Books vs. Articles in Philosophy


“I’ve heard people joke on more than a couple of occasions that publishing a book is the way to get around Reviewer 2 at the journals.”

An assistant professor of philosophy has a query about the relative career-value of books and articles.

He writes:

When I was a grad student, I viewed the publication of a book as the pinnacle of publication prestige. Publishing a few articles in journals like Noûs, Ergo, etc. was an achievement, but publishing a book with Oxford University Press, Routledge, etc. was even more impressive. My anecdotal impression is that this kind of view is widespread.

I suppose I’m wondering whether it’s true that this kind of view is widespread, and if so, whether it ought to be.

The latter question has been especially salient to me since becoming an assistant professor and speaking with several other assistant professors over the last couple of years. All of us have, since becoming assistant professors, been invited by various presses to publish with them. (These are profs from all kinds of institutions, by the way). And many of us have also noticed in providing referee reports to such presses, that the barrier to publishing with them is quite low—much lower than a series of papers with top journals. Indeed, I’ve heard people joke on more than a couple of occasions that publishing a book is the way to get around Reviewer 2 at the journals.  All of this makes me think that perhaps books shouldn’t be held in such high regard if they are. But are they? And should they be if so?

What are your impressions, readers?

 

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Circe
Circe
1 month ago

Yes, this is my impression too. I say that based on the testimony of a more senior colleague who said as much.

Edit: I should say: I still find publications with OUP, CUP, MIT, HUP, hugely impressive, mind you… But for exactly the reasons stated above, I am much less sure about books I see published at lesser presses, e.g., with Ashgate, Cambridge Scholars, Polity and, to some extent, even Routledge.

Last edited 1 month ago by Circe
Opinions on Publishers
Opinions on Publishers
Reply to  Circe
1 month ago

I have some thoughts about some of the publishers listed above, particularly those said to be ‘lesser presses’ like Ashgate, Cambridge Scholars, Polity, and Routledge.

Personally, I find both Polity and Routledge academically prestigious (possibly Polity even more so than Routledge) and think they are in different classes from publishers like Ashgate (which I would probably rank third) and far and away more prestigious than Cambridge Scholars, which I see as much less prestigious and is a far fourth.

Circe
Circe
Reply to  Opinions on Publishers
1 month ago

Yes, I very much agree that those I put in the second list vary by quality. But that’s consistent with claiming they are all in a different league to OUP, CUP, MIT, etc. Probably I should revise my judgment about Routledge, but then I’m reminded that, as others have pointed out, there are poor publications even in OUP…

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Circe
1 month ago

There’s far too much good work being published across the board, and far too much noise as well, to make these kinds of rankings very reliable as a guide for anything. And when people espouse them in public fora, the tendency is to reinforce some of the dysfunctional hierarchies that have been erected over the last half century. We owe it to one another to do better.

Signed, Routledge Author

Circe
Circe
Reply to  Preston Stovall
1 month ago

If you really think rankings aren’t reliable, you would have considered trying Cambridge Scholars, Ashgate, Polity, etc. before Routledge. But I’m betting you don’t think these are in the same league as Routledge. Which is of course correct.
Basically, I think you’d do better to cut the moralizing and admit we all use an intuitive sense of rankings when considering outlets for our research. It is comically obtuse to say otherwise…

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Circe
1 month ago

I’m making a specific point about the ranking you gave. For the reasons I offered, I don’t think those kinds of rankings are reliable, and we’re better off not espousing them in public fora.

Last edited 1 month ago by Preston Stovall
Circe
Circe
Reply to  Preston Stovall
1 month ago

This makes it sound like you simply don’t like my view of the quality of Routledge. That’s fine of course (and I did indicate I was in two minds!). But the way to engage with me on that matter isn’t to cast aspersions on ranking book presses in geneneral, let alone attempt to claim moral high ground over me.

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Circe
1 month ago

I don’t find anything objectionably “moralizing” in pointing out that the public espousal of evaluations of the sort you gave tends to perpetuate some of the dysfunctions in the profession today. I also gave reasons for my saying that, which remain unaddressed; so if there’s a lack of engagement I don’t think it’s on my end.

Circe
Circe
Reply to  Preston Stovall
1 month ago

Is the reason meant to be that there is good work being done across the board? I disagree. A widely held view, as I’m sure you know, is that there is too much being published.

