This is not a “how to get published.” This is not a “how not to get published.” I wish I could give you an insider’s perspective because I wish I could be an insider. But I can show you a little bit about the weird, wild world of academic publishing.
“Publish or perish” is a common refrain in the academic world. However, this phrase generally refers to professors at large research institutions, not faculty at teaching universities, community colleges, or adjuncts. Many professors must publish a certain number of articles per year in order to keep their jobs or earn tenure.
As an adjunct, the schools I’ve worked for have paid lip service to publication but provide little in way of support. One offers a grant that adjuncts can apply for. Another school held several conferences throughout the year and offered in-house publications. Others just expected that if you wanted to do it, publish, you’d carve out some time and do it.
Publication takes a few forms: articles in a scholarly journal, an essay/article for a collection, monographs (essentially short books, a nonfiction novella, if you will), and full-length books.
Each type has its pros and cons. Articles can be shorter and quicker to write, but must go through a long peer-review process. A book can showcase your research, but you can either write it and hope someone will publish it, or write a few chapters, send out a proposal, and hope someone will give you an advance to finish it.
And let me clarify, I don’t mean to suggest this is harder (or better) than non-academic publishing. Many people write their novels or articles in time they had to carve out from their other responsibilities. Just that there’s a sense, an expectation that an academic will publish, regardless of the support they receive.
My misadventures in publishing
1. I wrote a book. A monograph, I guess. It’s pretty short. But it could be longer. I don’t really know how to sell it, and that’s my fault. Still, the majority of the work is done, and it’s just sitting on my hard drive.
When I attended the International Congress on Medieval Studies a few years ago, I brought proposals with me. This is the largest medieval conference in the world, and there are always publishers in attendance.
The publishers are stationed with their wares, the books each publisher produces. So many books! A paradise. I steeled my resolve and strode across the floor. I approached the first publisher, chosen because they put out work similar to mine. My hands were shaking. I asked if I could talk to them about my book.
“Sure! Is this based on your dissertation?”
I explained that no, it was not, and that I’d only finished my Master’s.
“Oh, we only work with people who are working on their dissertations or have their PhD.”
I thanked them for their time and walked away, trying desperately not to cry.
I approached a second publisher. The woman standing there had participated in a panel about publishing the night before. She seemed kind. She took my proposal and promised to contact me. She never did, and by the time I realized it, several months had passed, and I was too embarrassed.
2. The following year, after presenting at the Medieval Congress, the head of my panel asked if I’d be interested in submitting an essay, based on my presentation, to her book. I was thrilled! I was honored! I was crushed two months later when she had to pull out for personal reasons.
3. I think about publishing a journal article from time to time, but the only journals I’ve seen that are relevant to my work (or vice versa, I guess) say they only accept submissions from subscribers.
4. I’ve had very strange luck submitting essays to book-length collections. I write amazing proposals. My proposed essay is always accepted. Then I get to work, and the finished project is rejected. Maybe I will create my own book of rejected essays.
Trimurti is a Bollywood movie from 1995. It was a huge flop. I didn’t know that when I rented it; one of the stars is Shahrukh Khan, and I love Shahrukh Khan. However, not long after watching it, I saw a call for papers for essays about movies dealing with world mythology. All I really want to do is write about Bollywood, so I submitted a proposal about Trimurti.
The initial proposal was submitted in 2010.
Proposal accepted, I began writing and submitted a final draft in 2011. I had to watch that terrible movie a few more times. The essay was rejected, but the editor was kind enough to give me feedback on why.
In 2012, I received another email from the editor, asking for a revised draft by X date. I was confused and responded that I thought I had been rejected? The editor sheepishly replied that, oh yeah, I had been, but why not submit a revised draft anyway.
I still had the feedback from the year before. I hit the library, checking out additional resources to support my research. During this time, my mother-in -law was living with us. I was teaching two classes at a school downtown, which meant that I had an hour commute each way (by bus, luckily, so I could read during the commute), and I was also teaching two more classes online.
That summer, I’d wake up at 6 a.m., dress, spend ten minutes checking my online classes, head out for the bus, read or otherwise work during the commute, teach, prep for classes/grade, head home, work on my online classes for a few hours, then spend an hour or two on my essay. I didn’t really sleep much.
It was a relief to submit the essay. It was much stronger and better, but I can’t say the process was really worth it.
In 2013, I received one or two updates. The editor was working on it. The process is slow.
Then last week, a final email: the editor had to give up the project. Someone else can take over, but otherwise, this project is over.
I don’t share these stories to say “Poor me.” I could do more to be proactive, such as sending out more proposals. But until I got caught up in this process, I had no idea how weird it could be. Four years spent on an essay for a book that will probably not be published? That’s a little strange, right? They didn’t mention that in grad school (but I realize now I wasn’t asking the right questions).
So I mention it now, and if any of my readers are still in grad school, I say: start practicing now. Start publishing now. Be prepared for the fight, the slog.