Friday, March 21, 2008

In the Pipeline Part II: When the Plumbing is Clogged

Long long ago, I asked if it was better to go on the market while ABD, in a "trial run," or deal with finishing the dissertation first and have a gap year while going on the market (for me, the "gap year" is much more about "how will I eat and pay the rent" and much less worry about gaps opening up on my CV).

Having survived two job market attempts now, it is clear to me that the answer is "PUBLICATIONS!!!!! PUBLICAAAAAAAAAATIONS!!!!!! Publications You Motherfucker! We Rejected Candidates Who Had Published Entire BOOKS As Not Worthy To Even Wipe Our Feet and We Should Charge YOU For Forcing Us to Look At Your Sniveling Job Materials You SCUM, UNPUBLISHED SCUM I SAY!!!!!!!"

And those were just the ones kind enough to send the Please Fuck Off letters. Most schools seem to think that acknowledging failed job applicants will make them ritually unclean, as if our unworthiness will rub off on their schools and make them drop a level in the US News and World Report Rankings.

So, Ok ---- after going off and crying in a corner for a while I went back to the twin tasks of working on my dissertation and getting stuff out to publishers. (Don't even get me started on how my department assumes we will finish the whole program, including the dissertation, and graduate in four years, teaching the whole time, including getting trained in comp and then moving back to Eng after a year, with no summer support and almost no help or advice on publishing or even time to wedge in some work on publishing --- but anyway.) In fact, you may remember that after Mostly Disastrous Job Market Year #1 I got right down to work on a chapter and three articles (one of which got rejected and I scrapped), and I sent out finished manuscripts into the publication pipeline last summer. (Then I went out on Truly Disastrous Job Market Year #2. But we won't talk about that now.)

The problem now is that those pipelines appear to be clogged.

I mused about this a little last year when I compared the constant process of having ideas and writing them up and sending them out and getting them back to either juggling or pinball. I understood, at least I thought so at the time, that the whole publishing process was another of these aspects of being a professor where you need to be incredibly self-directed and able to think ahead and organize long periods of time, being able to shoot something out there and then turn back to do something else, keeping busy, while your shiny little idea pinged and panged back and forth and set off little lights and buzzers until eventually it came back and you thwacked it back off again.

I had no clue that the ball might hurtle off into the ether and be never seen or heard from again.

Now what? It's been eight freaking months, people! I would like to have something worthwhile on my CV when I go (sigh) back on the market yet again in the fall. So if I'm getting rejected, I would like it to happen now so I can go take my pinball and play it in another game and get it rolling along its new tracks before market season again. (Has my metaphor lost anyone yet?)

Or alternately, if it's any good, I would like to hustle along some revisions and shoot it back out there, because it has been pointed out to me that sending an article out to a top journal, such as, I don't know, PMLA, takes absolutely no skill whatsoever and thus doesn't really count for much on a CV. I have been further informed that there's no point to listing a revise-and-resubmit on one's CV either; no one will care or count it as a publication unless you can say "accepted" and "forthcoming." Someone else told me that "grad students these days" will list articles as "submitted" to various journals when they haven't actually submitted anything yet but they have been thinking about it, and so search committees treat CVs with submitted publications exactly the same way as blank ones. Turns out, some of my peeps here did exactly that, to which I said, thanks guys. Way to help me out.

If you want any advice (and would actually take it from an unpublished scum like me: look at the turnaround time of the journals you want to submit to. Harass your profs and people in your field, if need be. I think that journals that publish quarterly or more often meet more frequently and have faster turnaround times than journals that only publish a couple times a year, or annually. Or maybe I just picked super duper slow venues.

With one journal, I've been checking in since MLA (someone told me that December "doesn't count" in journal turnaround time because everyone knows the semester is ending and full of grades and holiday preparations and then it's MLA. I totally accept that. I waited until I was back before trying to nag people.) This has become a routine for me now at the top of each month:
  • send rent check
  • send polite nagging email to journal
And then, a few days later:
  • rent check clears
  • return email explains that the editorial board has not yet met to evaluate the reviews of my article
This is getting frustrating. I had set myself up for the idea that publishing anything takes about a year, but this is looking like it will take years before it actually appears anywhere in print. I mean, I've been told that the best I can hope for is a revise-and-resubmit since it's very rare to be straight-up accepted by a journal. I've also been told that it takes about as long to go through the R&R part as the first part, if not longer.

Crap! Crapitty crap crap! I wouldn't be so upset about all this if I didn't feel the pressures to get something real on my CV in time for the next job season! I would just go back to writing more things and pinging them out. Do people on the tenure track feel the same way, what with tenure standards and internal reviews and whatnot? Gah!

The other journal is stuck too --- after a few reminder emails I got a response that they would be happy to work with me and that they were sending back the readers' reports after X happened. I think that may be an unofficial revise and resubmit, and the editor was very very nice and encouraging. So I have all these hopes and excitements about this one. But. The reader reports have never arrived. The polite, questioning emails I have sent about them have never been replied to. X deadline is months and months away and I could see that, if this editor is organizing the X as well, the editor is not doing anything journal related in that harried and crazy time. So now what do I do about this one? Or that one? Gahhh!

