Thursday, June 14, 2012

Getting It Published: Part 7

I was hoping that this post would be the final one in this series--to be followed, perhaps, by a few posts on the process of publication itself (from contract to bound copies), but alas: the news from my once-prospective press is not good.

As you may recall, I'd been working with this press for two years. They first sent the manuscript to one outside reviewer, who had stern but encouraging words, so I revised according to her suggestions. They sent it to her again, and she was very happy with my revisions and recommended publication. Then they sent it to a second reviewer, who read the entire MS in three weeks and was highly critical--but he also seemed confused about the basic parameters of my project; he made lots of suggestions, but most of them were, at best, tangential to my topic. I was asked to address "at least some of" his concerns, and I did so to the extent that I felt I could while maintaining the integrity of the project. I also told the press very clearly what I had done, what I had not done, and why.

So after winter break they sent it back to him. . . and after more than four months he submitted a one-paragraph review, most of it cut-and-pasted from his previous review, saying that I hadn't engaged sufficiently with his criticisms.

And that means that's it for that press. The editor was quite apologetic, but explained that such a negative review tied the press's hands and would make it hard for the editor to make a case to the publication board--even if the editor were to find a warmly receptive third reader.

And though I know that this is just one obtuse reader and that this is just one press, I haven't felt this crappy about my scholarly identity since grad school. I've been working on this project, in one incarnation or another, for ten years. At this point, I'm pretty much done. I want it to live somewhere other than my own head. Readers can like it or dislike it, but I want it to be other people's to grapple with, not mine.

I know that it will get published elsewhere, and maybe even at an equally good press. I'm not doubting the project's intrinsic worth, but right now I am feeling pretty demoralized about how goddamn long it will now be before it sees the light of day. And although I knew that this was a risk I was taking by sticking with one press for so long, I'm still surprised by this outcome and I still feel like I've failed. Moreover, being in Italy means I can't do what I'd normally do, which is send out another half-dozen proposals immediately. But I don't have a printer here and I don't have RU letterhead, so all I can do for the next three weeks is stew.


Well, that's not quite true. The silver lining, I guess, is that now I have to get on with the rest of my scholarly life. For the past four months, waiting for this review, I've felt paralyzed, unable to work on the article I'm half done with, unable to start strategizing about the next book (even though I'm excited about both), and unable to do more than desultory work on my scholarly edition. It just hasn't felt worth it, when I knew that I might hear back any day about this book and need to turn quickly to any final revisions.

And to be honest, I've been worried, over those past four months, about whether I was losing steam and losing drive, and maybe becoming complacent (about getting tenure, about the idea of having my book come out with this particular fancy press, and, generally, about all the things I've done rather than being energized by what lies ahead). If my book isn't coming out imminently, well, that feels shameful. But a sense of falling behind or of having something to prove has always been useful to my productivity. Having the book in limbo means I absolutely have to get that article out the door this summer. And I need to start applying for some external fellowships, maybe even a few big ones, in order to write the first couple of chapters of my second book and in the hopes of taking a year-long rather than a semester-long sabbatical in 2013-14.

I suppose it will all work out in the end; the race is not always to the swift, etc. But this sure wasn't what I'd hoped to hear.


What Now? said...

Ugh, I'm so sorry! How very, very frustrating to have one paragraph from one person put an end to two years' worth of waiting. That system seems wrong.

But I'm so glad that tenure wasn't hinging on the outcome one way or the other.

And it does sound like your silver lining is an additional spur to productivity, although I hate it that you are feeling like you have something to prove or are falling behind.

In the meantime, I'm glad that you are in Italy and have no choice but to leave the book alone for another three weeks.

Emily said...

Ugh. Publishing -- especially scholarly publishing -- takes forever. I had an article accepted to a book project. The book editors hadn't quite gotten the book accepted when they accepted my work. Didn't hear from them for 2 years, then got an email saying that due to life circumstances (health issues, whatever), they weren't pursuing the book project, but would like to publish it in the new online journal they were starting. I had to make the hard decision that since I'm back on the job market, it would be better to have the article under review at a known entity than to have it in an untested new online journal (advice from my wise, tech-savvy mentor). I'm still waiting to hear from said journal.

It's certainly not what you're dealing with (which is, I admit, why I'm subconsciously avoiding the book project most days), but it seems like it's par for the course of academic publishing.

I hope that the spur to your productivity produces some good results.

And besides, even though you can't do some of the things that you would at home, at least you're able to stew in a beautiful location.

life_of_a_fool said...

Ugh. This is terrible, and so so frustrating. I'm so sorry!

On the up side (and I think you know this already), the similar sorts of publishing horror stories I know of have happy endings with publications in equally good presses.It might take longer, but it will work out.

moria said...

