("Typewriter...Author" by Rawpixel on Pixabay)
How do you position to successfully publish to the academic literature? How do you know what you have to contribute and what your own voice is? What are the public and known standards, and what are the hidden ones? What are the known risks in publishing, and how do you mitigate these? How do you get out there and contribute, without getting used (too much)? Who are the main players, and what is the state of academic publishing currently? What are the main processes for publishing? How do you avoid fatal errors in your work? Finally, how do you “benefit” from your publication work?
What are your interests in publishing? What have your prior experiences been with academic (and other) publishing?
Why "Rough and Tumble?"
- uphold tough rigorous and high standards for research
- follow structured and stylized guidelines for academic writing (in the various types of writing forms): electronic books, compilations; primary research articles; reviews of the literature, meta-analyses; interviews, Q&As, discussions/conversations/talking papers; whitepapers; reports; review works (mini-reviews, capsule reviews, and others); opinion pieces (including editorials); letters; seminar papers (papers written to provoke useful discussions around target issues and then published later); short communications, and others
- be as thorough and comprehensive as possible (reviews of literature, documentation, readings of sources)
- comprehend and wield abstractions accurately (and with understandings of implications)
- understand a domain field and its peripheries well...and still be able to offer something innovative and new (and understand cross-domain fields)
- solve real-world problems in highly complex spaces
- stand up on one's own against a constant field of competitors (but achieve "personal bests" as one's own best competitor)
- stand up under wide potential public scrutiny
- mitigate potential reputational risk
- design against legal liabilities
- engage sharp peer critiques as part of publishing process and need to respond substantively to critiques (particularly learning from them and not being dismissive)
- apply multimodal delivery of research information
- use data visualizations to communicate some of the information
- create and share research with "lots of moving parts" (complexity)
- compete for the attention of other professionals inside and outside of the particular domain (find relevant audiences)
- have relevant implications on others' research work
- have relevant implications on decision-making and the world
- strive against the gap between reality and hope in terms of research and its dissemination and uptake in the world (to make a positive difference)
A range of complex and advanced skills are required to engage successfully in this space. It is possible to see up-and-coming talent because they have to acquire the skills first. This is a case of "overnight successes" having been around for a decade or two while apprenticing for this space.
Essentially, researchers / authors have to achieve their "personal bests" (local maxima). They also have to translate their skills to a public space in competition with others (global maxima). They have to achieve "escape velocity" beyond themselves, their local contexts, and then create space for themselves in the company of others...in a competitive and even adversarial context.
Further: Computational Competition: Computational capabilities in research and writing are making incursions into this space. Programs can review literature, and they can recombine information into new writing. So what do you bring as human competitive advantage? Undocumented knowledge? Trust-based social networks and collaborations? Ethical reasoning? Effects in the world? Creativity and innovation? A unique writing hand?
Getting and Staying Creative
In your area of expertise, what does it mean to be creative or innovative? What are the extant hard questions being worked in your field?
What are some personal strategies for getting and staying creative? How can you motivate yourself?
Do you achieve flashes of insight or sparklets? How does it work?
(More on methods for getting and staying creative follow below.)
Positioning to Publish
Typical academic works contribute in the following ways:
- theorize / conceptualize / hypothesize (such as through the consolidation of theories and / or research and or data, or through wholly ex nihilo thinking)
- suggest new paradigms (and challenge old ones); suggest new models and challenge old ones
- propose wholly new paradigms or models
- contribute new research and data
- contribute novel research methods and sequences, apply methods from external fields
An academic publication has to be "novel"; it cannot be a repeat of work that has already been achieved by others. (If there is anything that is derived from others' works, the prior researchers should be credited. If anything is quoted, credit should be given to avoid plagiarism.) It has to be relevant, coherent, accurate-to-the-world, and comprehensively explained.
If you contest others' work, you'd better have the research methods and data to back up your assertions. Other researchers will respond if their work is challenged directly or indirectly. (The up side is that calling someone else out who is well known and showing a weakness can be a way to acquire name recognition albeit on someone else's back.)
Your Potential Contributions...and Your Voice
Your research and analytics capabilities, points-of-view, work history, formal and informal and nonformal education, and interests will inform your work.
Explore topics that are in the periphery of your expertise as well. Explore cross-disciplinary work.