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Circe
1 month ago

Here’s what I wrote:

There’s far too much good work being published across the board, and far too much noise as well, to make these kinds of rankings very reliable as a guide for anything. 

The claim that there’s too much being published is not incompatible with what I said, which concerns the reliability of evaluations like yours given how much is being published — both good and bad. And that’s setting aside the issue of the dysfunctional hierarchies reinforced by such rankings.

Although I will note that I’m currently editing a volume to appear in OUP which was initially ignored by the acquisitions editor there and accepted by Routlege, and was only accepted at OUP after I reached out to the series editor — who then informed me that he’d been having problems with that acquisitions editor and wanted to send the manuscript out for review. The idea that, had the book been published by Routledge this would have been some reliable indication of its relative value to the profession, is risible. In the last five years I’ve co-edited three books and published a monograph with OUP, Routledge, and Springer. In each case there were similar problems of professional competence that had nothing to do with the value of the research we produced. I also reviewed a book published at CUP recently that was riddled with typographical errors.

Circe
Circe
Reply to  Preston Stovall
1 month ago

A charitable interpretation of the claim that there is too much being published is that there’s too much bad stuff being published (why on earth would it be a problem if there is too much good stuff being published?!). Look, I’m hardly proposing the kind of fine-grained Leiter-ific ranking of presses you seem ti think I am. The comment was just an aside. Everyone has a view about which presses are publishing the best quality, even if the view is that they all are roughly equal… You are tilting and windmills. Given the repeatedly sanctimonious tone you like to take with me, I don’t plan to return to this thread.

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Circe
1 month ago

Well it was an aside you saw fit to defend! Until you didn’t. I challenged it both because I think it’s false, and because I think it’s the kind of thing that has a pernicious influence on the dysfunctional hierarchies that have ossified across the profession over the last few decades. And I don’t think it any more sanctimonious to point this out than it was moralizing to challenge the initial claim. At any rate, the suggestion that there’s too much bad stuff being published is also compatible with what I said. It’s the reliability of such evaluations that I’ve been challenging.

Martin Lenz
1 month ago

FWIW, a book strikes me as a different genre of writing, allowing to develop an idea thoroughly.

If you think it’s easier because of the reviewing process, try getting a contract with a prestigious press without having some good papers out first.

Last edited 1 month ago by Martin Lenz
Some postdoc
Some postdoc
1 month ago

In my old department (top 5 PGR), general view seemed to be that books are *not* as prestigious as papers in the top 5 journals, and grads regularly received advice to not try and publish their diss work as a book, even an OUP book. Indeed, this advice was often motivated in part by the observations made in the OP about how much easier it is to get a book published.

Daniel Greco
Daniel Greco
1 month ago

Acceptance rates for papers in top journals are certainly lower. If I had a completed book manuscript on my desk and a completed article draft, I’d be much more confident about getting the book manuscript accepted with my top choice press than about getting the manuscript accepted at one of my top 5 journal choices. Expand that to a series of articles, and the point only gets strengthened–if you’ve got three article drafts, getting all three published in top 5 journals is much much less likely than getting a manuscript draft published at, say, Oxford.

But the OP asked about career value, and there I think just going by acceptance rates can be a bit misleading. Especially once you’ve *already* published in selective journals, publishing a book can show not only do you have the chops to get articles past very discerning referees, but you’re also capable of big picture, systematic thinking. If I were evaluating a tenure file, and one of them involved 3 articles in top 5 journals and a book, while the other had 6 articles in top 5 journals, it’s easy for me to imagine being more impressed by the former, especially if the 6 articles don’t really fit together into a research program, but instead amount to a series of (even excellent) targeted interventions. (That said, someone with 6 articles in top 5 journals would almost certainly get tenure!)

Perhaps it’s silly that this needs to be said, but especially with books, I think the actual content matters a lot. Because the mere fact of its having been published is a weaker signal than with a top 5 journal article, how much publishing a book helps your career will probably depend a decent amount on whether people who read the book think it’s good. (Of course that’s true for articles in selective journals too, but I suspect less so as a matter of degree.) So a book could help you a lot—more than three articles in top journals–if people read it and think it’s excellent. Less so if people read it and think it’s meh. Whereas three articles in top 5 journals are likely to be seen as pretty impressive even by people who themselves would’ve rejected the articles had they been the referees.

