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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 [1]. This was followed with a healthy debate around issues of self-plagiarism and reuse of work published by authors elsewhere within a subsequent monograph.[2] 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 [3] – 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.[4] 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![5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

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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.

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Endnotes

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] This being a theme I often discuss myself in my workshops and lectures.

[5] 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…

[6] 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.

[7] 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!


April 28, 2022

Two Forthcoming Exchanges/Publishing Workshops

Follow-up to Publishing Strategy Accolade Session from Exchanges Reflections: Interdisciplinary Editor Insights

As part of our Accolade and EUTOPIA-SIF training programmes, I’m hosting a pair of workshop sessions next week.

The first on Tue 3rd May, is the return of the ever popular – Exchanges: Ask Me Anything session. As in previous iterations this is a freeform session, wherein I invite the audience to ask me pretty much anything about the Exchanges journal and related areas. Experience has shown half the questions tend to veer off into general topics of academic publication, but that’s fine as I’ll always be interested in a hearty discussion about that broader domain. Additionally, it’s a safe bet I will likely get up on my soapbox about the importance of early career scholars, open access and scholar-led, non-commercial journals disrupting the hegemonic commodified academic communications field.

Ahem. Or maybe this time will be a first and I won’t!

The second session, Thu 5th May, is the return of the Developing your Publication Strategy panel event. We ran this last in March 2021 and it was a very lively discussion. This time I’m joined by four panellists to answer questions, discuss comments and explore all aspects of their personal publication strategies, processes and experiences. The last running of this workshop was an excellent packed hour of discussions, and I’ve every hope this time will be much the same – even though it’s an all new panel!

Now, cynics among you might notice that both these events require fairly light preparation on my part. That’s deliberate, as running the journal – especially around an issue launch – takes up a lot of my time. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t be bringing my customary showmanship and polished hosting skills to the fore on the day! I very much expect our audiences will have a highly informative and energised time.

After those sessions, in this role at least[1] I can then switch to preparing for the end of the month, when I’m running an undergraduate workshop on academic publishing and writing skills. Now that one, I DO need to prepare some materials for, but thankfully there’s a few weeks between then and now for me to fit that in. So more on this later session towards the end of the month.

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[1] In my other job I’m running two workshops in May on preparing and delivering an effective conference paper. No pressure there then.


December 21, 2021

2021 – A Journal’s Year In Review

Writing about web page https://exchanges.warwick.ac.uk/

Dr Gareth J Johnson, Managing Editor in Chief of Exchanges, reflects back on busy, eventful and successful year for the journal – while glimpsing ahead at the next twelve months.

When I served on various student societies and was partly responsible for writing their annual reports, we had a phrase myself and my best friend Simon used to use as the opening line: ‘Well, it’s been a year and what a year it’s been’. Today, this feels like a phrasing which is more than a little apposite when reflecting on the experience of running the Exchanges journal throughout the last twelve months. 2021 certainly has been quite a year.

It’s been a year when like so many others, we’ve continued to work under the most challenge work-a-day experiences of my working lifetime true enough. But it has also been a time for some considerable growth and expansion of our activities. During 2021 for example we produced four issues of the journal, from the Cli-Fi Special (Vol 8.2) back in February through to our regular autumn volume in October (Vol 9.1). Given Exchanges is resourced to produced two issues annually, doubling our output has required some not inconsiderable effort on my part to keep all the additional plates spinning in the air. Producing these issues has too required the ongoing contributions from my Editorial Board and wonderful associate editors who joined us to help produce one or more specific special issues. My thanks to each and every one of them!

This year we’ve also produced another thirteen episodes of The Exchanges Discourse podcast. There would have been more, but I found that my time was being used more often on the journal itself this year, so this side-project wasn’t perhaps given quite as full a flowering in 2021 as I might have liked. That said, in recent weeks we’ve had two new episodes launched, two others recorded and three more already scheduled for recording in 2022. So, it is safe to say, season three of the podcast has got plenty of content already lined up. You can of course catch the most recent episodes here:

Naturally though, my and the editorial team’s core focus remains on the journal. Behind the scenes we’re working towards three additional special issues which I hope will all reach fruition and publication in 2022. Special issues continue to be an exciting area of development for the title, and throughout this year I’ve also been regularly enjoying outline discussions about possible additional special issue projects. I can’t say too much right now as beyond the three scheduled volumes we’ve not (formally) agreed to take any others forward as of yet. Despite that caveat I can admit to having a number of meetings in 2022 pencilled in to change the status of some of these from possibilities to ongoing concerns.