Collaborate with colleagues. If there are areas of interest, some potential funding, and all can come to agreement on the terms of the collaboration, working with others may make sense.
If you are true to yourself, if you are open to developing your skills and points of view, you will already by default have an original voice.
Mitigating Known Risks
Some known publishing risks include the following:
- intellectual property (IP) re: others' data, others' writing (such as through plagiarism including self-plagiarism)
- research standards
- contractual commitments
- status quo
- common practices
Common mitigations include the following:
- Follow all intellectual property laws scrupulously.
- Cite all sources accurately and thoroughly.
- Avoid any privacy infringements. Ensure that you have all legal rights to the data and representations of people, etc. Handle data correctly and securely.
- Follow all research standards and ethics. If there is human subjects research, ensure that you've gone through institutional review board training and that you adhere to the proper research oversight. (There are standards also for animal research, and others.)
- Avoid any conflicts of interest. If there are slight conflicts of interest that still enable one to advance on work. the conflict should be announced when the work is published and / or presented.
- If conducting research abroad, ensure that you're also adhering to the standards of the host country. If working with colleagues abroad, ensure that they're adhering to U.S. research standards.
- Acquire all legal rights as needed.
- Read contracts from beginning to end, and follow the terms to the letter.
- Do not release data that will result in loss of competitive advantage. Or use up the value in the data before you share it.
- Be as transparent and professional as possible. Earn your reputation.
- Follow careful record-keeping and work processes to ensure that all work is defensible. Assure that any false assertions can be factually rebutted.
- Challenge others' turfs when necessary but only with the sufficient evidence.
- There is space for different voices, so it helps to respect others' voices. However, if a challenge is needed, don't be afraid to raise that challenge.
- Revise a work as completely as possible. Understand the inter-dependencies between the various parts of the work. Pay attention to the small details.
- Ensure precise documentation, so the work is defensible, should the need arise.
Reading in the Academic and "gray" Literatures
- Deepen knowledge.
- Acquire a sense of what is in the world.
- Acquire a sense of the gaps in the work, which may be written to. These may be spaces where one may contribute.
- Form a professional respect for the field.
- Capture some relevant ideas to apply to your research work.
- Avoid ahistoricity. Acquire an accurate sense of the history of the field and related interdisciplinary fields.
- Season yourself. Form your own sense of style and voice and point-of-view.
- Come up with some ideas for others' research methods that can be applied to your area.
- Learn conventions of handling and presenting data, research, ideas, graphics, tables, and other elements.
- Come up with some ideas for new research.
- Be a fan (but with a sense of critique) of other researchers.
- Identify some publishers that you respect. Attain a sense of "cycles" in publishing. Learn about special issues in your areas of expertise. Form some affinities with named editors.
- Internalize professional civilities, and express these in work. Observe incivilities, and avoid these.
- Identify some minutiae in the practices of research and writing.
About working efficiently...
- Have a clear sense of vision and direction at the beginning but be willing to make adjustments as needed. Make sure that you have the internal personal / professional motivation to pursue this work. Make sure that you have the necessary resources, including time, including technologies, include staff resources, and so on.
- Conduct a thorough review of the literature by collecting information from trusted peer-reviewed sources, some gray literature (informal) sources, and across federated searches. Track back all referred sources to the original. Do not trust a third-party source to properly summarize or even cite a research work. Have a list of keywords to "seed" the respective sources. Go with new inspirations as you come across new words and ideas.
- Save the collected contents with their original file names (in order to avoid copies of the same file). Document accurately.
- When reviewing the literature, as new insights arise, go back to capture more data.
- Make sure that the .pdf files are screen/machine readable, so searches work across every document (and so machine data analytics may be applied to the work).
- Set clear standards for the acceptance/rejection of the respective works.
- Take clear notes on the documents. Write up notes with the correct citations. Some online tools enable some fairly accurate citations, but these do need to be double-checked. (Use screenshot-ting for some notetaking efficiencies.) Be open to discovering relevant information from a variety of sources.
- When setting up the research, review it multiple times before starting the actual work. Make sure that you mentally walk through every step to understand a range of possibilities throughout.
- Acquire legal review of the research design plan. Make changes as needed.
- Acquire legal agreements and permissions early.