Fool
Fool
Reply to  Daniel Greco
1 month ago

 I think the actual content matters a lot

Sadly, you are not cut out for academic “philosophy.”
Please atone by providing a detailed top-17 Prestige Ranking of things you have never read, departments you have never visited, and people you have never met.

Last edited 1 month ago by Fool
Michael Lynch
Reply to  Daniel Greco
1 month ago

Well said. Articles are reviewed beforehand; books are reviewed–literally–after publication. It the fire of those reviews, and as Daniel points out, general reader reaction, that are the standard in book publishing. That is why in some fields which are book heavy, like history, it is sometimes required that one not only has a book for tenure, but that its reviews be included in the tenure file.

Paul Ernest
Paul Ernest
Reply to  Daniel Greco
1 month ago

Has anyone mentioned the quality or originality needed for a good book? Any old book won’t do. It’s quite a sustained analysis needed. I don’t think anyone is ready to offer this before some journal papers.

Michel
1 month ago

It’s certainly a lot less nitpicky/more charitable, and some subfields are more likely to be given a fair hearing in book form than they would be at certain “tip-top” journals.

But it’s _a lot_ more work to write a book. And crafting the proposal is a lot of work, too.

Jonathan Cohen
1 month ago

a different point about relative career value of books vs articles for assistant professors in particular concerns surmounting the tenure hurdle. a book puts a lot of eggs in one basket (i.e., takes up a lot of the limited time one has an assistant professor for building a record on the basis of which a tenure decision will be made). there are certainly intellectual and tactical reasons why that can make sense, but it’s worth considering the risk as well. if an internal or external tenure evaluator likes some of the papers and not others, it might be possible to win back the person’s vote on the strength of at least the papers she likes. whereas, if the tenure evaluator dislikes a book, this means there’s a lot more to overcome to win back this vote — and (given the nature of the case) likely fewer other materials with which to do the overcoming.

Disgruntled
Disgruntled
1 month ago

All of this makes me think that perhaps books shouldn’t be held in such high regard if they are. But are they? And should they be if so?”

In reponse to the latter question: They should be held in high regard if they are of a high quality. If we are making a comparitive judgment, then they should be held in higher regard of however many articles if they are of a higher quality than whichever series of articles we happen to be comparing them to.

Discussions concerning publication prestige and quality often appear as though they are proceeding under the assumption that the contents of articles and books are inevitably hidden from us, and that, as such, we must attempt to divine their quality, not by engaging our critical faculties in the act of reading them, but through the interpretation of various highly unreliable and indirect signals.

But I can already sense a response to this complaint: What are we supposed to do, actually read a job applicant’s writing sample?

Make our own judgments?

Chris Letheby
Chris Letheby
Reply to  Disgruntled
1 month ago

The writing sample might not be the (entire) book.

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Chris Letheby
1 month ago

When you’re talking about tenure cases and lateral hires, if a department is at all functional, *someone* on the relevant committee will be reading *some* of the work – and there often isn’t a formal “writing sample”, so people knowing of the book as a piece of good work or as a piece of so-so work is going to be part of it.

historian
historian
1 month ago

I’m curious what people think about departments that require books for tenure? This has always made a lot of sense to me, but I could be biased since I work in a subfield where books remain especially important (history of philosophy)

another junior historian
another junior historian
Reply to  historian
1 month ago

My department doesn’t require books for tenure. I am given the options of (1) publishing one book and 4-5 articles and (2) publishing 10 and perhaps more articles. And I think that the tenure expectations for people who work in history of philosophy are perhaps different from people who work in contemporary philosophy. For one thing, the top-5 generalist philosophy journals never published any article in my sub-field in the past 10 years. I suspect that editors might just desk-reject most papers in my field……

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  historian
1 month ago

I have not heard of a philosophy department that *requires* a book for tenure. I think it’s not uncommon for other fields in the humanities, and in some universities a college of the humanities may have a formal requirement of that sort that gets put on philosophy as well.

It wouldn’t work for me, and for many other people I know. I hope I can finally finish the book project I’ve been working on, especially since it will let me develop some more programmatic ideas in formats that would be difficult to get past a referee at a journal. But I wouldn’t recommend it as an “easy” way out.

Julia Staffel
1 month ago

I think it’s true that it’s harder to get a good paper into a top 5 journal than to get a good book accepted with a top publisher. But I think that writing that paper (or a handful of them) is a lot easier than writing that book. So both are impressive, but not necessarily for the same reason. And of course the content matters. The very best books published by top presses are a lot better than the average books they publish.

