Thursday, September 07, 2006

pressure buildup and release

For the last few weeks, I've mostly been focusing on my classes. There's a lot to do...fix the plethora of stupid errors that seem to endlessly creep up in my web material, battle with the bookstore, battle with technology (or lack thereof), answer e-mail questions from people who obviously haven't read the syllabus (or anything else, for that matter), deal with the droves of dropped I haven't given a lot of attention to the myriad of other things that have come up (including, as some of you particularly know, answering e-mails...soon, I promise).

One of the biggest things that has been simmering away is the Great Academic Job Search 2006-2007. I've been thumbing through the postings and such, but I haven't actually sent anything out yet. The teaching work has been one big reason, but perhaps the most important excuse for this procrastination was that I was waiting for a response from a university press who expressed interest in working with me.

Flashback: In 2003, I was finishing up my dissertation. I was lucky enough to get into the American Studies Association. For those of you unfamiliar with this group, they hold what is undeniably the Mac Daddy of all culture studies-oriented academic conferences. I was fortunate in that the panel which accepted me was chaired by uber-scholar Janice Radway and also included Lawrence Levine, also a heavyweight in the field.

It was quite a rush to get regular e-mails from two people who are very influential in my field. The conference itself was magnificent...there was always an interesting panel to go see, and those of you who've gone to lesser conferences know how unique that is. The panel I was on went swimmingly...and no one laughed at me. There was plenty of stuff which covered professional development. Most important for me, however, I recieved a letter from a major university press (who shall remain nameless) who was interested in meeting me...and if this worked, it would be an academic coup.

I pulled out my vita. I polished off the best chapter of my still-in-committee dissertation. I wore a nice tie. And the meeting itself went swimmingly...the assistant editor of the press seemed genuinely excited about my work and the possibility of it fitting in their press. A few weeks later, I was asked for a copy of the full dissertation and a book revision plan.

It took me a little while to get the revision plan to them because my funding had run out, and I was adjuncting at several disciplines with which I had no experience....but I eventually got it done and mailed off.

Now, I've never written a book before, so I naturally assumed that the revision plan would cover how I planned to revise the manuscript...and that the press would read both of them. When I finally heard from the press, they were confused about the proposal...and it was very clear, from talking to the editor in chief, that no one had actually read the manuscript. Admittedly, since I wrote the proposal as a companion piece to the dissertation, reading it without reading my big chunk o' work would be a bit I told them I would take another swack at it, now that I (supposedly) knew what they wanted.

The next draft went through several iterations, and it did take a while...I adjuncted for another year before landing my current job, and it took a long time to cope with the heavy grading load that accompanies a 5/4 load in composition (in which I've had very little formal training, so I was behind from the git-go). But when I finished, I was very pleased with the results. It showed a tremendous growth in my thinking. It spelled out my research questions in explicit detail. It was solid and had real potential to make an impact. So, last April, I sent the thing to the press.

Now, as I knew I would be getting back on the job market, I really wanted to hear positive things from the press. My heavy teaching load since the dissertation had kind of put a crimp on the amount of research I could do, and as a result, I haven't published as much as I should. A book contract, however, would be pure gold. It would show that I had some research potential, and it would show that I could put out stuff. Pretty much, it would have, if not guaranteed me a job, then at least really bumped me up in most school's "potential hiree" stack.

So I waited. And then I waited some more. The press's 12 week deadline passed. I waited. After 4 months, I sent a polite inquisitive e-mail. And then I waited. I sent another e-mail. And then I waited some more. I sent another e-mail, cc'd to the press's editor in chief.

Today I got the reply. They do not want to work with me. The story, as the e-mail tells it, is that they couldn't figure out what my research focus was. When I read this, I immediately resisted the urge to grab a whiskey sour (it was, after all, 10:30 this morning) and opened my file of the revision plan I sent them...and in the third paragraph, starting on the first page, was the paragraph that explicitly spelled out my agenda.

If they just didn't like my work and thought I sucked as a scholar, that would be bearable. If they didn't think I fit into their press, that would be understandable. But it was clear to me that they only browsed my proposal and never put real thought into my project. I am going to take great delight in deleting these people from my e-mail address book.

I guess it's a fact of life for me as an academic, but I think I have to start assuming that no one I will encounter will be professional. In my 3+ years on the job market, I've seen some unbelievably rude and amature behavior, and my first university press experience just backs it up. I would be happy if people would just take their job seriously and realize it had severe implications in the lives of others.

I know that if any of my ex-students are reading this, they might giggle...I have, after all, taught while wearing Hawaiian shirts...but that's just mode of dress. In my actions, both in the classroom and in other academic settings, I've always made it a point to take whatever I was doing very seriously. I wish others would do the same. I'm hoping to find out differently, and I really want a future employer and a university press (anyone have any leads on either?) to prove me wrong.

So, granted, I'm feeling a little pressure now. Without a book contract, my application packet might look research-light. Is it worth while to bother with the job market? Do I try to rush out some stuff and neglect the teaching? Do I stare at the wall and listen to Motorhead entirely too loudly?

Thank goodness the Black Swamp Arts Festival is back! Tomorrow, we go see The Reverend Horton Heat. The spousal unit and I are volunteering Saturday afternoon, and then we're back up for several bands I don't really care about...but friends will be there, and the beer tent will be open, so it's all good.

Don't you wish you were in BG?


Mrs. Davis said...

That sucks huge. WTF were they looking for? Dr. Davis and I will join you in drinking at Black Swamp. We have a sitter for Friday night...hooray!

After reading this, I think I'm going to start a group blog called Academia is a Huge Scam. Or maybe one called Faculty Wives Complain.

Reggae Joe said...

Dude, that sucks. Considering I'm getting a similar form of the shaft in my still-fruitless job search, I can totally relate. The book deal will come eventually, though.

And if you want the editor's legs broken, just let me know.

Jennifer said...

I'm real sorry the book deal didn't come through. If it is any consolation, your narrative helped me - now I know when I'm on the book-shopping search, I'll put a great deal of effort into the proposal (esp. if it's all the univ. press will read). Taking another year to publish before the job market isn't such a bad idea. Use that year to dust off pieces you've done and send those off to rigorous, peer-reviewed journals. If you get 1-2 diss chapters into journals, you'll be in great shape come the next job round. I'm assuming you have some job security at UT to do this?

themikedubose said...

Yeah, I got job security...and one chapter already awaiting publication. I kinda wanted to get out of BG, though, because 97% of the people I know should be gone next year.

I have loads of wisdom on the book thing...hit me off the board if you want to pick my brain.

Meredith said...

Sorry they shafted you. That sucks. I'm trying to decide if I want to go back on the market this year, or if I want to wait a bit. I'm only on a one year contract, but it's renewable, and I'm wondering if I should depend on the renewal? (So far, I seem to be doing well.) Also, I have three pubs coming out this year, but they're all book chapters (and one is about pedagogy, not research). Is that less prestigious than journals? I'm not sure.
I do know that I'm going to be writing my book proposal this spring/summer. I will definitely pick your brain about that then, if you don't mind!