David McGillivray

Professor, interested in events, culture, digital participation & sport.


The process of academic publication: worth it in the end?

Let’s just say it took a while to complete…!  Today is a bit of a watershed for me having finally received delivery of two shiny new copies of my first full (co) authored book, Event Policy: From Theory to Strategy.  If you’ve just clicked on the link, you will find that the publishers website is yet to include an image of the book cover (perhaps if you’re reading this in a few weeks time that will have been sorted), so I’ve gone to the bother of taking my own photograph to provide you with a visual aid to assist in your purchasing decision:-)

Having now cleverly plugged the book, I want to come to the main point of my post – the process of academic publishing and the challenges we face in taking initial ideas to ‘market’, so to speak.  Clearly this is a topical subject, given George Monbiot’s (@GeorgeMonbiot) scathing attack on the business of academic publishing this week in the Guardian newspaper.  You only need to assess the volume of Tweets about this article (2476 as of today) to know that this struck a chord with academics (and many outside of the university campus) around the world.  Monbiot’s critique was primarily of the way in which the publishers of academic journals rake in astronomical profits without having to undertake much of the labour of producing (or reviewing) the research articles they publish.  However, whilst agreeing that the labour process leaves a lot to be desired, I want to provide a short personal account of the winding journey involved in producing a book and the lessons which I have learned for future projects of this sort.

  1. The proposal.  Coming up with the initial ‘idea’ for a book is pretty easy –  developing the proposal in a format likely to impress a potential publisher is much more difficult.  When pitching the idea for Event Policy (Amazon link this time!), my co-authors and I had to provide a 30-page document with a detailed synopsis and chapter headings, market demand (evidence based), likely competitors, a example chapter and the names of five reviewers who could give an informed perspective on the suitability of the proposal.  Suffice to say, the process was extremely rigorous and, to be honest, pretty scary.  Thankfully, the outcome of the review process was a book commission with Routledge (@Routledgebooks)
  2. Writing.  Everyone has some advice for you on this issue. ‘you’ll need a sabbatical’, ‘write 500 words a day’, ‘always leave a sentence half complete when you finish for the day’ etc, etc.  Anyway, for what it’s worth, I went for the low-tech, convenient option of taking to my local public libraries (Langside and Giffnock).  Here I diligently read and wrote, arriving at opening time and departing when the lights went out. The silence was off-putting at first, but looking back, I now miss the simplicity of it all.  My advice on writing is make sure you stop on a high – having produced a sentence or paragraph you’re proud of.  Oh, and maintain momentum – don’t concede the precious day or half day easily..
  3. Interaction with publisher.  At the outset, you think (I thought) there will be monthly meetings, high pressure summits, detailed discussions over style and substance. The reality was that interaction was light touch, I hope because my co-authors and I were conscientious and industrious, but more likely because publishers simply don’t have time to check up on progress at regular intervals.  In effect, I solicited discussion with Routledge and asked of them the questions I’d expected them to ask of me.  I think this worked – so my advice would be, don’t wait for the call thinking that there’s plenty of time to work on the manuscript.  Take the bull by the horns and challenge them to help make the final product as good as it can be.
  4. The end game.  It should be the most exciting part of publishing a book, but it was probably the most frustrating element.  Submitting the manuscript was fine – a temporary release when someone else takes responsibility for that ‘thing’ for a few weeks.  However, the waiting around, the proof reading, the corrections, the acknowledgements, the foreword…where does it end?  Well, I guess it should only really be the start. So what if we think it’s a good read, makes a contribution to the field or has a cool cover – others ultimately decide.  Conventional publishing practice around library recommendations, reviews, conferences and the like are great, but my sense is that we need to do more (publishers and authors) to allow people to interact with our publications.  We need to generate ‘buzz’, show a willingness to engage in conversation with potential readers (or purchasers) about the content we’ve produced (@dgmcgillivray if you want to test this out!) and then hope that the publication of a new text (in whatever field) generates debate and discussion, rather than just another pretty cover on a disused library shelf.

Of course, working in academia at this time, there is little time to sit back and enjoy the results of your endeavours – it’s onto the next output, looking for the right star rating and trying to make the ‘impact’ our institutional leaders expect. But, back to my original question, it is worth it in the end, if only for the bubble-coated Aquatic Centre cover (thanks to @andymiah!)


David McGillivray • September 2, 2011

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