Why Academics Should Publish Books With University Presses

I discovered that last Friday was publication day for a book of great interest to me: Indigenous Research Ethics: Claiming Research Sovereignty Beyond Deficit and the Colonial Legacy, an edited collection out of New Zealand and published by Emerald. In hardback. For £85. Or as an e-book, for £80.75.

I have been cross for a while about the ridiculous pricing of some academic publications, and now I’m furious. I really want to read this book, and it’s way beyond my budget. It will be beyond the budget of most independent or precariously employed researchers. And how many Indigenous scholars can afford £85 for a book – or the e-book with a derisory £4.25 reduction?

This pricing is calculated for academic libraries. It is closed access in book form. The publisher can claim they are supporting Indigenous researchers and scholars and, sure, those whose work is published in this book get a new line on their CV which may help them in their career. But their work is not going to be widely read, used, and cited by others. Because, guess what, academic libraries are experiencing budget cuts. I was chatting on social media with a senior academic who had asked her university library to get this book, and whose library had said no, that’s above our threshold now.

This is of course n=1, so let’s take a wider look. I’ve been doing some research into the practices and economics of academic publishing – and it’s horrifying. Of course books and journals are inextricably linked, but I can’t cover both in one post, so I’m focusing on books today; journals in a couple of weeks’ time.

Broadly, academic publishers can be divided into three categories:

  1. for profit and part of a bigger business;

2. stand-alone independent for profit; and

3. not for profit.

In general, the scholarly publishing industry makes a 35-40% profit margin. Walmart makes 3%. Publishers that are part of bigger businesses are usually part of global corporations who divert a proportion of any profit to their shareholders. In such corporations, the academic publishing arm is often so profitable that it is propping up other parts of the business.

A lot of scholars are completely unaware of how this works. Most scholars in the social sciences and the humanities have heard of the book publisher Routledge; most STEM scholars have heard of CRC Press. Some know that one or other is part of the academic publisher Taylor & Francis. Few understand that Taylor & Francis is part of Informa, a global corporation in the FTSE 100, huge, wealthy, growing – and making good money for its shareholders. Taylor & Francis isn’t a little bit of Informa, it is the second biggest of five divisions, and, according to the 2019 annual report, is showing ‘good levels of growth’. In 2019 Taylor & Francis’ revenue was £560m, and its adjusted operating profit was £218m. Part of this was due to ‘a steady performance in books’ – 7,300 books, in fact, that year. E-books accounted for 31% of the year’s total book sales.

I found a vaguely equivalent book on Routledge’s website: Social Science Research Ethics for a Globalizing World: Interdisciplinary and CrossCultural Perspectives, another edited collection. The hardback price is an eye-watering £125, but at least there is a less expensive paperback (£36.99) and e-book (£33.29). They’re still outside my budget, though – my ceiling is £30. (Full disclosure – I could buy the paperback with my Routledge author discount. But we can’t all write for all of the publishers. And these prices are still very high for a 350-page book.)

By contrast, UCL Press is a fully open access press. It is run by a working group of the UCL Library Committee, and has published 184 books since it was established in 2015. And those books are all fully open access. Which means free. Free to download, free to read.

Not, sadly, free to write, though – at least, not for all authors. Publication is free for people working at UCL, and for their co-authors and co-editors. UCL also cover the publication costs of up to five non-UCL book projects each year. After that, it costs £5,000 to publish a book of up to £100,000 words. This would usually come from research funders, as part of the dissemination strategy for a research bid.

So there is still a huge degree of privilege in operation here. To publish a book with UCL Press you need to be connected with UCL, or very lucky, or funded, or rich. You almost certainly won’t be from the global South. I have been worried for a long time that open access would benefit readers at the expense of writers, and this does seem to be happening. But I understand that, on the whole, this is a step on the way to social good, as it offers good quality academic literature more freely to any reader with an internet connection. Also, UCL Press are offering consultancy and training to other universities that want to set up open access publishers of their own.

There are other OA and scholar-led presses at Goldsmiths, Westminster, Huddersfield and elsewhere. Larger university presses in the UK include Bristol University Press, Liverpool University Press, Manchester University Press and Edinburgh University Press. Then there are the oldest and largest, Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press. And there are many others around the world. Their mission includes making research available to the public, and giving voice to under-represented groups and experiences. Any surplus income they generate goes to support their mission.

You can see the difference, too, when you read the books. Routledge publishes some good books but their production values are not high. They are often poorly edited and with inadequate or no index, and their cover designs are basic and repetitive. Policy Press, an imprint of Bristol University Press, also publishes some good books and their production values are much higher. The editing is good, more of their books have good indexes, and their covers are carefully designed.

