All entries for Wednesday 01 March 2023
March 01, 2023
Taking Control & Trusting Your Heart: Monograph Proposals Panel (Feb ’23)
A brief narrative of the key points coming out of the healthy and hearty debate stretching over ninety minutes concerning academic monograph proposals.
This week (Tue 28th Feb) I hosted a panel discussion as part of the Accolade+ programme, with a focus on monograph publication. It was the sequel event to one held last June on the same subject, albeit this time featuring an entirely new panel. For the session I was joined in discussion by a most excellent foursome comprising:
- Marcos Estrada: Department of Global & Social Studies, King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals (KFUPM), Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
- Rupert Gatti: Open Book Publishers, Director, Cambridge, UK
- Valérie Hayaert: EUTOPIA SIF Fellow/School of Law, University of Warwick, UK
- Yvonne Budden: Scholarly Communications Manager, University of Warwick Library, UK
Each panellist brought some unique to the table from international perspectives through rights management and publisher specific knowledge, and a whole lot more in between. Personally, I felt the panel neatly complimented each other in the breadth of knowledge and variety of insights they brought to the session, and was delighted as a real conversation emerged over the ninety minute session.
After exploring some issues contrasting the subtle but distinct differences between UK based and internationally based publishers, we moved to explore an important key question: why go to all this effort to publish a monograph at all. A number of points were made alongside identifying while in some subjects, the print format monograph retains a unique and specific value, the idea of a book as a ‘digital research object’ means something more. Something which has the potential to reach a far greater number of readers than ever before, all to the advantage of the author, their career and their disciplinary contribution alike. It was highlighted that – especially for open access (OA) books – when contrasted with the average ‘sell-through’ of the research monograph being around 200 copies, online, OA books can achieve hundreds of downloads monthly. Unquestionably a significantly beneficial in terms of visibility and career esteem for the publishing scholar.
The panel moved on to explore ideas around the clarity of any monograph proposal, starting with the underscoring the importance of the author being clear about its unique selling point (USP). We touched too on ideas of publishing and any text’s potential marketability being a crucial element to identify for commercially configured presses. Although one panellist identified their dislike for any commercial publisher requirements in authors identifying ‘competing texts’. It was proposed such an element was a reification of the regretful communication of academic publishing which continues to maintain a hegemony over monograph dissemination praxis. Hence, one theme strongly espoused from the panel was the importance, value and impact from publishing via an OA press, be they commercial, scholarly or institutionally based. Certainty, in terms of readership and hence in the longer-term impact and recognition of the work, OA makes a strong, coherent argument for helping any author achieve the career esteem they desire.
Panellists raised a related issue with the importance of authors achieving compliance with any funder requirements . This was followed with a healthy debate around issues of self-plagiarism and reuse of work published by authors elsewhere within a subsequent monograph. The thesis it was agreed is a document constructed and addressed to a very limited and restricted readership. It was characterised as an examination object, something designed to primarily demonstrate the depth and appreciation of the authors knowledge, and original contribution, to defend and demonstrate their expertise and learning. By contrast the ‘mutation or evolution’ of this work into a monograph, requires a transformation of this text into something new, addressed within a more persuasive mode of address and targeted at a much broader readership audience. Importantly when considering self-plagiarism, the importance of retaining author rights when publishing materials in short form – say in an edited collection – was highlighted as being a valuable consideration.
The panel proposed how making use of any local rights retention schemes, or adding clauses expressing their rights over their work during any contract negotiations were vital. These, it was suggested, would help ensure authors retained maximum control over the expression and reuse of any prior work utilised in later monographs. One handy tip was made concerning depositing a version of the text in the local OA repository, and thus having any future publication agreements would be subservient to those of the already available repository version.