- Hypothesize across a range of possibilities prior to the research. Document the hypotheses.
- Conduct the research to standards. If deviations are done, document these. If there are larger deviations required, acquire legal permissions first.
- Capture the data. Maintain a pristine master set of data.
- Analyze the data.
- Add post-hoc hypothesizing in lieu of the research findings and data.
- Document all processes throughout. Be as accurate as possible. Double-check.
- Strive to limit mistakes.
- Start writing the formal work for reportage and presentation while the research is still fresh. Do not lose momentum. Do not store the work away somewhere.
- Know thyself...and know how to manipulate yourself to stay on track and to stay with the work. Reward yourself in healthy ways. (No crazy snacking as a reward!)
- Avoid unnecessary dependencies. If teaming, work with a very lean team of trusted others. Do not allow any project to be too dependent on one person.
- Do not squander energy through dead ends and misdirected efforts.
- Avoid draining controversies. These are costly and non-constructive. Develop a sense of what is viable in the world, and aim for that.
Imbalanced Scales (Pixabay)
High Inputs, Low Returns. All publications are effortful (and risky) to create. They require expensive inputs in research, thinking, funding, human resources, and time, among others. (To succeed, it helps to have the estimated costs right.) There are "opportunity costs," the opportunities that are lost because one is doing one thing and not another. They entail reputational risks. They entail legal risks. (Authors have to indemnify the publishers in case of any related lawsuits.) Publishers pay in "free" digital copies, sometimes...and occasionally print copies (if relevant and available). High-end publishers (with name recognition) confer prestige and social recognition. (Part of their status involves a low acceptance rate, name editors and editorial boards, and broad reach to a wide audience. Without status, published works do not achieve audience readership or recognition.)
Academic publishers count on the work places of the respective researchers to somehow reward productivity in published research. They count on grant funding agencies to recognize the work and potentially fund the researcher's future research projects. (Researchers make similar calculations, too, so they may not look for full "payment" from publishers.) They count on researcher egos and the benefits of "bragging rights." (There is a similar dynamic to the pursuit of luxury brands.)
The so-called "Great Unread" is a problem. Here, a lot of work goes into the research and the writing, but only a limited number sell and are maybe read. Open-shared writings acquire more readers if the topic is engaging, but these can range from about a low of fifty to thousands...of reads (including the counts of automated agents crawling over the public facing readings).
The "Great Unpublished": There are dead ends, too, publications which do not make, but which result in lost effort (given the "no multiple submissions" practices in publishing). If public acceptance/rejection rates are an indicator, a majority of works reside in the Great Unpublished. What people see are the works that "made the cut" and were revised to fit particular standards. It helps to remember the Great Unpublished so as not to fall into "survival bias" in terms of publications. [The "Great Unrealized" would be those ideas that remain inchoate and unexpressed, the stubs, the drafts, the pieces, that are left undeveloped or unexplored. Without a deep commitment and a deep sacrifice, most ambitions go unrealized.]
Start at the Top and Work Down: When you choose to engage in academic publishing, go with the best publishers first to query. Then work your way down the list. This is effortful, but this will protect the work in the long run. [Do not go for the open-access publishing by the university because that has the least-developed track record, the least oversight, and the least prestige. Do not self-publish because this harms your reputation and is costly to the author (with rare ROI). Avoid vanity publishing. Be skeptical of publishers that do not have any vetting standards because these are predatory publishers. Do not publish with these unless you want to build a reputation as an easy mark of a confidence game/con.] Not all publication channels are equal.
Professions of Friendship: "Long time, no see!" "My grandmama..." "Hey, put me on your project..." So there are some strangers who will parlay projects into "friendships" and then ask for favors. Just don't. You're in it to advance your professional skills and your profession. Your hackles should rise when a stranger--anywhere in the world--starts sharing personal information and asking for favors and faking an intimacy for gain. Sober them up by addressing them by their formal titles and not playing into their games of pretend. Some people can really be unabashedly and concerningly shameless... even when you think they should know better.
Red Flags and Dangers about "Getting Used" (or Worse)
Some Real-World Challenges
Red Flags / Warnings / Alerts (seeding flag from Pixabay)
- Known researchers invite participation on a research project about which one has had no input, and most of the work is done already. (They just want the invitee's name to claim a relationship or for other purposes.)