Piotr Kozak
Piotr Kozak
1 month ago

Agreeing with all that has been said, I can easily point out a few important books in the last 30 years or so, but I can barely think of a thought-provoking article published anywhere in the last 30 years. BTW, I’ve been thinking lately about Mind and World McDowell’s. Personally, it’s an important book for me. I’ve learned a lot from it, even if I rarely agree with what has been said there. And yet, I personally doubt that its content could go through Reviewer 2 and be published in philosophical journals.

David Wallace
Reply to  Piotr Kozak
1 month ago

“I can barely think of a thought-provoking article published anywhere in the last 30 years.”

It might depend on sub field. I could name twenty in philosophy of physics pretty much off the top of my head.

Piotr Kozak
Piotr Kozak
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

You’re perfectly right. The topic is highly contextual. As for philosophy of physics, i can name no such a breakthrough book, but i can say the same about physics or mathematics. Probably, the moral of this discussuion is trivial: there are plenty of good books, such as there are plenty of good papers. But there are also a ton of bad books and bad papers. Generally, I dont want to express my overall frustration about the state of contemporary philosophy but being published in top5 journal meens most often that someones paper is publishable. It is very rarely the same as saying that ones paper is good. I read too many papers that were not worth working on besides being a step in someones career. The same observation applies to books.

Piotr Kozak
Piotr Kozak
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

BTW your book on the philosophy of physics was better than good!

David Wallace
Reply to  Piotr Kozak
1 month ago

That’s very kind – thank you!

Cynthia Freeland
Cynthia Freeland
1 month ago

I’ve also heard this opinion stated, and perhaps it is right for certain fields. A point I have not seen mentioned yet in the conversation is that, in my experience, books resulted in far more international exposure than journal articles, and this in turn led to some very nice international invitations to give talks or speak at conferences. It is especially so if your book gets translated into other languages.

Chris Letheby
Chris Letheby
Reply to  Cynthia Freeland
1 month ago

Seconding this. My experience was like this too.

Patrick Lin
1 month ago

It seems that the crucial thing here is which one can make a bigger impact. But since impact can be difficult to measure, some people focus on the exclusivity or difficulty in publishing as a proxy for quality, and quality is a proxy for impact.

And I suspect that books generally make a bigger impact for a range of reasons, not least of which is that “thought leaders” like to show off the books they’ve read and are influenced by. I’ve never seen, say, Bill Gates or Barack Obama hold up a journal article as something that has changed their thinking.

Imagine that you’ve written the best philosophy paper possible, and it’s published in the most “exclusive” journal in the discipline. If only 2-10 people read it, its impact would be highly restricted, and it becomes a real question of whether it was worth the effort. So, quality by itself might not be worth much, if there’s no audience, i.e., “Sleeping Beauty” papers.

Meanwhile, a book from a top publisher, e.g., OUP or MITP or trade presses like Penguin, that is of “lesser quality” (whatever that means) than the above journal article could still reach and move thousands and potentially 100,000+ readers, influencing many more minds. The best ideas and arguments don’t automatically win out in the marketplace for books, movies, and other content—just look at the idiotic TV shows, etc. that have been popular with the masses yet arguably have changed culture and the world, e.g., “The Apprentice.”

It can go the other way, too: a journal article can be very influential and cited widely, even if this is an impact that only academics notice. In that case, citation numbers would be a natural (but flawed) proxy for quality and impact. But this seems to be more the exception than the rule.

That’s a realpolitik answer. If the question is what’s more impressive to my tenure committee and dean who might not even be familiar with philosophy, then that may be a different conversation. But it still trades on the idiosyncrasies and prejudices of those people, just as the realpolitik answer does.

Anyway, “impressive” isn’t something that can be objectively measured, and impressing others is probably not a great thing to be motivated by, though I understand the concern for employment purposes. I’d say to just do you: if you don’t like doing things that are impressive to others but feel you must, that’s not going to be sustainable over time or likely result in your best work.

historygrrrl
historygrrrl
1 month ago

Bad news for y’all…Reviewer #2 also reviews book manuscripts, and it can be brutal.

