Sunday, April 3, 2011

Publication strategies

And now for a little inside baseball with my social science colleagues — sorry if this isn't of interest or use to my friends in humanities or natural sciences.  I was talking a few days ago with a senior pseudologist whom I respect as a good and well-published scholar.  Since I'm permanently in a state of mild anxiety about my professional development nowadays, I pressed hir about what I should be focusing on right now for publications: in specific, I was thinking of pursuing an article in an edited volume.  Although I didn't spell this out to my colleague, my thought was that it would be beneficial to have an article in a thematic collection, where my work might be more easily noticed by people seeking out such materials; plus, as I supposed, it would be useful to get my name into print alongside the names of other scholars engaged in similar work, who would then themselves also be exposed to my research. 

My colleague, though, blew this idea off, explaining that the best edited volumes tend to come out of conferences organized around a particular theme, because everyone is already in contact with each other.  If I'm not lucky enough to fall into such a conference, I need to organize one myself, and that is a humongous pain in the ass.  And then, once the conference yields interest from a publisher, the conference organizer tends to fall into the role of volume editor.  (Yes, even bigger pain in the ass!)  So, as zi continued, I shouldn't bother with edited volumes and all that comes with them until I already have a tenure-track job and can count on at least some institutional support for the drudgery associated with editing. 

Moreover, zi went on, in a larger sense, I shouldn't even think about edited volumes right now, because both edited book and article therein count for relatively little with tenure review committees in Pseudology.  Far more important, zi told me, to get my first book finished and accepted for publication.  Once that's a done deal, I should focus on pounding out some articles in reputable journals.  Only after I have done all of this, and landed myself a relatively secure job, should I turn my attention toward the project of creating an edited volume. 

I received this as sincere advice, because my colleague in fact didn't do this hirself: zi actually concentrated on edited volumes for some time early on, which, as I now gather, slowed down hir progress on hir first book.  As a result, zi went through some years on the job market without a t-t position, because zi had no book, no articles, and all of hir work on both book and various contributed chapters was tied up in editing processes that dragged on for ages.  Zi felt that zi had made a tactical error early in the game, and advised me not to do the same.

I wonder if others have heard similar or conflicting advice, within our broad category of social science.  (Obviously, this advice doesn't hold for, say, biomedical researchers, who need to bang out journal articles ASAP and have no structural reason to write a book at all.)  How does this compare with what you have heard?


  1. This is exactly what I've heard as advice for humanities people, too --- sorry to jump in before all the social-science people get here.

    Also think about how your field's search engines index things --- the modern language association does include edited collections in their database but the history ones don't, so for them if you published on "The History of Research City" in an edited collection on, say, big cities (I dunno! what?) history people would not find it if they did a general search, so your article would be *less* likely to get noticed.

    Now, publishing in a special issue of a journal, that's what I hear is good --- it gets out to the regular readers, deadlines come up suddenly so there is somewhat less competition, and your stuff gets read by the bigwig who is editing the issue.

  2. Blogger kept eating my freakin' comments yesterday; let's see if I can manage it today.

    1) I have a chapter in an edited collection from a conference that occurred in March 2009. The volume had not yet finished the peer review process. o_0 This may be a fluke of the particular press, I've heard (a certain upstate NY university press that prints a lot in our mutual field), but it's annoying none the less.

    2) From what I understand in my particular social science, one does not need a book or a book contract to get a tt job, but one does need one for tenure (plus additional articles). But then again, I haven't been given much book advice yet, as I do not have a book. (Some mumblings about picking a better press than the one that was contacting me based on a conference paper; that's all I've been told.)

    3) *insert rant about how articles I sent out in August are still languishing somewhere, and how I'd like to start the r&r process if accepted, and start the resubmission process if rejected...some of us are on time tables, assholes--no, wait, ALL OF US are on time tables*

  3. That's exactly what I've heard in my brand of social science.

    That said, I have done edited chapters and encyclopedia articles when I have been requested to do so, and I get them done on time. I tend to publish things in these chapters that are more like broad literature reviews of my research area and the specific sub-topic in general rather than new research.

    The main reason for doing it when requested is that you are doing it as a favor for the requester who may someday be asked to write a letter for you or may push other opportunities your way. You do it for the person, not for the publication. I would not seek these opportunities out, but when they fall into my lap I do them.