Imponderables of academic publishing


As academics know and word has gotten out into the broader world, publications are the essential currency of academic life. I hear from some senior colleagues that after having written N number of papers, they feel they want to leave a more lasting impress than what can be achieved by writing that (N+1)-th paper. Is this the urge to write a book? The urge to pen that tome that will persist far beyond the academic paper in a conference or a journal.

As I have traveled to the farther reaches of the developing world, I have seen first hand the transformative potential of a good text book. I am tempted to aver that a book done right can have a broad and lasting impact. So the next order of questions comes up in the book writing mold.

  • Should I aim for a text book? I am leaving out the purely commercial reasons, which I have found rarely drive my colleagues on such a venture.

Pro: There may be several others that have preceded you. So you know the basic structure.

Con: The others that have preceded you have already done a good job.

  • Should I aim for a semi-technical book that is of general interest?

Pro: This can have a wide audience. Writing one gets you outside of the usual daily routine of parsing of deeply technical material.

Con: You will likely have to reach out to someone outside of your technical colleagues to jointly pen such a book, e.g., someone who is a tech journalist. Come to think of it, this is not a con to some, myself included.

  • Should I go for a deeply technical book – the moniker “monograph” would almost do it justice?

Pro: You feel like you are an expert, one of only one to five, in the field of this book. So you can whip it up feeling confident and without too much sweat.

Con: This is not really much of an audience outside of your niche technical community.

Whichever way you go for, it seems worthwhile to me, if (and this is a big if) done at the right stage of the career, i.e., after the earthly pleasures of tenure and promotion are in the rear-view mirror. A book can help to organize the knowledge, provide some context and summarization for the many technical papers written on your topic of interest, and can inspire new generations of students and scholars.

So with the big gulp of nervous excitement, you sit down to ponder on how you will find time and energy to do that. Happy tides!

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