As researchers, a fundamental part of what we do is dissemination. How useful can our research really be if we don’t tell people about it? What is the point of plumbing the depths of our topic if we never share our findings with others? While there are many ways in which we can share our research with colleagues and the wider public, perhaps the most important way is to publish. Indeed, publication has long been a key expectation of academics. Our CVs include lists of publications; our biographical statements list our books; our careers depend on articles and monographs; and every academic has their story of their first publication.
My own story involves an accident. In my final year of my PhD I was very aware that I would soon need to start publishing, though my particular programme did not allow publication of any part of the thesis until after the viva. It was recommended that I look instead to publishing a book review as a gentle introduction to the world of publishing. Blissfully ignorant of how such things worked, I simply chose a new book that I wanted to read and phoned up the publisher to ask for a review copy. The publishers, unaware that I had no agreement with a journal – an no idea that such an arrangement was necessary – quite happily posted me a copy of the book, which I began reading post-haste.
Upon finishing reading the last page, I wrote up a review, and merrily sent it off to what I knew to be the best journal in my field, only to be told that one has to be asked to review a book. The editor, being kind – and probably slightly amused – agreed to put the review in the newsletter of an international centre for the study of urban history, and soon I received a copy of my review in the post. In a round-about way, I’d made it into print. More importantly, I’d learned a lesson about publishing book reviews.
While I soon followed up with a proper journal article, my first foray into the world of publishing was slightly less than victorious. But I learned from the mistake. Fifteen years and three books later, it occurred to me that planning an event aimed at helping postgraduate students to understand academic publishing would be a useful addition to their training. Fortunately, the Institute for Academic Development offered the perfect platform for such an event.
As part of the ‘WriteFest 2019’ programme, we included an event specifically for postgraduate students to help them understand the processes and pitfalls of getting their work published. As this was really a pilot to help us think through how such events should work for all the schools in the University, we limited the scope of this initial project to a single, broad area – the past. The event focussed on postgrads in subjects related to history, classics and archaeology, with an emphasis on the School of History, Classics and Archaeology (SHCA). I’d given a single lecture on this topic before, as part of a postgraduate course on the online MSc programme in history at Edinburgh, so some of the shape of the event had already been worked out, but I also wanted to avoid simply telling the students about my own personal experience. We therefore sought out colleagues from SHCA with experience of being editors for monograph series and academic journals to participate in a panel discussion about just what it is that publishers are looking for.
We also contacted our local academic publishers, Edinburgh University Press (EUP), to ask if one of their monograph-series editors would be willing to contribute. Jen Daly, who is EUP’s commissioning editor for politics and Scottish studies, was the first of our panel of publishers. She was soon joined by Professor Ewen Cameron, the head of the School of History, Classics and Archaeology. As he was a veteran member of EUP’s Press Committee, he had read hundreds of book proposals. He was also co-editor of the Scottish Historical Review and is currently co-editor of the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, so he was able to bring insights into both monograph and journal-article publication.
Rounding out the panel, were two colleagues from archaeology and classics. As an experienced author of numerous books and articles, Dr Theodora Hadjimichael represented the School’s classicists, while the head of the Archaeology subject area, Dr Manuel Fernández-Götz, brought further editorial experience from a monograph series and an academic journal. Our panel therefore offered broad coverage with both academics and publishers; editors of books and editors of journals; and a great deal of publishing experience.
Those who attended the event came not only from history, classics and archaeology, but also from divinity, literature and political-science backgrounds. With a cup of coffee in front of the students, I began asking questions to the panel. We began with the research and planning stage, before looking at how to choose the right publisher for your work. We looked at the process of submitting the monograph proposal or article typescript, and we discussed the peer review process. Issues of publishing strategies and forward planning were covered, as were the controversies and opportunities of ‘open access’ publications. Questions for the panel looked not only chronologically across the life cycle of a paper or book, but also at both sides of the publishing partnership, incorporating the points of view from both publishers and authors. As such, those who attended had a wealth of expertise to draw on.
Feedback certainly suggested that the students found the event useful, and hopefully this pilot event will lead to similar sessions in the future for other schools in the University. While it would be good to record a future version of the event, the discussions about current topics like REF submissions and open access policies flagged up the challenges that come with frequent changes (eg: REF cycles), so perhaps the way forward is to hold such events on an annual basis? Certainly it has flagged up the potential in such an event for helping our students in their development. This potential is best achieved through a partnership which goes beyond the academy, as demonstrated by the involvement of Edinburgh University Press, the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, and the Institute for Academic Development.
Dr Aaron Allen
Academic Developer, IAD