It strikes me that as an academic author I often say to myself: wouldn’t it be easier just to stuff my ideas on this blog and give up on submitting articles to publication in books and journals? Let’s face it, academic publishing can take many months, and usually years to get published. It involves a complex and often seemingly unfair process of peer-review and all manner of academic idiosyncrasies, incompetencies and tedious conventions. It breeds insecurity and a sense of paranoia and self-hate. It also feels like exploitation with publishers taking the profits.
Unexpected and unfair hiccups abound, including editors going crazy on me and threatening legal proceedings or publishers suddenly informing you that my book has been accepted for publication but they didn’t tell me about the publication costs or open access fee they failed to mention before.
If it isn’t crap like that, more commonly it is peer-reviewers claiming that my argument is incomplete without tangential reference to Norse sagas or it needs mindless statistical analyses on samples too small to bear them. Peer-reviewers routinely demand that I need to go away and find something/anything that Michael Shanks has said about beer cans or Greek urns, Chris Tilley has said about old rocks covered in plastic sheets, Tim Ingold has said about reindeer sweaters or indeed any dead French philosopher or American feminist writer has said whilst smoking in the 70s, and shoehorn a connection into my paper in order for publication to be guaranteed.
Oh, the immediate gratification of publication online! I get to avoid all this insufferable tedium. The sinful pleasure of open access and self-control is so appealing it is a struggle to keep the faith in academic publishing! In contrast to the glacially slow and often seemingly stalled process of waiting for books and journal articles to reach the light of day and then sit behind online pay-walls or in expensive tomes read by few, I can simply pour ideas into WordPress!
I do confess, this blog is itself a coping strategy for the teeth-gnashing frustrations and maddening complexities of academic publishing. It allows me to occasionally bypass the standard process and post ideas and projects, comments on material cultures, sites, monuments and landscapes, without having to deal with editors and publishers.
However, I do see the other side! Being an editor of multiple books projects, editing multiple special themed issues of academic journals, serving on the editorial board of an academic journal, but most of all in serving as Honorary Editor for the Archaeological Journal, I have become a humbler and sadder individual, realising how often in the past I have treated others with disdain as editors and how little I understood about what goes on behind the scenes in the complex editorial process.
Most authors are courteous and kind to me as editor, but sometimes I get shown horrific behaviours by authors. We all do it! As academic authors, we often act like idiots to editors on a regular basis, indignantly responding to peer-review and editorial interventions like impatient toddlers. Authors shouldn’t agree to all demands, they should debate and dispute with peer-reviewers and editors as appropriate. Still, many display a flagrant lack of comprehension of the process and its significance.
When I think about the worst culprits, or those with the most radical solutions to streamlining or altering the process of academic publishing, I usually realise they haven’t actually much experience of being an academic editor and, even if they have many publications to their name, often are clueless regarding how the editorial process actually works. Like the parody of food critics, they have no clue what goes on in the kitchen but they are happy to bitch about the raspberry jus being too sharp or the dessert being 90 seconds late for plating up.
In other words, if you haven’t edited a book or journal, or you have forgotten the complexities of editing, it is so easy to fall back into a default position of seeing academic publishing as a slow and tedious process of getting your ideas into the public arena. I have met many experienced academics who I am quite sure have little clue (or have forgotten) how many bloopers are been avoided and how many pitfalls have been averted by colleagues, peer-reviews and editors, and indeed, I sometimes wonder whether some academics are coasting with a sense of entitlement that editors and reviewers will always be there to cover their backsides.
This is why I see blogging and self-publishing as a parallel, not an alternative, strategy of writing in academia. I still believe and value the slow, tedious and frustrating process of academic publishing. This is because, for every curse, there are many blessings, for every annoyance, I have been saved by, supported by, guided by and given valuable opportunities by peer-reviewers and editors – and colleagues with whom I have simply shared working drafts of papers – and it is important not to forget the hard work, often unpaid, that goes into improving work for publication. This is work that defines careful rigorous and collegiate academic publishing and it is simply not going to work out if we only ever spew our half-complete ideas into a blog like this one.