Thursday, August 26, 2010

Department of Responses and Cool Ideas: More From The World Of Academic Publishing

Here's some follow-up to Wednesday's post on reforming scholarly publishing practices:

*As a cosmic reminder that some journals do not live to torture us, yesterday I received notice that an article had been un-ambivalently and swiftly rejected by a top journal. Right on! They turned it around in less than a month. Follow-up question: When an article is rejected, what do you do, dear? Answer: Thank the editors sincerely for their professionalism in letting you know so fast, and so politely, and send it off immediately to a specialty journal.

Another question: do the editors of this journal read Tenured Radical? Were they making a point? I posed this question at home and it was strongly inferred that my ego was wandering way off the reservation. Again.

*A friend who is a senior scholar and an experienced journal editor wrote in response to the post to say that s/he was in complete disagreement about eliminating "revise and resubmit" as a category. To elaborate: "some of our best...pieces [are] the result of great reviewer direction and energetic author redrafting. To do away with that would effectively close out grad students from journal article publishing, and they do some of the best work." That sounds right to me, so let me refine my critique: readers should not use the category of "revise and resubmit" when they really mean "reject." How's that for a fair compromise?

*One of the quickest turnarounds I have ever experienced was editing a round table on feminist blogging for the Journal of Women's History. From the time the proposal was accepted to it's forthcoming appearance in winter 2011 (subscribe now and reserve your copy!), it will have taken 18 months, only six of which will have been devoted to the publishing process (as opposed to writing, editing and review.) Does the increase in "special issues," clusters and round tables suggest that many hands make light work? Is it possible for journals to squeeze the time frame on publication without sacrificing quality by committing to relevant topics that demand timely publication? What might this teach us about the possibilities for shortening the publication timetable for articles that come in over the transom?

*There is an argument to be made for publishing a variety of pieces that have no central theme or connection, particularly in prominent journals, published by professional associations, that by necessity speak to very diverse audiences. The biggest complaint I received, across fields, was that by the time work actually appears in journals it is often longer cutting edge, or the book project that it is part of has appeared. So how about if journals just held their referees to a faster timetable, and also used the Internet to publish shorter pieces, or articles that actually need to come out quickly or have their relevance eroded? Forums, like the ones you have seen here on this blog, could also pick up on exciting books that people need to know about now -- not two years from now; and book reviewing could be entirely web based. Over half of the pages in two top journals in my field are filled with book reviews -- books that came out years ago.

*When in doubt, start a cool new journal. Joan Wallach Scott tops the masthead of History of the Present: A Journal of Critical History; you will see a few other members of the Differences crowd on the editorial board. For those of you not on the H-Net Announcements listserve:

History of the Present is a journal devoted to history as a critical endeavor. Its aim is twofold: to create a space in which scholars can reflect on the role history plays in establishing categories of contemporary debate by making them appear inevitable, natural or culturally necessary; and to publish work that calls into question certainties about the relationship between past and present that are taken for granted by the majority of practicing historians. Its editors want to encourage the critical examination of both history’s influence on politics and the politics of the discipline of history itself.

'Tis a journal after the Radical's own heart. Good luck and God Bless, that's what I say. It's biannual, and issues will be carried by JSTOR as they are published, so no more paper coming will be into your home -- unless you have a journal fetish and you want it to do so.


pplc said...

Regarding the response made by the senior scholar and experienced journal editor, how would that conception of "revise and resubmit" be different from "accept pending revision"? I liked the way you posed the issue in your original blog entry. Either your article is rejected and you take the comments to heart and try to resubmit elsewhere; or it's accepted, but you know you have to revise (perhaps substantially) before it's published.

As you stated, maybe the journal review process isn't supposed to be to a way to "get free advice from top people in the field." Maybe the scholar should be taking the time to do that before submission, through exchanges with colleagues and her personal network.

On the other hand, if there is going to be a transition to an open-review process and the whole endeavor of article-writing is going to become collaborative on a whole new level, then maybe it's appropriate to submit something to a journal forum/website at an earlier stage. But it seems to me that this idea of "early submission, lots of revision" would be more appropriate if collaboration actually becomes the emphasis, as it would be with the open-review idea.

Historiann said...