- An unknown publication "mill" offers to publish any work sight unseen for a low price. (They just want the money.)
- A known publisher invites you to revise a prior work, change 10 - 20% of it, and republish it as an updated one. (They just want the money with the old work under a new cover.) Republishing can dilute the original work, but it can help gain a few additional readers who may not have found their way to your original work.
- A professor wants to have a secondary byline for a paper that his student in the graduate course wrote by promising to add a few paragraphs. (He just wants a research citation.)
- An open-access wing of a commercial publishing company wants a review. One checks out the manuscript and finds that it has already been published elsewhere from a few years ago. The author wants another citation. One declines to review this because of the prior publication. The publisher insists aggressively that they want a review. (They simply want cover to publish a work which has already been published, which is against the ethical rules of play.)
Simply, don't get used...and there are no regrets!
- Two principal investigators (PIs) who were the recipients of the funding grant want their names on a paper from the project because in the sciences even small contributions mean credit should be extended.
Simply, just do for political survival and the good of the project. You're alive--no regrets! You have a co-authorship credit with powerhouse individuals.
Or just know the score. Play your hand differently the next time (tell them about the publication after it has been published).
Or, just say no, and offer them a project idea from scratch. Then make sure everyone contributes somewhat equally.
Main Players and State of Academic Publishing
Owl Holding an E-Book Reader (seeding image from Pixabay)
Academic book publishers generally will not publish works unless there is a market. Because they do not pay much for a manuscript, they can purchase an "mss" and stock their digital repositories and make back something in the long run.
The average royalties from an original academic book published in the U.S. is $1,000. The percentage of royalties tends to be 10 - 15%. Most authors are only paid once or twice, in the first year or two, and thereafter, the publisher takes the rest. (The publisher invests in editorial support, copy-editing, book layout, cover design, marketing, the actual publishing, the distribution, and so on.) [So while some authors may fantasize about royalties that will be life-changing, that is an illusion. My friends who publish in the fashion industry make more in one article and have a travel budget and per diem (and get to meet famous people)...than an academic book makes in its lifetime.]
Self-published authors can put in $2,000 - $5,000 to self-publish, and most of these books do not earn back much (and most authors will end up giving these away).
Collecting essays and articles by other authors in a "packaged" textbook is not editing.
Main Processes in Academic Publishing
One Common Scenario #1: A Typical Researcher-Originated Approach
- A researcher or research team has an idea for research work.
- They conduct the research.
- They write it up.
- They start "shopping" the mss. to respective publishers.
- Their work is reviewed in a double-blind peer review process. (The "double-blind" peer review is a formalized good-faith concealment, so that a reviewer does not know the identity of the person whose work is being reviewed, and the person who receives the review from the reviewer does not know who provided the feedback--and so not hold a grudge or feel indebted to another. There are some efforts now to enable single-blind reviews and some efforts to remove blinds altogether, with varying and competing points-of-view and opinions.)
- The editor(s) add in their observations.
- The work is revised and finalized by the research team.
- The publishers provide editorial, typography, publishing, and other services.
- The work is published.
- The work is publicized.
- The work finds some readers.
- The work is entered into the literature for "forever" archival.
Another Common Scenario #2: A Call for Submittals
- A publisher puts out a call for a special issue... An editor or editorial team puts out a call on electronic mailing lists...
- (and then all the steps above)
Another Common Scenario #3: A (Rare) Targeted Invitation
- A publisher extends an invitation to an author or authoring team ... to submit a work that will not have to go through peer review...
- (and then all the steps above except for the double-blind peer review)
"Fatal Errors" to Avoid
"Fatal errors" are those that will disallow a drafted work from being published. These are errors which are irrecoverable, and these can be seen during the review process. Lesser errors can be addressed. These fatal errors include the following:
- incomplete literature reviews and resulting gaps in understandings
- purposeful (or accidental) avoidance of relevant research in order to make a particular argument, cherry-picking data in order to make their own research look relevant
- repeating prior research done (even some from decades ago), a lack of research novelty
- failure to follow through on basic research standards
- research gaps or ignored steps
- the lack of necessary oversight over the research
- unethical research practices (such as in the treatment of people, the treatment of animals, the handling of data, and others)
- misunderstandings of statistical analytics practices
- illogical applications of research findings
- politicized research findings and / or other types of biasing
- unethical use of others' data
(Note that the "fatality" is for the project, not the researcher-author / research - authoring team. People learn, and they improve. They benefit from mistakes if they're willing to learn from them. The risk of failed works is that people will end up discouraged, and many will not have the resilience to persist. The harder a project is, the higher the dropout rates.)