Many of my colleagues have had different experiences. My own experience has been that trying to publish a book is basically like trying to publish an extremely long peer-reviewed article. The proposal is the easy part. The hard part is writing the damned book, submitting the finished manuscript, and waiting a year for Reviewer #2 to crush it.

I’ve had much, much better luck publishing in ‘top’ journals. Plus, it’s easier to pump out articles. When one gets rejected, oh well, others are still out there.

Steven DeLay
Steven DeLay
1 month ago

Write books if you love writing them. Don’t worry about a career.

Mike on the internet
Mike on the internet
1 month ago

In a 200-page book an author can elaborate their preferred viewpoint without being affronted by counterexamples and inconvenient facts. In the course of creating ten 20-page articles they would have face the slings and arrows of dissenting colleagues and defeating arguments.

Having read some howlingly bad books published by OUP and other top-tier houses (not bad books per se, but containing a surfeit of bad philosophy), I am disabused of any reverence for publishing pedigree, and I think that the uninterrupted gallop of the single-author book is often a means of letting weak arguments live too long.

UKer
UKer
Reply to  Mike on the internet
1 month ago

In a 200-page book an author can elaborate their preferred viewpoint without being affronted by counterexamples and inconvenient facts. In the course of creating ten 20-page articles they would have face the slings and arrows of dissenting colleagues and defeating arguments.

The flip side is that in a book you can’t really do the old “but I don’t have room to discuss this here” on an obvious and devastating counter-argument, which is very common in articles.

Mike on the internet
Mike on the internet
Reply to  UKer
1 month ago

I wish that were true, but I have read some wide and shallow books that suggest otherwise.

UKer
UKer
Reply to  Mike on the internet
1 month ago

Yes fair it does happen, but it is a kind of obvious and gratuitous weakness. Whereas in an article there really are space constraints… and who knows maybe they’ll deal with it in another article or a book?

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Mike on the internet
1 month ago

It can let weak arguments live too long, but it can also let weird ideas spread their wings and take flight. (Sometimes those are the same thing, but at least sometimes they’re different.)

Eric Steinhart
1 month ago

Philosophy departments are closing one after another, and here we are arguing about the most important thing of all: prestige.

Are we asking about whether the journal system is fundamentally flawed? Nope. Are we asking whether absurdly low acceptance rates indicate that the system is merely a lottery? Or an ELO system gamed to produce longer peacock tails? Nope and nope. Or whether the reviewer crisis or the shift to pay-to-play open access is going to destroy the whole system? Nope.

Or whether book publishing is also fundamentally flawed? Or why philosophy books have settled into a deep attractor basin of monotonous style? We could, after all, be using digital technologies to produce some fantastic books, real works of art, but nah, let’s just stick to single-column 12 point font, no illustrations please. We could be building an advanced archive with amazing tools for searching and correlating. We could be building cross-linked texts. We could make vast and deep maps and taxonomies. We could be using theorem provers, we could be using AI.

We could do so much more, so much more. We have the intelligence, the skill, the imagination. But instead of applying it to our current problems, we’re arguing about a status hierarchy. We can do better than this. If we don’t, we’ll end up like Classics. They were really, really concerned with prestige.

Helen De Cruz
Reply to  Eric Steinhart
1 month ago

My thoughts exactly, Eric. This is even worse than those angels on pinheads that the schoolmen apparently did not (or maybe they did) argue about. This is the pinnacle of irrelevance. It’s a shame.

Helen De Cruz
Reply to  Eric Steinhart
1 month ago

A further thought… This is in part happening because of scarcity thinking. Because academic philosophy is collapsing, job candidates understandably try to jump through the hoops that might secure them a position. And so we chase increasingly irrelevant and obtuse metrics of candidate quality, as a result we collectively as a profession try to do the best work we can, work we truly care about. We focus instead on making work we think others might care about. This is not how the very best philosophy in the past was written. It’s a relevance for irrelevancy. I wrote about it here — https://helendecruz.substack.com/p/curtain-tune-for-academic-philosophy?utm_source=activity_item

Helen De Cruz
Reply to  Helen De Cruz
1 month ago

btw Sorry for the typos–I cannot seem to edit (this was written in haste)

E d
E d
Reply to  Eric Steinhart
1 month ago

[Puts down his copy of Eric Steinhart’s single-column 12-point-font formatted, human-authored book, _More Precisely_, and takes a deep breath]

Assistant professors are navigating the prestige system that full professors like you bequeathed us, and a lot of us are doing it while asking the very questions that your generation didn’t think to start asking until it was too late for you to meaningfully fix anything. But we can’t clean up after your generation until we’re let inside, which requires the kind of thinking found in the OP.