I'm sorry to hear about your rejection from Top Journal, but I agree that a speedy rejection beats a slow one. (And I admire your brave candor about it all.)

Thanks for the tip on the new Joan Scott venture. Sounds like a bloggy sort of journal!

Notorious Ph.D. said...

My JWH timeline, from acceptance and submission of my final version to publication was 26 months. Why? Because there were special issues in the pipeline. So it works both ways, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Special issues are really neat to publish -- they're themed, they're relevant, they can become a volume that's useful in and of itself (not destined to the dustbin).

That said, authors can be particularly challenging when you're doing a special issue. They know their piece will get published, and some don't feel compelled to submit things in the proper format, reply to queries, get permissions for the random whatnot (e.g., illustrations) they want to use. It can clog up the whole darn process.

You might say, well, just don't publish pieces by the authors who are a pain. Yes, but then what happens to, say, a response piece by a junior scholar (for whom it's very important to see it go to print)?

GlassPen said...

As a person on the publishing side of the scholarship business, I found both posts and all the comments interesting. We publish over 30 journal titles (over 220 issues per year), plus about 50 books/CDs, in a technical field...that's where I'm coming from.

There are a bunch of new and improved tools that do help speed up the publishing process.
--A good online manuscript submission and peer review tracking system gets rid of postage costs and all those pesky "lost in the mail" complaints; it's web-based, so accessible from "anywhere"; all the reviewer and editor comments are stored in the system; it can even be rigged to send out electronic reminders to reviewers.
--Once a manuscript makes it to production, nothing beats a good clean-up macro. These days, these programs even format, correct, and link references.
--Posting PDFs of unedited manuscripts upon acceptance shortens the wait for new information. (Does create a bibliographic challenge, though.)

None of the above comes cheap. And these days, my monthly online services bill is about 75% of the printing bill (peer review, copyediting, and composition required for either distribution channel). The tipping point has almost been reached for getting rid of print for many journals; several now only provide either a print-on-demand version or squeeze 2 composed pages onto one print page. I think a couple of things need to happen here: to justify print, there would need to be *more* design--more like a magazine (and that is expensive, and requires much better graphics), or the online versions need to be better designed for the online environment (not merely a replication or PDF of print).

Tools do not completely make up for the foibles of the people who use them.
--Many authors are extremely careless about copyright and permissions issues, and oddly reluctant to clean these up promptly when they are pointed out. I am genuinely puzzled by this: are authors actually prepared to manage their own copyright and permissions? Do they not care whether people steal their ideas and illustrations?
--Good reviews are time-consuming. We request 3 reviews and require 2 positive reviews to publish. In most disciplines, there is a limited pool of people who are qualified to do the reviewing (this is determined by editors, not publishers), and most have limited availability due to other commitments. I thought the comment suggesting that hiring and tenure committees take review service into account was a good one; don't know how feasible that is--how to evaluate quantity and quality of these contributions? Paying for reviews is problematic on many, many levels...but for the sake of discussion...what would be an appropriate payment or token for doing a review?

Other random thoughts provoked by this thread.
--Some disciplines already have a model for publishing data sets that can be used by any scholar; a researcher would ideally be given credit for the data set and separate credit for any scholarly product based on that data set. This isn't a universal ideal yet, though. In some fields, the data sets are proprietary; or, access to a data set may make litigation easier, which discourages making such info available. Oh, and archiving data sets and the programs to access them: nightmare! (That's what institutional repositories are for.)
--I look forward to the day when we can dispense with one useless artifact of the print world: page numbers.

Thanks to anyone who slogged all the way through this comment.

GlassPen said...

If you aren't thoroughly exhausted by this subject, you might want to peruse the August 31 post, "The 'Burden' of Peer Review" on Scholarly Kitchen blog.

Many of the technical issues that slowed down publication have been solved. Online manuscript submission and peer review tracking systems, automated composition (and excellent clean-up macros that format, fix, and link references), and subscription management systems all exist now. But they are not cheap. Lots of smaller journals aren't doing these things because they can't afford them.

There are other issues with online-only. Libraries have had a hard time with concepts like archiving ("permanence"), integrating online collections, and managing multi-user access...again, new tools are resolving these problems...also not cheap.

Tools, no matter how good, can't overcome human foibles. Maybe we should be grateful for that.