Charting Your Writing Career – how much, how often, on what?

Happy new year! The beginning of a new year brings thoughts about what is next. From an academic perspective, thoughts naturally turn to new writing projects. At SBL I had some good conversations with friends and scholars at various stages in their careers, from just beginning (like me) to seasoned, prolific writers. One thing seems to be clear. The expectations have changed considerably in the last half century regarding scholarly output. A generation ago, it seemed outstanding to publish more than three books in a career. Now, people like Mike Bird can write a whole book on the plane ride to SBL I would imagine.

I think there is more demand on writing more for a few reasons.

(1) It has gotten easier to gain access to information  - via ILL or Amazon or googlebooks, ATLA etc…

(2) Getting published is easier – I have a hard time believing that a PhD thesis published in NT studies would not make it into at one of the many monograph pubs.

(3) More publishers – the cost of making books is coming down (esp now with e-books) so pubs can publish more books. So there is “room” for more books in the market (though less and less in the libraries!).

(4) textbooks – 30 years ago, textbooks in Biblical academia was pretty much unheard of. For undergrad courses, you worked with one or two basic books that were out there. Marketers have probably seen a niche and sought to fill it – and then some.

I am sure there are more reasons. The bottom line is that, because it is easier to publisher, by the law of inflation it is becoming more and more competitive – the more books one publishes, the more prestigious the scholar (in theory, not always in practice as we all would recognize).

So where does that leave us? What is “feasible” for charting your career?

Some writers still believe that you should spend several years researching before writing a book. My outstanding supervisors were both models of patient, careful, well-researched scholarship. Neither of them would be considered “prolific,” but both are considered world-class experts in their fields. I deeply respect that.

On the other hand, take a Durham scholar like Jimmy Dunn – putting out now (in his retirement) larger books now than ever. He probably has a dozen good books left in him!

What is a reasonable course for beginners?

Perhaps this is over-ambitious, but I think I can manage one good book every three years. Monographs take a good amount of time. Commentaries as well. But publishers don’t like to wait around either. In any case, if I did one every three years, that would be 10 books during a career. That sounds like a lot. Certainly there are times when I will be serving on committees more intensely or travelling for a summer. But also there will be years when my teaching load is lighter (or repetitive) and I can work during the school year on research. And there is the coveted Sabbatical time.

For those of you post-PhD, do you have a writing plan? or is it more or less taking each project one by one? I am interested in your thoughts!

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6 thoughts on “Charting Your Writing Career – how much, how often, on what?

  1. Kerry Rockquemore over at Inside Higher Education has some tips: write every day. As someone who is just finishing undergraduate studies, I take this advice very seriously. I don’t however spend time researching the way these (you) scholars can, but I try to the best of my abilities.

  2. Don’t think #3 is entirely accurate. Many publishers are in fact downsizing or focusing their publishing efforts. See, for example, the recent restructuring of Hendrickson.

  3. I take your point, Chris, but with the popularity of self-publishing or online-only publishing (whether one likes these forms or not), there is certainly a good amount of increase. Also, regarding Hendrickson, the issue is not so much that they will be doing less, but that they are refocusing their efforts. At least that is how I understand it (though with the restructuring they may be currently doing less than “normal” until things are settled). Perhaps you are right, though, in the sense that before 2006 #3 may have been more true.

  4. Thanks for this Nijay. I have recently finished my PhD and have been wondering about this too. My dissertation is being published (how is that coming along Chris? ;)) and I am now beginning to think about what is next.

    Chris, from your experience, what do you think about Nijay’s comment about publishing a book every 3 years?

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