In the comments section of our most recent "How can we help you?" post, a reader writes:
I am joining a philosophy and religious studies department this Fall as a new TT faculty member. I have been told that the norm for tenure in this department is to write a book. I happen to have a book project in mind, based on my dissertation, so this works out great. However, I am not sure exactly what my work flow ought to be as I am putting the book proposal together. Up to this point, I have been fairly successful in my work flow for publishing articles: write papers --> conference those papers --> get feedback from colleagues --> submit to journals --> revise and resubmit --> publication. I am not quite sure, however, what my work flow is supposed to be like with the book proposal. Should I still be conferencing while working on the proposal? If so, what should I be conferencing? Chapters? Ideas for chapters? Should I still be sending articles that could/will be chapters to journals for publication? Should I just start working on the book proposal directly? Focusing lots of my time/energy there? Or should I be working on the book proposal and these conference/journal-sized papers simultaneously? Do I need to be building my CV up in certain ways to be appealing to publishers? etc.
I've seen some very helpful advice (here and elsewhere) on how to move forward *once you have the book proposal more or less done.* My question here is about how to get to the book proposal. For the past two years, I've followed a routine/work plan designed to put out journal articles. Now I'm wondering how that routine/work plan needs to change to put out the book proposal.
Really good questions! I will be curious to hear what others think, but here are some thoughts based on my experience writing a book:
Before I turn to the reader's main questions about "workflow", here are a few quick thoughts on proposals themselves. I do know a few people who published books based on their dissertation (so it's certainly possible!). However, I have also heard that publishers generally don't like to publish revised dissertations. Why? I'm not exactly sure--but when I was approaching publishers (and even after getting a contract), it was made clear to me that publishers wanted the book to be as original as possible, not using material that had already been published. Since dissertations are already "published", and most people publish material from their dissertations in journal articles, book publishers may worry that too much of the book being proposed is already out there and available (indeed, I was even forbidden by one publisher from sending out material from the book for review as a standalone article!). Consequently, in putting together the actual proposal, I would advise this reader to try to distance the proposal as much as possible from the dissertation. But perhaps I am wrong about this? What do other people who have published books think?
Let me now turn to the reader's workflow questions:
Question: "Do I need to be building my CV up in certain ways to be appealing to publishers? etc."
My thoughts: Yes, absolutely. Good publishers don't want to publish books that no one will read or that won't contribute to their brand. The more of a name one makes for oneself in the discipline, the more likely publishers are going to be interested in working with you. I actually didn't have plans to write a book until I was contacted by a publisher (Routledge) out of the blue to meet with an editor. I suspect this had to do with two things: the fact that (despite not publishing in "top" journals) people were engaging with my published work, and the fact that my online activities would afford my work additional visibility.
Questions: "Should I just start working on the book proposal directly? Focusing lots of my time/energy there? Or should I be working on the book proposal and these conference/journal-sized papers simultaneously?"
My thoughts: I would advise against putting "all of one's eggs in one basket", devoting all of one's time and energy to the book project over other things. Even if the expectation for tenure at your school is a book, I think it is vital to keep publishing articles while one is putting together a proposal or book. The worst-case scenario, after all, is that you spend all of your time working on a book, it doesn't end up working out, and you end up without a book or sufficient journal publications in order to be competitive for tenure or move if you don't get tenure. I would suggest spending something like half of one's time putting together the proposal, and the other half of one's time publishing articles.
On that note, here's another crucial thing. When dealing with early-career authors, book publishers typically want an entire book manuscript drafted when you send them a proposal. This isn't the case for all authors, especially well-established authors (who, or so I've heard, can get a contract based on a proposal and a couple of chapters). But it is, as far as I can tell, pretty standard for early-career authors--and here is the reason why. If the publisher likes the actual proposal, the next step is that they will want to review the manuscript itself before deciding to offer a contract. This might seem unbelievable: how can they expect an entire manuscript before offering a contract? The answer, I think, is this: publishers don't want to risk time and resources on a project that may not work out--and so, especially when it comes to early-career authors, they want to make sure the book as a whole is good before devoting editors, designers, and other resources to the project (this is important: after signing the contract, a lot of stuff gets sent into motion--designers for the book's cover, plans for when to release the book, etc.).
Questions: "Should I still be conferencing while working on the proposal? If so, what should I be conferencing? Chapters? Ideas for chapters?"
My thoughts: Yes to all of the above! I conferenced several short papers that ended up inspiring my book manuscript, and it was incredibly helpful in developing the book's ideas. My manuscript/proposal actually emerged out of my 2012 paper on Kantian ethics, "Unifying the Categorical Imperative." Early on, I imagined the book as a new defense of Kantianism (or rather, yet another defense of Kantianism). However, when presenting it at a conference, I went beyond some of the paper's ideas, and Robert Audi (who was in the audience) said something like, "You're not really doing Kant here anymore. You're doing your own thing. You should just do that." I'll never forget that moment. I realized then and there that he was absolutely right, and from that point forward my book project totally changed!
Question: "Should I still be sending articles that could/will be chapters to journals for publication?"
My thoughts: Yes, but again, I would advise caution here. I have heard it is not uncommon for a published book to contain one or two chapters of previously published material--but there is always some risk. My publisher made it very clear to me that they wanted my book to be as original as possible and not include any previously published material. So, while it probably does make sense to send out some stuff related to the book to journals, one should take care not to publish too much material related to it.
But, as always, these are just my thoughts, and some (or all!) of them may be wrong. What do you all think?