Publishing with an academic press (Pt. II)

I’m talking through the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing my next book as an e-book vs. going with a traditional academic publisher. Last post described the genesis of my current quandary; this one will make a few prefatory remarks to contextualize the discussion. Later posts will discuss the primary advantages of going the traditional route of publishing with an academic press, and then the disadvantages of the academic press route compared to self-published e-books. At some point I’ll probably come to a muddled conclusion, undoubtedly kicking the can down the road.

Before I go on, I should mention several caveats that may make my position somewhat different from others; YMMV as they say. An academic in the humanities (esp. a historian) that intentionally chooses to publish an e-book rather than go the traditional route is a rare fish-out-of-water. This is the case despite the fact that it is increasingly difficult to get one’s work published as a monograph; I’m surprised more scholars don’t self-publish out of desperation. That I am even considering such a course for myself is only because of my particular situation, a scenario that may not be relevant to many others:
1. I have tenure and am an Associate Prof at a school that emphasizes teaching, with lower research expectations than are expected at a research institution. If you are untenured and/or at a research institution, e-publishing might be a risky proposition, not only for promotion and tenure, but for grants and merit pay, or even if you are looking to move to another research school…
2. I already had one book published in 2007, one that has received very favorable reviews within its small subfield, won an award, and is already being cited in other works. I’m not sure e-publishing would be a good idea for someone’s first book, at least until your sub-discipline knows your name and work.
3. Perhaps like most academics, I’m a bit arrogant about my written work (the argumentative aspect of it at least) and about my technical skills, which means I have never been overly awed by the advice of the anonymous peer reviewers or editorial assistance. If you are considering publishing with a press (or need a press) that can provide serious editorial assistance (e.g. copy editing) and technical assistance (map-making, indexing…), then e-publishing may not be a good idea, because you will be doing it yourself, or paying someone to do it for you. Or, if you are stretching yourself by writing on a very broad topic (many countries, many centuries, going beyond your period…), then feedback from competent reviewers outside of your field might be more difficult for you to find.
4. If you are working in an area that has really broad popular appeal (vs. EMEMH), then any book you write may well be publishable by a trade press, or at least be available in a relatively-inexpensive paperback. EMEMH is a small field without the huge interest found in modern military history, and as a result, there are few books published on it (see next post), especially when you consider that these works involve half-a-dozen countries or more across several centuries. The market to purchase those books is rather small, and getting smaller all the time if price trends continue.
5. I’m talking about history particularly, though some of these points will be relevant to the humanities in general, from what I can tell. What follows is my impression of the issue as an early modern European historian. I also fully admit my relative inexperience in the biz: I’ve only published a single book with a respectable niche publisher.
6. A final caveat is that the decision to self-publish (or at least e-publish) or not may be irrelevant in 5-10 years, as the growth of Internet culture among historians continues, as more publishers adapt new purchase models short of buying a hard-copy $100 monograph (renting works, developing a subscription model, selling e-versions, selling individual chapters), and as there is more pressure from government funders for open access to tax-funded research. But since my next book had better be finished before then, I’ll need to decide before then.

In short, in this series of posts I’m primarily interested in how the book publishing market works for academic EMEMHians writing monographs in English. It’s not surprising to note the relative paucity of EMEMH monographs published over the past decade or so – we clearly don’t yet have a critical mass to sustain a connected community (hopefully this blog will facilitate this over the longer term). The Military Revolution debate had potential, for example, but after Cliff Rogers’ edited work, it seems to have suffered the fate of most historical debates that are almost too broad: it becomes a catch phrase that most scholars tend to dismiss or accept without engaging it, the few people most directly invested in it either can’t maintain publishing momentum or move on to other interests (in large part because there are few EMEMHians at Tier I research schools who have the time to publish), and the rest of the EMEMH community returns to narrower questions particular to their specific country/decade/war. But don’t worry, sometime on this blog we’ll get around to discussing the MilRev. More immediately, however, in the next post I’ll present a summary of what the market for EMEMH English-language monographs has looked like over the past decade.

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