Monthly Archives: October 2018

The genesis of a book

writing

This book began as a money making scheme. I’ll pause here for laughter.

Ok, let’s continue.

But seriously, sometime in 2015 I read the book The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. There are a lot of really interesting, outside-the-box ideas in that book, and while most of the more practical tips didn’t apply to my circumstances, some ideas stuck. The whole genesis behind the click-baity wording of the 4-hour workweek is the idea of passive income. At the time, my husband was working adjunct at multiple institutions and scrambling for summer employment, my workplace was becoming increasingly unstable, and we were looking for an alternate revenue stream to supplement the highly unstable environments in which we were working. I began to consider what kinds of passive income we might be able to create and the specific expertise I could offer to niche interests. Downloadables are a well-known and low-overhead way to enter the passive income market. I landed on the idea of writing an ebook directed towards new librarians entering the academic library job market and selling it at an affordable price point through this here website.

My interest in academic library hiring started with my own graduate school experience. Job hunting for the new librarian is a fraught and stressful prospect, made more so because the process of interviewing and hiring in higher education is a completely novel experience for most of us. As I considered my own job hunt process and watched others become embittered by a lack of progress, I realized that there was significant knowledge and support missing for many people.

Then, in the first week at my first job, I was placed on a search committee for another librarian. I saw the process from a completely different angle, as a member of the committee with different motivations and concerns. This was enlightening, and I began to sort out the things I was hearing from frustrated job-seekers with the things I was seeing from the committee perspective. I participated in many hiring committees in my 5 years at Paul Smith’s College, from hourly staff to faculty and librarians to the Provost of the college. My interest in hiring and working in higher education grew.

So, I had this idea to write an ebook on the academic library hiring process, and there it sat for a while. It seemed such a monumental thing to contemplate. Not just the writing, but designing it, setting up ecommerce, publicizing on my own, etc. Underlying all the hesitation was the “what would they think of me” question. They, of course, being the academy as a whole and librarianship in particular.

I knew that by considering publishing in this way, I was bucking the trend. I knew that topic was one that academic publishing would likely be interested in, and conventional wisdom would have recommended going the usual route and building my CV commensurately. Going traditional would have built my CV but it would not have given me what I really needed at the time, which was alternate income. I didn’t care about building my CV in this way at the time because my previous institution did not have tenure, and I was more than meeting expectations for promotion. In other words, at the time, an extra $100 a month was more motivation than a line on my CV.

As far as I knew, no one in libraries had pursued self-publishing in this way, so there was also the question of whether or not it was possible, whether it had been tried and failed, whether I would be ostracized for going that direction. The people I talked to about this concept thought it could work, but didn’t know that anyone had ever tried.

In early winter of 2016, I found myself happily pregnant and in a declining professional situation with no increased stability in sight for either me or my husband. By summer, I had decided to fend off existential panic by simply starting to write the book. There was a tremendous amount of uncertainty that summer, including uncertainty about what I was going to do with this project in the end, but I anchored that uncertainty with a regular practice of putting words on paper for this project. I completed the first draft of the first iteration of the book with a goal of 750 words a day on that days that I was at work over the course of two months of summer.

On the first day of the fall semester, I gave birth to a baby boy. By new year, I had applied for the job I currently hold, in February I interviewed in person, in March I accepted an offer, and in July my family moved across the country for new opportunities. The book languished.

When I began my current position, I thought back to the ebook draft and realized that my priorities had changed. I’d moved institutions, and the tenure expectations were real. While I felt (and feel) good about the amount of presenting I do, I knew that I’d need to beef up my publications, and here I had a significant word count already in the bank. What to do with it?

Along the way of answering this question, I reached a point of completion with the ebook manuscript, pursued ecommerce, and designed the book. I passed it out to the library school graduate students who work for my department. I talked at length with our Scholarly Communications Librarian about possibly making it an OER, but we were unable to find the right fit for platform and for providing statistics I’d want to have as part of my tenure dossier. I dragged my heels in making a decision. Nothing felt right. I heard from many students who’d read it saying was how helpful it was to them. In my new position, I mentored a number a graduate students through quick, successful job hunts. I realized that I had more to say about the job hunt and hiring than I originally thought and the “completed” ebook no longer felt as representative as it once did.

