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12/05/2019

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anon

Original anon here:

First, I appreciate your nuanced response Marcus. Much of what you wrote does apply more specifically to my situation given that I am focused on teaching jobs.

I realize my first post wasn't especially specific but Press's comments weren't really helpful.

Second, the press is Lexington. I realize its not listed on the lists Leiter provided but I have dug around a bit and Lexington does have a decent reputation, though maybe you can provide more specifics.

And I don't know if it matters, but it is a dissertation being turned into a book.

Anon TT

In my experience, having interest (i.e., a full book manuscript under review at a top press with two favorable first round reports) was extremely beneficial on the market, especially moving to a research-focused position. It's absolutely no guarantee, since I still don't have a contract, more revisions have been requested, and the manuscript might still be rejected. But I know having the manuscript being seriously considered by a top press helped me land interviews and a job.

If you are aiming for teaching jobs, be careful. Some schools (like my former institution) will not care about books; they will just want you to publish consistently and don't care where you publish. Try to find a few faculty handbooks with guidelines for tenure and promotion online at schools where you would want to teach. Books take a LOT of time, and that means time away from publishing articles. So just be careful.

Amanda

There is a lot of disagreement about books at research schools. But overall I would say it is not that different then what I've said about publications generally:

1. Yes, publishing with a top press matters. The top 5 is a good guide for books (more so than journals since there are so many fewer book presses). However, this again depends on your area. If you are a philosophy of science scholar who has published a number of articles in top philosophy of science journals and then you have a book from a press outside the top 5, but one that is well known for philosophy of science, then it probably won't matter that it is outside the top 5 (of course, there is still a bar of prestige it must pass.) The issues is this: is this book going to be well respected and read by established, prestigious figures in the field?

2. I agree with the last commenter that a book contract with a top press *can* make a huge difference with research schools. Or it can mean nothing. The difference makers, I think, are (1) who are the search committee members? There are some R1 professors out there with the attitude of "press" but honestly I think they are the minority, (2) have you published articles before the book? what is the rest of yo profile like? (3)Is the book one that is likely to get attention and to give you a reputation?

As far as the book not being complete and not yet accepted, that is why publishing articles beforehand is really key. If you have a record of successful, innovative, and consistent publishing, then there seems good odds that the contract will go forward as planned. It might be time to bring up the repeated but true point that lots of research professors (not all) care a lot about "promise." So they might even build more goodwill into an unwritten book than a written one, as the written one will surely have flaws. The more junior one is, the more likely you can skate by on "promise." The only scenario I see of someone being successful with a book at a research school having published nothing before if they are from the very, very, elite circles (top 5) and have the biggest names vouching for their potential.

3. While there are exceptions to this, it can be risky to publish a book too early as a junior scholar. This is especially so if you haven't published a bunch of articles. If you have published at least a decent number of articles, then you are probably fine to do a book with a top press, or top press in your area . By "fine" I mean it will help your changes of getting a job, all things equal. That doesn't mean it would increase your odds more than articles. I think there is so much variation on this according to circumstance that it is pointless to try and make a general claim here.

If we are talking about actually gaining a reputation with a book, that is a lot more complicated. As the previous commenter said, books take *a lot* of time. And there are a lot of books with the very top press (cough...Oxford) that are completely ignored, especially by not so established people. I know sometimes people take this route, especially if they are already at a research school, because even an a book with a top press is typically much easier to get than, say, 5 articles in top journals. I think this is true for everyone but especially for people at research schools since being at that institution gives you a leg-up in getting a contract. So some people do the book to get tenure, and nobody ever reads the book. Is that bad? Depends on your goals, I guess.

Also, I am unsure how to say this while being as supportive as I can, but I will try. Lexington has a very iffy reputation, from what I know. On the one hand, some real serious people have published with them, and published good stuff. On the other hand, a lot of people see them as a press that accepts almost everything. On a Leiter poll, maybe two polls ago...? It came in last. So whether that book would help you probably just depends on the luck of the search committee members and their personal opinions. If I was advising this poster, I would suggest trying to publish the book as articles or to get with a better press. I'd say that even if looking for a teaching job. But maybe Marcus can say what perception people at his school might have of Lexington.