So, academics, what do you want for your books? Do you want them to be well constructed and made available to as many people as possible, by an organisation with a mission to help make that happen? Or do you want them to be averagely constructed and available only through some academic libraries, by an organisation that has a mission to line the pockets of its shareholders?

The recent Open Access Manifesto for Freedom, Integrity and Creativity in the Humanities and Interpretive Social Sciences recommends that scholars in those sectors consider the political and ethical implications of where they choose to publish, and aim for ‘outlets whose values align with your own’. I would recommend that for scholars and researchers in all sectors.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $70 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $70 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Book Giveaway!

This week I simply do not have time to write a post for you all. So I thought instead I’d run a 24-hour giveaway for my subscribers. Would you like to win a copy of one of my books? I’m offering a copy of my book on creative research methods – the new second edition – or, if you already have that (or if you prefer), the title of your choice from the Insider Guides to Success in Academia series that I’m co-editing with Pat Thomson.

If you already subscribe to this blog, hurrah, you’re eligible! If you don’t, the first thing you need to do is find ‘Follow Blog By Email’ (probably on the right of the screen if you’re on a laptop or tablet, at the bottom if you’re on a phone), put your email address in the box and click ‘Follow’.

(By the way, as far as I am concerned you are subscribers, not followers. I don’t mind having subscribers but I don’t like the idea of having followers because I’m not the Pied Piper or some kind of dodgy cult figurehead.)

So, OK, now you’re a subscriber, or maybe you already were; either way, hurrah. All you need to do to enter the giveaway is leave a comment below telling me which book you would like if you win. Then in around 24 hours – that’s between 9.30 and 10 am BST on Friday 16 October 2020 – I will type out all the names in the same order as the comments, number them consecutively, and use this random number generator to select the winner. Then I will announce the winner here, they can give me their address through the contact form on this website, and I will send their book to wherever they are in the world.

Good luck!

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $70 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $70 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Learning From Stories

Human beings learn from stories all the time. In everyday conversation we tell and share stories to teach and entertain and strengthen social bonds: what to cook with a glut of apples, why I found my house keys in the fridge, when auntie Flossie fell off Blackpool Pier. We learn from stories in books and films, in songs and plays, and we tell each other those stories, too.

Researchers and academics learn from journal articles and policy documents, monographs and webinars. These also contain stories, though they are often in disguise, and they tend to be briefer and with less depth than stories told or shown. A lot of us enjoy this kind of learning, or most of it, though it takes more effort than the other kind.

I have some good news to share. We can learn useful information for our scholarly work from novels, memoirs, and poetry. For example, regular readers will know of my interests in Indigenous research and ethics, and in anti-racism work. Some of my teachers here are books I have read. As usual with my book posts, there is no system involved, I have just pulled some volumes off my shelves. Some were recommended to me, some I found in bookshops.

The Marrow Thieves by Métis writer Cherie Dimaline is a post-apocalyptic tale of a northern America devastated by global warming, where Indigenous people are being hunted for their bone marrow because it has special qualities. The protagonist is a boy called Frenchie who becomes separated from his family and has to travel north to try to find them. This book is classified as Young Adult literature, presumably because the protagonist is a boy, but I wouldn’t let that put you off. If you don’t like any kind of speculation with your fiction, you probably won’t enjoy this book (although there isn’t much), but I do and I did. And I learned a lot about how it can feel to be Indigenous, because that is one of the things novels can teach us which official writing mostly can’t. The Marrow Thieves won a bunch of awards, which is not surprising as it’s a terrific book.

Indian Horse by Ojibwe writer Richard Wagamese is another book focusing on Indigenous experience. This one is straightforward fiction, telling the life story of an Ojibwe character, Saul Indian Horse, and his trials and joys. It is beautiful, evocative and moving – and informative about the effects of individual, group, systemic, and national racism. It is very skilfully written, drawing me into unfamiliar cultural experiences such as competitive ice hockey, and enabling me to identify and empathise with people unlike any I have ever met. The characters and their experiences stayed with me long after I finished reading. This excellent book has now been made into a film, Indian Horse, which was the highest-grossing English Canadian film of 2018.

Night Spirits, by Ila Bussidor and Üstün Bilgen-Reinart, is a true story, the story of the Sayisi Dine people who were relocated – with only a few hours’ notice – by the Canadian government in August 1956. They were moved from their ancestral homelands in remote northern Manitoba to a slum area on the outskirts of Churchill, a frontier town on the shores of Hudson Bay. The Sayisi Dene had had little contact with white people and moved from a life of self-reliant sustainability to being social outcasts. Over the next 17 years, almost one-third of the Sayisi Dene died violently or as a result of their terrible living conditions. Ila Bussidor is a former chief of the Sayisi Dene and Üstün Bilgen-Reinart is a broadcaster and journalist. They worked together to tell this ‘dark story’ and to tell it ‘in hope’. It is well written, but emotionally hard to read because it is so full of injustice and tragedy. Yet there is hope: in 1973 the remaining Sayisi Dene began to assert their independence and leave Churchill to build a new community.