One day, while working the reference desk, I admitted to my colleague, Courtney Greene McDonald, that I was trying to avoid this project because I knew it wanted to be a book, but I didn’t want to write one. Courtney, generous soul that she is, started to systematically break down my barriers. Having written two books herself, she knew exactly what I meant and, as a recently tenured librarian, she also had a helpful perspective for my future. She offered some advice on publishers and also offered to put me in contact with the editor of ACRL Press. Basically, she made it impossible for me to say no any longer. Transcript of part of an actual conversation:

C: You won’t regret writing a book.

M: I will when I’m writing it.

C: I mean, while you’re writing it, yeah. But not when it’s done.

And with that, I stopped running away from this book. I did my market research, I wrote the proposal, I made extensive notes for expanding and refining the existing ebook structure, and I submitted for publication.

It’s perhaps useful to know that the book as proposed is twice the word count of the ebook that I considered more or less finished. It is strongly informed by my work with actual library school graduate students, and it attempts to bring a mentoring relationship to a book format. One of the biggest differences between the ebook and the published version is the emphasis on answering “why?” Why are things this way? What are the academic structures and values that shape the academic job hunt and how do they manifest? Another way this book differs from the ebook is to provide an empowering counterpoint to the prevalent rhetoric surrounding library jobs. The job market, retirements, the number of library school graduates…. blah, blah, blah. This book embodies the belief that no one ever performed better from being told that what they were about to do was very hard. It gives job seekers tools for things they CAN do (not simply lists of things NOT TO DO) to feel in control of the process and their own destinies in spite of a deeply uncertain outcome.

And, it’s worth noting that so far being scared of writing a book has felt a lot worse than actually writing it. As an action oriented individual, it has felt better (but not necessarily easy) to be DOING something about this book. Still, a big part of my motivation to write this book is simply to be finished. Lest you think that what you hear of a book writing process is a full and true picture, by the time this book is published, I will have been working on it in fits and starts but consistently for 4 years. It’s about time, don’t you think?

 

 

 

In progress, a book

if-not-now-when

I don’t know if there’s ever a right time to announce that you’re writing a book. Imposter syndrome comes into play no matter the timing, so here it is: I’m writing a book. The title is Get the Job: Academic Hiring for the New Librarian, and it will be published by ACRL Press, probably in late 2019 or early 2020. I’m the sole author.

Here’s the synopsis from the book proposal:

Get the Job: Academic Library Hiring for the New Librarian is the quintessential primer on the job search for librarians interested in academic libraries. Young librarians often seek information from more experienced professionals in the subject of the academic job search. As a form, the academic job search is a very specific process that has only superficial resemblance to a classic job search. Much of the practical information about the academic job search exists and is communicated in mentoring relationships and informal communication. By replicating the mentoring experience, aspiring professionals will find the consolidated and comprehensive support they need to launch a successful job hunt, thrive in the interview process, and transition to a new job.

Beginning briefly with graduate school, this book provides concrete suggestions for how to direct an education towards full-time employment and get the most out of student experiences. The majority of the book is dedicated to the job hunt itself, covering the various steps of the academic hiring process, breaking down each step into manageable pieces, and providing lots of tips and insight from the perspective of the search committee. Special emphasis is placed on the presentation, one of the most stressful parts of the job search. Lastly, the book covers what happens after a job offer, provides tips on negotiation, and concludes with some practical advice for the first year of a new job with an eye towards what would be particularly useful for a young librarian.

This book is a must-read for aspiring librarians as they contemplate the overwhelming task of breaking in to the academic library job market and launching their careers as a professional librarian. Packed with practical advice, reassurance, questions to consider, and, ultimately, empowerment, it will be an invaluable resource for job seekers.

I’d like to talk another time about how this book came to be and to provide some transparency in the publishing process, but for today I want to share about the nuts and bolts of how I’m getting the work done. As a rule, I fiercely protect my non-work time. I’m a librarian. I’m also a mom with a toddler and a person with significant interests outside of libraries. I’m not a librarian who works nights and weekends, and yet I’m writing a book on top of my usual work load. How is this possible, you may well ask. I’ll tell you how I’m making it work.

I don’t pretend that my situation is exactly comparable to others, or that my methods will work for you. They are simply what’s working for me right now for this project at this point in time. Needs change and I imagine that my methods will too. I do think that there are some larger ideas here that you may be able to apply to you work.

Support

First and foremost, I have personal and institutional support. Because writing a book is significant progress towards my employer’s expectations of me, I can use work hours to do it, so I do. Much of that support comes in the form of time. The time is offered, but protecting that time is up to me. See below: Ruthlessness.

