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?

 

 

 

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