As I mentioned in my previous post in the series, this wasn't a foregone conclusion. I got a great report from the reader solicited by Press #2, but in addition to having mixed reviews from Press #1 (one recommending publication, one very much against it), the editor at Press #1 wouldn't share the names of her reviewers with the editor at Press #2. This left me with a total of five reviews from three people--two of them unknown--over the course of two years and three stages of revision.
That makes for a complex narrative, and one with lots of things that might raise doubts for those not already sold on the project. So when I met with my editor at MLA, he asked that I write up a careful explanation of the process and of the revisions I'd already made, as well as detailing the revisions I planned to make in response to the final report. Oh: and if I wanted to make the January meetings of the relevant boards? It'd have to be done in two days.
Well of course I wanted to make the January meetings! So I spent the Monday after MLA trying to compose a persuasive narrative--one that was sufficiently detailed without being hopelessly confusing to someone who'd never heard the story before. (Needless to say, it took me something like ten hours to craft 1,000 words.)
Later that week, he presented the project to the press's internal publications board (presumably, the acquisitions editors, the editor-in-chief, the director of marketing, etc.). They approved it. The next week, it went to the press's faculty review board (made up of faculty from various disciplines at the university that houses the press). They also approved it, unanimously.
And. . . that's it! I have until May to submit the final manuscript, though I hope to have it done before then. And after that, I'll probably write a few posts in a new series about the process from final manuscript to bound covers.
So what have I learned? Mainly, I've learned experientially what I already knew intellectually, which is that this is just a damn long process. It's been ten years--to the month--since I submitted the first shitty draft of the first shitty chapter of my dissertation, and it's been almost two and a half years since I sent the first version of the book manuscript out for review. If everything moves swiftly from here on out, the book will be in print in about a year.
This means a few things. First, as they told us in grad school, when choosing a dissertation topic, you really do want to choose something that you think you could stand to be working on for a decade. (Not that you can totally know that in advance, and not that your understanding of what your topic is won't shift and evolve, but it's best to think of your project as a very long-term one. Longer even than grad school.)
Second, if you get a job where tenure rides on having a book contract, send the manuscript out as soon as you can. Admittedly, that's a bit of a catch-22: some projects just take a while to gestate and to turn into something other than the dissertation; rushing the manuscript out may also not result in success, especially if you're hired by a department that only counts toward tenure books that are published by certain select presses. Still, within whatever parameters make sense in your particular case, move with all deliberate speed.
Third, your first book is only your first book. There's life beyond it. If you no longer care about the dissertation project and don't need a book for tenure (or to get a first job), move on. And if you do believe in that project, work steadily toward its completion while starting to think beyond it. A good spur toward finishing one project is being excited by the one after it.
The full series, for those tuning in late:
- I send out book proposals, get responses.
- I send off the manuscript (and explain why getting from the dissertation to the MS took so damn long).
- Press #1 sends me my first reader's report and asks me to revise & resubmit.
- I revise, I resubmit, I feel DONE.
- Apparently, the reviewer likes it! Press #1 immediately solicits a second reviewer.
- I get both reviews. The first reviewer is happy. The second hates the project.
- I revise again, reviewer 2 still hates the project, Press #1 rejects it.
- Press #2 expresses interest (and so does Press #3!)
- The reader for Press #2 warmly recommends publication.