Thoughts on Vulnerability in the Academic World

I don’t think we’re necessarily encouraged to be too honest in the academic world, especially about the glitches and hitches that affect our own personal careers unless we’ve already emerged triumphantly from them, or at least emerged in some way from them. There are practical reasons for this, which I understand all too well: it’s difficult for people, beyond a certain point, to really want to be around someone who fails at things; it is unprofessional and probably bad for one’s career if one focuses on the ways in which one falls short. In short, on a subconscious level, nobody likes a ‘loser’. Ergo, if one wants friends and to succeed in the workplace, one should talk about one’s problems or obstacles or shortcomings too much.

When I received word from the would-be publisher for my novel two days ago that they were reconsidering their decision to publish it, I was very much inclined not to tell anyone. It was devastating (although they’re only reconsidering it, and not rejecting it for publication quite yet) because they had seemed so certain. I had gone into the office to meet about the book and the person in charge of the publishing firm had told me that Ethos Books was definitely going to publish my book. They told me they would launch it at the Singapore Writers’ Festival in November, assigned me an editor, and told me they would send me the contract shortly after the meeting. I was ecstatic. 

I’d heard that one should never be certain about books being published until a contract is signed. And I guess I was right. It’s a small publishing firm, and I’d interned for them once in the past, so I thought that the chances of this happening were slim to none. I thought it was something that happened with big, impersonal publishing houses.

In any case, it had been a few months since I’d heard any concrete news from them, though I’d gotten a lot of apologies about the delay since they had been busy with a few book launches. I’d never received a contract to look over in the (e)mail after all. In response to the last email message I sent them, the head of the publishing house told me that they were reconsidering their decision. They were worried about it being the first of a series of five because, financially, it could be disastrous. He would get back to me with a final decision next week. I wrote back saying that the first book is meant to be largely stand-alone…I was planning to wait and see whether the book was a success anyway before going ahead and writing other books in the series. (No point in multiplying an ill-received book by five). But we’ll see what happens.

In any case, it’s painful to go back to uncertainty after such seemingly assured certainty. Once I received the email message about them reconsidering, I felt embarrassed. I didn’t want to tell anyone; not after I had already announced so triumphantly that my book was being published. But then, I thought that not saying anything out of pride would be more harmful for my wellbeing. So I went out into the hallway and told two colleagues who also work in the English discipline at Newcastle. And I told my friends if it came up. And now I am telling you.

I want this blog to be honest. I do think it’s a rare and often undesirable commodity in the academic world. And I think that, in general, we’re far more inclined to air news only about successes or potential successes. This has long been a gripe of my brother-in-law, Jesse, who often cites a study apparently showing that facebook can make people more depressed because ‘friends’ only post good things about their lives, leading them to believe that their own lives are somehow peculiarly blighted. I’m not sure if this true, but I did feel that my blog was getting too annoyingly triumphant in tone as of late. So perhaps this is a good thing.

I’ll let you know what the publisher finally decides when I hear the news.





  1. Oh man Tiff, that’s so incredibly frustrating– I hope and pray they will decide to go ahead with the book. And if they don’t, I hope it gets picked up soon by some famous press that makes you ridiculously wealthy.

    1. I know. Such a bummer, huh? I also share your hopes and prayers 🙂

  2. Thanks for your honesty, Tiff. I’m sorry the publisher is being flaky. Any chance I’m allowed to see a manuscript ahead of time?

  3. Lili L

    Thanks for talking about this so openly, Tiff. Given the way book series catch on fire (Hunger Games, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Harry Potter, Twilight), and the extent to which Singapore seems to be wanting to foment creative work, I’m surprised at the reluctance. Here’s hoping things move forward; but if they don’t here, they will elsewhere. As for a blog being too positive in tone–that’s a rare problem on the internet, especially since 99% of it is cats, naked people, and rage, Give the triumphs their due, I say!

    1. Thanks, Lili. I feel much heartened. Also, prompted by your last observation, can’t help but think of a website dedicated to videos of naked people battling enraged cats. Not pretty.

  4. […] was finished, the novel was accepted for publication by a Singaporean publisher. Then it was kindly let go (to the publisher’s credit, in the most gentle and civilized way possible). Then I wallowed in […]

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