Thursday, December 30, 2010

Throwing darts

Flavia has been generous in documenting her progress through the process of submitting her book to academic presses. Reading her characteristically insightful accounts of this process has caused me to reflect on something I've started to figure out, maybe, on good days. I have spoken before (though I can't remember when) about the difference for me between publishing academic work and publishing poetry, and about how publishing poetry is just so much less stressful for me--in part, because rejections are (at the level of the professional) so obviously about a lack of aesthetic sympathy between writer and rejecting editor. Some folks are just never going to dig my work, period. Just as there are any number of poets who just don't do it for me. I can't get too worked up about someone not loving one of my poems. It's like throwing darts: sometimes you hit the target of the reader's taste, and sometimes you don't, and if I miss this time I'll just submit to someone else until I hit. Whatever.

But academic publishing has always felt much more objective, more about the inherent quality of the work, to me. The article, or in my case, the book, either succeeds or fails to make its argument, and if it's not accepted, it's because it has failed. However, some experiences over the last years have perhaps softened that perspective: having edited a collection of essays and having rejected a well-known scholar's work because it just didn't fit, having received a blistering reader's report from one journal on an article that was soon after accepted at a top journal in my field, having incurred the utter invective-laced wrath rejection of an editor (who later apologized and accepted) because my article caught him on a bad day.... These experiences have suggested to me that there may be more of the subjective on the academic side of things than I'd been willing to believe before.

I have sent out four book proposals in the last 6 weeks. Three to top-tier presses, one to a second-tier press with a top-tier list in my field. I'd be happy to be at any of them. Here's the run-down so far:

Top-tier Press 1: Three years ago, when I produced an infant proposal, an embarrassing and almost mock proposal based on the dissertation-based book I thought I was writing but have now abandoned, I sent to this press, and quickly received a rejection stating, in effect, "No way. I'm sure this would make a very nice article, but we're not interested in such thin soup. Good luck, amateur." In pretty much that tone and language. This time around, I got another rejection from them, but this time the tone was entirely different. An almost-quote: "This is a worthwhile and fascinating project, and we're sure it will land at a very good press, but our humanities resources, recently cut, are overcommitted. We look forward to reading this project when you place it elsewhere." So, still a rejection, but I've decided to take it as a major confidence booster. They didn't scruple to scorn me last time around, so I'll take their compliments as sincere.

Top-tier Press 2: Thanks to a scholar (whom I met via this blog!) who was willing to recommend me to hir editor, I am meeting with said editor at MLA. I'd LOVE to be at this press, and I'm sure I'll spend the whole flight to CA in a panic attack, obsessing over whether I've worn the right color shirt or should have put my hair in a ponytail.

Top-tier Press 3: Form letter rejection from an assistant by email. Though a scholar-mentor of mine who publishes with this press is convinced that hir editor never saw it and has vowed to speak to that editor on my behalf and insists that the tale is not ended, I'm considering it ended.

Good in my field Press: These guys were keen on the fetal proposal I sent years ago and expressed excitement about seeing the final MSS (they don't contract on spec), but then the editor in my field died. I've resubmitted to them, recounting the history of my conversation with them and reminding them of their prior interest, but I'm really just starting from scratch there. No idea how it'll play with a new editor--don't even know who the new editor is yet (not listed in the press's info). But they're not talking at MLA and I was told I'd be hearing from them in the new year. Sigh.

So. That's how it is right now. And the thing is, I'm no longer frantic about it. I think it's a decent project, and I think someone's going to take it. And if the dart doesn't hit one of these targets, I'll throw again. I only have to hit one.


Dr. Koshary said...

Wow, lots of luck with the submissions! Tell me, are you sending the same proposal to all of them, or different projects, any of which you could pursue if supported? In Pseudology, the received wisdom is to submit a particular project to only one press at a time, lest we engender a situation in which two different presses believe that they have some exclusivity in their decision-making. I've heard of press editors getting into a snit and rejecting a proposal they really wanted, over the sense that they're being two-timed by a faithless writer. Bizarre, but apparently true. Are humanities presses less...crazy?

ntbw said...

Good luck with all of this, and Happy New Year!

Leslie said...

Oy. I've wondered how academic publishing worked and now it does look a bit like CW publishing.

I have no advice about the ponytail, but good luck at MLA and with the meeting and all of it!

Renaissance Girl said...

Thanks, all!

And Dr. K: In humanities you send the same proposal to all, but once a press asks to see the full project, they get exclusivity until they accept or reject it. It's taken me 10 years to write this one project; I can't imagine having multiple projects in my mental attic to shop to one press at at time.