Press

Not to press the issue, but I cannot believe that a single hiring decision has been tipped in favor of a candidate with a CONTRACT - and not yet a book - from Lexington Press. The original posted was asking: "how does receiving a book contract from a mid-tier press look to potential search committee members?"
So I think my original answer gets at an important point. Indeed, one could EVEN imagine it working against an applicant. At some schools, not even high ranked ones, but ones who see themselves as "better", might say "well, Lexington, this tells us where this applicant's aspirations are ... WE are aiming higher".

Marcus Arvan

AnonTT: Thanks - I'm glad you found the post helpful!

Since you asked about Lexington, I have to be honest here: my own sense is similar to Amanda's and Press's. I don't think Lexington is considered by many to be a 'mid-tier' press. I think it's probably more accurate to say it is generally considered a 'lower-tier' press--which seems to me supported by it either not being listed in Leiter's polls or (if Amanda is right) coming in last in one poll.

While I think there are probably a fair number of people at institutions like mine who would have no problem hiring a candidate with book under contract with a press like Lexington, I would not be surprised if there are some who wouldn't be too impressed. But here, as elsewhere, I think a lot depends on the rest of the candidate's file (e.g. publications), as well as their writing sample. If you have a good publication record otherwise, and your research statement and writing sample are impressive, I don't think a book coming out with Lexington would be a problem with a hiring committee at a school like mine--and might even be looked at as a mild-to-moderate positive. On the other hand, if your publication record is non-existent or spotty other than the book, then having a book under contract with them might not be very helpful.

Amanda

I found the poll. I was a bit off. It came in 29 out of 31 in a 2018 poll.

https://civs.cs.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/results.pl?id=E_900795fcddcf1434

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: thanks for that link. It’s worth noting that that’s the poll Leiter shut down, alleging it was corrupted by strategic voting for MIT Press and UChicago Press. This is worth noting, as it appears to have artificially inflated those presses in the rankings, causing Routledge (which was previously polling in the top 5, as in previous polls) to fall outside of the top 5. https://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2018/12/best-philosophy-book-publishers-in-english.html

anon

I appreciate all of your honesty.

why are Leiter's polls authoritative for any kind of influence on hiring decisions?

Marcus Arvan

Hey anon: I don’t know that they are “authoritative”, as they are just polls. But they are, I take it, more or less all we have to go on in terms of estimating how different presses are perceived in the discipline—as his blog has been well-trafficked by many years and the only one (to my knowledge) that has run these kinds of polls. For what it is worth, the results there correspond very well with my first-hand experience in the profession, viz. what I’ve heard people say.

Anyway, given that I suspect you may have found the above discussion of Lexington a bit deflating, let me clarify that (1) I have heard some people say they look favorably on it and on some of the books they’ve published, and (2) I think there are plenty of people at my institution and institutions like mine that would look favorably on a candidate with a book coming out with them. I have heard people say as much! I just have also heard others say that they don’t look upon it as favorably. Personally, on the whole, if you’re looking to be competitive for teaching jobs, then I expect it will may help you for some jobs but not others. But this is true of jobs in general: what some places like, other places don’t like. So, if I were you, I wouldn’t stress a ton over what people do or do not think of Lexington. Provided the rest of your Cv is good and your actual *work* is good, I am very optimistic there are places that will see your book under contract with them as a positive. And, as many people will say (and they are right), it only takes one department to want to hire you. And the fact that you have a book at all may, at some places, separate you from candidates who don’t!

anon

Marcus,

I genuinely appreciate how supportive you are.

Its easy to get caught up in the frustration of the prestige factor in academia and how it feels unfair but I suspect my energies are better spent producing good work and less about things I have no control over.

Overseas TT

Just one data point on Lexington Press: I keep getting unsolicited e-mails from them to publish with them. This is the sort of thing that predatory journals do. Now, obviously Lexington is a legitimate press and not "predatory" like those journals are. Still, I think there's a reason I don't get such e-mails from OUP of even Springer. As a general rule, I wouldn't want to publish with a press that goes after me to publish with them.

