Sunday, March 04, 2007

On Reader's Reports, Book Reviews and Other Low Yield Tasks

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by a Big Journal in my field to review an essay on a very contemporary, very interesting playwright on whom virtually nothing has yet been written. I happened to be teaching a play by this playwright the next week, the first time I'd ever taught the playwright. I had been recommended to the journal by my advisor, who was too busy.

The essay was for a special issue, and so it needed to be turned around quickly, with very specific and direct feedback for revision, if applicable. I did it, and the editor seemed very happy with my response. In fact, he asked me to review a forthcoming book on the playwright, which I also agreed to do.

Here's the thing. I know the profession relies on this sort of work from academics, and quite frankly, I'm at a stage in my career where I feel flattered to even be asked.

But I am unclear on precisely how to value this work, and when I might want to say no: book reviews count for very little on my annual reviews, and reviewing essays for even less. There's no remuneration, and the value in getting my name out there seems minimal. So, internets, how do you feel about this sort of work? How do you value it? How do you make decisions about when to accept these tasks, and when it's time to take a pass?


Dr. Delaney Kirk said...

It depends. Are you tenured? Is this something you are really interested in doing? Will there be some name recognition (first person to review sounds very positive). I think you have to focus on doing a few things well and say no to the rest. But I realize that that is sometimes difficult to do.

Nels said...

Here's how I decide. If it's a book I really want to read because I can tell it will be vital to know about it in detail, then I jump at the chance to do it because I can see how it can lead to other things.

david silver said...

i agree with nels - if it's a book that you are truly curious about, go for it.

one nice thing about book reviews is that they can be added to and parsed towards other longer works like chapters and articles.

one more thing - after doing so much intellectual labor for said Big Journal in your field, you should really consider submitting an article of your own to it.

Dr. Crazy said...

I should be revising, but your post allows me to procrastinate, so I will comment even though I've got little of substance to contribute. I think others are right when they say that you should limit reviewing sorts of things, especially pre-tenure. While these couple of things are good because you now have established a relationship with this particular journal (and yes, you should submit something of yours there), reviews ultimately don't count for much, and they take time away from stuff that does count. I've got to admit, there's a gaping hole on my cv where this kind of work is concerned, but given the small value accorded to such activities, I've decided that this hole is ok until I've advanced further in the profession, especially as I'm doing other kinds of work that count more and that are getting my name out there for stuff I'm researching rather than for commenting on others' work. I think if I were in your position, I'd do the review of the book but then I'd say no to any other such requests until 2008.

Tenured Radical said...

Listen pal:

You want to publish -- who do you think is reading YOUR work? Who makes the effort to give you those painstaking instructions about how to revise and resubmit? Some anonymous schmucko who also doesn't get "credit" for it at whatever degree mill s/he is working at.

Yet another problem to chalk up to the tenure rat race: what counts and what doesn't. In the scheme of things, it ocunts to help other people with their work, and to get a reading back to someone (perhaps a struggling assistant like yourself) who is also trying to make it.

If it makes you feel any better, they probably sent it to you because someone has noticed you in the first place, which is good. You never know who is going to give you your next leg up or why, and doing something like this is not only payback for those anonymous readers who did it for you, it is good karma.


Horace said...

Let me clarify (as I did in a comment on TR's blog) that I am not so much interested in the either/or "should I or shouldn't I?" question of this work: I did it without batting an eyelash, and I'm not entirely interested in not doing it because it "doesn't count."

But the question of value extends well beyond my own tenure file...How valuable is it and in what ways is it valuable are indeed questions about the life of the discipline and when, if ever, to decline this work.

I am all for good karma, and my service profile, and my views on the value of collegiality support this.

And finally, while the issue of blind review seems to have gotten the most play, it's the one I'm much less interested in: Book reviewing strikes me as the odder scenario, since the outlay of time is so great, and I would be surprised if my opinion were actually any more reliable than the author of the book. Too often I have heard about senior faculty complaining about their book reviews going badly because of junior faculty out to get take-down points...I hardly want to be that junior faculty member.