What would it take during the production process to make you withdraw an article that had already been accepted for publication? At what point would the intrusions of the copyediting just be too much?
Academic publishing has always been an odd business. The publishers get the work for free; the writers compete for the prestige of being published. And, of course, readers aren’t exactly waiting at the docks for the next installment of fill in the blank to hit the stands. But, as long as the economy was humming along and everything depended upon the printing press, everyone involved could ignore the readership question.
With the economic downturn, however, universities have suddenly gotten wise to the flaws with this relationship: they pay the faculty to conduct research; the faculty then write up the research and get it published; and then the universities subscribe to the journals, in effect buying back the research they originally funded.
The Internet poses a yet bigger threat to publishing, in general, and academic publishing, in particular. I offer a case in point for consideration.
Author A presents a talk at a conference and is invited by the editor of Journal A to write it up and submit it for consideration. Author A accepts–it’s always nice to be asked and, well, he thinks the piece engages issues of concern to the readers of Journal A. The article is accepted, copyediting begins, and Author A notes that his spacing in the article has been changed throughout. He asks that the paragraph indents be removed, the blank lines between paragraphs returned, and the ornamentals between sections of his argument be re-instated.
The copyediting is thorough–many errors are caught, infelicities in phrasing are cleaned up, consistency in punctuation and capitalization is instituted. There’s no question: value has been added. No question, either, that being published in Journal A would be a welcome event. The problem is: Journal A declines to re-institute the original spacing for the article on the grounds that these spacing decisions violate the house style for the journal.
Is it crazy to pull the piece because it won’t look the way you want it to?
It may be, but that, dear reader, is what I did.
And I did so not thinking, as I have in the past when I’ve been unable to resolve conflicts with editors, well, I’ll just shop it at Journal B or C. Rather, since the article itself is about attending to how things look, I thought, well, now’s the time to see what it looks like self-published, with a creative commons license added.
Self-published means no line on the c.v.–at least, it did in the old model of publishing. But what if self-publishing results in your work finding readers? Academic ideas only have value in circulation. It may be that, in the new model of publishing that is evolving before our eyes, we can begin to ask questions about which ideas circulate, which ideas have influence, and which go begging for a readership.
“Reading in Slow Motion” discusses how the processes of reading and writing have been changed as a result of our movement from a time of information scarcity to information superfluity. Drop me a line or post a comment, if you feel so inclined. All feedback is welcome.
Reading in Slow Motion pdf version, 6M
6,500 words, 17 pages printed out, multiple screen shots
***Update: I learned on 10/16/2010, via Twitter, that “Reading in Slow Motion” had been assigned in an undergraduate writing course. The journal the article was to appear in has yet to be published.
More significantly, from my perspective, is the shift in perspective that this act of self-publishing has produced for me as a writer and thinker. Suddenly, I actually want to write.