The time comes in two forms: a faculty writing group and research leave. Indiana University runs a number of Faculty Writing Groups through Faculty and Academic Affairs which are by application only. Participation in the group requires regular attendance at a group which meets for three hours blocks every week. In these groups, you work alongside a small group of academics to advance your writing, broadly defined. These are accountability groups, not review groups, so I work alongside a group with varied scholarly interests. My writing group has been invaluable in this process. Setting aside a defined block of time, working in a location that isn’t my office, and working alongside other motivated individuals, coupled with some best practices, has been a strong propellant in the book writing process.

The second protected block of time is research leave. IU librarians have up to 5 months of research leave to take pre-tenure. I’ll be taking a month in December. This isn’t, strictly speaking, sabbatical, but it will resemble a mini-sabbatical in practice.

Ruthlessness

Writing this book is possible because of ruthless prioritization by myself and my supervisor. Because I’m doing this, there are other things I’m not doing right now. I’ve spent significant time moving meetings, swapping reference desk shifts, clarifying due dates for projects, and setting expectations for myself and others. I’m not trying to fit more work in less time. I’m choosing the work I’m doing and I’m invoking this choice when saying no or asking to move dates and swap shifts.  I’m also setting up ruthless but achievable expectations for myself and boundaries (“rules,” if you like) about what is and isn’t allowed.

Organization

In order to make the best use of my writing time, I’ve set up a strong structure for myself using best practices that have worked for me in the past. First of all, I walk into every writing group meeting with a clear plan of action for that day. I decide this plan in advance, usually at the end of the previous week’s writing. At my current point in the writing process, I have the general goal of adding 1,000 words to the manuscript at each writing group meeting. Also at the end of each writing session, I note what things I need to accomplish between meetings so that I can actually write during writing time. For this project, the in-between work is things like coordinating feedback, interviewing people, and conducting some supporting research. Right now, writing group is strictly about getting words on paper, and I frequently have to pull myself back from dissecting every word choice and approach to remind myself that my goal for right now is word count. The rest will get sorted out in editing. The group itself does allow me to do many of these things (except interviewing) during our meeting, I find that I can do this during regular work hours but I don’t write as effectively at other times, so I’ve prioritized the production of words during this time.

At the beginning of each writing group meeting, after the check-in and brief group discussion on topics related to writing, I set up my app blocker and turn my phone to do not disturb. I choose some music for writing, which varies by day, and put in my headphones. I write down my starting word count, rewrite my goals, and sometimes outline the proposed writing for the day so I can make sure I’m hitting all my intended points. Then I write. Though the time period is long, I consider this a writing sprint, since the main goal is simply to add words – get stuff out of my head and onto the screen – as quickly as I can. Most of my writing is accomplished in the first hour or hour and half. When I’ve come to a stopping point for the day, I write down my new word count and do some self-congratulatory math on how far I’ve come and where I need to go. I spend the rest of the time making plans and thinking through problems – anything I need to get sorted in order to enable a writing sprint next week.

I’m the type of writer who does a lot of the writing in my head beforehand. By the time I sit down to write, it’s mostly a matter of transcribing what I’ve already written in my head, so the writing sprint works well for me. I always leave writing group knowing exactly what I’ll be working on next time. This enables me to sit down and just go with limited backtracking. Sometimes this means that I stop writing after I’ve met my word count but before I’m necessarily finished with a thought. Hemmingway used to stop writing for the day in the middle of a sentence so that he had the motivation to come back the next day and finish it.

Motivation

I am highly motivated to finish this book. As I said before, I’ll talk another time in depth about how this book came to be in this particular way, but for right now, just know that this book has been percolating for 2+ years. In that time, I have actively tried to move on with my life, find other, less formal outlets for the material, and generally tried to make this project go away. It refused to leave, and it has also refused to allow room for other ideas. Basically, it’s demanding to get written, it has been vocalizing this request for 2 years, and I’m just trying to get it to shut up so that I can think again.

At a more practical level, I’m motivated by deadlines, either set by myself or by others, so having a deadline is helpful to me. Although there is no penalty for missing my book deadline, I intend to meet it, barring unforeseen circumstances.

I generally have an idea of where I’m headed and how to get there, but I only know the next step or two in front of me at any given time. This seems sufficient for progress but still allows for the book to develop organically. Right now, the words are flowing well and these practices are working. I know there will come a time when different tactics are necessary, and I’ll be sure to share what’s working for me when that time comes.

How do you get your writing done?