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.