Poetry, too, tells stories. The anthology New Poets of Native Nations, edited by Ojibwe writer Heid E. Erdrich, brings together the work of 21 Indigenous poets from the 21st century. All the poets are from different parts of the lands we currently call America and Canada. The stories they tell are compelling, lyrical, raw, visual, sometimes funny. I didn’t know any of these poets’ work before I read the anthology, and I was particularly taken with Layli Long Soldier. I wanted to reproduce one of her poems here, but I thought I might fall foul of copyright, then I found it online so here’s the link to Obligations 2 which is an astonishing work, unconventional, perhaps the closest to a perfect poem that I have ever read. This anthology is delightfully multi-vocal and insightful.

I also want to learn from single voices and about racism closer to home. I pulled Let Me Tell You This by Nadine Aisha Jassat off the shelves in my last trip to Housmans radical bookshop, which I love to visit when I’m travelling through Kings Cross/St Pancras (I’ll be back when I can travel again, I promise – if you’re in the area with a little time to spare, do go and check it out). Jassat is a young British Asian poet whose voice loves and rages, punches and strokes with deftness and delight. She tells stories of contemporary British Asian life, with an emphasis on women’s and girls’ experiences in family and friendship. Her writing is readable, insightful, and a great teacher. This is her first collection, and it’s an impressive debut; I look forward to finding out what more she has to say in the future.

We’re back to the US for Hot Comb, a terrific collection of graphic short stories by Ebony Flowers, which I found in Waterstones in Cork in February. Regular readers will also know that I love graphic novels and comics, and part of why I love them is for their ability to take me into places I could never go – or, at least, not without causing change by my presence. These stories take me into Black society and let me share and learn from some of the experiences there. They are well written and drawn, with memorable characters. (And I discovered, in finding her link for this post, that Ebony Flowers is also an ethnographer, who uses comics in her research work – yay!!)

One of the best things about all of these books, and others like them, is I get to learn from people of colour without bothering them in person. And another best thing is that they are all so enjoyable to read – harrowing, too, at times, but that’s part of the point of literature for me: to move me emotionally, because that, too, helps me learn. As well as the grief and loss and pain, there is hope and growth and joy in these books, and humanity, and gentle teaching.

If your interests are in other areas, search out books and films that deal with your favoured subjects. If you too are interested in anti-racism, then I recommend any or all of the books described above. And if you have recommendations to share, please put them in the comments.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $57 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $57 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Research Methods Books By Women Of Colour

Last week I was tagged in a tweet asking this very interesting question:

I thought of a couple of responses immediately, then another the next morning. I also decided to write this blog post because I knew there was more I could say.

Disclaimer: this isn’t a ‘best of’ or a full review, this is simply what is on my shelves in my personal research methods library. I have found these books from social media, peer reviews, bibliographies, recommendations. Between them they cover a wide range of methods and topics: qualitative, quantitative and multi-modal research; arts-based methods and technology; decolonizing methods and Indigenous research; various disciplinary topics; and a lot of ethics.

‘Why to’ books

These books make a case for doing research in certain ethical ways. Let’s start with a classic: Decolonizing Methodologies by Linda Tuhiwai Smith. I read this ground-breaking book during my Masters’ in Social Research Methods around the turn of the century, and bought the second edition when it came out in 2012. This little paperback is remarkably comprehensive and full of wisdom.

Building on the work of Smith: Decolonizing Educational Research: From Ownership To Answerability by Leigh Patel (2016). This is a thoughtful, passionate clarion call for education research to focus on learning.

Building on both of the above: Decolonizing Interpretive Research: A Subaltern Methodology for Social Change, edited by Antonia Darder (2019). Interpretive research prioritises philosophical and methodological ways of understanding society. While this book is quite conceptual, its use of multiple voices provides a depth of insight into the importance of the points it makes. Also, if you have read Smith and Patel before you get to this book, it will make more sense.

‘How to’ books

Heewon Chang’s Autoethnography As Method (2008) is a book I frequently recommend to students. It is readable, practical, and clear. Autoethnography is sometimes criticized as self-indulgent and navel-gazing, but if you do it Chang’s way, it won’t be. Also autoethnography has a key role to play in these pandemic times.

