Brave New World of Academic Publishing

I just found out that I didn’t win a dissertation prize for which I had submitted my 300+ page work (I got honorable mention), so now I am brushing off the old girl for publication.

January 23, 2011

I just found out that I didn’t win a dissertation prize for which I had submitted my 300+ page work (I got honorable mention), so now I am brushing off the old girl for publication. I have truly “new” research to offer (archival research is the way to go if you want to do something new that isn’t necessarily “innovative”) and I strongly believe that with some targeted edits, I can get it published at an academic press.

But why? It’s not important for my tenure portfolio (because I’m not on the tenure-track). It will just be another academic book that isn’t read by anyone and sits anonymously on university library shelves, right? But would that be any different if I make it available on the Internet for free or published it myself through print-on-demand websites? The audience for my book is other academics, and the best way (still) to get your work into the hands of other academics is to get it published by a university press.

And, I’ll admit it; it’s an ego thing. I want to know (and I want others to know) that my work is good enough. It has been peer reviewed. It has had the official academic stamp of approval. I might be unconventional when it comes to my academic career, but I am about as traditional as they come when it comes to publishing and sharing my work.

For example, I recently answered a call for submissions I found online. I received word that my paper had been accepted. I prepared myself for the inevitably long wait that I knew was coming next: the editors searching for an academic publishing house, having to revise the project according to the demands of the publisher, the edits that I would have to do, and then the lag before the books would come out in print. Instead, about a month later, I received word that the book was published! How did that happen? It was submitted, accepted, and published by an on-demand publishing house that specializes in academic publication. Complete with a misspelled title.

I was livid. How could they do that? I felt like this was an academic bait-and-switch: submit my essay for an academic publication, and then see it published in a less-than-academic forum. But, it was fast. It has about as much of a chance of being read as any other obscure academic publication, right?

I’m having the same internal struggle when it comes to academic journals. I have an article published in a journal that, as far as I can tell, only produced two issues. My essay is relevant again (the book I wrote about has just been reissued), but I am unable to submit it to another journal because the essay has already been published elsewhere. With more and more academic journals springing up every day, how do we make sure that we aren’t just adding another line to our C.V. but actually sharing our research with people who would be genuinely interested in reading it?

The recent proliferation of open access journals seems like another opportunity for those on hiring, tenure, and promotion committees to demand more from an applicant. Kathleen Fitzpatrick has been writing quite eloquently about the challenges on her blog and in her book. Who is going to be reviewing these books and journals? How can we maintain the ability to ensure double-blind reviews? The one bright spot that I can foresee is that because the doors have been thrown open, committees will actually have to start reading people’s work, which will lead to the requirements being greatly reduced. But I’m not holding my breathe.

I make my essays available through academia.edu and I have applied to THAT Camp Southeast in order to figure out how I can create a crowdsourced site that focuses on the works of Dany Laferrière. But at the end of the day, I am still a product of the old system of academic publishing. I am not that picky, however. My hunger to share my work leads me to submit essays anywhere and everywhere they could fit (I am going to be the expert on Dany Laferrière in India). Which is, I also realize, counter productive.

I am, as you can see, still trying to figure all this out. Brave new world, indeed.

Kentucky in the USA

Lee Elaine Skallerup has a PhD from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an Edupreneur. You can visit her blog at collegereadywriting.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting). Lee is also a regular contributor at University of Venus.


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