Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Perishing from Publishing? Let this guide help!

We all know that publishing our best work is key to building a scholarly repuation and in turn, a compelling and successful tenure package. But as junior faculty/grad students/etc. it isn't always clear how to build a publishing strategy. Did you even know you needed a "strategy"? You do. Yikes, right?

Tom Boellstorff, current Editor-in-Chief of the American Anthropologist has recently published a really excellent essay on the subject of building your early career publishing strategy. He focuses on the choice of venue for your work and the peer-review process. His concept of the "Journal Triangle" is new to me but makes a lot of sense: publish in general journals (e.g. American Anthropologist, Current Anthropology), area journals (e.g. geographic area, species-centric journal such as Am J Primatology), and specialist journals (e.g. Placenta, Neuroscience, Bone Biology, etc.). Entirely without planning (alas, I did not have a strategy. Boellstorff, where were you??), I've done this and I'm pleased now to learn of the collateral benefits of doing so.

I have broken some rules here, mainly his edict to refrain from or strictly limit publishing in edited volumes as an untenured professor and I can attest to the wisdom of his advice. I have two chapters in print, one in press, and one in prep. I was blushingly gratified to have been invited to participate as a graduate student in one of the volumes and unwisely prepared some dissertation data for publication. The book took over 5 years  to come out and I couldn't publish those data as a journal article. That was dumb. (Note: the book itself is awesome and I'm very proud of my chapter!) That's why I now advise untenured folks looking to build up their pub list to reserve their original data for publication in journals. You can then later refer to it in a chapter, or even reprint the article in its entirety in a book. But if it's in the book first, it's done for.

The second chapter already in print wasn't too big a deal as I was third author in terms of effort. Sometimes you'll be invited to participate as an author because the other authors are leaning heavily on your work to build a section. If you're invited to do this, make it clear to the other authors what your availability to participate really will be. Be very protective of your effort on these kinds of co-authored projects. It's easy to say Yes! and Sure! I'll throw together a table! and No problem! I'll be happy to track down permission to use that figure! but it can be a real pain in the neck to follow through. Be sure you can really do it so as to protect not only your time but your reputation as a responsible collaborator.

Another tip: Don't underestimate the time a book chapter will take to write, even one that's based on previous work.  If you take even a modicum of pride in your work, it will take a lot longer than you expect and if the book is to be peer-reviewed, you might be surprised to find the review process even more exacting than that of a journal. And know going into it that the schedule will deviate from the best intentions. It just will. The slow turnaround is yet another excellent reason to publish your original data in a journal article.

Boellstorff's one easing of the no-edited-volume edict is being the editor yourself. Testify! I'm doing this now and I am lucky enough to have two smashing lady co-editors in Katie Hinde and Kate Clancy but it is a lot of work and has absorbed effort away from some other projects maybe I "should" be doing. That said, it's worth it because I deeply believe in the project, its potential impact on the field, and its timeliness (i.e. "This topic is so timely the book needs to happen NOW!"). AND I am concurrently working on journal articles and grant proposals. You can't just rest on the edited volume - whether it's just a chapter or the whole damn thing - for tenure (for most departments/schools that emphasize research over teaching, or articles over books. Your miles may vary so get smart about your local tenure culture.) So if you're going to do it, it needs to be for more than just vanity. You need to think about impact on the field, the timeliness of the topic, the quality of the contributors, and the potential pros/cons for your own scholarly reputation. Co-editing is a great idea IF YOU HAVE THE RIGHT EDITORIAL TEAM.

Good luck to you all as you craft your strategy! Please share your tips and questions in the comment section.


  1. Thanks for writing this post AFTER numerous early career colleagues agreed to participate and already submitted their chapters to Building Babies!

  2. Ha! I thought the same thing.