Pranee Liamputtong’s Performing Qualitative Cross-Cultural Research (2010) is another classic. It is great on cultural sensitivity and gives lots of really helpful examples. Every researcher should read this book unless they’re absolutely sure they are doing monocultural research – and even then they would probably learn something useful.

Caroline Lenette’s Arts-Based Methods in Refugee Research: Creating Sanctuary (2019) is more specialist, yet has a lot to offer to anyone interested in arts-based methods. She pays particular attention to the methods of digital storytelling, photography, community music, and participatory video.

Indigenous methodologies

 Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts (2009) is by Margaret Kovach from Saskatchewan in Canada. This very readable book includes conversations with six Indigenous thinkers which contribute an interesting diversity of ideas and experiences.

Indigenous Research Methodologies (2019 – 2nd edition) by Bagele Chilisa from Botswana in Africa is another classic. It is also very readable and comprehensive.

The first disciplinary book I found on Indigenous methodologies is by Lori Lambert: Research for Indigenous Survival: Indigenous Research Methodologies in the Behavioral Sciences (2014). Lambert is from the US and, like Kovach, includes other voices in her work. However, the other voices in Lambert’s book are of people from Indigenous communities, in Canada, the US and Australia, who are subject to research. As is common with Indigenous research texts, Lambert’s book is very readable.

Maggie Walter from Tasmania is lead author of Indigenous Statistics: A Quantitative Research Methodology (2013) with Chris Andersen from Canada (who is a man, but I guess he can’t help that, and evidently he was happy for Walter to be first author so good for him). If you’re quant-averse, don’t worry; this is not about how to do sums, it’s about which sums are worth doing and why. And, again, it’s very readable.

Edited collections

These are both edited by men, but are on relevant topics and include chapters by women of colour. The first is White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology (2008) edited by Tukufu Zuberi and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. Two-fifths of chapters are written or co-written by women of colour.

The second is Research Justice: Methodologies for Social Change (2012) edited by Andrew Jolivétte. Only two chapters in this book are by men, the other 14 are by women (including Antonia Darder and Linda Smith). I reviewed this book for the LSE book review blog back in 2015.

Other relevant topics

While these books are not directly about research methods, they are on topics which are so relevant to researchers that I will include them here.

Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (2018), by Safiya Noble, is a passionately and beautifully argued book about why algorithms are not neutral and the impact that has on society. Researchers use search engines all the time and we need to know about this stuff.

Race After Technology (2019) by Ruha Benjamin builds on and expands Noble’s work. She demonstrates that advances in technology are lauded as objective and progressive, but in fact they reproduce and reinforce existing inequalities. Crucially, she includes a chapter on practical ways to counter this dissonance.

Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias (2020) by Pragya Agarwal helps us to understand and challenge our own unconscious biases. Any researcher concerned about ethics would benefit from reading this book.

In fact, any researcher concerned about ethics would benefit from reading any of the books listed here. Although the word ‘ethics’ doesn’t appear in any of the titles, each of these books points the way towards a more ethical research practice.

This is certainly not a comprehensive list of methods and other research-relevant books (and chapters) by women of colour. If you have other suggestions to make, please add them in the comments.

This is a simulpost with the blog of the Social Research Association of the UK and Ireland.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $52 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $52 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Juggling Multiple Writing Projects: Three Top Tips

jugglingThis is a crazy year of writing. A co-written book is about to be published and I’m working on three others (one solo, two co-written) and preparing a fifth, also co-written, for self-publication next spring. I have two co-written journal articles in production, one on submission, two more under construction (one co-written, one solo) and I’ve just agreed to collaborate on another next year. Then there are research reports and, for one client, a book chapter. Not to mention writing a post for this blog most weeks.

I didn’t plan it this way. Of the three books I’m working on, one came as a dream paid project that I couldn’t turn down, and another took two years to come to fruition which it did, from my point of view, at exactly the wrong time. But there are four of us working on it so at least I only have to write three chapters for that one.

So I’m doing a lot of juggling. Part of the key to this is careful timetabling. Here’s my book writing timetable for the next few months:

Dec: work on book 2 manuscript (MS) and book 3 MS

Jan: work on book 2 MS and book 3 MS; book 2 MS to publishers by end Jan; reviews of book 1 MS back to me by end Jan

Feb: work on book 1 final draft (FD) and book 3 MS

Mar: work on book 1 FD and book 3 MS; book 1 FD to publishers by mid-March; book 3 MS to publishers by end March; reviews of book 2 MS back to me by end March

Apr: work on book 2 FD

May: work on book 2 FD; end May reviews of book 3 MS back to me

Jun: work on book 2 FD and book 3 FD; book 2 FD to publishers by end June

Jul: work on book 3 FD; book 3 FD to publishers by end July

Then there are the journal articles, other outputs for clients, teaching and speaking commitments, self-publishing, promotion for existing books and articles, research and evaluation project work for clients… oh and the holidays. I’ve set some time aside for breaks, and some time when I will be working from my home office and not travelling. Otherwise I end up travelling ALL the time – in the first three months of next year I’m already due to work in Brussels (twice), Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Glasgow, Southampton, Sheffield, Birmingham and Manchester.