Non-fatal errors are those which may be addressed by including additional information, re-running data analyses, rephrasing parts of the writing, conducting additional readings and updating information, re-drawing data visualizations, and so on. These are not fundamental mistakes, if they can be headed off at the pass. They can be recovered from.
Tick-tock. While a work is being created...and then is considered by publishers...it is dating out. After a certain point-in-time, a draft manuscript is no longer considered sufficiently timely to be relevant and becomes un-usable. It is important not to miss its moment.
Over the years, I've seen such rejected and dated works get routed around various publishers, with out-of-date source citations and old data. Some of these end up in open-access publishing (where the authors pay $1500 or thereabouts themselves to have their work appear), or in $0-cost open-shared publishing, or in university repositories (often as pre-prints, which may never find a home elsewhere). Sometimes these works appear nowhere (only in private holdings).
If researchers-authors wait too long, they will get "scooped" by others. Others will have a similar idea and actualize the work to quality and take the prize of being first-to-press. If they have done the work well, they will be the go-to for the particular issue.
Good Creative Practices (over a lifespan)
- Make creativity part of your everyday life. Place work in a central part of a lived life. (And yes, there are opportunity costs.)
- Engage the world broadly. Explore the arts, music, and literature. Fine inspiration everywhere.
- Read broadly.
- When engaging a new research topic, jot down all original ideas first before exploring the academic literature. (The readings stand to both limit thinking in some ways and broaden thinking in others. The idea is to control for possible unintended effects.) Make documentation a regular part of life.
- Engage people from various professional backgrounds and cultures. Learn from them. (Help them succeed where they are, too. It's always a multi-way street, not a one-way one.)
- Look at what might be "banal" and "normal" with new eyes. Be open to thinking in new ways. Avoid conservative thinking in the field. Do not stake out a position and spend all your energy defending that position. Be willing to revisit an issue and reconceptualize it, especially based on new information and / or simply new thinking.
- Don't let extrinsic motivations stifle intrinsic ones. Cultivate a sense of hunger and appetite for professional achievement.
- Take mostly smart risks, and occasionally engage a few stupid ones.
- Keep skills fresh.
- Be on other people's shortlists for project work, and say yes. The learning tradeoffs will be worth it even if you're a little shorted on the credits and the moneys go to the organization.
- Branch out beyond your traditional areas of training. Explore border and interdisciplinary topics.
- Avoid irrelevant distractions, and keep the focus on what is important: the core work.
Good Research Practices
Good research practices include the following...
- Start with your own strengths and your own voice. Be willing to challenge consensus views. Build up your confidence to be able to stand on your own and to share what you find in the research (even if it does not comfortably jive with what has appeared before). But be sufficiently flexible to adapt your insights as new information comes in.
- Stay up with the advancements in the field. Read up on the relevant work. Do *not* take time away from the field. Be ruthless about making time.
- Do a solid and complete review of the literature. (Select sources for their relevance, not for their authors, not for their journals, etc.) Achieve saturation. Take notes, and keep accurate documentation of the work. (There are judgment calls here about how much is enough because there are cost-benefits with continuing with the literature review or not.)
- Make sure that the research is sufficiently planned and conceived.
- Ensure that there is appropriate oversight of the research.
- Conduct the research correctly.
- Keep accurate records.
- Analyze the data appropriately with the correct statistical and other analyses.
- Ensure that the logic is solid in terms of analytics and discussion sections.
- Write up the research correctly. Use data tables and data visualizations and appropriate textual descriptions to showcase the findings. Cite sources appropriately. Follow all known conventions to the letter.
- Submit the work to only one publisher at a time. Be honest and transparent in representing the work. Start with the most exclusive publishers first, and work down.
- Read peer reviews closely, and follow the advice closely. If the advice is non-relevant, then be able to set up a logical defense of why that advice should be ignored or only partially mitigated.
WORKING WITH BOOK PUBLISHERS
Want to publish a book?
