By Dr. Catherine Armstrong
This article is aimed at people who are currently doing a postgraduate degree, or who work or are looking for work in Higher Education and would like to get the products of their research published.
The topics covered are:
- Why publish?
- Book reviews
- Books: after the contract
- Challenges and Pitfalls
There are several answers to this question, and they can be divided into personal and career-driven factors. On a personal level it is very satisfying to see the results of your hard work going into print and being read by academics and students. Your aim is to encourage the dissemination and discussion of your research and one of the best ways of doing this is by getting your work published.
The possibility of making a great deal of money from publishing academic works can be attractive, but in most cases is not realistic. For example, it is professional writers rather than historians working in universities that write the majority of history books on the bestseller lists. Many academics do not want to target a mass audience. Even if they did, it is only possible to do that later in their careers, perhaps once they have become known on television. So, bear it in mind the fact that most academic publications will have a small print run and a small readership, and unfortunately this also means small profit for the author.
Another key reason to publish your work is to improve your career prospects. This is especially true of those at the bottom of the career ladder, although academics at every level are now pressurised to produce published work by the demands of the Research Assessment Exercise. Having your work in print is key to achieving a strong research profile without which you will find it difficult, if not impossible, to secure an academic job.
This is the easiest way to get published and you get a free book too! Start by telling colleagues in your department that you would like to start reviewing books and you may find that word gets around and ‘reviews editors' start to contact you offering books to review. Almost every academic journal has a reviews editor. He or she is sent a large number of books by publishers and is in charge of finding willing candidates to review them for that journal. It is a job that is particularly attractive to postgraduates, because more senior academics do not have the time to write many book reviews. If you cannot get on to reviews editors lists, visit websites such as www.h-net.org (for humanities and social sciences) and you will find that editors of journals often post messages there looking for reviewers. You will be told how long your review should be, and when it is due, but many reviews editors are happy to work to your timetable. Unless you are extremely sure of your ground, do not start off by tearing someone else's work to shreds. It is not charitable or prudent to do so. If you genuinely do not like a book, make sure you have a solid reason why as well as a constructive suggestion as to how it could be improved. For every negative point you make list a positive factor about the book: this will ensure that you write a fair review. A reviews editor is unlikely to publish anything they see as an unprovoked attack, so treat the author of the book you review as you would hope to be treated yourself.
As a postgraduate student or junior academic, another good way to get into print is by offering a paper at a conference for which the proceedings will be published. If your paper is accepted, presented and receives a good response, then you may be invited to submit your paper for publication. Although do be aware though that at this stage the organisers may not even have a publisher lined up, meaning that the process could take several years. An annual conference that has a rolling contract with a publisher does offer a quicker means of publication; you should see your work in print within eighteen months to two years. Your paper will have to fit the demands of the conference organisers you may have to significantly amend your work in order to be accepted. Do not be offended or worried by this, they will ask every contributor to do this, from postgraduate to professor.
Another route that is more prestigious is to have an article published in a peer-reviewed journal. This can either be online or in print, although in some academic fields online publication is still seen as second best. Again, the process is a long one: you submit your article to the journal editors in accordance with their editorial guidelines and it could be six months before you hear whether you have been accepted or not. During this time your article will be read by referees who work for the journal; these individuals will be academics, generally experts in your field. Sometimes it is possible to find out who they are, other times they prefer to remain anonymous.
If your piece is then accepted, it could require a lot of changes. Even once it is finished it may then be queued to appear in a journal several volumes hence. Make sure you read through the editorial instructions and submit your article in exactly the format that they require with the correct scholarly conventions (footnotes etc). If you do not, your application could end up straight in the dustbin.
Getting a first book published is a real challenge for many scholars. Your supervisor and colleagues in your department is the best people to guide you through it. Some supervisors co-author books with their protégés although this is not possible in all fields. Certainly they will have contacts in the publishing world that they might advise you to approach first. Your first monograph, as it is known, is likely to emerge out of the PhD thesis, so your viva examiners can also give guidance on the best course to take. Some publishing houses solicit references from your PhD examiners so it is best to have their support and to take their advice.
