Some responses to the post about ‘Why I prioritise writing books over articles, even in an era of research assessment‘. The post got a lot of hits, partly through multiple retweets. While I also replied to the comments I saw on twitter and the blog, I’ve tried to respond to some key questions below:
How about early career researchers?
Everyone needs to find their own way, of course. I tried to say something about the advice I’d had, and the advice I continually hear given to early career researchers in the original post. What I would suggest is that you need to be strategic. Getting an article or two from the PhD in a good journal is a necessary part of most initial careers. It may well be that the expectation is more articles than that. But the risk comes if you publish too many articles from the PhD. I know some very successful academics publish books of their articles, but most presses won’t touch such a book for an unknown academic, and for most known ones too. My rough guide is that more than two articles from a book manuscript will start to worry a publisher. See your PhD as an initial, early, draft of something that may become a book – if you want to be a book writer.
Although I acknowledged the privileged position I am now in within the original post, it wasn’t always that way. I had three one-year contracts before I got a secure job, for which I had to change discipline, and I think having a book on the cv made a huge difference there. I had a contract for a second at the time, and a co-edited book of Lefebvre translations was in press. My third authored book was published before I had my first term of research leave. I’m not trying to say that I had it so tough, just that I balanced writing books with other demands early in my career, including the need to publish articles.
The research assessment makes or breaks careers – I have to work to its demands
The two best pieces of advice I ever had on the RAE/REF:
- the census date is an arbitrary line in time: things to the left are in this period; things to the right in the next. Write to your own timeline.
- give them a choice, and let them make it.
In other words, it should be one of the things on your mind, not the only one.
What can be done?
I think one thing that established academics can do is when it comes to writing references, evaluating cases for promotion, tenure, etc. This is to stress the importance of the books that have been written or edited by the person you are writing about. Lots of administrators have backgrounds in science, or even not as academics, where books don’t have the same status. Make a point of indicating this.
Another is to help your colleagues with book proposals, initiating contact with editors, giving them advice. Offer to look over their cover letter, to read the contract they are offered, discuss the merits of different publishers. Above all, verbally resist anyone who tells them that articles are all that counts.
Another thing is to review books – both at proposal and manuscript stage for presses, and when published for journals. It’s amazing how many academics are unwilling to do this.
Buy books, read books and talk and write about books.