Over and above all this publication and podcasting activity, have been the workshops and outreach sessions I’ve participated in, hosted or chaired. Some of these have been as part of our very own wonderful IAS Accolade Programme for early career researchers. Some of these though have been specifically allied to special issues: with both the Lonely Nerds two-day conference and the two Anthropocene academic writing workshops in September and November being particular standout highlights.

All this, plus the administrative and managerial overheads of running the journal…and all with only a modest amount of staff resource too! It’s been a great success, and while there have been bumps and learning moments along the way, if 2022 is anything like 2021, I think Exchanges can look forward to going from strength to strength in the new year.

So, at the close of this year, at least for me as I depart for a well-earned Christmas vacation, I’m raising a virtual glass to every author, reviewer, editor, workshop delegate and special issue lead I’ve crossed paths with this year. Not to mention all the staff at the IAS itself! You’ve helped make 2021, despite the ongoing pandemic and other crises human-made or otherwise, what it was for Exchanges: a great year. And hence, have my eternal thanks!

Looking to the future, well 2022 sees the beginning of our run up to our tenth anniversary issue with the journal numbering finally hits double figures in the autumn. What do we have planned to commemorate this august moment in October? Well, keep reading this blog, listening to the podcast, accessing the journal – or just talk to me – to find out for sure! Exciting times for me, the journal and all our contributing audiences too I would hope.

In the meanwhile, see you all for an exciting and hopefully less externally eventful 2022!


November 17, 2021

Writing for Academic Journals (Part 2)

Writing about web page https://exchanges.warwick.ac.uk/index.php/exchanges/special-issues

The second workshop in the Anthropocene writing development special issue project tackled peer review and exposed some of the common fears of early scholar authors.

Today was the second of my two part writing for academic journals workshops. I’ve been providing these sessions as part of the Anthropocene and more than human world project, which is tied to the special issue of Exchanges by the same name we have scheduled for 2022. It’s rather a lovely and mutually beneficial arrangement: I deliver training to a group of early career scholars from around the world in academic writing, and in return they all contribute articles to an issue of the journal. Given this helps satisfy both our journal’s primary mission of exposing new scholarly discourse from emerging voices, and provides the opportunity to support their authorial development, I couldn’t be more pleased to be involved. Plus, as those of you reading this who know me, I’ve never been one to shy away from the opportunity to speak publicly about academic publishing! [1]

I was originally invited to give a single three to four hour session as part of the workshop series. However, I concluded given these were being delivered online, and because I am well aware how fatiguing it can be to engage with training for even an hour, let alone for four via Teams, splitting them into two shorter sessions was a more satisfying solution. I think, reading between the lines in the comments from the participants that they recognised and were appreciate of this too.

Whereas the first workshop looked at creating impactful titles and abstracts, before moving on to building the framework of your draft article, today’s second session moved beyond these themes. Hence, we looked at elements such as effective editing, polishing and proofreading, alongside dealing with and responding to peer review feedback. There’s always lots to say about peer review, and I know it’s one of the areas many new scholars approach with considerable trepidation, so it is always worth exploring some more. In this way though, the two halves of the workshop were specifically designed to take the delegates on a journey from inception to delivery of their published article. Albeit in a slightly compressed mode. [2]

Additionally, by splitting the workshops in half, I was able to give the delegates the best part of two months to absorb and reflect on the first workshop experience, and begin to develop their article drafts. As a result, I designed this second session to run a little shorter because I wanted to give more time over to addressing the attendees’ questions and authorial concerns informed by this writing developmental experience. I am delighted to report they certainly didn’t disappoint as there were some excellent questions and comments, and I regret we couldn’t have been in the same room to continue some of these over a coffee and cake afterwards. [3]

One of the two hands-on exercises I had the delegates work through today, was intended to offer a moment of catharsis and revelation. In this they exposed their fears and trepidations concerning writing an article - any article - at this early stage of their academic career. I’ll be picking up on and returning to these comments and suggesting a few answers in a subsequent post and episode of the podcast. What was satisfying to spot, and I hope comforting for the delegates, is none of these fears were unexpected ones. Each were exactly the sort of thing I would expect to be hearing from relatively inexperienced authors.

I came away from the session invigorated and delighted by the discussions, and I hope some of that transferred to the delegates as well – it is always difficult to tell conclusively via teams. However, from the exceptionally positive comments and those delegates I spoke to during the session, I think I can file these workshops under the heading: major success.