Approaching publishers is a complicated business, some now accept online submissions, and others require you to send hard copies. However, you will need to get together a book proposal that contains roughly the same items whichever publishers you approach. Your proposal should contain some or all of the following:
- brief summary of contents
- description of its target audience
- what is unique and exciting about your book
- list of chapters/illustrations
- a sample chapter
- your CV
It does no harm to let the publisher know that you are sending the proposal to several publishers and that you are looking for a prompt response. Hopefully within a week or so, their decisions should begin to come in. Then if you have more than one acceptance, with the help of supervisor and examiners, you can choose which provisional offer to take further. Once you have accepted the interest of one publisher do not keep hawking your manuscript around to others. This is seen as extremely bad form and wastes the time of editors and readers.
Another way of getting a book out is to run your own conference and try to get the papers given there published. To do this, you write a proposal in the same way as for a monograph, above. You then prepare the essays for publication, and liaise with both the publishers and authors. It may also be your job to write an introduction bringing together the themes of the volume.
Books: after the contract:
If the editor is happy with the reports on your work that he or she receives back from the independent readers, then you will be offered a contract. Your editor will probably have to ‘sell' your book to a number of colleagues within the publishing house, so if you have got this far, your editor is someone who believes in you and your work and is a real ally. Each publisher is different and so it is impossible to cover every part of this process, but you will be given a date for the submission of the final manuscript. Depending on how many changes they are asking you to do, this could be between a few months and a few years away. If this deadline is impossible to meet, renegotiate at this stage, do not blithely continue knowing that you will not meet the target.
Based on the comments of the readers and your editor you will re-write your manuscript, and you will also amend it to conform to the house style. The closer to perfection you get this the better because any stylistic errors will only delay the copy-editing stage. Once you have submitted your amended manuscript and the editor has approved it, your manuscript goes to a copy-editor who checks your work for grammar and spelling mistakes and internal contradictions. He or she will not be an expert in your field, so you will work closely together to make sure the amendments made are correct. Finally, page proofs will be drawn up, usually in a PDF document, and it is now that you have the final opportunity to make changes and at this stage draw up an index, if appropriate. Your book will then go to the printer and should be finished and in your hand within two months or so.
Challenges and Pitfalls:
1. Is academic publishing in decline?
Some publishers and academics believe it is now harder than ever to get an academic book published because it does not make publishers any profit. Others argue that with the onset of digital publishing, it is cheaper to produce books and therefore the market is becoming more open again. However, it is generally agreed that many publishing houses are wary of edited collections (i.e. volumes of papers given at conferences) because of the disparate audience (and uncertain revenues) they often attract.
In the news recently, were fears that U.K. university publishers might lose their charitable tax status. http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,,2058477,00.html
Opinion is divided as to whether this will make it more difficult for authors to publish their work or not.
2. The wrong publisher?
Your supervisor can advise on this, but unless you are desperate to publish your work very quickly (for example because of the RAE submission deadline) try to hold out for a reputable publisher. These are different in every field, but big U.S. and U.K. university publishers as well as the commercial houses that deal with academic books should be considered. Do your research in advance; do not bother submitting a proposal to a publisher who has not produced anything in your field before.
Be prepared for criticism and worse, rejection! Take criticism positively, and use it to improve your work even if you feel that it was not presented constructively. If your proposals and submissions to journals and publishers are constantly being rejected, do not take it personally. Move on and try again. Ask your supervisor, examiners and colleagues to read over your proposals so that you are constantly honing them. The most celebrated of authors have been rejected at some time during their careers. Remember that J.K. Rowling, one of the richest authors of all time, was rejected by numerous publishers at the start of her writing career. As with many aspects of an academic career, getting published requires patience and tenacity, as well as intellectual prowess. But don't be put off having work published can be an incredibly rewarding and exciting experience. So good luck!