Eric Steinhart
Reply to  E d
1 month ago

It’s got diagrams tho! And lots of equations! But if you want my real hardcore illuminated manuscript, check out Ritual Kindles Vision. It’s intensely illustrated .

Yan
Yan
Reply to  E d
9 days ago

Using the prestige system to get inside of it in order to fix it? That reminds me of Rousseau’s before-the-letter critique of effective altruism (https://time.com/6958408/sam-bankman-fried-effective-altruism-rousseau/):

“I have difficulty seeing how you will be able to accumulate these profits without deviating from your principles…your ideas and your maxims will change along with your situation…either you are seeking to deceive others…or your heart is deceiving you by disguising your avarice to you under the appearance of humanity.”

I’m also reminded of Lew Welch’s “Chicago Poem”:

You can’t fix it. You can’t make it go away.
I don’t know what you’re going to do about it,
But I know what I’m going to do about it. I’m just
going to walk away from it. Maybe
A small part of it will die if I’m not around
feeding it anymore.

Graham Clay
Reply to  Eric Steinhart
1 month ago

I broadly agree with your sentiments (and appreciate your forceful way of putting them). FWIW, some of us are working on reaching an AI-enhanced “endgame” like you describe. Just need to line up more funding…

Eric Steinhart
Reply to  Graham Clay
1 month ago

Yes! You’re doing fantastic work in this area – you know I love it and support it! If we survive, it’s going to be thanks to people like yourself.

Nick
Reply to  Eric Steinhart
1 month ago

Eric, the questions you are demanding that we ask have been asked and debated many times on this blog. We’re all very aware of them. So you must be operating under the idea that people should only discuss big flaws in systems and never discuss how to get along while embedded within that system. This is an absurd principle. This is a blog, not the Central Planning Committee for Philosophy.

Yan
Yan
Reply to  Nick
9 days ago

“This is a blog, not the Central Planning Committee.”

Well, I confess I did not see red-baiting on my How This Thread Will Devolve bingo-card. Fun twist.

Akiva
Akiva
1 month ago

This isn’t directly on topic, but the initial correspondent ought to heed the odd state of book publishing. OUP is far and away the dominant press. It publishes much of quality but much otherwise as well. And if your ms gets turned down by them it may have a difficult time since its erstwhile competitors have become increasingly narrow, insular, popular, or weird.

Robin McKenna
Robin McKenna
1 month ago

I don’t know if a general answer is that helpful. What is most useful to your career depends too much on the sort of job you have, or want, and on how your research is evaluated, both by your peers and by the myriad other people and agencies who determine how well your career goes, or indeed whether you have a career at all. What philosophers find prestigious is not the same thing as what other academics find prestigious, and philosophers disagree among themselves about what is, or should be, prestigious. The only good general advice, I think, is try to figure out what matters to the people who have the most say over your career and make that fit with what you would want to do absent any of these external influences and pressures.

Ok I would venture some more general advice: Cambridge Scholars Publishing are basically a vanity press, and you should ignore their emails. If you haven’t yet made your name in your field and a publisher approaches you to write a book, your alarm bells should be ringing. One of the best things you can do for your career is write a book that people actually read, but publishing with OUP is no guarantee of being read, and publishing with a less prestigious press is no guarantee that you will not be read. All you can do is try to write a good book and hope for the best.

Helen De Cruz
1 month ago

I think that the books vs articles prestige thing shows clearly the limits of how much rejection rates mean. In my view, a well-written monograph weighs much more heavily than a series of articles. I’ve done many tenure reviews and of course different people may have different weighings. That’s why we have multiple people for tenure reviews. A book is very hard to bring to completion. You need to conceive of something that is worthy of 75-110k. You need to usher it all the way from book proposal to finished product. A paper can also be a very involved process, but tb totally honest, I’ve had papers accepted in fine venues that I wrote in just a few weeks. That’s not true for books. The scope and scale is just so different.

