify articles that have been submitted to several places at once. Book publishers are becoming more amenable to the idea of multiple submissions, even if they aren’t all happy about it. At the end of the day, a good relationship with an academic press is about a good relationship with an editor. So, whatever you do, make sure you are upfront, honest, and straightforward. Editors will tell you where they stand, what they will stand for, and you both make informed decisions about how to proceed from there.