Interview with Michael McGandy

Michael McGandy is Senior Editor and Editorial Director of the Three Hills imprint at Cornell University Press. He tweets as @michaelmcgandy.

JUNTO: Can you outline the review and production schedule for a first book?

Michael McGandy: If I am talking to a scholar who has just wrapped up his or her dissertation and is prepared to move on to developing the book, I state as a reliable truism that the bound book is four years off. And that presumes all goes well and smoothly! The work of revising the dissertation to make it into a book manuscript is indeterminate and the further work that will need to be done in response to reader reports and then the acquiring editor’s direction is also indeterminate. Those are, as I tend to say, the x-factors. What is pretty well fixed is that external review, in-house processing through Editorial and Faculty Boards, and contracting requires four months. What is also fixed is that producing the book and getting it out into the world on its publication date (the date when it goes live for sale, which is typically four weeks after the bound book is in the warehouse) is 11 months. So, even before a person considers the time needed for new research, revising existing chapters, and adding new material, 15 months are tied up with process. (Now “tied up” is an unkind phrase for key elements of making a book both excellent and saleable! But I know that that is how people scheduling out their early professional calendars tend to think.) When one considers that fact and then all the work that needs to go into developing a manuscript—even as one pays the bills and occasionally takes a break to have some non-scholarly fun—four years go very quickly and often turn out to be barely enough time.

Reflecting on that and taking the opportunity to editorialize, I do think that the well-reviewed first book as the non-negotiable standard for professional success in a tenure-track framework (on the standard six-year schedule) needs to be rethought. Four to six years do fly by, especially when we consider all the other important and engrossing things that usually come with these first years after the PhD (first jobs, new homes in new places, family, etc.). I am not going to name names or institutions, but in this context I think of the positive examples of some recent authors of mine who were tenured without first books and who were given the extra time to work on their book projects. Their research and writing were augmented because the tenure pressure was off and the projects were transformed (for the better) because the authors had six or seven years to make the book excellent. On the whole, I do not think that the schedule for tenure matches very well with the time needed for great scholarship. Filling out the CV sometimes becomes the driving concern and to the detriment of the work itself. Continue reading

Seeking Sabbatical Advice

editsIt’s a fun time for me to be a Juntoist. I joined the blog while I was ABD, on the brink of defending my dissertation. I had thoughts about research and writing, many untested theories about teaching, and opinions about where historians needed to eat when visiting archives in different cities. This was a blog for junior early Americanists, and I didn’t think too much about how the blog would grow and evolve over the next several (!) years. Definitions of junior scholars (“early career researchers” here in the United Kingdom) vary across the UK. The Arts and Humanities Research Council’s definition is someone within eight years of the PhD or within six years of their first academic appointment. Within my faculty, ECRs include “level 4” staff within four years of being hired or recently hired. Thus when I passed my probation, was promoted to level 5, and became a permanent member of staff, I became a non-ECR by my faculty’s definition but still eligible to apply for AHRC ECR funding and funding from other schemes.[1] All this is a long way of saying that I’m a Not So Early Early Career Researcher™ about to embark on her first sabbatical, and would like your advice about how to approach this period of leave. Continue reading

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