The review of a book is a bit more lenient, but note there is a lot more post-publication peer review. People actually read your book. This isn’t guaranteed for a paper in a top 5 journal.
Many people have built out fine careers without a single paper in a top-5 journal. I am one. I by and large don’t send to them, because my work isn’t that great a fit for them. These are “general” journals but general in a specific sense, as I’ll outline below. With books and articles in a range of journals, if you are cited, and if you are lucky (ie if the discipline isn’t shattering under your feet) you can build out a decent career.

I’ve been editor in many places and I’ve written before (here and on the Cocoon) on how I think the peer review process is broken. Not only is it broken, it’s very discouraging so that many people do not send their work to top journals anymore, especially if you can afford it. There’s too much stochasticity involved. When you anonymously review or do a triple blind editorial desk review, you don’t have any info on the author. So what do you do: you look for cues of trustworthiness. Am I in good hands with this author? Do they know what they’re talking about. Very often those cues track being part of the right disciplinary background, being a native speaker of English etc. This is why triple blind is not unbiased.

By contrast, for books the editor and mostly also the reviewers know who you are. When I review a book for a press, I see the name and it in part helps me to decide to take it on or not. If I see a name of someone whose work I know and respect, then I already have the cue of trustworthiness. I know that the author knows their stuff. Of course, the book still has to deliver, but this impression is important.

Books of new authors for these reasons often have a hard time getting accepted at top presses (as one of the commenters points out). I had similar experience with my first book. A miserable 2 year wait at OUP with a reviewer who had not read the book and thought it was an edited volume. But then MIT Press was terrific with three great reports on the full MS. And I’ve worked with Princeton now for my latest book and they’ve been amazing, both in soliciting helpful feedback, marketing the book etc.

It is plainly false that OUP is the only game in town, as some commenters suggest. I’ve just done a book symposium on Neil van Leeuwen’s fantastic new book with Harvard University Press. Hackett is great for textbooks. Princeton was an amazing experience to work with all round. I’m also a great fan of Cambridge UP. Even a more commercially oriented press like say Springer our Routledge can be great (a pity Springer is so pricey). Just elevating OUP as the only game in town is snobbery. I like OUP, I am very grateful they were willing to take a chance on my philosophical picture book Philosophy Illustrated. But they simply cannot put that amount of marketing work I see e.g., MIT or Princeton put into your book because they publish so much.

P.D. Magnus
Reply to  Helen De Cruz
1 month ago

“Even a more commercially oriented press like say Springer… can be great (a pity Springer is so pricey).”
The parenthetical is doing a lot of work here. Publishing with Springer locks the book behind a paywall that means almost nobody will read it. The book then exists just as a line on a CV. That might be OK for an author who needs a book for tenure and promotion, but it’s not good for much else.

Shay
Shay
Reply to  P.D. Magnus
1 month ago

There are…. Libraries

Shelley Lynn Tremain
Shelley Lynn Tremain
1 month ago

A non-exhaustive list of non-OUP books with impact:

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (Routledge)
Amia Srinavasan, The Right to Sex (Bloomsbury)
Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality (Basic Books)
Lisa Guenther, Solitary Confinement (University of Minnesota Press)
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (Pantheon Books)
Jesse Prinz, Beyond Human Nature (Penguin)
Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Ethics of Identity (Princeton University Press)
Shelley Lynn Tremain, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Philosophy of Disability (Bloomsbury)
Ian James Kidd, José Medina, and Gaile Pohlhaus, Jr., The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice (Routledge)
Several years of Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France (Picador)
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (Vintage)
Ladelle McWhorter, Racism and Sexual Oppression in Anglo-America (University of Indiana Press)
Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter (Routledge)
Tommie Shelby, We Who Are Dark (Harvard)
Ian Hacking, The Social Construction of What? (Harvard)
Robert Chapman, Empire of Normality: Neurodiversity and Capitalism (Pluto)
Sandra Bartky, Femininity and Domination (Routledge)
Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton)
Linda Martín Alcoff, Rape and Resistance (Wiley)

Last edited 1 month ago by Shelley Lynn Tremain
Andrew Moon
Andrew Moon
Reply to  Shelley Lynn Tremain
1 month ago

Also, all of Michael Huemer’s books.

UKer
UKer
1 month ago

I see a lot more interesting work in books, perhaps because people don’t have to jump through so many referee hoops, they can take some more risks and lay out their views a bit more clearly and in a less hedged way. A bit like some of the classic journal articles from the 70s and 80s. Of course there are still fantastic journal articles like that, but I find reading books a lot more enjoyable.