Some people have told me that this turnaround time is completely unacceptable and I should pull both articles and start again. But I have no assurances that starting again somewhere else would be any faster. And I would like these articles to go in these journals; that's why I submitted to them first. And I haven't been rejected by either. And that last, hopeful-sounding email from the one journal, like the faint shadowings of land to some shipwrecked survivors, really did seem like they wanted my article if I only fixed whatever mysterious things the reviewers suggested, but since I never did see the reviewer reports, it feels like the land was really a mirage, never to be seen again.

I have gotten some conference proposal stuff out for Yet Another Idea, and I am working away at finishing the dissertation. But, you know, the timing on these won't be quite right for the fall job market either. Dangit! I was hoping my mantra would be The Third Time's The Charm, not Four More Years.


CR said...

I got my first job with nothing more really than a revise and resubmit on my CV that, thank christ, turned into an acceptance sometime around oh November 1 or so of job season. The paper came out last fall, 2 years later.

I think revise and resubmit is OK to list and looks pretty good on the CV. Obviously, better to have the full acceptance. Or what if you ended up with 2 r&rs - that'd look pretty serious indeed.

Don't freak. You have time. Things move faster, from what I can tell, in the late spring and early fall...

~profgrrrrl~ said...

If you don't have much else (grad student or recent grad), I think it's fair to put submitted and/or r&rs on there BUT put the date submitted on there as well. That's more of a keep you honest measure (and at least in my field several journals actually publish the date of submission, revision, and acceptance along with the article).

adjunct whore said...

people gave me this advice and i didn't believe it, until i did it: finish your dissertation. only think about that right now.

because at the end of your dissertation, you will have a good article, likely your best writing and best thinking on your little germ. that is what you can then take, revise, and send out, but after you spend all of your energy finishing.

my two cents. i bucked it for a long time. but when i finally did this, it suddenly all made sense.

heu mihi said...

I don't know if this would help, given that you've already sent the nagging emails, but in MY nagging emails last August/Sept, I "casually" mentioned that I was on the job market so I would really like an answer sooner rather than later. (I can't remember how I actually put it, but I assume that it was better than that! Something about "hoping to place the article" soon, or something.) I don't know if that helped, but I got a response pretty damn quick, and some nice words from the editor, to boot.

(This advice actually comes from Medieval Woman, who recommended that I do exactly that--of course, it might have helped that she'd done this with the same journal as the one I'd submitted to.)

Feminist Avatar said...

I don't know if its different in the states, but in the UK getting your diss finished promptly (ideally in three years, but def in four full time) can be a much bigger deal than publications. It shows your ability to complete projects ina timely fashion, which is a great indicator of future productivity. Getting a dissertation finished in three has stood many of my colleagues in good stead on the jobmarket years later.

Also R&R does not have to be a huge deal- my first article needed revisions, but they only took a couple of days. Then, it was resubmitted and accepted pretty quickly. So, yes it is frustrating to wait, but once you get an answer the turn around is not inevitably drawn out.

gwinne said...

Hi. I'm a newcomer to your blog and wanted to send a few words of empathy. The most frustrating (not to mention demoralizing) thing I find, in this entire profession, is handling article submissions. I'd rank that well above qualifying exams, dissertating, and even going up for review (I just went through reappointment process at an R1 Eng dept). But, FWIW, I'd also rank getting the diss done above aquiring publications...

hylonome said...

For what it's worth, I had an article come out this month in a top journal that had previously been rejected summarily (literally in 10 days), submitted elsewhere (where it languished for 10 months), and then submitted to the journal where it has been published 2 years later. There were revisions in some of these steps but the whole process--from initial submission to publication--took about 4 years.

My suggestion, for your situation, is to finish the dissertation and not worry, at this moment, about the articles. If, after you've marched and all is done, you've still heard nothing, politely pull one of the articles and resubmit it elsewhere. If you think you can wait, you can give the journal the chance to reply before you actually pull it; this worked for me once. And I'd aim to have sent a chapter from your dissertation out as well. Having something accepted mid-job season, which allows you to write to all the schools updating them on your news, actually draws the attention of a search committee back to an application. (I'm at SLAC with a national ranking [if USNews means anything] and we hired someone this year who got her first publication during the process.)

p.s. You might mention to your peers that lying on a cv might not technically be plagiarism but is the kind of thing, if caught, that search committees could share with one another.

Susan said...

Well, I'd combine some of the advice above. Finish the diss. first, but some time before you finish - maybe 3-4 weeks -- send an e-mail to both journals. You can say "When I last heard from you.... I'm wondering if something got lost in the ether .. I'm just finishing my diss, and I'm hoping to begin any needed revisions in the next X weeks, so I'm set to go on the job market next fall."

THe great thing about this is that you give them some time to respond, you suggest that maybe an e-mail got lost (they occasionally do), etc.

Belle said...

I'm not in your field, but I'd echo the advise on finish the diss, then worry about the pubs. AW was right on; one never believes the advice (despite all pleas and assurances) until one does it, but...


