While I’m busy cranking out an overdue paper, I’ll leave you with a few tasty morsels I’ve been saving up to share with you on the subject of academic publishing. Remember: when you get that rejection letter in the mail (and you will–we all do!), the best thing to do is to read it quickly, put it away for a week or two, then take what’s useful for your revisions and send it back on out to another journal or press. If you’re thrown by a horse, the best revenge is to get back in the saddle again. So–giddyap!
Undine asks, “Are senior scholars abandoning journal publication?” Ze cites an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education that said, “[s]enior scholars, the A-list of academic publishing, seem to submit fewer unsolicited manuscripts to traditional humanities journals than they used to. ‘The journal has become, with very few exceptions, the place where junior and mid-level scholars are placing their work,’ according to Bonnie Wheeler, president of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals. . . .” I don’t think it’s so much the rise of the edited essay collection as it is the fact that senior scholars get invited to submit manuscripts all of the time, and if a journal asks you to submit a manuscript for a special issue, most people figure that that’s the path of least resistance. (Mel, a commenter at Undine’s place, makes this point as well.)
Penn State University Press Associate Director and Editor-in-Chief Patrick H. Alexander has a thing or two to tell us about reviewing book manuscripts. I’m so glad that Inside Higher Ed published this–it’s good to hear from an editor on this, instead of just from scholars either complaining 1) that kids these days don’t know what scholarship is, let alone how to produce it, or 2) about the savage flaying their latest book or article manuscript received by a clearly unscrupulous and sadistic “peer” reviewer. His advice boils down to this: remember that a manuscript review is a unique genre of academic prose all its own, and don’t be a jerk, because word gets around: “I’ve read too many unhelpful reviews, plenty of valuable reviews, and a few stellar ones. The stellar ones remind me that the art of peer reviewing a manuscript remains one of the hallmarks of scholarship. Academics, especially humanists, often speak of themselves as being in “the guild.” If ever there was a time for a member to mentor a fellow-guild member, it’s in the peer-review evaluation. Here the craftsman or grandmaster can instruct the apprentice in the fine art of scholarship. And though the instruction may or may not result in publication, the report should emulate the twin standards of the guild: academic rigor and objectivity. Applying these standards to the peer-review process not only ensures a quality review; it keeps you in good stead with your peers. I also won’t file your name under ‘Don’t ask Professor X to review manuscripts,’ which, on the one hand, may sound like a relief, but on the other, it places you and maybe your career on the periphery of a vital scholarly circle.”
And finally, Sisyphus has a nice round-up of links and citations with advice about publishing that many humanities scholars (especially of the feminist variety) will find useful. She writes, “the people who are writing advice and publishing how-to-professionalize articles and really attempting to help and mentor grad students are coming out of feminism/women’s studies. Coincidence? And also a lot from history — is this because women in history departments feel there is more need to bring women into their discipline and mentor them?” I’ll let you all be the judge of that last question. She’s bummed out right now about “the whole collaborative help in academia idea.” She says that “I notice that I did a lot of work and gave a lot of good advice to people who never in turn ‘stepped up’ to help me out. And there arepeople in the department who havevery responsive advisors who really pull strings to get their students connected, but none of that info or influence ever got handed back to me. In fact most of them never even told me they were getting additional, special help or being introduced and recommended to people who were putting together an essay collection, for example.”
Confidential to Sisyphus: I would say that you’re at a most perilous time in a young scholar’s career–finishing the Ph.D. and searching for jobs–and this is when the competitiveness among your graduate school colleagues is at its height. When friends win fellowships and jobs and you don’t, it’s really, really difficult to avoid making invidious comparisons and wondering what you did wrong. I know it’s miserable now, but if you can hang on financially and professionally, you will feel differently about your academic environment when you find a job. And, I think that generosity is never a bad thing–you may not get it repaid directly by the people you helped, but odds are that you’ll get some help from another generous person down the road. What goes around, comes around, and all that–at the very least, you can take comfort in Patrick Alexander’s words that being a jerk definitely hurts people’s careers in the long run, even if it feels good in the short run.
What say you, readers?