In the comments section of our most recent "how can we help you?" thread, Amanda writes:
So what are everyone's thoughts on writing a book as a Junior (non-tenured) scholar, particularly when you are not from somewhere fancy? So here are some things I have either seen or heard:
- If you do write a book, even if it is very good and published with a very good press, or even the top press, it is likely to be ignored.
- If you are searching for research jobs, then *maybe* a book with Oxford, Cambridge, or Routledge might help, but other presses likely not. And even with the aforementioned presses great articles are probably better.
- For tenure at a research place, books with the above presses can help but you better have had great article publications as well.
- For teaching schools books are more competitive with articles? Maybe? I am really less sure on this.
Good questions - I'll be curious to hear what readers think! Here are a few of my thoughts.
Although I don't know for sure, I wouldn't be surprised if Amanda is right that most books--even ones with top presses--tend to be largely ignored. Still, I'm not sure that's any reason for a junior person not to write a book. Most articles are largely ignored too, and you never really know whether your book or article will be ignored unless you give it a shot. And of course sometimes books make an impact out of the blue, or sometimes only years later!
In terms of research jobs and tenure at research places, I suspect a book with a top press can help a great deal. But, or so I've heard, what really matters is whether the book is any good and/or gains uptake in philosophical discussion. Is this right? Given that I don't work at an R1 I don't know for sure - so it would be great to hear from those in the know.
As for "teaching schools" (SLACs), my experience is that a book contract or published book with a respectable press can make a huge difference--both in terms of interviews and getting tenure. I'll be frank here. When I was still in a non-TT job and began thinking about publishing my book, more than a few people I talked to said a variation of the following: "You shouldn't try to publish a book unless it is with a top press, and unless you already have publications in top-ranked journals." Their thought--and, as far as I can tell, it is conventional wisdom in certain places--was that if a book isn't with a top-ranked press and/or you don't have top-ranked journal publications to go with it, it's unlikely to help with getting a job or tenure.
I didn't listen to that advice, and I'm glad I didn't. My own experience with "teaching schools"--both on the job and in the tenure process--is that the above advice is false. First, getting a book contract with a good but not top-ranked press (Palgrave) was followed by dramatic increases in my number of interview at SLACs (and a few research schools). Second, my experience working at a SLAC is that books can make a big difference in the tenure process. This is for several reasons. First, tenure and promotion committees are not comprised simply by philosophers. While you have a department T&P committee, they make their tenure recommendation to the college T&P committee, who then makes their own recommendation. The thing about college T&P committees is that they are comprised by people in other disciplines, such as English, History, and so on. Further, in some of these other disciplines, books are a very big deal--they may be expected for tenure in those disciplines. Since faculty in those other disciplines may not know philosophy culture very well, they may come at tenure decisions on the basis of their own expectations (the expectation that a book is a much bigger deal that articles). Finally, my sense is that for similar reasons, administrators may look much more favorably on books than articles--and since tenure recommendations have to go through them, having a book in one's tenure file may once again be very helpful.
Last but (certainly) not least, while I can see why these sorts of strategic considerations matter to people (who doesn't want a job and tenure?), for my part I wouldn't advise that any of these things settle whether a junior person should write a book. Rather, I'm more inclined to think one's philosophical interests should dictate that. You want to write a book? You have a book length argument you think is worth publishing? Then try to publish a book. If not, then don't! ;)
Or so I'm inclined to think. What say you?