Careful timetabling is only part of the key: the other part is meeting self-imposed deadlines. At the moment I need to write 1,000 words six days a week on book 3. Each 1,000 words takes 2-4 hours, and is often done in the evening and at weekends. If I don’t stick to that schedule I’ll fall behind – if not with book 3 then with one of the others.

On the plus side, there are advantages to working on several books at once. Recently I got some feedback on parts of book 2 from my co-author. Most of it was useful constructive criticism, with occasional suggested deletions where he really didn’t like something. On the whole I accept his amendments – he’s a good writer and I value his input – but there was one paragraph that he’d suggested deleting which I rather liked. I was considering whether to argue for keeping it in, when I realised it would work rather well in book 3. So, ta-da! Co-author happy, me pleased, all well.

I enjoy writing collaboratively. I always learn from co-authors, and the resulting work is usually better than anything I could produce alone. I’m not sure, though, that it takes less time than solo writing. Yes, I don’t have to create as much raw material, but there’s a lot more discussion and negotiation required.

What I do find galling is academics with permanent posts who complain that they don’t get enough sabbaticals or study leave, i.e. paid time off, to write. I don’t begrudge academics these opportunities, but I do think that some awareness of the conditions under which other people do scholarly work – including precariously employed academics as well as independent researchers and others – can go a long way.

I hope I can make it through the next few months unscathed. My aim from then on is to work on one book at a time. I wonder how that will pan out…!!

So my three top tips for juggling multiple writing projects are:

  1. Timetable carefully
  2. Meet your intended deadlines
  3. Practise self-care

If you have any others to suggest, please put them in the comments.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $44 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $44 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

How To Check An Index

index checkingIn August 2012 I was eagerly awaiting publication of my first research methods book, Research and Evaluation for Busy Students and Practitioners: A Time-Saving Guide (now in its second edition). I received an email asking me to check and give feedback on the attached draft index. I had absolutely no clue how to check an index. It looked like a credible index to me so I sent an email back saying thanks, it looks great, and hoped that would pass muster.

In May 2014 I was delighted to receive another email telling me that the book had been positively reviewed in the International Journal of Social Research Methodology. Although the review was indeed predominantly positive, the reviewer – as reviewers will – offered some criticism too. For example, she stated that, in contradiction to the book’s title, evaluation had only been mentioned once in its pages. Almost two years had passed since I’d worked on the manuscript and I began to doubt myself so I turned to my copy to check. I was reassured to find evaluation mentioned on many pages. But then I wondered, how could the reviewer have made such an error? The rest of her review suggested that she had read the book quite carefully. I turned to the index – and found that there was only one page number given for ‘evaluation’.

I could argue here that the reviewer should have been more careful, or that the indexer should have been more thorough. But actually I think it’s my fault because I didn’t know how to check an index. On the plus side, this is a useful cautionary tale which demonstrates that indexes are used by many people in many ways. This is something that indexers understand, though they are not infallible and will never know a book as well as its author – which is why authors are asked to check indexes. But nobody ever explains how to check an index. So I’m going to try to do just that. I’m still no expert, but I have learned some points I can share.

There are three key points to consider: what the index does for the book, what the index does for the book’s readers, and whether the index is a good index by the standards of other indexes. These can be converted into three questions:

  1. Does the index accurately reflect the content of the book?
  2. Does it do so in a way that will make sense to your readers?
  3. Is the index, in itself, a good quality index?

To answer the first question, begin by making a list of key words from your title, chapter headings, and sub-headings. Ensure all of those words are properly and fully represented in the index. If they’re not, don’t try to fix it yourself or even make suggestions about how to fix the problem. Simply explain to the indexer which words need more prominence and why. Then let them sort it out because they will be able to do so far more quickly and effectively than you.

Once you’ve done that, read through the index with your book’s readers in mind. Is the language of the index closely aligned with the language of the book? Are the headings and sub-headings concise and useful? Is the index logically organised and easy to read? Are there double postings when necessary, e.g. ‘data: quantitative’ and ‘quantitative data’? Is the punctuation clear and consistent?