Book publishers want the following:
- a built in potential user-base (of readers), a "market" for the book (to help the publisher at least not sustain any losses...to maybe break even...and maybe earn a profit)
- a cutting-edge topic (not bleeding edge)
- a topic that aligns with the specialties of the publisher
- a solid author reputation
- clear author follow-through
- guaranteed quality contents (if possible)
- no legal liability, etc.
So it helps if you...
- have the skills and the fire
- have a provable track record
- document the need for the book as accurately as possible
- do not have competition for the topic (or the competition has dated out)
In terms of bibliometrics, anything that can be counted by computers and in so doing capture meaning...will be done. There are qualifiers to the respective data, to lessen the weight of people self-citing their own work, in some of the calculations.
Hirsch number of H-index: author-level metric, author productivity, citation impact of publications
Impact factor: periodical-level metric, numbers of citations annually
Altmetrics: social media conversations around published academic works
Webometrics: quant aspects of the Web
Self as Author: BIBLIOMETRIC Measures and Self-Promotion
Researcher IDs: ORCID (for disambiguating authors with similar names), Publons (for formal reviewing and academic publications), Google Scholar (for bibliometrics and linkages), and others
- Let computational power help collect your respective publications. Make sure that the publications you acknowledge as yours are yours... (Sometimes, algorithms get things wrong.)
- Keep a complete curriculum vitae (CV) with all of your respective publications listed.
- Google Scholar uses Citations, h-index, and i10-index for their metrics.
Note: There are various integrations between these various tools, with data sharing between the various systems and platforms.
(It's smart not to get obsessed with bibliometrics, though. These are a few datapoints. What's more relevant is actual impact in the field.)
Social Network Sites for Research Sharing: University Repositories, ResearchGate, and others
- Do not share copyrighted proofs or finalized copies of your works on the social network sites...because such sharing is explicitly disallowed by the mainline academic publishers. (Definitely read the fine print on the contracts.) Such shares undercut their sales, which are often very thin already. (People do not read much anymore, even when they are supposed to for their studies.)
- Social sites for research sharing can actually raise your public profile and potentially increase citations. However, this work is effortful and draws energy away from the actual research and writing.
Benefitting from your academic research Publications
- Enjoy the research work, the learning work, and professional collaborations, of course
- Benefit from publication-related connections with colleagues and peers
- Include the publications in your CV (and maybe even the résumé)
- Include the publications in your future grant application letters and other documentation
- Use your work to bridge to a new project or research
WHAT YOU HAVE TO GET RIGHT SO YOU DON'T BURN OUT: A Long-term View of Researcher-Author Motivations
(understanding intrinsic motivations)
- In early days...Early works by young researchers-authors offer an ego-based emotion-based "bump" of enthusiasm. Just the byline itself is exciting! One tends to over-estimate the impact of the professional work. Rejections are more impactful than acceptances, and they affect self-identity (early researchers conflate their work with themselves, erroneously).
- With the passage of time and experience...As professional experience accrues and years pass, the thrill comes more from the research itself (has to be relevant and meaningful and challenging) and the potential impact of the work on the field (if any). The bylines become less important. One begins to count costs even more, and unfunded projects become less appealing. Any "yesses" to projects have to be more deeply considered. Invited works are welcome, but the fact that they have costs is also a factor in how to respond. Any rejections tend to be more reasonably contextualized and understood. One discovers one's actual strengths in the field, often not one imagined it might be.
Over time, for me, anyway ...
- Professional partnerships matter. Having some trusted publishers matters. It is effortful to try to find publishers for particular works.
- One becomes more willing to indulge in obscure topics because the response of readers becomes somewhat less important. Rather, maintaining inspiration for the work becomes more important. (The Muse matters. Intrinsic and internal motivations matter.)
- One is less willing to jump through a number of hoops in order to make sure that a work makes. (Editors who ask you to write like them and who send you copies of their work that you can emulate are not worth the effort.)
- One passes on bylines one has earned if there are questions--such as where a PI's (principal investigator's) data come from...or if PIs want to short a bill in trade for an earned byline...or if co-authors trade free videography for first author listing...and others.. Shenanigans no longer make sense (if they ever did). I tend to err on the side of not claiming the byline, and this is so for instructional design projects as well (easier to stay in the background for the credit but foreground for the work).