Here's a fourth 'ugh.' But I'll say too that in my very limited experience, I've watched brilliant folk with brilliant projects – second or third books, even – get the run-around from one press and go on to find the book a home at another excellent one. That doesn't help with the felt experience of the demoralizing situation in which you find yourself, but maybe it's good to know that you have a lot of people, me among them, cheering for you. Loudly and obnoxiously, in my case. Godspeed, dear Flavia.

Ianqui said...

I'm really sorry to hear this. I imagine the disappointment is like getting an article rejected times 1000. And I totally understand that your primary disappointment is about the time--this is easily the worst part of academic publishing.

But, I'm looking forward to hearing the good news from a new press in the future!

Doctor Cleveland said...

Ah, dammit, Flavia. I'm sorry.

In the end it sounds like you and that reader had fundamentally different ideas about what your book should be.

But it's your book. The reader's name isn't even on that paragraph: yours will be on your book forever.

It's hard and bitter to have to start over again after such a long time with that press. But even that is better than letting someone else turn your book into something you never wanted it to be.

Sisyphus said...

Aw, dude, that sucks. Go throw some things, and drown your sorrows in gelato. Then pick yourself up and dust yourself off and attack the next project!

PS, if you really really want to send out proposals right away, I'm sure people back at your home campus could can and email you some letterhead and you could email out stuff. But, if you need the time to be pissed off (and I vote for throwing things, personally), then deal with being pissed off first. :)

Now you have incentive to learn some really vile Italian insults!

Veralinda said...

Oh Flavia, I'm so sorry!! Of course you're upset, and I can only imagine how frustrated you must be. But the book WILL be published, and thank goodness you ALREADY HAVE TENURE, DUDE (!), so while it will take more time, it won't have any substantive effect on the rest of your career (except bringing you that much closer to full professor, when the time comes). Sorry Flavia. Your work is great, and this will all be history when it comes out with one of the equally good presses that will snatch it up.

Withywindle said...

Ugh, again. Sympathies. If only you knew enough Italian to hire a local hit man ...

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I'm so sorry! I'll just ditto what everyone else has said. But the time and labor is so frustrating!

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to hear this! But listen to Veralinda. I had something very similar happen to my book manuscript during my tenure year, but now I'm with a new press, and it will make a difference for the promotion to full AND I can move on to other things (which is the real benefit).\\


Janice said...

So sorry! Sounds like your press was both gutless and incompetent in that they couldn't get it out to two reviewers at the outset. If they were willing to go ahead on the say-so of one to a point so far and then let another single individual tank the project, the press isn't operating effectively.

If you have the materials there, digitally, I'd consider an email query to some publishers in the form of "would you be interested in a 100,000 word mss on topic X that is in line with your series Y?" Not everything has to be done in the old-fashioned printed letter format!

Dr. Crazy said...

:( What everybody else has said. But also this: YOU are not a failure and YOU haven't failed because of this set-back. As hard as it is, these set-backs are part of the process of *succeeding* in this damned gig. If you're not getting rejections, then it means you're not submitting stuff. You're not really in the profession. I know you know this deep down. And I know that once the sting of the set-back subsides that you will go on to do even *greater* stuff.

Also: I think it's actually really great that you're in Italy and that you can't hustle and bustle to send out a batch of proposals right this minute. This is the universe telling you that this *isn't* the most important thing in the world - that life goes on and that you don't live or die by each and every email related to a publication. This is a *good* thing. And also: if you sent stuff out now? It's summer. This is not a good time for quick turn-arounds for reviews. So seriously: it'll be there when you're back from Rome, and it won't be any the worse for wear for it.

Now go eat pasta and drink wine and eat gelato! Immediately!

Renaissance Girl said...

Shit. But, seriously, what Crazy said. I think it may be actually a very good thing that you are in Rome, doing as the Romans do, and can't pivot directly into a retaliatory mail-blast (though that's exactly what I'd want to do, too). You are forced to eat. Walk. See art. Be in love with Cosimo. The work, which is not your life, will be there when you're ready to get back to it. Gelato. Yes. Gelato. (But still: shit; I feel you, homegirl.)

Historiann said...

I'm very sorry to read your story here, Flavia. But I agree with Janice: you haz the email and internets power, so get e-mailing and see if you can drum up some interest from other editors at other presses.

I have never heard (in History, anyway) of a process like the one you describe, in which you're expected to respond to the comments of ONE reviewer, and then it's sent out to a second reviewer. In my field, presses line up two readers at the same time and then let the author and editor sort out what's doable and realistic if the editor wants to go ahead with publishing the book.