Sisyphus said...

But people, complaining is my biggest hobby! If I just focus on finishing the diss, all you will get for the next couple months will be chapter whine-ery!

You will regret that, I assure you.

And now I have to wonder if my dissertation is weird or totally structured differently than everyone else's, because I don't see why finishing first and then dealing with the pubs is good (except, of course, in that I don't distract myself to the extent that I am unable to graduate on time.)

And one of the articles (er, "articles") is my middle chapter, so ... yeah, I'm still confused. Fodder for another blog post!

WildlyParenthetical said...

I'm leaving most of my publishing til later, too... and I have to say that, given that I'm in the home stretch, the whole thing is feeling a lot more... together. You might be different, of course, but I tend to sit down to write a paper and wind up trying to summarise the whole thesis. It drives me crazy, because it's not what I intend to do, but it's like I can't work out how to make smaller chunks that don't look like they have great gaping argumentative holes (holes in the argument, although yes, they are also argumentative with me... 'add that bit about Foucault in here! it'll be great, and everyone will see that you really *do* have a *whole* argument, not just bits of ideas.' I listen to the hole and wind up with a paper 1500 words over the limit... sigh).

But weirdly, it's now getting to the point, as I'm revising the whole thing, that I can see how to detach bits and pieces without freaking out about them *being* bits and pieces, holey-as-lace bits and pieces, that is. I finished a paper the other week (one of the two things that I've completed during the PhD) and it happened a *lot* more quickly, and more satisfyingly than the others that I've laboured over for insane amounts of time while the thesis languished (one of which sits unfinished...) But this is just me, and I am regularly crazy, so it might not apply. :-)

Also, wrt the not-yet-accepted papers, what do people think is the protocol? Isn't there some point at which you just get to submit the paper elsewhere, especially given that Sisyphus has checked numerous times? I know that the fiction publishing world has changed in this direction (in fact, you're now 'allowed' to submit poems to multiple places, which kinda makes the market work in the author's favour for a change: 'yeah! compete for my work!') but I don't think academic publishing has... but surely at some point your responsibility to the journal has run out?

hylonome said...

My point about the articles has everything to do with focus and pragmatics. There's teaching and grading and finishing and making sure you have work--all of these must be done on a fixed timeline: checking in with journals, possibly withdrawing your articles, does not. As you yourself observe, it would be better to have them say yes, right?

gwinne said...

"And now I have to wonder if my dissertation is weird or totally structured differently than everyone else's, because I don't see why finishing first and then dealing with the pubs is good"

Well, to put it somewhat bluntly, a diss chapter (all or part) is not the same genre as an article, even if the content is pretty much the same. There's a very different structure to the argument and the framing that's necessary--in most cases. A common reason for articles getting rejected is, in fact, that they read too much like short diss chapters. Work on the diss and you WILL be working toward article eventually, but shaping the article doesn't get your diss completed sooner... That's my experience, anyway.

Horace said...

Having recently been on a search committee, I'll say this: The quality of the work counts most.

A defended diss. is very important, although a scheduled defense date is usually ok, too.

We like to see pubs (1 or 2 are fine), though, about as much as a defended diss.

In the absence of publications, some evidence that you are on the path toward professionalization, including articles submitted, R&Rs, and frequent presentation at good strong conferences--The big ones in your field--are evidence of this.

All that said, once you've made your query abt. submitted articles to make sure everything is on track, checking back in frequently does no good. The journal holds the cards here, and while they don't like to lose good submissions, they're probably backlogged with other perfectly good material--they're not competing for good articles from junior scholars like you and me. Yes, 8 mos. is a sucky turnaround time. But I'd say focus on getting the diss done and getting more new stuff in the pipeline, rather than fretting about the stuff already there.

Lucky Jane said...

My experience has tended to confirm Gwinne's observation that

a diss chapter (all or part) is not the same genre as an article, even if the content is pretty much the same. . . . A common reason for articles getting rejected is, in fact, that they read too much like short diss chapters.

If such is the case with your dissertation, is it possible to turn into articles stuff you've discarded from the diss? Early in my grad school career, one prof told me about her Great Ideas Files—stuff she couldn't shoehorn into her main project. Before I defended, I had wound up publishing two outtakes from the diss. However, I'm probably not one to take advice from, since I wasn't getting serious t-t attention until I got a book contract.

That said, my experience on search committees resembles Horace's, but of course search committees are idiosyncratic. My school requires that all t-t faculty have a terminal degree. So if an interesting ABD candidate does not have a specific defense date, then we track down publications that indicate that s/he is far enough along to be placing parts of the diss. I marvel at those candidates who had published every other seminar paper in decent places.

But they're probably not dealing with journals that seem to be reviewing in slow motion, as you seem to be. Have you checked their response times? You probably already do this, but in the MLA bibliography, you can click on that little link to the right of the title that says "Journal Information" to find all kinds of (yawn) exciting stats. Alas, I have seen "six months" listed as a standard response time.

Hang in there. Waiting, rejection, waiting, success: this is the life.