More on Publishing in Philosophy

In a previous post I noted some publishers in philosophy whose lists include studies of Aquinas. Here I identify a few resources that offer good advice about getting book and article manuscripts accepted by respectable publishers.

The 1997 version of The Guidebook for Publishing Philosophy is online, and chapters include On Avoiding Rejection by Journals and General Advice About Book Publishing. The latter chapter reports a study that claims manuscript editors at certain presses divide incoming manuscripts into three categories: (1) those personally solicited from authors by the editor; (2) those that arrive with the recommendation of a notable scholar; and finally (3) those that show up as unsolicited submissions. The sobering conclusion is that “manuscripts in category (1) had a roughly one in three chance of being published, those in category (2) slightly less than one in ten and those in category (3) considerably less than one in a hundred.” In light of these statistics, potential book authors are encouraged to make use of whatever contacts they might have when shopping a book manuscript.

Probably the best-known guide to scholarly publishing is William Germano’s Getting it Published. It is full of straightforward advice, including an endorsement of “The Fifty Page Rule.” Germano encourages authors to pay special attention the first fifty pages of a book manuscript on the assumption that most acquisitions editors need to be convinced about the merits of the manuscript before reading beyond that point. New and seasoned authors will also benefit from Germano’s From Dissertation to Book, since the advice it gives applies generally to reworking previously-written material into new projects. Chapter five, “Reading with An Editor’s Eyes” describes a valuable skill for all potential authors.

A highly entertaining book is Robin Derricourt’s An Author’s Guide to Scholarly Publishing. It offers a series of fictional letters composed to authors covering the virtues of good manuscripts and the sins of bad ones. Letters 34-37, grouped under the title “The Publishing Decision” are particularly insightful, as they collectively identify reasons for outright acceptance, outright rejection, and the middle-ground of “revise and resubmit.” An old classic, now revised, is The Thesis and the Book. In it one editor is described as counseling writers to conceive of any future reader as “in serious trouble most of the time, a man floundering in a swamp, and that it [is] the duty of anyone attempting to write English to drain the swamp quickly and get this man up on dry ground, or at least throw him a rope.” The lesson is that authors should be kind to their reader

Also helpful is Beth Luey’s Handbook for Academic Authors. A chapter on how publishers determine book prices is revelatory, and another chapter about the difficulties of edited collections is quite direct. A recent guide is Getting Published by Gerald Jackson and Marie Lenstrup. A companion website is quite detailed, and recent posts describe the mechanics of book production probably unknown to most authors. Two journals should also be mentioned. The Journal of Scholarly Publishing is a quarterly that publishes pieces of interest to authors, editors, and publishers, and includes reviews and essays in addition to articles. Publishing Research Quarterly covers the whole industry of book publishing, but the occasional article pertains to scholarly publishing.

Why should an academic publish? It is not difficult to find mercenary reasons: publications can lead to a first job, a new job, a raise, tenure, and promotions. One can find other reasons, however. Jaroslov Pelikan argues for a unity between the vocation of teaching and scholarly publishing in The Idea of a University: A Reexamination. In a chapter titled “The Diffusion of Knowledge Through Publishing,” Pelikan argues that “as a key metaphor for the vocation of the scholar, the purely contemplative order is not quite appropriate,” and he then invokes the motto of the Dominican Order, contemplata aliis tradere, as a reason for publishing.