Press

I think there is a danger of inferring that every sort of ranking is just a reflection of "prestige factor". I do not even know what that term means, and people should state what they mean when they use it. I have had a lot of interaction with a number of book publishers, and they are NOT all equal. The presses at the high end, CUP and OUP, get great referees, and have a lot of editorial help to produce good books. The books are professionally produced, and the product is even physically of a higher quality. The presses lower down provide less of this. And then if you go low enough you are paying the press to publish your book. There is even a nice name for that - a subvention.

anon

I'll say this: the record on Lexington is, at best, mixed. As someone with a contract in hand from them, I can say the following:
a. They are not a vanity press. They do not ask authors to pay to publish, though it appear that might have been the case in the past.
b. They have a peer review process.
c. They are not predatory.
d. They do not require as much of the author as they used to.

In general, from anecdotal evidence, I can say Lexington's reputation is much improved due to a conscious effort to amend some of their practices. Indeed, I think this thread itself bears out that the record on Lexington is mixed.

As for prestige factor, its a fair criticism that the words might be thrown around a lot but here is how I understand them:

It is the idea that there are gatekeepers to the discipline, such as Leiter, who work at the most prestigious institutions, who determine what the sexy topics are in philosophy are, who edit the top journals, or who referee for the top presses. It is the idea that your PHD granting institution is a mark of how good of a philosopher you are and that academia is a kind of a revolving door of white men who get their PhDS from these institutions and then get hired into positions once they are finished.

I am not saying how true any of this, but I am saying its a narrative that is persistent in the discipline right now and that the profession and discipline as a whole are undergoing a self-conscious transformation due to the persistence of this kind of narrative.

Marcus Arvan

Press: I would be happy to admit that, on average, books published in top presses tend to be better than books in lower-ranked presses. But let's not be obtuse about the very real role that prestige plays in book publishing.

I have talked to many people (including very well-known senior people in the profession), and known many people who have submitted book proposals to many different kinds of presses. One general thing that I have heard from many of these people is that an author's overall level of prestige and institutional background is *absolutely* factored in by top presses deciding whether to offer someone a contract and/or publish their book.

First, I have heard many people say that if you don't have a good "pedigree", some presses may not even consider a book proposal (or indeed, even *respond* to a book proposal query). Second, it is not hard to find books of questionable quality published by top presses by people who had or have considerable personal or institutional prestige. Here are just two examples:

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/McGinnMcGinned.pdf
http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/11195/1/MindReviewL.pdf

This blog isn't the place (for obvious reasons) to give a litany of examples--but I do think it is fair to call attention to at least a couple of cases to make this point.

To be crystal clear, I don't mean to deny that top-presses generally have higher standards than lower-ranked presses--nor do I mean to deny that they tend to publish better work. I just think there are very good reasons to think that prestige plays a significant role in getting book contracts with and publishing with top presses. I don't think many people in the profession would say otherwise. It seems to me to be pretty common knowledge. Presses want to sell books and maintain and improve their prestige--and books by prestigious authors generally promise to do both.

Amanda

Thanks for mentioning that about the corruption of the poll, Marcus. It is important for people to know that the top rankings in the poll are probably off. I am doubtful he corruption had an effect on the bottom half, though, as the corruption was with the presses already ranked above those in the bottom half. It is also interesting in that in so much as polls mean anything, they are a reflection of perceived value.

What does "prestige bias" mean. It means that people will favor a scholar, their book, or their work based *only on* the perceived prestige (either the perception of the profession, or the perception of the individual evaluator) of the press, journal, or graduate institution. In other words, the quality of the work, or the quality of the philosopher's work, will play little to no role in the evaluation. Or, a more soft bias, the quality will play far less of a role than it should.

The problem is not that on average people with top 5 Leiter degrees are better philosophers, or that, on average, articles with top presses and articles with top journals publish better work than other journals and presses. You can believe that all of those just mentioned things are true, and that, hence, journals and institutions that are perceived as prestigious do track quality to some extent. However, you can believe this and still believe in prestige bias.

The problem with prestige bias, I would argue, is that people give too much credence to prestige and not enough credence to their own evaluative judgements. For instance, I would be that the exact same paper would be judged as a "objectively better" if it was published in a top tier journal than if it was published in a mid-tier journal. If I am right, then this shows that the prestige of the journal (which has nothing to do directly with the quality of the work, at best it is only a "sign" or a correlation) results in the work getting more credit than it objectively merits. Or alternatively, that the less prestigious journal results in it getting less merit than it measures. The same could be said of job candidates. It is fine to think that a degree from NYU means there is good odds that someone is a really good philosopher. But if f this factor overcomes things like actual track records in the discipline, then we have a prestige bias. With books, Marcus is saying that the top presses, knowing nothing about the quality of a manuscript, will be much more likely to publish the manuscript if the author is from a prestigious school. Hence, the prestige, and not the quality, is doing the work.

The original question was about how a contract from Lexington would be perceived. Regardless of the objectivity of Leiter's poll, it is relevant to how it would be perceived. I think Marcus is right that it will just depend. Some schools will like it and others might hold it against you. The reason I would recommend my own grad student not publish with them is that in a tough market students often are wise to maximize their odds, and Lexignton will alienate some search committees. However, whether it is really good to try and do something else depends on how much time the candidate has on their hands and other factors like that.

Michel

Also FWIW, it's worth remembering that there are *a lot* more book presses out there than the 31 ranked in the poll. A lot of research universities, for example, have a press of their own. And while not all publish in philosophy, *many* do. So there's at least one perspective from which ranking 20ish probably really is "middling", and no worse.

Amanda

I don't know about that Michel. First, those other presses were not included in the poll. So if Lexington was "middle' it would be assuming that a lot of those other presses would obviously fall below Lexington. And I don't know why we would assume that. I don't think we can assume anything about where those other presses would be ranked, unless there is information I am not aware of out there.

Also, the idea of the poll is to use presses that regularly publish in philosophy. So if presses sometimes, but rarely, publish in philosophy, I don't think it would make sense to include them in a poll like this.

This is not to say the poll is authoritative or anything. On it's own I might not give the poll that much weight. It is more like the poll, combined with what I have ran across in a lot of my other experiences, is what leads me to believe that Lexington is often seen as a low-tier press. One of these "experiences" is the fact that lexington solicits submissions.

Kenny Pearce

In terms of the value placed on books, I think one factor mentioned in Marcus's post that is more directly relevant than eliteness is: who will be evaluating your application, and possible eventual tenure file? It is a peculiarity of analytic philosophers, as compared to other people in the humanities, that we tend to ask the question: did this really need to be a book? Could it have been a series of articles instead? If it's published at a top press, most people will assume that it really did need to be a book, otherwise the press wouldn't have accepted it. But if it's published at a middle or lower tier press, people will not necessarily assume this, and may think you should've published a series of articles instead. (Explaining why it needed to be a book would be something that you could do in an interview.)

This contrasts with disciplines like history or English (or, for that matter, the German university system) where if you don't publish a book based on your dissertation your academic career is very probably over. In those disciplines, I think most people end up publishing their first book with a mid- or lower-tier press, preferably one that has a special link to the subject matter (e.g., publishing a history of the American Midwest with University of Nebraska Press). This is not too much different from the way a grad student's first publication might be in a very specialized journal (e.g., Journal of Scottish Philosophy) and this might be a basis for optimism, rather than pessimism, about prospects for fancier publications later.

Elite universities tend to have more departmental autonomy, so you are more likely to have a 'siloed' group of analytic philosophers where the norms of other disciplines don't matter at all, but this won't be true everywhere. Insofar as books are treated differently than articles, I think this has more to do with 'siloing' than with eliteness. But of course more elite institutions expect both books and articles to be published in fancier places.

I think people have heard of Lexington and know it's a legitimate publisher and not a vanity press (so better than an unknown press and better than, e.g., Edwin Mellen), but I agree with other commenters that it would be regarded as lower-tier, not middle tier.

Talking lion

Can I ask (for a friend, as it were)—supposing one were to publish a first book with Palgrave as an ECR, would search committees also see this as lacking ambition? In fact I do not lack ambition, but an Oxford etc would probably not publish me at this point.

Marcus Arvan

Talking lion: I don’t quite know what an ECR is, but having a book under contract with Palgrave very much helped me on the market—and outside of elite research places, my sense is that search committees tend to look very favorably on books with good but not elite presses.

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