So, as I’ve mentioned, I’m gearing up for various grant applications, and I’m also planning on very shortly circulating a book proposal. This very afternoon I’m looking at the current state of what I have, and it looks pretty darned good. I mean, I’d want to read this work, but then I’m not the most objective judge.
Coincidentally, I corresponded today with a grad student who has downloaded my dissertation. How freaky is that!?
Given that my stuff is out there on the web, already (for a fee), I am trying to decide (get to the point, George):
Should I post my book proposal and/or abstract here on my blog? Should I post it on my official homepage? Should I not post it at all?
What are the advantages and disadvantages, the potential drawbacks and vulnerabilities? Please advise.
George, I’ve been thinking about this, and I suspect the reality is that there just isn’t enough data or precedent to offer a definitive answer one way or another.
I have a copy of a book proposal that a professor gave me when I was an *undergraduate*, and I’ve kept it in my files as a reference ever since. Examples of academic source code like this in the public domain are precious few, and graduate students in particular need more exposure to proposals, grants, abstracts, and the other documentaria of the profession.
The danger that someone would simply rip-off the proposal whole-cloth is slight to non-existant IMO–you’re probably the only one in the world capable of carrying out this research (which is a pretty good litmus test for whether or not one should in fact be writing a certain book). On the other hand, individual ideas, methods, references, and approaches will be vulnerable to the unscrupulous. On the other hand that’s the risk you run every time you give a conference paper. On the other OTHER hand whhat’s to be gained by putting the proposal online as opposed to sending it out to whichever individual colleagues can comment on it substantively? (That’s what I did, btw.)
Is the proposal something you’ll want frozen in a Google cache for years to come? Only you can answer that.
You make some good points, Matt. I think perhaps a book abstract might find its way online eventually, but the proposal, which has more detail, doesn’t really need to be up. I would, however, share it with folks from whom I need feedback. Perhaps after it’s published, I can put up the original proposal as an example.
The benefit to me of putting it up is likely to be pretty small, or at least certainly not much greater than having a short abstract up. (“Here’s what I’m working on.”) I’ve had advantageous professional contacts from people based on a few small things I’ve written and put on the web or written on listservs, and an abstract would serve that purpose as well as a proposal.
The benefit to students, say, could be provided easily by just sharing it with them in printed form.
The benefit to the profession is that, as I’ve written before, if we don’t represent publicly what we do in the humanities, then we are leaving it to a set of unfortunately reactionary public voices to misrepresent what we do. However, I’m not sure the value of this benefit outweighs the vulnerability of making public in a pre-peer-review-published format what I’m working on.
What is that vulnerability? I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in the world qualified to write the book I’m writing (or at least one of only a handful of people): I know I’ve examined documents that few people have ever looked at, much less with the critical lens I’m using. For me, part of the vulnerability is not that someone will rip off my ideas, but that someone will rip off my research findings. If you dive into a stack of manuscripts, it takes you a while to come up with the one that really suits the needs of someone writing about, say, the social significant of letter-writing in a particular context. But if I were to reveal all the cool stuff I’ve found, I’m just making it easier for someone else to walk in, find what they’re looking for much more quickly than I did, and get to writing on it before I’m completely finished.
A local writer I met recently (who has a book contract) wrote me off-blog to advise against making the proposal public, saying that it’s best to control the content and context of when and how publishers encounter what it is you are working on.
I’m inclined to agree.
I’ve been thinking about this alot lately myself, partly because my blog is probably going to play a much larger role in the development of my second book than it did with the manuscript I just finished (recently enough to still feel weird about saying “my second book.”).
I think both you and Matt are right about the value of exposing ourselves and our students (and even broader audiences) to what happens behind the scenes of our polished work. I really like the idea of a “View Source” kind of resource that would give examples of some of the more invisible documentaria. It might even offer examples of the submission-comments-review-revision process that precedes publication (College Literature did an issue like that a looong time ago, I think, with a submission from Zavarzadeh maybe).
For me it’s less an issue of whether my work will be appropriated (even though I don’t consider myself especially indispensable to the ideas I write about) than it is one of self-esteem. There’s a part of me that won’t believe in the value of my proposal until the book itself is out. To that degree, I’ve internalized the goofy value system that keeps us each re-inventing the wheel when it comes to understanding how proposals and other documents work…
Two very interesting discussions about academic work. One, George Williams asks whether he should put his book proposal online. The consensus seems to go toward give it to students, but don’t put it online unless the book’s been written. I’d…
Succinctly put (and echoing some of what has been said above), (A) the chance that anybody else will write the same book from yours is slim. (B) unless your book is extremely shallow and mainstream, then the particular stance and subject matter you choose will be (arguably) rare, so it is not an intellectual commodity — thus interest generated by any of a small group of books on the same subject enhances interest in the others. The rising tide lifts all small boats. Finally, (C) a sufficiently well-received proposal, or even draft, can generate increased sales of the final volume. After all, what’s of greater professional value to you: the profit the book generates, or the opportunities for additional work in the future?