Friday, June 21, 2013

Ah, Loiterer!

From George Herbert, The Temple (1633):

¶   Hope.

I Gave to Hope a watch of mine: but he
                                 An anchor gave to me.
Then an old prayer-book I did present:
                                 And he an optick sent.
With that I have a viall full of tears:
                                 But he a few green eares.
Ah Loyterer! I’le no more, no more I’le bring:
                                 I did expect a ring.

It has been exactly a year since I last wrote something in this space. Since then in my first book's trajectory, I have responded to two readers reports (one positive, one asking for revision), majorly revised my book, and waited while it was sent back to the second reader, and out to a new third reader. Here at work, I  received extremely strong and positive comments on my book manuscript from the senior colleagues in my field, passing my third-year review here with no criticisms and a unanimous vote. The entire manuscript review process, from when I first sent out the manuscript's first draft (August 2011) to receiving the final report on the revision, which ought to happen next week, but seems to be less and less likely to be positive, has taken eighteen months.

I want my watch, tears, and book back.

Partly this is because my second reader had the first draft of the manuscript for ten months, and then the revised manuscript for five. The third reader also took five months to read the revision, possibly not knowing that no more revisions were allowed. And now, because the new reader's largely positive and helpful report recommends publication but nevertheless raises doubts about the argument--many of which are nice points that can be clarified in the book, none of which actually change my argument--I am given the chance to write a totally convincing but gracious and non-defensive rebuttal of these doubts, which, if convincing, will be taken to the press's editorial board. But if the second reader decides the revision isn't good enough for publication, this exercise may be futile. I have this tiny shred of hope left that this will work. But it's really tiny, because the editor--who has been kind and supportive throughout this process--has finally conceded that it would be prudent for me to query other presses. And I need to do that now because this whole process took almost two years, and I've only got another two years at most before my tenure review. Which I am lucky to have only because this is my second tenure-track job. Still, I need a book under contract (ideally in proof stage) to get tenure here. I don't exactly have ample amounts of time.

If you are a reader of early modern English poetry like I am, then you know not to trust Hope very much at all. And part of me really wishes I could rewind the clock, travel back in time to a year ago, withdraw my book, and send it to a different press, averting the copious weeping I've done over this, especially in the last twenty-four hours.

Therefore, I want my watch, tears, and book back.


Pantagruelle said...

I'm sorry this process has been so long and arduous for you. It really is a crapshoot. It seems like so much hangs on the good will and schedule of the anonymous readers. I was really lucky that from initial submission to contract it only took 5 months, but that's entirely down to how quickly both my readers responded. The 10 months it took your reader is ridiculously long though. It seems like your editor should have been prodding the reader a bit more, during the summer or winter break, whenever one could reasonably expect a reader to sit down and do it. It's not like we don't read PhD dissertations of the same length on short notice too. At this point, can you perhaps hedge your bets a bit, go the explanation for the press's editorial board process but also send the manuscript elsewhere, and then withdraw it if the editorial board comes through? Good luck and hang in there!

Pamphilia said...

Thanks for these kind thoughts, P! It shouldn't come as a surprise that one of the first two presses I will be sending queries to this week is the one that published yours. They are doing an excellent job with the review process, their readers know how to work with junior scholars, and the books they publish are beautiful and engaging. Some of their most important recent publications have been books that other presses foolishly didn't take.

I've made my peace with this. In writing my rebuttal, I had to go back to my manuscript, as one point I made was that the answers to Reader 3's questions are all already in the book. And in going back I was able to remind myself what a good book this is, and how my readers know this, the editor knows this, and the problem is with the process and a possibly highly volatile board.

Therefore I have decided not to get upset about the editorial process and board issues, since that is not something I can control and more importantly it does not concern me.

I wrote a book, a good one. I am doing all I can to get it published.

Flavia said...

I know you already know this--but the work you've done hasn't been in vain. It sounds like you initially received basically substantive and worthwhile feedback (albeit far too slowly!) and that you responded to the best and most useful parts of that feedback to make your book a better one that was still true to your vision for the project.

If things don't work out with this press, you'll be sending a superior product to whichever new press is lucky enough to work with you. And if my own (and a couple of colleagues') experience is anything to go by, the second go-round will be much swifter and happier after your hard labor with this one.

That said, I'm still sorry about this latest news. Thinking of you.

Pamphilia said...

It is so nice to see these words, Flavia. Of course I can say I already know this, but it's better to hear it--or read it--from a friend and colleague.