- Newer technologies come to the fore and are required for engagement. These require extra effort to learn unless one works in the technology space. (In my case, I am in technologies daily and enjoy technologies so much that learning something new is usually simple.)
- Overall competition intensifies, and it becomes easier/harder to be relevant or high-impact. Often, to have impact, it is important for proponents and supporters to advocate for your work and to use it in their respective contexts.
The right reasons...
- It helps to be in it for the right reasons (such as doing relevant and meaningful work); otherwise, the commitment will not last. The inspiration will dissipate, and the skills and knowledge will not be maintained. Research and writing...requires creative energy...which can be dissipated fairly easily.
- The "right reasons" may differ between people.
Being self-aware...and engaging in self-care...
- This work can be demanding. Make sure that you have the psychological resources to proceed. If fatigued, stop and go at it again the next day. (Or push through it as long as you can maintain the mental focus and judgment quality.)
- Work in a context of psychological safety. It is not you on the line; it's your work on the line.
Some real-world stories (with related lessons):
- Colleagues and others have a will to publish. That is Square 1. What follows has to be the hard work of acquiring knowledge and skills and the technologies needed to achieve the work. Lesson: Move past Square 1. Work hard to ensure that the capabilities exist to execute the work. Train the judgment to be as raw as possible, and don't give yourself a pass. Your decisions and actions only move you closer or farther. Take responsibility for your own progress, and do not lay blame anywhere else if you're not achieving at the pace and quality that you want to. (This is where the athletic concept of "personal best" comes in.)
- A former university schoolmate of mine went to a crowd-funding site a few years ago to raise money for a book and apparently raised some mid-five figures for this endeavor...but years later...no book. Lesson: Diverting attention away from the necessary work of getting the book out...and incurring all sorts of social commitments through crowd-funding...and creating pressures on a creative work...all detract from the necessary efforts. Creating a work involves high costs.
- A distant colleague started up his own website and published his own works, and then he wrote capsule stories about his achievements for local university consumption. His works are vanity publications without oversight. As such, weaknesses in the work have gone unchecked, and mistakes have slipped into the work. It can feel like a hassle working through the editorial oversight and peer review processes in place; however, the publishers that have a reputation to create and defend tend to add value through their processes. Lesson: Going through the crucible of editorial oversight and peer review is an important check on work quality.
- A former colleague of mine proposed an edited book with a known publisher in her field...and falsely claimed a professional alliance with her alma mater. She was between jobs and wanted to seem more competitive for the publisher. Years later, no book. Lesson: Going with a false narrative does not enable the fundamental skills to achieve the work. Most smart money will do background checks of any principals they might align themselves with, and a simple online check can shed light on the lie. (It is also true that being a fantasist about the field of publishing does not help advance the work. It is easy to imagine one's "genius," but that "genius" has to be tested in the world...and shaped by it...in order to be able to contribute.)
- Another colleague had an idea for a book. Once he earned his doctorate, he took a chance and moved on from academia. He moved to a different town. While he had the connections to possibly sign a book contract, he ended up moving on from this ambition. Lesson: Context matters. Many dependencies have to hold in order to be able to be productive. Humans can be fragile in their creativity (which is why some authors have favorite work spaces and favorite desks, etc.).
- A technologist with whom I'd interacted set up a private online site to help collate a book he was editing. While he has deeply impressive credentials and was co-editing with multiple distinguished persons, the book never coalesced, and the original concept remained inert and unactualized. He never formally retracted the project but just let it lapse in silence. He and different colleagues had written a prior book which might have been displaced by the follow-on one, but that was not the root cause for the failure. At heart, the focus of the technology had aged out and was replaced by other open-source and proprietary technologies. Lesson: Timing matters. The moment for the topic had passed. The world (and the publisher) was no longer receptive to the work. The commercial demands on publishers force hard decisions; it is tough to profit from non-fiction books already...
- The "market forces" acting on academic publishing have not changed that much in the years that I've been in the field. The newest thing is the charging of hundreds to thousands of dollars for publishing in open-access journals...and fast-rising costs of access to databases of contents of academic articles. If one wants a new and better deal, it will take a lot of effort to change the various interacting systems. Complaining about the reality on-ground will not change anything except heighten frustration. Lesson: To stay active, it helps to not care about the lack of monetary gain...and to focus on other ways to keep the lights on and food in the cupboards.
