Saturday, September 05, 2015

Publishing Academic Books

This article in The Guardian about academic book publishing makes little sense to me. Its basic argument is that scholars are being "hoodwinked" into publishing books no one will read because greedy publishers are charging so much for them. This is wrong for a number of reasons--since the author is anonymous (it is not a sensitive topic so I am not sure why) I don't know whether this is lack of experience or what.

I'll preface this by saying that I've published more than one book both with university and commercial presses. I've had books in paperback and one that remained in hardback despite our pleas. I've had long discussions with editors. I've had book manuscripts rejected and I've written rejections.

1. That "no one will read the book" is always false. It's true that these books are not blockbusters but we don't expect or even want them to be--we want them to push knowledge forward in an area, sometimes even very niche, and that doesn't mean popular. And that's a good thing.

2. Since university presses are pinched really hard, I have no idea how they can be called greedy--they are scrambling to make ends meet because publishing books isn't free and their subventions are evaporating. Perhaps the author is referring solely to commercial academic presses, where profit is even more central. But even there, I know firsthand that many editors are deeply concerned about prices because they also want as large an audience as possible.

3. Since tenure and promotion in some disciplines is tied to book publishing, this article suggests that people are being hoodwinked into advancing their career. What a travesty!

4. The author clearly assumes that if he/she submits the book manuscript, it will automatically be accepted. Having both submitted and reviewed for both university and commercial presses, I can say this is absolutely false. The job of an acquisitions editor is to find authors (even by cold emails, which I have also received) but getting an email from an editor is not the same as getting a book published.

Overall, the cost of academic books can be downright annoying. That's been the case for a long time (there are countless articles on the causes and on solutions that are being tried). It is too far a leap, though, to assert that it signifies we're victims in the power play of oligarchic editors and their fiendish publisher masters.


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