Then consider the more detailed indicators of index quality, usefully set out by the American Society for Indexing. For example:

  • Do main headings or sub-headings have more than 5-7 page numbers attached? If so, they may need to be broken down further.
  • Are there a reasonable number of sub-headings for each main heading? If there are more than a column’s worth then some may need to be combined.
  • Are sub-headings at a sensible level? If not, revision may be needed.
  • Are the page numbers accurate? Spot-check some to make sure.

If you want to know more, the ASI have also produced a book on the subject: Indexing for Editors and Authors: A Practical Guide to Understanding Indexes. I haven’t read it myself yet but it looks comprehensive and useful. (Thanks to Nicola King aka @icemaiden1964 for pointing me to these resources on Twitter.)

When my second edition index arrived and evaluation still didn’t have a high profile, I asked the indexer to make appropriate amendments. Which she did, quickly and cheerfully.

These days I feel more confident when I receive an index to check. I hope you will too.

If you have any good index-related stories to tell, please share them in the comments.

This blog is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me around one working day per month to post here each week. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding of $34 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $34 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Academic Publishers and Production Values

pile of booksLast week a book review I wrote was published on the LSE Review of Books blog. (This review is part of the ‘review a book a week’ series I’m running through 2019.) The book I reviewed was The Lost Ethnographies, edited by Robin James and Sara Delamont, and it is an excellent collection with only one problem: poor production values.

In publishing, “production values” is a term that covers the technical parts of the process. These include such things as: paper quality; page layout and cover design; font types and sizes; proof-reading, copy editing and indexing; print quality – essentially all the different factors that go into making a physical or digital book. A publisher with high production values is one that aims for good quality in these factors; a publisher with low production values is the opposite.

The Lost Ethnographies was published by Emerald and I’m sorry to say the production values weren’t great. As a reviewer, this was handy because it gave me something to criticise, but as a reader it was intensely irritating. There were typos on most pages, the print quality was poor, and the index was inadequate. I’m seeing more and more of this with academic books and it’s beginning to annoy me.

I understand from people who work in publishing that some academic publishing, particularly of monographs, is uneconomic. Therefore they have to outsource proof-reading, omit indexes, keep paper costs to a minimum, and so on. I hear from academics that they are really fed up with having to spend time, sometimes a lot of time, on correcting the errors of incompetent copy editors and proof-readers. At times these people are even introducing errors into books and articles. Here are some examples from the last week’s conversations:

“I had a difficult relationship with the people [publisher] outsourced editing to in [overseas country] – big issues were introduced the first time I got the proofs (bits missing, new wrong spelling) and it took a lot of pushing from me to get them changed.”

“I did an article on Jewish [redacted] whose editor changed every mention of midrash to mid-rash. It makes it sound as if I were writing about the aetiology and progression of measles.”

“When I first started writing and publishing I didn’t know how awful it was and consequently I didn’t proof read as carefully. Any newer academics who trust the process will find things are being published with typos, added words and other random deletions and insertions that ruin their papers. It is definitely getting worse and taking hours of my time to undo the damage at proofing stage.”

Worse still, academic publishers with low production values have the gall to charge three-figure sums for their books. From what I hear, Springer, Emerald, Palgrave and Routledge have bad reputations in these areas, while smaller academic publishers, such as Policy Press and Jessica Kingsley have much better production values and pricing policies.

In theory, the trade-off with the bigger publishers is that they’re better at distribution, marketing, and selling translation rights, but in practice this may not be the case. I am also hearing that even getting commitments about things like marketing and pricing into contracts with large publishers may not mean they are met. I heard one sad tale last week about pricing, where the author fought hard to have their book reasonably priced as per their contract, but didn’t have much success. I heard another about a publisher who had made clear commitments on marketing in a publishing contract but then didn’t see them through. The author concerned did what they could to put pressure on the publisher, but couldn’t afford to hire lawyers and in the end had to put up with broken promises and shattered dreams.

It seems it’s no longer the case that authors simply write books and publishers do the rest. It also seems that we have reached a point where academic monographs are being published badly because they are uneconomic. There is a simple solution to this: self-publishing. Perhaps it is time for academic researchers to build self-publishing costs into their funding bids. Authors could commission their own copy editors, proof-readers, indexers, page layout specialists and cover designers. That way they could have full control of the process and ensure that their book’s production values are high. Copy editors and proof-readers can be found via the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and indexers via the Society of Indexers. Page layout specialists and cover designers don’t yet have professional associations, so look for people with experience of academic work and testimonials that you can check such as Blot Publishing, or ask around for a recommendation.

Of course self-publishing isn’t valued by the REF, so some UK-based academic authors will have to continue working with commercial publishers. But I think that might change in time. Also, there are no paywalls for self-published books and articles. Digital self-published materials such as e-books and pdfs can be made available to readers for free, and hard copies can be produced as print-on-demand for small sums to cover costs. So there is a strong argument for self-publishing being the ethical option. (And blogging is self-publishing too!)

