Academic Timelines

I’m currently in the midst of more projects than I’ve ever been involved with in my life. Academic velocity: light speed and beyond. In short, I’m trying to:

  • finish a book manuscript
  • revise and resubmit an article (encouraging feedback but needs some work)
  • edit 14 chapters of an edited collection
  • revise and resubmit a book proposal for an(other) edited collection
  • start a new proposal for a major handbook (also edited)
  • write a major grant for an editorial project
  • edit a special issue
  • …plus “minor” tasks such as eventually turning that presentation into an article, finish another article that’s now in the hands of a very slow collaborator, write a book review, prep courses, complete page proof of my textbook, and other odds and ends

“…Complete page proofs of my textbook” is at the bottom of the list because it just entered production so it will be some time (possibly a couple of months) until my co-author and I get those proofs, one the final steps in a long, very very loooooooong, protracted process. Which made me think of academic timelines and how slowly things move in the publishing world sometimes (academic publishing world; we’re not talking Trump administration exposes here).

I had the textbook idea in 2010, and a rep for a Prestigious Publishing House (PPH) encouraged me to submit a proposal. I did, that year, which resulted in a contract. I ended up coopting a colleague (who no longer works for my university, btw) in the project.

Co-writing a textbook has been tough. My co-author has a different writing voice and pushed for a light, slightly humorous treatment of the topic (not my forte, but hers); she was adamant that that’s what undergrads needed, especially as the topic could be, otherwise, boring. We produced drafts upon drafts of chapters, which were sent periodically for peer review by the PPH (a different rep this time); at one point we got 11 (eleven!) stacks of reviews from 11 people, all with their very different opinions about the book. The bad ones stood out–I still remember the one in particular who insisted that we couldn’t write IN ENGLISH and how is it possible that we’re writing a textbook. I can only assume the light/slighly humorous tone threw that reviewer off. We had to respond to all the points raised and make a revision plan.

We were delayed, inevitably. This ended up being a 500+ page, 17-chapter project, and we sent chapter drafts to various colleagues for feedback, so yeah, it took a while. Both of us also experienced life changing events during this time, which further stretched our deadlines. Then, in 2014, our contract was rescinded–excuse me, terminated by PPH, not necessarily because of the delay in writing it (we only started in earnest in 2011, and 3 years may a bit long but not so unusual), but because PPH decided to either go in a different direction or terminate the series; the supervising editor also went to work elsewhere. That was a DEVASTATING blow, needless to say, to our ego and to my tenure prospects. I had heard of projects like these that had gone sideways (textbooks that were written only to be rejected by the publisher for whatever reason), so I knew we were not alone, but still, it stung.

Then my co-author met another rep at another conference, and after some negotiations, multiple peer reviews of 6 of our chapters, revisions, adjustments, and so forth, we got another contract with Prestigious Publishing House #2, signed in 2016. This time, we submitted the whole manuscript on time in February 2017.

And then we waited. And waited. And waited some more.

We got some thin feedback on the first 4 chapters by May of that year, and then it was radio silence for nearly a year after; it took us another 1/2 year to complete our revisions, and by then it was the end of 2018. We then had to deal with verifying copyright issues again (surprisingly, PPH #2 was no help here), securing new forms and permissions, commissioning cover art we liked, and so forth.

It is now the end of 2019 and the book FINALLY got into production (outsourced to another company); we will be getting page proofs in….a few months, perhaps? No sooner than the end of the year, for sure.

Which means that the book will finally be out in 2020 (well, fingers crossed), 10 full years after I first submitted the proposal.

I think this is a little longer than most books take from idea to print, but also illustrative of the type of delays and roadblocks that plague most long-form academic projects. What makes it worse is that I’m not a patient person. But, let this be a lesson in NOT despairing or losing hope: most projects, if they are well thought out, will eventually find a home and come to life in print. Don’t despair: persist. In conclusion:

  • academic projects take more time than you think
  • delays are unavoidable – even under the best of circumstances; don’t beat yourself up
  • don’t give up–there is a home, somewhere, for your project
  • give writing the time and space they deserve to minimize the inevitable obstacles life will throw at you.

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