4

I realise similar questions have been asked previously, but I believe the circumstances here differ in some respects.

My former boss and I worked as practitioners in a particular field for several years, and I was invited to work as a research assistant to do a qualitative assessment of the work we did. We are now working together on a book on the subject. Over the years, I believe we have developed a strong working relationship based on mutual respect, despite his many more years of senior-level experience.

So far, I have written the majority of the work, including background and empirical material. I have also done an extensive literature review and provided a draft theoretical framework which I have begun to connect to the empirical study. Roughly speaking, I have written over 25,000 words of my own, and highlighted potential conclusions including my reasoning. He has written about 2,000.

I recently asked my boss if I would be included as coauthor, but was given the answer that the publisher might not accept a coauthor without a post-graduate degree. I previously wrote an article together with this person on a different topic, and was given the same reasoning that the journal would only accept my boss as the sole author. I was instead included in the acknowledgments. Having researched the publisher, I can see that they may reject the book if the author is not deemed "qualified", for which previous publication is an expectation. I am certain that he will be deemed qualified, but I am unsure how they would look upon me. I am currently completing a Master's degree but won't be finished until next year, at which point the book might be ready. I did, however, work extensively as a practitioner on the topic, in a supporting role to my boss.

I do not necessarily expect co-authorship, but surely there is something such as supporting author or another title that is more appropriate than a mere acknowledgment?

Should I accept the reasoning that the publisher might reject the book proposal? What can I expect in terms of authorship acknowledgment? Should I put my foot down and demand that publication is put on hold until I have completed my Master's degree and published something?


Thank you so much everyone for your insightful answers. They've been helpful in understanding the typical modus operandi of publishers and confirmed my own grasp of the situation.

I have made it clear to my boss that I expect coauthorship, and I will have to wait and see what he replies. Will come back to you with the results.

EDIT: Since raising the issue with my boss, I have been included as cowriter with no damage to our professional relationship. In fact, my contribution to the book has, as a result of the methodology we've chosen, risen to be even more substantially acknowledged. Many thanks for your answers and help, truly insightful. We will see if there is any push-back from the publisher, whose answers I will make sure to verify for myself.

3
  • 1
    Did you publish peer-reviewed papers with them as well?
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 8, 2022 at 10:32
  • 1
    I would say not only should you be a co-author, it would be completely dishonest of the other person to ever pretend it was sole authorship. There are no ghost writers in academic work. Jul 10, 2022 at 22:01
  • There should be no such thing as ghost writers. I know a grad student who wrote several chapters of a faculty member’s book with just an acknowledgment…
    – Dawn
    Jul 13, 2022 at 1:08

6 Answers 6

7

Over the years, I believe we have developed a strong working relationship based on mutual respect, despite his many more years of senior-level experience.

Hmm. I feel rather terrible to be the bearer of this sort of bad news, but your belief seems rather strongly contradicted by the facts. In fact, the reality seems to be that you are in an abusive and exploitative relationship with your boss. Denying you coauthorship for work in whose writing you have played a very significant part is nothing like what “mutual respect” looks like.

I do not necessarily expect co-authorship, but surely there is something such as supporting author or another title that is more appropriate than a mere acknowledgment?

The only title that’s appropriate given your description of your contribution is that of a coauthor.

Should I accept the reasoning that the publisher might reject the book proposal?

No, the reasoning sounds approximately 100% invalid to me.

Regardless, even if there is possibly a publisher who would take such an illogical stance, your boss’s insistence on excluding you is unethical. An ethical boss would look for, and almost certainly find, a path towards publishing the work with you getting the credit you deserve.

What can I expect in terms of authorship acknowledgment? Should I put my foot down and demand that publication is put on hold until I have completed my Master's degree and published something?

I cannot say what you can expect, or what you should do. It’s a sad fact that there are parts of academia where corruption is rampant and people have no good choices. But at the very least, in order to make good decisions you should have a clear picture of what’s going on. And what is going on is that your boss is exploiting you, I’m sorry to say. It’s not right, and I sincerely hope that you will find a way to get the proper credit for your hard work. Good luck!

1
  • Also the OP should have been an author on the article.
    – Dawn
    Jul 13, 2022 at 1:06
3

(I used to work in academic publishing)

A book in which you are the sole author might run into this issue. A book in which you are a co-author is not. You can probably request to be a co-author and the publisher will not object as long as your boss is also listed (they might also ask for your boss to be listed as the first author).

I once published a book where one of the authors was the primary author's wife (she apparently did a lot of proofreading for the author). It's not usually a problem as long as there's a senior name in the list of authors as well.

3

If the facts are exactly as you state them, then your boss is exploiting you. Clear and simple. There must be a department at your university where you can file a complaint.

2

If your contribution is substantial, then you are a co-author. Given the amount of work you have already done, it would only qualify as unsubstantial if it were of a clerical nature. (For example, retyping tables would not qualify for co-authorship.) This gives you the right to demand co-authorship.

If we look at the reasons for the reluctance of your primary author, the concern with the editor does not appear to be very valid. It is possible that both of you are victim of a predatory editor. (I get invitations to write a book or become editor of a book composed of individual chapters from suspicious sources, and so do most people in academia.) A serious editor will evaluate the credentials of the team of authors. While you might not be able to publish with this editor based on your lack of a title, your primary author has the credentials and seems to be directing you. The concern of your primary author might very well be genuine, but is only founded in fact if the editor is not following academic usage.

There is still a personal problem you might be facing if you insist on being a "named" co-author, appearing on the title page. This is something which a forum like this cannot address. If your primary author is really unwilling to make you a co-author because of irrational fears or because of another reason, there is ultimately only so much you can do that will not result in a rupture in your relationship.

2
  • 1
    You seem to be applying the rules for scientific works to books. That isn't necessarily valid. Books often include only settled questions, not new contributions. The OPs description, however, does seem like authorship in this case.
    – Buffy
    Jul 8, 2022 at 12:09
  • 1
    We both agree that he made a contribution that qualifies him as an author. There might be a cultural component here. Emil Artin once wrote a book with a graduate student and did not want to list him as a co-author, but the Americans convinced him that he had to. But nowadays, it would be hard to deny authorship based on what OP did. Jul 8, 2022 at 17:43
2

the publisher might not accept a coauthor without a post-graduate degree.

It depends on the specific publisher. There are no general rules. Even the same publisher may have different arbitrary criteria on the authors' CVs for different publications/collections.

I would suggest that you contact the publisher directly with a general enquiry (I would even suggest to do this anonymously to avoid the possible discomfort of discovering that the publisher is a very small one and your former boss is the only customer at the time).

0

Have a look at this book:

If you look it up in google scholar, you will find that the book is credited to a single author. If you look at the cover page, one name is written with large letters and then with smaller letters but immediately below, it is written

"with the collaboration of ...[2nd person]"

If you open the book, there are short bios for both persons

If you look at the copyright page, both persons are named after the copyright symbol.

In this specific example, both persons are professors, but my point is that "co-authorship" is not a single situation -it can have "degrees", which could provide some sort of solution for your case.

I am not going into whether you should be "equal" or even the prime co-author, because it would require much more detailed examination of the matter. I am currently writing an academic book with a co-author, and we have agreed that I will be the actual key-stroking writer, in order to maintain a homogeneous writing style throughout. But that does not make the book mine, not even me the "prime" author, because they will contribute in other important ways.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .