GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘Publishing’

Pride, Prejudice, and Publication

In Elizabeth's Posts on 2012/07/18 at 02:13
Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the US.

Just as the Bennet sisters had a season in which to find a spouse, academics have a season in which to cement their editorial couplings for the coming year.  Each summer, hotel conference rooms and university campuses around the globe house those who write and those who edit as they perform a series of anxiety-ridden dances.

First, you fill your card.

A year before the conference begins nervous writers apply to appear with panels.  Apply for too many and you may end up like Lydia, a cheap tease.  Apply for too few and you may spend the summer like Mary, with atonal contributions to recitals meant for others.  The perfect panel stretches you just enough beyond your comfort zone to demonstrate new accomplishments but not so far that others outshine you.  Elizabeth Bennett shines brightest when accompanied by Jane and Charlotte Lucas.  Neither Caroline Bingley nor Kitty improves her lustre.

Upon arrival, you survey the registration hall for familiar faces with whom to pass time before your first dance.  Friends exchange updates on their lives, share knowledge of the other attendees, remark upon notable absences, and down coffee in anticipation of the mental aerobics to come.

With panel partners located and caffeinated, you proceed to the appointed space for your performance.

Historians struggle with a particularly stiff line dance.  We rise in turn to read our papers.  The panel chair punctuates our proclamations with introductions of individual speakers.  Then the nervous cluster holds its collective breath and waits for the commentator’s critique.

The commentator will tell the potential editors in the room whether he or she thinks the samples just shared merit further investigation as journal articles or monographs.  If the speakers approximate Elizabeth Bennet and the editors Fitzwilliam Darcy, the commentator fills the terrifying role of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

If the commentator damns with faint praise or skewers with a rapier wit, any recalcitrant editorial Darcy in the audience may slide out the back in silence.  If the audience contains a persistent questioner, Wickham, you might draw Darcy’s attention despite Lady Catherine’s condemnation.  How you reply to Lady Catherine and Mr. Wickham plays as serious a role in Darcy’s evaluation as quality of your initial performance.  If you demonstrate incisive intellect as you respond to critique with poise or to praise with humility, you may just halt Darcy’s departure.

What every writer wants is an invitation to an individual dance – the magic moment when the editor solicits your work solo.  A sentence that begins with “your paper” not “your panel” sends the authorial heart into a swoon.  For Mr. Darcy to like the ladies of Longbourn in general would offer no special hope to Elizabeth, who needs him to settle upon her in particular.

Of course a successful relationship requires Lizzy to see Darcy’s merits just as Darcy must see Lizzy’s.

An inept proposal or reply can bring the courtship to a premature end.  An aloof editor from a high end house poses as many problems as an overeager one from the local historical society.  The former might let your prose languish at the bottom of a pile until your colleagues have preempted your finding and made your book redundant.  Poor Caroline Bingley’s waits for Darcy’s attention in vain.  The latter may push your piece into print before it receives needed editorial polish.  Lydia elopes with Wickham before she has read the fine print of his proposal.  If like Lizzy, you spurn the aloof editor too soon, you might miss his potential for an attentive partner.  Darcy had more depth than she imagined.  Set your cap at an editorial Wickham, and you will find he has run off a younger, more naive scholar behind your back.

With luck, a Georgianna Darcy can facilitate the final match.  A third party who knows the perils but sees the potential in a tentative romance can assuage lingering doubts and nudge the couple towards the altar.

It is, after all, a truth universally acknowledged, that a scholar in possession of a manuscript, must be in want of an editor.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed .

The Unbalanced Semester

In Liminal Thinking on 2012/05/20 at 00:42

Denise Horn, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the US.

Here at University of Venus, we talk a great deal about work/life balance — how to maintain the balance between family, private life and the demands of academia, which are many. Looking back at some of my remarks or answers about the issue, I sound fairly confident in my abilities to enjoy my life and get my work finished.

But this semester, I’ve been terribly unbalanced and that unbalance was unhealthy and detrimental to my well-being. Even though my personal life is great — I have a wonderful and supportive partner, a close-knit group of friends, a loving family, an adoring dog and a pretty healthy social life, I became depressed. I gained weight, I stopped going to my yoga classes, I slept late whenever I could, and my writer’s block became overwhelming (so much so that I haven’t kept up with my UofV posts!). How did that happen?

Well, panic.

Panic because I can see the “finish” line — tenure — and yet to get there, I put a great deal of pressure on myself to make certainthat I could get there. We all know that publish or perish trope about academia — it’s been tattooed on our brains since we were little baby graduate students, and the pressure never stops. My third year review letter, for example, gave me faint praise for getting my first book out as I came up for review, but then extolled me to “ramp it up” before coming up for tenure: to write a second book, get some articles out, and generally over-perform. I took that to heart, did more field research, got a book contract, sent out two more journal articles, and created a fairly ambitious research plan.  And taught, a lot.

On top of that, I took on even more service commitments. I served on numerous committees. I said yes to every guest lecture. I played nice with the admissions office. I spoke with student groups, and I had lots of coffees with colleagues.

Getting that second book finished (the conclusion is still evading completion), teaching, and serving, as well as trying to keep a semblance of a personal life, have taken their tolls. The real issue with trying to impress so many people is that you never feel as though you  can impress them, that nothing you do will be good enough, because that finish line called “tenure” often looks like a bar set so high that you can’t possiblybe that good. And the system is also set up to make you believe there are enemies where there are none, so I spent far too much time worrying about comments, sidelong looks and imagined slights.

Instead of going out for a good long walks or to a favorite yoga class, I sat at my desk, forcing myself to churn out work. I ate a lot of licorice (my secret addiction) and my favorite comfort foods. I threw out most of what I wrote, and started again, then again, every time berating myself for not being a writing machine, unlike “everyone else.” I took no joy in the compliments and praise I was getting on my work and instead focused on criticisms, most of which were my own. I had weekly anxiety attacks, and found myself complaining bitterly about my work.

But the end of the semester is a time to reflect. I didn’t finish everything I meant to finish this semester. The book is almost there. I’m still waiting on a revise and resubmit decision on an article.  But—but…I did get an article accepted for publication. I was nominated for a teaching award. I got to know my colleagues in a different way because of all those committee assignments and coffees. I realized the dean actually  likesmy work. I went to a conference and met interesting people who also liked my work…

I took a good long look at myself last week, and took a big long breath. All those pressures and deadlines that made me panicky and anxious were pressures I had put on myself. I was the one who didn’t make time to breathe and I was the one who punished myself. I got on a plane to Indonesia the other day, and I’ll be meeting students here on Tuesday to begin a great program on social entrepreneurship. I took some time out for myself today, to remember why I like doing what I do.  I went to a yoga class by a rice paddy and reveled in my standing balance poses.

I took a big breath and thought, I really do like what I do. I just have to remember not to forget to balance.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

How Journals Put Us Behind the Times

In Liminal Thinking on 2012/02/16 at 01:44

Denise Horn, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the US.

I’ve written before about conversations that count — those written artifacts that will count toward tenure or promotion — and I’ve complained that non-traditional writing (e.g. blog posts) doesn’t count for much (or for anything, according to the latest TRIP report on the state of my field). But of course, I still have to play by the rules, such as they are, and I continue to work toward submitting articles to journals and hope for publication.

And then I prepare to wait. And to wait a painfully long time as my work gets stale.

For a journal article to “count,” it must be peer-reviewed. Our academic standards hold that an academic work should and must be subject to scrutiny by our peers, improved by their input and ultimately add to the academic conversation. I agree with that whole-heartedly. The pursuit of knowledge is a social affair and should be respected as such.

But what happens in practice leads to quite different results. The bulk of what we read in journals was written long ago. I am a political scientist (and a news junkie), so I am interested in theory, history and current applications. I want to understand my “now” world within the vast context of the literature. I want to write that way, as well, and have my work be applicable to others’ “now” worlds. Most of all, academics want to be relevant. But that is impossible in the current structure of academic journals.

Let’s talk about the mechanisms of journal publication.

You work on an article for a few months (and if your work is dependent upon field work, as mine is, one article might be the result of several months of work in the field before writing even begins). You send it to a few friends or colleagues, you present it at a conference and perhaps you sit on it for a week or two. So you’re already a year into the initial problem/issue you hoped to address.

You send it to a journal. The journal’s editorial board may take a few weeks to decide whether or not to send it to the reviewers. If they do, that may take another three months. Then, if your article hasn’t been roundly rejected—but needs work—you might get a “revise and resubmit” based on the reviewers’ comments. (I personally enjoy that part, because it’s a refreshing way to look at your work, once you get past your ego.) You have other work to do, so perhaps you don’t return revisions for another 3-4 weeks. The editorial board then sends it out again for the reviewers’ comments. You wait another three months.

During this entire process, you must agree that you will not send the article anywhere else. You are trapped by one journal’s editorial process, without the benefit of “shopping it around,” thus, they have no incentive to move more quickly on reviewing your work. “Under Review” remains on your CV for months.

If you are unlucky, the extra work and time you put into a piece will still not merit its publication. You’ve just lost a year trying to get the piece out. However, if you responded well to the reviewers’ comments and made the required revisions, the editors may decide to publish your piece. Great news! It will come out in the fall edition! The fall of next year.

By this point, the information in the article is well over a year old, perhaps two. The article itself was written a year ago. By the time it will be published, it may be two or three years old.

The “top journals” are the worst in this regard. They tend to be quite conservative when it comes to new literature, and, in the case of my field (International Relations), very little outside the mainstream is considered or published. Many of the articles in these journals are rehashed debates of articles originally written ten years ago. If you were to peruse only those journals, you’d think my field was quite narrow, when, in fact, there is a wide variety of interesting, lively, engaging work being done. But it’s not being published in the places that have the high “impact factors” (which is based on how often a journal or article is cited—of course, if those are the only journals we turn to, there’s a bit of a selection bias, but no matter…)

I rarely look at the top journals these days. I canceled my subscriptions to all but the most relevant—Foreign Policy, for example, is one I will continue to read. Why? I read it because it comes out every month, and it’s timely and interesting. When I want to read what my esteemed colleagues have to say about theory or current events, I turn to the Foreign Policy website, which includes some of the best blogs by the top names in my field. They are talking to each other, and others are leaving important and interesting comments—in effect, “peer reviewing” is happening in real time, and in a transparent way. Intellectual discourse is moving forward at a rapid pace, not in the glacial quarterly publishing of journals.

I still read books when I want deep, thoughtful engagement with a topic. But the process of publishing journal articles is archaic, and provides a false sense of “weightiness” to our work. As long as publishing in the “top journals” is a requirement for tenure or promotion, we will be trapped in this cycle. Our approach to our work will be vastly improved when we can share the immediacy and the excitement of fresh thinking—and recognize that this is a legitimate way of sharing knowledge.
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

Writing For Myself

In Liminal Thinking on 2012/01/12 at 07:43

Denise Horn, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the US.

My first book was the result of years of graduate work and was born of my dissertation. It had gone through multiple iterations and critiques from my adviser and dissertation committee. In the end, I felt as though the whole project was out of my hands, and I was simply responding to the demands of others. Of course, that is the point — as a graduate student, you are being shaped to join the ranks of academics who speak the same (metaphoric) language and share similar expectations for academic work.

I am writing my second book now and feel the results of that training. It’s almost strangulating. I can’t help feeling that my old advisers are waiting in the wings and I’ll have to respond to their critiques, shape my writing to their style and demands. Coming up for tenure is the added pressure — in some sense this second book feels like a second dissertation being written for my senior colleagues. At forty, that’s a frustrating feeling, to be sure.

I ran into a fellow junior colleague today and shared some of this frustration. We both joked about the kind of book we want to write when we do get tenure — maybe not an academic book at all, maybe a travel book or a novel — anything to feel free of the academic “regulations” that have been imposed on us for so long.

Afterwards, I sat down in a cafe to work on a chapter and re-read the introduction. The language was replete with academese. So stultifying! So dull! So I decided to just write as though telling a story, in the clearest most direct way that I could. The words started to come, fast and easy. I thought, who told me I would have to write that way forever? If it isn’t interesting to me, why would it be to anyone else? Would I want to discuss this in class someday? Why am I not just writing for myself?

I thought then of the academics that I have truly enjoyed reading over the years. Cynthia Enloe, author of numerous books on women and International Relations (indeed, I consider her the Grandmother of Feminist IR), writes in an easy, snappy, funny style that is at once approachable and deep. James C. Scott, author of such classics as Weapons of the Weak and Seeing Like a State, is a joy to read, particularly when he isn’t afraid to add a bit of self-deprecation in his approach. These are authors I want to emulate, not the stilted jargon-laden stuff of “mainstream” political science or theory.

I wonder when this change happens — when do we gain the confidence of finding our own voices, or feel free to write this way? I think it must happen — it’s the only way we as academics can be relevant. We have to stop writing for our advisers and our colleagues. The opaque language and tortured rhetoric of the academy should no longer be the norm.

So I will begin consciously writing for myself. Maybe I’ll stop having those dreams where my adviser keeps sending back my dissertation for corrections. And maybe I’ll enjoy the work more. After all, if it’s not fun, why bother?

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

Brave New World of Academic Publishing

In Uncategorized on 2011/01/25 at 06:25

Lee Skallerup Bessette, writing from Kentucky in the USA.

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.

Read the rest at Inside Higher Ed (link here)


The Quest for Academic Productivity

In Uncategorized on 2011/01/06 at 02:14

Ana Dinescu, writing from Berlin, Germany

I am at the end of a long and tough professional and academic journey. While preparing to embark on a new horizon, I had the benefit of thinking a great deal about the priorities of my medium-term schedule. One of the first tasks on the list is writing a book on the subject of my PhD in history, about the inter-ethnic relations in Romania after the fall of communism. On the same list, I have other ideas of articles and essays that have haunted my mind over the last 12 months or so. More or less, my near future will again be directly preoccupied by the acrobatics of words.

I work according to a very detailed plan describing exactly what I have to do for the day, the week or the month. I usually follow this program, with 80% of the essential chores delivered in due time. Planning-wise and with good time management, I have all the best cards required to reach a high level of academic productivity, which I hope will open the big gates for me and will help me to reach visible recognition. Otherwise, as I observed lately, it would be extremely difficult to resist. As in any other professional domain, publishing requires continuously high performance and outstanding results.

But my intellectual life – the only one I can wholly testify for – has its limits, and ups and downs. Not because I have doubts regarding the merits of this path, but because very often I need to take a break from the continuous rhythm of work, to evaluate and reevaluate my thoughts and the words I am using.

I enjoy both reading and sharing my thoughts through writing, but I always need a balance. Intensive lectures make me long for a couple of hours for ordering my ideas on my e-piece of paper. Writing too much increases my frustration of not being able to cover the bibliography of interest for my topics. Sometimes I need to take of break from both, allowing my mind to wander freely and observing the realities around.

A couple of years ago, when I had for the first time in my hands an issue of Foreign Affairs, I was mesmerized by the pages with announcements of new books on a wide variety of subjects. But the impressive volume of new entries from one month to another made me think: Who is reading all these books? What is the “acceptable” ratio of published works – per year, for instance – in order to keep you at a certain level of academic survival? How to balance the time spent in the library for documentation with the writing and editing activities? I haven’t found the answers yet, but every time I think about those questions, I regretfully realize how limited we are in terms of time and resources.

Publish or perish? The temptation is very big. Indisputably, a high level of academic productivity is somewhat of a guarantee of gaining an authoritative voice in your domain. As for me, I would always prefer foremost to make an interview or to contribute to a lively discussion. At the end of the day, perhaps journalistic techniques may contribute to opening to academia new windows and perspectives on the world.

Berlin, Germany

Ana Dinescu is a regular contributor to University of Venus and a PhD candidate in history at the Faculty of History, University of Bucharest, with a background in Political Science. She has been a journalist for ten years for Romanian daily newspapers and is currently a communications consultant, living in Berlin.

Conversations that Count

In Liminal Thinking on 2010/10/18 at 21:48

Denise Horn, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA

Today I received the first royalty check for my first book, Women, Civil Society and the Geopolitics of Democratization. It was an exciting moment–payment for my work! Knowing someone actually bought my book! A little extra cash when I wasn’t expecting it! It made my morning that a whopping 130 copies of my book were somewhere, out there, in the world. I am, I told myself, part of the academic conversation.

And then, of course, the inevitable self-defeating thoughts occurred to me. Libraries purchased a number of those copies–if not all. This could mean that no one had actually even read it, or ever would. Thus, all those years of work on the dissertation, then the grueling process of reworking the manuscript for publication seemed only directed at one end: to get tenure. But there is an excellent chance even my tenure committee won’t read it.

Of all the words I have written over my brief career, what I know is that people read what I have written in this blog. I know this because people respond to what I write. People refer to my words in other postings. People link to my posts. This forum is exciting because of the conversational nature of the blog form, and in that regard, it is more of a conversation than my academic work will ever be or can be. The irony of this situation however, is that this conversation, or those like it, has no place in the traditional measures of what is considered “work” in the academy. There is a line in my CV that proudly proclaims that I’ve written a (possibly forever unread) book. There is no such line for a blog for which I write that reaches a huge, immediate, and limitless audience. There is no way for this conversation to “count.”

I hope this will not be the case for long. I am beginning to see more academics create their own blogs as a means of working out the intricacies of unformed thoughts, for commenting on current events, or, like my posts, for reflecting on the state of the profession and our place in it. Many of us are young professors, but not all of us. The point is that more of us can see the value of reaching a larger audience and the immediacy of the response the internet allows. You don’t always get the most constructive responses, of course, but knowing that someone has read your work and considered your ideas can be satisfying.

What I most remember, when my book was released, was relief. But now it often feels as though I simply howled into the wind, because as of yet, no one has answered me. With the blog, at least I know there are people out there, reading, responding, loving it, hating it, but most of all, talking. It may not get me tenure–and won’t even be considered–but I think that we need to ask ourselves which conversations should count, and why.

By the way, I’m writing that second book now. And wondering if the silence will be the same.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.


Why Do Academics Write?

In Happy Mondays on 2010/04/12 at 09:00

Mary Churchill, writing from Boston in the USA.

I met one of my fellow writers from University of Venus for coffee yesterday. She has a book release party later this month (yay!) and we started talking about writing and the differences between writing for a narrow academic group within your discipline and writing for the readership of this blog.  We talked about how writing for University of Venus has really forced us to think about accessibility to a broader audience of faculty, administration, students, and those outside of academia.

This is a common theme in my conversations lately – why do we write?

We all know that the world of publishing is changing – more rapidly than most of us can comprehend (see IPad frenzy). We also know that tenure requires that we publish one or even two books with an academic press. We also know that our books will most likely be too expensive to use in our classes. Additionally, they are often too specialized to warrant requiring our students to read the entire book. So, we xerox sections and create hacker-like course packets – basically the academic’s version of a ‘zine. If we are lucky, we have a librarian who will help us load these hacked pieces onto our Blackboard sites where our students can read and download them for free.

So, why do we write? Yesterday’s conversation links into two other conversations I have had in the past two weeks:

  • A couple of weeks ago, I shared the blog with my academic mentor – Michael Brown – who is the most brilliant man I have ever met. I have read more books with Mike than with any other person in my life (even more than with my 5-year-old and the effort required to read 1 Deleuze and Guattari must equal that of at least 100 Harry Potters). Mike looked at the blog and the numbers of readers, turned to me and said – more people have read your blog than will ever read your book – even if it goes mainstream. He is absolutely correct. So, why do we write?
  • In a discussion last week with my executive coach/career mentor (who is outside of academia), we started talking about my book and whether or not I should skip the academic press route and go for a trade market. The book focuses on the process of reading comic books and could easily appeal (sell) to a larger readership. I would have to re-write it and make it more accessible but I could keep the main ideas. She believes I am crazy to pursue an elite readership via an academic press. I tried to explain the whole concept of academic legitimacy and the old guard that still believes in elite, academic monographs as proof of legitimacy – kind of like academic hazing. I went on to say that it really isn’t about reaching a broad readership but rather an elite, narrow slice of academia – the 100 or so people who also write on your topic. I could tell that I was getting nowhere with her and she was absolutely correct – outside of academia, it doesn’t make sense. Her question – why do you write?

Why do we write? I assume that we write because we want to communicate the findings from our research, contribute to a body of knowledge, and push the boundaries of thinking. Ultimately, I have to believe that we want people to read what we have written. We write because we feel we have something to share, something that can make a difference in people’s lives.

An academic monograph does not reach a large audience. This type of writing is necessary for tenure and promotion, for legitimacy within an elite group. It takes years to publish our work in the form of a book. We are often required to eliminate the most ground-breaking parts of our work and what we do write is often outdated by the time it is published. More and more, it seems that our books are written for tenure and promotion rather than for making a difference and/or changing the way people think.

We all know that printed books (even journals, newspapers, magazines, etc) are nearing some kind of end and that the world of readers is not waiting for the world of publishers. (see rise in free digital book downloads, self-publishing, blogs, print on demand, etc.)

Do we write to be read or do we write to be published?

Do we write to make a difference or do we write to secure a job?

I would like to believe that we write because we have something to say not because we are supposed to say something.

Mary Churchill

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Relevant articles:

Hilton III, John and David Wiley. The Short-Term Influence of Free Digital Versions of Books on Print Sales.” The Journal of Electronic Publishing. 13 (1) (link here)

Le, Macala. 2010. “How Publishers Plan to Monetize Content.” Mashable: The Social Media Guide. April 9, 2010. (link here)

Poyner, Richard. 2009. “Open Humanities Press to publish OA books.” Open and Shut? Blog. Wednesday, September 16, 2009. (link here)

Rich, Motoko. 2010. “Textbooks That Professors Can Rewrite Digitally.” New York Times (online). February 21, 2010. (link here)

Rich, Motoko and Brad Stone. 2010. “Amazon Threatens Publishers as Apple Looms.” New York Times (online). March 17, 2010. (link here)

Rowe, David and Kylie Brass. 2008. “The uses of academic knowledge: the university in the media.” Media, Culture & Society. 30 (5): 677-698. (you must pay $25 to access this article for one day (!!), link to details here).

(Update – this post was included in Hacking the Academy, a project at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University)