This blog is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me around one working day per month to post here each week. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding of $34 per month. If you think 4-5 of my blog posts is worth more than $34 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

In Praise Of Academic Re-Reading

Fields Of Play coverI read novels for pleasure, and I often re-read novels for pleasure too. I’ve read all Terry Pratchett’s books, and if I’m a bit down or feeling overwhelmed, a re-read of one of those will always cheer me up. I sometimes revert to the comfort of children’s books when I’m poorly: Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series is a great favourite. Then there are books I re-read because they’re simply too good to read only once, such as Keri Hulme’s The Bone People which I re-read every few years.

Right now, though, I’m doing something I don’t usually do: I’m re-reading an academic book. It’s Fields of Play: Constructing an Academic Life by Laurel Richardson. Richardson is an American feminist sociologist and her book came out in 1997, two years before I started my MSc in Social Research Methods. I read it first for that course, admired and loved it, and have referred to it often since then. But it never occurred to me to re-read the book until now.

I chose to re-read it because I’m embarking on a new writing project focused on creative writing in academia. I knew I wanted to draw on Richardson’s work, and I thought to myself that I should re-read her book. You know what? This is the very first time it has ever occurred to me to re-read an academic book. I have occasionally re-read an academic journal article, but I don’t do that often either. Yet I regularly re-read novels. So why is this?

I think there are a few reasons. First, novels are stories, and stories are essential. They’re important for my wellbeing in a very different way from academic literature. I could live without academic literature much more easily than I could live without stories. Second, let’s face it, some academic books aren’t particularly enjoyable or interesting to read. Third, not all academic books need reading from cover to cover in the first place. For example, some are reference books to dip into, others are edited collections where not all chapters are equally relevant to each reader.

But then there are the other books: the ones that are engaging and inspirational, exciting and even at times hard to put down. Fields of Play is one of those. It’s a fabulous book. When I first read it, it was radical, inspiring, full of feminist rage and joy which spoke to me as clearly as the concepts and arguments set out by the author. Richardson dismantles the rationale for conventional academic writing with its passive voice and authorial authority. Then she creates a rationale for using fiction techniques, poetry, drama and other creative approaches in academic writing. And she practises what she preaches within the text, to excellent effect.

Reading this book again after almost 20 years, I find there is very little that has dated. Richardson’s experiences of discrimination at the hands of male colleagues are similar to those I hear of regularly from women in academia today. I’m also aware that the fight against conventional academic writing continues, as I frequently hear from doctoral students in despair because their supervisors won’t let them write in the first person. These are disheartening messages. But they also mean that this angry, loving book is still highly relevant.

I’m really happy to be re-reading this book. I’m learning new things because of course I have a very different context for Richardson’s work than I did two decades ago. So when I’ve finished this one, I’ll be thinking about other academic books I’ve loved and might be glad to re-read. But in the meantime, I wonder if there are any academic books that you re-read, as opposed to dipping in and out for reference. Maybe everyone is a re-reader except me! If you do re-read, I’d love to know which books you return to, if you could take the time to leave a comment.

This blog is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me around one working day per month to post here each week. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding of $32 per month. If you think 4-5 of my blog posts is worth more than $32 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Collaborating Through A Book-Finishing Frenzy

collaboration on bookIn Meredith Belbin’s terms I am a Completer-Finisher which means I love to finish projects. The term describes a team role rather than a personality type, though it goes with personality traits such as having high standards (yep), being conscientious (yep), and anxiety (yes, though not to a debilitating level). Attention to detail is a feature of completer-finishers which is probably why I made a success of being a freelance proof-reader and copy editor for some years before I became a researcher.

Over the last few months I’ve been collaborating with Dr Janet Salmons (aka @einterview) from Boulder, Colorado, on a book called Publishing From Your Doctoral Research which will be published by Routledge next March. Janet, too, is a professional writer, who has produced some excellent books about online research. Like me, she is fascinated by methods and ethics, so we have a lot in common. We’re almost done with the manuscript of our book and had a Skype meeting last week to plan the final stages. Janet is dealing with all the tables and figures, the chapter summaries and good practice points, and reviewing the exercises and reflective questions that we have set. I have been dealing with the overviews, illustrative case studies, and the referencing. These tasks have involved pulling out each of these elements from the individual chapters into a Word document of their own and then reviewing them for consistency. This is an amazing way to spot glitches. For example, we realised our chapter overviews varied in length from 71 to 922 words. That’s such a big variation that our readers would have been likely to notice – or at least to pick up a sense of inconsistency, which is not what we’re aiming for. On the other hand, I don’t have the perfectionist/obsessive tendencies that can be the downside of the Completer-Finisher, so I didn’t think we needed each overview to be exactly the same length. We agreed that 300-500 words would be about right. Then we had a chunk of work to do to make that happen, adding to some overviews and deleting from others, which meant figuring out whether we could swap sentences between each overview and other places in that chapter or whether we had to gain new words or lose old ones altogether.