The panel returned at this point once more to considerations of the prospective book’s USP, and how while it might include work published in one form or another elsewhere, the sum of its parts would be greater, in terms of making a substantive claim to a contribution to knowledge. Naturally, in constructing the work, here was where ensuring any previously established rights over portions of the text, e.g. previously published elsewhere, which might have been transferred or acquired need to be acknowledged and respected. This illustrated why retaining author rights is so vital, although as was noted, while expressions can be copyrighted the same was not true for ideas. Hence, rearticulating an author’s ideas in a new way, would not form a self-plagiarising or rights breaking addition to a monograph. When agreeing to a publishing contract, the panel suggested strong and effective negotiation between an author and a publisher was important. Where any particular publisher seemed intransient though, then it was advised it would be best to ‘move along’ to another, more accommodating publishing house.
A crucial question suggested from this debate arose: how to go about achieving the evolution of the thesis text to monograph. The panel highlighted how this was where support, advice and insight from the author’s colleagues would prove invaluable. As one panellist stressed, even colleagues from outside your discipline – including specialist librarians and knowledgeable editors-in-chief  – can make a vital contribution in advising the author in drafting an effective, engaging and appropriate proposal. The panel considered how there is no ‘one size fits all’ proposal, and how each publisher will respond to any submitted proposal would be just as varied. Which they discussed was why being able to learn from these varied prior experiences can serve to inform, refine and ameliorate any would-be monograph author’s preconceptions and strategies in drafting their proposal.
One especially strong theme represented by the panel was the importance of recognising the client/service relationship between author and publishers. Whilst commercial publishers are, regretfully, focussed on what can enrich their shareholders, scholars should remember the power is theirs. The panel argued that research, and its outputs, should not be shaped by commercial interests, but by the passion, knowledge and growing wisdom of those scholars working upon it. If authors are preparing to embark on what may be a multiple year journey to publication, then they need to stand their ground, trust their heart and seek to publish – in essence – what they wanted to publish.
In a related point, the panel considered how this might require publishing a ‘stand-alone monograph’ rather than a contribution to an established series: which might be more challenging prospect for some. Especially, it was noted, where publishers are swayed by cultural, social or historical events and more receptive to ‘flavour of the month’ proposal themes. Naturally, it was advised that savvy authors could use such biases to their advantage by skewing their work to fit such favoured themes. However, the panel cautioned once more against distorting a monograph extensively simply to achieve a publication contract.
There was some focus on the ideas of publishing with ‘significant’ publishers vs lesser known ones. The panel agreed that yes, on a basic reading the career capital of publishing with a ‘major’ publisher might offer greater personal validation. However, it was suggested disseminating your monograph with a publisher willing to publish it outside an enclosed, commercial milieux because this is an author’s preference, would also pay dividends. In this latter respect, being able to justify an author’s rationale for publishing with their desired publisher to hiring committees, promotion boards and the like, was highlighted as an excellent route in demonstrating self-actualisation and validation as a discerning scholar. Hence, why an author chose a publisher matters, the panel suggested, more than whom they decided would be their publisher.
The panel also touched briefly on matters of affect as it pertains to impacts on establishing and maintaining publisher relationships. The panel suggested that, unlike journal articles, simultaneously approaching a small number of publishers with a monograph proposal was a valid option. Provided that is, authors are totally transparent about this strategy in all of their dealings with the publishers. The panel noted any lost labour time for their editors or reviewers which occurs where authors decide to take up a – hitherto unknown – other contract option, would be a rapid way to gain a poor reputation in the publishing field. The panel remarked how it was not unknown for the same peer-reviewers to be contacted about a text from different publishers, and for them to whistle blow on the author’s multi-pronged approach!
Moving on, the discussions touched on ideas of allowing publishers to shape your proposal, and as had been discussed previously it was suggested this was something to be approached with extreme caution if not overt avoidance. Again, reiterating their earlier comment of ‘follow your heart’ one panellist, underscored the importance of seeking to publish what authors wanted to. The panel opined how adapting texts to suit the mores or perceptions of specific geographical audiences – e.g. the US – for reasons of marketability were also inadvisable. Although, they countered if these specifically were the major audience the academic wanted to touch with their work, then some regional modification to the proposal might make for a desirable aspect. The panel noted these comments were in contrast to reviewer feedback, which at a later stage would help to enhance and improve the authors text. This though was something which would occur after a scholar had a contract with their publisher.