Personally, I have considerable confidence that both workshop sessions will have gone some way to answering the delegates’ concerns. Alongside this I hope they will have strengthened the delegates’ resolve, confidence and self-belief that they can and will be able to write excellent articles which have something significant to say. Because, having read their abstracts, I firmly believe each and everyone of them does!

My thanks to Dr Catherine Price for leading on the project, and inviting myself and the journal to participate, and of course each and every delegate for their good humour, patience and engagement with the practical exercises! I await your articles with not inconsiderable interest.

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[1] Or, to be fair, speak loudly publicly anyway.

[2] At the back of my head there’s a weeklong summer school which would seek to decompress what was covered in these workshops, and actually deliver a publishable paper at the end of it. I think I’ll hang on until post-COVID times to look into that though.

[3] Note to potential collaborators, provide me with coffee/tea and cake and I will talk for hours with and about publishing and early career scholars.


October 12, 2021

New Episode: A Conversation with…Catherine Price

Writing about web page https://anchor.fm/exchangesias/episodes/A-Conversation-with---Catherine-Price-e18m8j1

Once again the Exchanges podcast has a new episode out, and on the timely subject of a project allied to a forthcoming special issue of the journal.

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A new term, and with it a new episode of the Exchanges Discourse podcast series. This time we're bringing the focus back to bear on one of our special issues in development.

In this episode we talk with Dr Catherine Price of the University of Nottingham. We discuss her current research into ‘biochar’, along with her work on the ‘Anthropocene and More Than Human World’ project, which is leading to a future special issue of the journal. We touch on some of the benefits from collaborative authorship in academia, as well as how emerging professional networks can serve to enhance writing skills, enthusiasm and achievement for early career researchers. As always, we close we some words of advice for first-time academic authors.

https://anchor.fm/exchangesias/episodes/A-Conversation-with---Catherine-Price-e18m8j1

The episode, along with all our others, can be found on Anchor.fm, but also Spotify, Googleand Apple Podcaststoo - for your listening pleasure!

If you've a suggestion for a future podcast episode, or a suggestion for a guest, please do get in touch or comment below.


October 05, 2021

Writing for Academic Journals Workshop

Writing about web page https://exchanges.warwick.ac.uk/index.php/exchanges/special-issues

A week of so ago I had the pleasure of running a session entitled ‘Writing for Academic Journals’. This was the first of a two part workshop I’m running as part of The Anthropocene and More-Than-Human World workshop series, a British Academy funding project. As avid readers of the journal and this blog will be aware, this is an early career focussed programme wherein various speakers are running workshops for a small group of emerging scholars, with the aim of producing content for a future special issue of Exchanges. Despite my inner critic suggesting ‘What do I know about writing for journals?’ at times as I worked on preparing my session, I am delighted to report the session was somewhat of a smash hit with the audience.

Very much looking forward to part two in November where we’ll be returning to looking more at the peer-review elements and revisions to manuscripts part of the submission and publication experience. Given the high level of interaction and positive response to the first workshop, I’m hoping the second part experiences the same reaction. Moreover, I’m hoping too that by then the participants are well on the way towards producing their submissions for the journal!

Incidentally, you’ll be able to hear more about the project when the next episode of the podcast goes live, as I was in conversation with Dr Catherine Price yesterday concerning it.


July 02, 2018

Workshopping Exchanges

In recent days I’ve been asked to run two different workshops this coming autumn. Firstly, I’ll be likely contributing to a summer school on peer review and effective academic writing. This is quite exciting as it’s a development of the brief session I ran a month or so back for STEM post-graduate researchers at Warwick. Naturally, I haven’t even begun to start pulling the material together for this, but it will make for a great opportunity to firstly promote the journal to some future potential authors and reviewers. Secondly, it will once again provide me with a strong motivation to go back over my own peer-reviewing knowledge and the journal’s protocols with a fine-toothed comb. Benefits all round there.

The other workshop is a new development in the Institute’s Accolade programme for our research fellows. The brief is to run a workshop for a couple of hours around Exchanges and scholarly publishing. Obviously as Senior Editor (and a researcher into publishing practices) I could easily fall into a long discourse about publishing developments, but I think it would be more beneficial for the participants if I mostly hold off on that and develop some more kinaesthetic learning experiences. I’ve sketched out a session thumbnail for now, but I’ll come back to this in a few months as the ideas start to crystallise in my head a bit more.

Whatever happens, it is great to be contributing to training and teaching once more, whilst also spreading the good word about Exchanges.


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