The search for a publisher

Vincent Lagendijk, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, has a special item on his bookshelf: a manuscript, written by himself. Finding a publisher for this manuscript is proving to be a difficult task. Vincent has already published several academic publications on the same topic, but has not yet managed to realize the original idea of a book publication. “I submitted the manuscript to five publishers: two never responded, one rejected the proposal, one reviewed the manuscript negatively, the fifth came back with suggestions for modifications but this also fell through.” After years of rejection, the tide now seems to be turning.

Tennessee Valley Authority

Vincent received a research grant from NWO, the Dutch organization that funds scientific research, in 2009. The grant was awarded for his research on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), an American organization founded in 1933 to develop the area around the Tennessee River. The TVA in particular gained a name for itself with the construction of dams to generate electricity and control floods. Vincent is particularly interested in the international dimensions of the TVA. Historiography portrays the TVA as a unique American model that river developers imitated in other parts of the world. This image, however, turns out to be clouded, according to Vincent.

“After consulting many archives of individuals, countries and international organizations, I came to the conclusion that nuance is in order. For example, regional actors, the World Bank, and the United Nations played a major role in the development of dam building on the Mekong, Danube, and Jordan rivers. Influences from other countries, including colonial contexts, merged to some extent with the American model. It turns out that the global contributions to the TVA’s legacy proved to be larger, while the American influence is a lot smaller than originally thought.”

In his manuscript, Vincent dives deeper into these three rivers. In particular, he looks at how their development was thought about and how this image came to be. In 2013, after four years of researching and writing, he was ready to send the manuscript to a European publisher. “A colleague, however, advised me not to do so, arguing that the book had potential and believed that if I would do more extensive research and consult more primary sources, I would have a chance of getting the book published by a major American publisher. These are generally more highly regarded than European ones, especially if it concerns an American topic.”

Norris dam

Rejection and exhaustion

In 2019, Vincent finalized a new version and decided to approach an American publisher. "The publisher responded positively and asked me to send the entire manuscript. After sending it, I unfortunately never received a response. I tried calling and emailing, but all in vain. I was disappointed, but I didn't want to give up, so I sent the manuscript to several other publishers. One rejected the proposal, another never got back to me, and the third didn't respond until months later, when I was already in contact with a fourth publisher. Since there is an unwritten rule that you only consult one publisher at a time, I couldn’t get back to the third and the discussion with the fourth unfortunately fell through.”

Exhaustion was right around the corner. “I was trying to offer my manuscript to publishers at a busy time: I had a hefty teaching load and was programme director of one of our master's programmes. Besides that, it was frustrating that all the talks I gave at conferences and all other publications I produced on the subject were received with great enthusiasm, but no one wanted to publish my book. When another publisher reviewed the manuscript negatively, I literally threw my book collection on the topic in boxes and stashed it away. I was done.”

Light at the end of the tunnel

Fortunately, there are some positive developments. During the corona pandemic, Vincent and a German colleague came up with the idea to organize an online workshop on the international dimensions of dam building. The workshop brought together interested parties from all over the world. “Only if you are really interested in the subject you participate in a workshop that starts at 8 in the morning for colleagues in the US and at 5 in the evening for colleagues in Europe.”

The workshop was very productive: each participant specialized in a different segment concerning the international dimension of dams, and so the idea of a joint book proposal grew. “We pitched the proposal to a publisher, and we pulled off what I hadn't been able to do all these years. The first publisher we approached reviewed the proposal and offered us a contract even before we had written a single chapter. The book will come out this summer.”

Vincent has more hopeful news in store. “The publisher of the edited volume has also expressed interest in my manuscript.” While Vincent is very happy about that, an unsettling feeling lingers. “On the one hand, the manuscript has been sitting on the shelf for so long and that feeling of disappointment will remain. On the other hand, it would be nice if I hadn’t written all those pages just for myself. On top of that, so much effort and especially time went into writing the book – not just my time, but my family's time as well. We'll see where this leads. In any case, I'm still on track for the TVA's 100th anniversary in 2033.”


By: Eva Durlinger

Portrait picture by: Eric Bleize