My guess is that a lot of editors will be very interested to hear from someone with a complete ms. that's already been through the review process and is pretty much ready to roll. Something like this happened to a colleague of mine a few years back, and when he sent the book on to another press they (wisely) snapped it up and got it out with all deliberate speed. (You'll really help your future publisher if you know the identity of the first, friendly reviewer. They frequently will just ask that person to review it again for their press if they think your project looks good and they want an easy "yes" answer.)

I think you are incredibly brave to blog about this, BTW. I think it's a sign that you're not entirely internalizing the shame and humiliation, which is really healthy. Own the rage, however, and let it power you (along with some strong espresso) through some confident e-mails and maybe phone calls with acquisitions editors at other presses.

Comrade Physioprof said...

In the natural sciences, we go through this kind of endless rounds of review-revision followed by final rejection all the fucken time. Eventually it gets easier to take, but yeah, it stings like a motherfucker.

BTW, here via Historiann's link.

Flavia said...

Thanks, all. I've had a very nice last few days here in Rome (and woke up this morning with the hangover the prove it!). But your condolences and suggestions really mean a lot.

I too am puzzled by the serial nature of the review process; I've had other friends work with this particular press and this very editor, and I think all of them have had their MSS sent out to two reviewers at once (though they've also had to revise & resend to both readers, and get a dual sign-off; there's no going to a third reader unless one of the two declines to read a second time). And I've never heard of this being common practice elsewhere.

And yes, I've emailed one editor I know decently well, at an equally good press (they're the press that has contracted my scholarly edition)--but haven't heard back. I'm leery of cold-contacting others. Some presses specifically state that they won't accept email queries, and generally it seems like it Isn't Done in literary studies unless there's some prior personal contact. I guess I can wait. I'll prepare letters now and send them out immediately upon my return.

And thanks, Historiann, for your kind words (and the link). I knew when I started this series that I was obliging myself to blog about any failures or set-backs--though maybe I hoped I wouldn't encounter any. And I feel I need to make good on that obligation, but also to do it in a way that's ethical (i.e., that isn't about venting or airing specific grievances). I'm frustrated to have wasted the last six months, since finishing my last revisions, but on the whole this press treated me very well and with great professionalism, and their two readers' comments, even the ones I disagreed with, really did serve to make the book better.

So I feel that I need to admit to my less-than-successes; I think that's vital, if I'm to have any credibility as an academic blogger (especially now that I've just earned tenure, and am, I guess, all "establishment" and shit). But I want to be a responsible member of the profession, too, especially as I move toward less-or-no pseudonymity.

That doesn't mean I'm not bitching in private, of course. But I'm striving to be both honest and reasonably professional in this space.

Dr. Crazy said...

For what it's worth (though it's not worth much) I have heard about this sort of situation with a handful of folks, and most of the folks I know who've experienced this have done so with Very Good Presses. I'm not sure that your experience here is all that unusual - I think it's more the case that people just don't talk about it except for with their inner circle. In that regard, I think it's really good that you posted about this, because it shines a light on something that is probably more common than we talk about in wider circles. Whatever the case - onward and upward!

Tenured Radical said...

I heard over at Historiann that there was a code blue over here.

OK. I had an article that was rejected by *five* journals. This included two revise and resubmits from GLQ, with a rejection coming after the second revision.

All in all I probably revised this f#cker seven times and I was in despair.

Then I sent it to one final journal that accepted it instantly, published it three months later, and hte following spring it won a prize.

So the message is: find another press. I've never heard of a process that was this categorical, including I get divergent love/hate reviews on every single thing I write. While I always pay attention to the negatives, I have come to understand that what this often means is that I have a truly original idea, and my guess is that you do too.

If you want to email me privately, we can talk presses. Hang in there.

Meansomething said...

Coming in just after TR and therefore motivated to say--well, first, motivated to say, Bleah! Fie on them! Scum.

And then to say that I think that TR's point is salient, as usual. Divergent love/hate indeed often means that some people of discernment get what you're doing, and some people whose opinions are supposed to be pretty good are left in the dark. That piece I had accepted to a major nat'l mag not too long ago (by an editor whose judgment I respect greatly) had been rejected for a year by lit mags with much smaller circulation /influence.

Thank you for sharing your (frustrating) story. I look forward to enjoying the chapter in which you triumph!

Pamphilia said...

I am so, so, sorry to read this news. Having just gotten a positively BRUTAL second reader's report (worst thing is I'm fairly sure I know who wrote it--a scholar who completely terrifies me), I am now in the position of deciding whether or not to go ahead and make the (possibly impossible) revisions requested, or to take my book elsewhere and avoid going through exactly what you've been through. My mixed second reader's report had some excellent suggestions, but it also seems like this reader really took issue with a number of my readings, and my methodology. So anyway, you have my sympathies! You will get this book published, and you will triumph. And a certain press can suck it.