- In review work for various academic journals and publications, I've seen various works come in that are poorly executed. There are some of the fatal errors mentioned above. Some researchers purposefully avoid relevant research in their area of study in order to argue for the relevance of their own work (or because they lack the time, or for a combination of reasons). They "stay in their head," which is always a risk for poor work. Something small like "minor" editing errors can be a tell of a lack of sufficient care. Another sign may be the regurgitation of their own research for exploiting the work for multiple publications. Those who do not protect their reputations will find that publishers are leery of them. Anyone who makes a reputation as an author who plays things fast and loose...or who does not follow the rules (and thus are a legal liability)...may find themselves simply denied...or even ostracized . Word gets around, even (or especially) in distributed contexts online. Lesson: Reputation matters. Assume that publishers / editors / peer reviewers know the game.
- I've seen many authors work very hard to woo readers. They will go to readings. They will engage in interviews. They will sweet-talk administrators and professors to encourage others to use their works. The general trajectory is that a book may take a while to garner wider attention, and then after the initial attention, the sales drop off. Some focus on the promise of future readers. Whatever the case, if people feel a need to read the work or have an instrumental purpose to access it, they will acquire it. In general, publicity by itself will not result in sales at least for academic textbooks. Social alliances and social capital may result in a small bump in sales...but generally negligibly. Lesson: Sometimes, a lot of energy is expended to wooing readers which cannot change fundamental interest/disinterest in a topic and which cannot change readiness to read on the topic.
CHECKLIST: Am I ready?
Checklist (seeding image from Pixabay)
- training and education and professional skills
- psychological strength, intrinsic drive, and grit (does not take criticism personally)
- oversight and professional "cover"
- required resources
It Is about You! It isn't about You!
- take notes / document
- review the literature
- design research
- conduct research
- manage data
- analyze data
- respond to critiques...
all contribute to the final published work!
Doing the work will reveal your strengths and weaknesses...and will enable self-awareness, growth, and improvements.
Engage the public.
While out there, don't work to "preserve" your ego (a dominated strategy), but strive to improve and grow your abilities.
Do not "short" others because you are actually "shorting" yourself. You will experience the reverberations of your own decisions and actions...in this space.
A fact-based note of encouragement: If you train yourself to get to a level of quality, you will be able to find a reputable publication for every work you create. The energy should go to self-development and improving...not peripheral efforts like padding bibliometrics or creating self-laudatory websites.
Activity #1: about Calling in Favors for an edited collection
You are editing a book. You need to acquire a dozen and a half chapters for your work. You have put out a call for chapters that is broad and creative; you are hoping that people can see themselves and their work in this call.
You also have people whose projects you've contributed to in the past. You can see some peripheral ties between their work and your project. Do you reach out? If so, how do you try to motivate them to contribute? How do you react if they do not come through? What if their work is not up to standards? What if the potential authors ask for access to your university repositories for research content?
Activity #2: about collaboration and credit
You are an administrator. A research team has approached you to help settle a challenge: In what order should the respective contributors be listed (with the primary author first, and the rest following in descending order from second most important to the so-called least important)?
- Person 1: co-principal investigator, conceptualizer of the original research design, researcher and data collector
- Person 2: co-principal investigator, department head, figurehead in terms of the research, funder of some of the research work not covered by the grant
- Person 3: conductor of the review of the literature to inform the research design and the instrument design
- Person 4: designer of the research instrument, pilot-tester of the research instrument, data collector
- Person 5: data collector, data analyst, data visualization / illustrator
- Person 6: main writer
- Person 7: guest statistician for backup on some of the data analytics
- Person 8: graphic designer
- Person 9: owner of several primary datasets used in the research
- Person 10: grant writer, grant data recorder
- Person 11: sharer of equipment used during the research
- Person 12: secretary and support staff handling travel and other logistics
What order do you have the individuals, and why? How would you justify your approach? When does power come to the fore? When does professional role come to the fore? When does contribution come to the fore? And why?
What happens in the real world?
Should the main authors move some of the contributors to an acknowledgments list and not include some in the bylines? When and why?
Dr. Shalin Hai-Jew
- ITS, Kansas State University