The question of how advanced in should an author be in transitioning their thesis text to a monograph format ahead of their proposal’s submission was raised. The panel’s view was that once more this was a matter which would vary between publishers. It was suggested some commercial publishers would be happy with a sample chapter and strong proposal. Alternatively university-based presses it was thought were likely to want the whole monograph essentially in a final draft form before they were willing to take it on as a publishing project. As in all publishing matters, the panel advised checking websites and speaking to past authors about their experiences with specific publishers as a route to significantly help clarify options for prospective authors.
Looking ahead to the latter stages of publication, the panel also touched briefly on the art – and costs – of professional indexing. Again, it was noted this could be a service which some publishers offered, although for others this would be an add on cost. However, where authors worked for wealthy institutions, such costs may well be covered locally or from their own research funding.
Finally, as chair, I asked each of the panellists for their key advice for prospective monograph authors. Yvonne stressed it was the importance of talking to everyone you could about their experiences, insights and advice. Rupert reiterated the importance of always that how the author should remain in a controlling, commanding position throughout the proposal and publication process in terms of of how and where your work is published. Marcos resonated with these points adding, how crucial it was for authors to always retain sight of the uniqueness of their work, their voice and their scholarship throughout: from proposal to revision to publication.
I would of course like to express my thanks to all four of my panellists, and of course my audience for keeping the questions, comments and observations coming thick and fast. My apologies we couldn’t get into every single point – I suspect we might have filled the entire time discussing the nuance of rights, reuse and self-plagiarism alone! I hope there will be some highly energised follow-on conversations to come out of this panel, and naturally am more than happy to chat with any of the delegates (or panel) at length. Hopefully, we’ll see some or possibly all of the panel back when this session returns in 2024.
 Specifically here the UKRI’s 2024 policy for all their funded researchers. If you’re looking to publish a monograph from next year in the UK, it’s something with which I’d strongly advise authors familiarise themselves.
 The phrase ‘published’ of course has a discrete and highly-variable character from publishing house to publishing house. The panel’s advice here, was check any contract carefully, alongside speaking with the commissioning editor if the author was unsure how any prior distributed or disseminated work would be perceived.
 Look, if I’m going to chair and write this report, let me have a least a single tiny moment of self-aggrandization and valorisation, okay? But seriously, I do enjoy talking over all aspects of the publication processes with our fellows.
 This being a theme I often discuss myself in my workshops and lectures.
 Having, as an editor, been on the receiving end of such behaviour I can ensure you it significantly declines the professional reputation of the author. And the academic publisher community isn’t that large a world…
 Strong might be the wrong word here – as we touched on the idea of how interesting or appealing a proposal might be, or how thematically it might fit within a publishers target demographic better as being reasons for it being commissioned by them. Hence, simply being a good proposal might not be enough.
 Valérie had unfortunately had to depart after an hour to teach a class. However, I suspect she might have had some key points about the differences between disciplinary traditions and monograph publication approaches and experiences. But, obviously, speak to her to be sure!
New AI & Authorship Policy Introduced
Follow-up to AI & Authorship from Exchanges Reflections: Interdisciplinary Editor Insights
A new policy of interest to authors using AI tools to support their research or writing has been introduced.
As discussed last month, the Exchanges Editorial Board have been considering the introduction of a new policy relating to authors and their use of artificial intelligence (AI) tools. As of the end of February, this new policy has been introduced and is line with best practice ethical guidance, and current publishing practices.
Briefly speaking, AI tools cannot be cited as authors within any Exchangespapers and authors are solely responsible for any and all contents of their manuscripts. Additionally, where AI tools are used to prepare any portion of the manuscript, the usage of these tools needs to cited, explained and transparent. In this way, authors are not denied the usage of AI tools within their work, but need to demonstrably show how such tools have contributed to their research, writing and related endeavours.
For more information see:
Announcement: New AI Policy Introduced
Journal Policies: Authorship & AI Tools PolicyOr of course, contact the journal to discuss this further.