Today’s post is in response to a reader who wrote in asking, “does the status of the press matter when seeking to publish your book?”
Sometimes I am surprised by what people ask me, and this is one of those times.
Does anyone not know the answer to this question?
The answer is: yes, the status of the press matters. It matters a LOT. It matters like—choose right and you get a great tenure track job and a career and a retirement plan, choose wrong and you live forever in adjunct hell.
If you are in a book field, you need a book for tenure, certainly, but increasingly you need a book just to get a job at all. I am not saying that the book has to be OUT to get the first job. But you need to be well into the process of book publication to get that job. By which I mean, be able to talk knowledgably about the book plan and timeline, perhaps have chatted the book up with an editor at a conference, or been invited to submit a proposal, and beyond that, have a proposal ready to send, or in submission.
Whether or not you’re finished with your dissertation, if you are in a book field, you need to be looking ahead to the book, and thinking about where, when, and how it will be published.
In these circumstances, naturally, you will be excited if you find your work being solicited by an editor at a press. But if you’ve been invited to submit a proposal by an editor, you must not instantly leap at the invitation! You must make sure that the press is of a caliber that will advance your career.
Presses that advance your career are major university presses and Routledge and the like. Presses like Ashgate, Rowman and Littlefield, and Palgrave and so on are an indeterminate rank and will count at some universities and departments more highly than at others. Other presses must be evaluated very, very carefully. There may be a small and obscure press that is well known and important in your particular niche—and then it is fine to pursue publication with that press. But in general, small and obscure presses do not advance your career.
Putting a book out with an obscure press is not much different than having no book out at all, in terms of gaining a tenure track job or tenure. Yes, you’ll have a book between covers that you can put on your shelf and proudly show your friends and family. But a book that “counts” for the tenure track job market and tenure? That book needs to be out with one of the major presses of the academic world.
You may observe that some well known and influential senior scholars sometimes publish with presses that are not of the first rank. Why? Because they can. Because their reputations are unassailable, and they can afford to pursue publication that is based on prior personal connections, or that is less rigorous in terms of review, with no impact to their standing.
But for anyone seeking to create a scholarly reputation, the importance of the status of the press of the first book cannot be overstated. Any press that does not have “University” in its name should be approached with great caution. Inquire closely with advisors you trust whether or not to consider it.