We have spent the last few days in a finishing frenzy. Emails have been hurtling back and forth at speeds hitherto unknown to science. I don’t know what Janet’s Belbin role is but I figured she was probably a Shaper. I ran this past her and she said yes and she also thinks we are both Plants because we’re creative and undeterred by obstacles. Makes sense to me, particularly as Plants work well alone on the whole, but also benefit from collaborating – that’s us both to a T! We’ve collaborated with each other before and she’s a joy to work with: responsive, inventive, diligent. It’s not easy, though, for either of us. We have to keep an eye on the whole picture (‘here’s the latest word count’) and the tiny details (‘can we think of a better title for our case studies?’) all at the same time. This makes your brain hurt. We have had the occasional version control problem, which is almost inevitable at this stage if you’re working at speed, and the odd thing has been overlooked here and there. Luckily we’re both forgiving of each other’s flaws and disinclined to sweat the small stuff.

All I really want to do is get the book done. It’s irritating to have to stop to do things like eat and sleep and answer emails. Hang on a minute, though – wasn’t I just claiming not to have obsessive tendencies? Oh… But I do stop for food and rest and correspondence! So… yeah. OK. You can stop rolling your eyes now, I admit I can be a teeny bit obsessive. (Just as well Janet is so tolerant!)

On the plus side, we can easily put in a 16-hour day between us. When I start work in the early UK morning, Janet is sleeping sweetly in her cosy bed. When she starts work, first thing in the US morning, it’s the afternoon here. We overlap for a few hours when we can Skype and whizz emails back and forth, then I knock off for the evening and Janet carries on into her afternoon. When I get to work the next morning there will be new emails from her, and by the time she gets to work there will be new emails from me. We both find that this is a very efficient and effective way of working.

In some ways it’s a bit odd having a sprint finish at the end of a marathon. I find it helpful, though, because otherwise it can be hard to let go. I have experienced that with my sole-authored books before. I don’t foresee any such problem with this book, perhaps partly because it’s a collaboration. When collaborations work well, as this one has, it’s so encouraging. Janet and I both feel very positive about this book; we think it will offer information, advice and guidance that late-stage and post- doctoral students really need but often struggle to find. It’s almost as if she and I are racing neck-and-neck to the finish, though we’re racing together rather than against each other. And that is what would make me drag my feet if anything could. I won’t be sorry to see the back of the book, but I will miss working with Janet.

This blog is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me around one working day per month to post here each week. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding of $26 per month. If you think 4-5 of my blog posts is worth more than $26 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also support for a single month if that works better for you. Support from Patrons also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

New Books and Give-Away!

Do Your Interviews coverOn 20 December last I received hard copies of my first two books in the Little Quick Fix series from SAGE. Then the winter holiday made me forget to blog about them – but I’ve just remembered! Attentive readers may remember that I’ve already written about the process of writing these little books. It was so great to see how the designers brought my ideas to life.

Here’s a flow chart I made in Word. The content is good but the design is a mess, it looks as though it was made by an inept seven-year-old. (I’m a writer, not a designer, OK?!)

slide for lqf blog post

So I put a note in begging the designers to make it look decent. And they did; look!

lqf page

Yep, you’re right; I’m not a photographer, either. It’s hard to do justice to these little books with a phone camera, but luckily SAGE have put the first one in the series, Research Question by Zina O’Leary, online here for you to flick through (scroll down). They’re doing this instead of offering inspection copies, though if you want to see one of the others, it’s a small outlay: £6.99 UK and $9.00 US, with similar prices in other jurisdictions.

Write A Questionnaire coverAnd I have four copies to give away! Two of Write A Questionnaire and two of Do Your Interviews, which I will gladly post anywhere in the world. This competition is only open to followers of this blog (if you want to enter and you don’t already follow the blog, you can find the ‘follow’ button at the top right). Leave a comment with your name, telling me which book you’d like and why. You can only enter once, for one title, not both. This time next week I will put the names into two hats, one for each title, and announce the winners in the comments on this post. Can’t say fairer than that!

This blog is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me around one working day per month to post here each week. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding of $12 per month. If you think 4-5 of my blog posts is worth more than $12 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also support for a single month if that works better for you. Support from Patrons also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!