The lockdown has disrupted our lives in ways we couldn’t have anticipated. Some changes are big. Some little. One of the little things that has affected me is to do with book publication.
You may have noticed that many academic book publishers are currently selling mostly ebooks. Many of the warehouses that send out academic books have furloughed their staff and/or are not equipped for people to work safely. So no hard copies. If you look at academic publishers’ websites you’ll also see that many are having discounted sales – they would have lowered prices at conferences, but they’re now cancelled, so the reduced prices are now more widely available.
But my concern is not so much with publishers, but with authors.
Some people had their books published right at the start of lockdown. Sadly, it’s all been a bit tricky for those with very new publications. No conferences with book stalls and book launches and cheap wine and heavily fortified orange juice. No opportunities to present the conference papers that provide the opportunity to hold the book up and/or display it on the powerpoint. We’re working at home so no opportunities to put flyers in colleagues’ pigeonholes. And there are only so many times you can put the fact that you’ve got a new book out onto social media.
I really feel for people with new books. It’s always a pleasure to hold a new book in your hands. It is particularly sweet if this is a first book. And it’s just not the same with an ebook. You can’t feel it, smell it, send it to your Mum.
And you really want to celebrate a book. Finishing a book is a big undertaking. Whether it’s a monograph or an edited collection, a book takes a significant bit of your life to get done. So you want an opportunity to mark the completion of the project. It’s here. It’s real. It’s a book. But now it is – and it isn’t. Some people are organising online book launches and this is one way to have a distanced party for the writing achievement.
Other people have had their book publication dates extended. I’m one of those people. My latest book would have been published this week. Not happening. That’s disappointing largely because I had been anticipating a little book celebration of my own at the end of the academic year.
Instead, the book will see the light of day in September. The publisher asked if I was OK with this and I was. I think it’s really sensible. The book is more likely to have some traction if it coincides with academic life moving partly off line. But because it’s one of those books that addresses current politics and policies the book can’t simply refer to life before lockdown. The text now has to take account of Covid19.
Fortunately it’s not a complete revision. I’m not at all sure I could raise the energy to go back to yet another complete text revision. The publisher asked me to write a new preface which linked the pandemic with the contents of the book. This wasn’t hard. I chose an example from lockdown to make the connections with the already written content and duly sent it in a couple of weeks ago. But alas, while I’d picked an apt example, events have moved on again and I have now had to update the new preface to take account of further changes. Deja vu. Deja vu all over again.
There’ll come a time when I can’t do this updating anymore, and the book just has to go to print. But right now, I feel like I’m stuck in book groundhog day with the text coming back and coming back, even though I want to move on.
I need to move on. That’s in part because I’ve got a co-written book finishing off right now. Fortunately my co-author and I have been able to take account of the pandemic and write it into our text. Much of what we social scientists write from now on won’t be able to ignore the lockdown and the changes it’s brought and the changes that still need to happen. Our timing with this book is not too bad.
But finishing off any book is like finishing off a marathon. There’s always a summoning of the will and a last focused effort to get it to the ( dead)line. A final book effort is about last revisions, textual finessing and then editing and proofing, trying to anticipate where the copy editor might come back to ask for more information.
I’ve discovered I don’t much like having two books on the go at once. I can cope with a book and simultaneous papers and blog posts. But a book requires a particular level of immersion in argument – I tend to think of this as the book taking up a lot of room in my head and heart. Just like a PhD thesis. I like to close one big text off and then move on to the next. I’ve found I don’t have quite enough head-heart room for two nearly finished books at the same time. It’s like running the end of two marathons at once in some kind of weird parallel reality.
But hey ho. Both books will be done by mid-July. One actually being printed and the other starting its six month journey through to printing. So done and done-ish.
And then it’ll be time to turn to ordinary academic work, providing the pandemic behaves itself and I/we can face up to what the next academic year brings – fewer colleagues, fewer students perhaps, certainly less money… much bigger challenges than my little publishing worries.
Photo by James Cullen on Flickr Commons