In rhetoric scholarship, ecology is all the rage. As a one-time, pseudo environmental scientist, I definitely can appreciate ecologies both literally and metaphorically. So today, I’m going to invoke that term to talk about publishing and reading and access. Let’s call it the publishing ecology.
As I’ve said before, technical and professional communication isn’t really that big that you can get overwhelmed with reading. However, even in the last few years there seems to be a frenzy where all of sudden every thinks they need to write a book or edit a book. And that’s causing some interesting things to happen across the publishing ecology.
For every edited collection, this means that at least one issue of a journal is not filled because folks are writing to specific deadlines and concepts even if it’s not something that is really what to write about. (And articles are still the most cited research and are still the coin of the realm in promotion and tenure.*)
And many of these edited collections are not that good because they don’t really go together, they have no audience (like the last three I attempted to read definitely weren’t meant for me as a teacher or for me as a researcher so I’m wondering who they are meant for) and they all needed at least two more round of edits#. Harsh? Maybe. But it’s high time for some harsh truths to start some direct conversations about what we expect and value from our research.
For most books, they are also priced at a point that no one can afford them. I write this with much hesitancy because I recognize my privilege and I buy A LOT of books. But once we as a field decided to hand over our knowledge work to Routledge, even I am priced out of the market. And guess what? So is my library. The big behemoth publishing market rests in large part on the library market and I can tell you based on a direct conversation with librarians at my old institution and my new institution and what I’ve been told from others, that market is drying up fast. So the $150.00 monograph or even the $75 university press monograph means that only a select few are reading your books. Even the ATTW series has pushed itself to an odd space and that’s in large part because we ceded the publishers the authority over our work.
But let me circle back to this idea of the ecology of publishing. Journals only work when they get submissions. Most of the journals are always in need of content. The reason we see so many special issues isn’t that there are so many important topics, but more so to directly guide content submission to ensure that an issue will fill. What this means is that the folks edit those special issues are basically on the hook for that content so no matter if its really ready or needs another edit or should really be rejected, there’s been a commitment made that has one of the few hard deadlines in higher education.&&
Now, this fact about content is a dirty little secret that lots of folks don’t talk about out loud. But it’s one that we need to talk about. Because it’s bad for the field and it’s even worse for scholarship to consistently make so many allowances that the bar for publishable scholarship is lower and lower.
If we want to be seen as a serious field of inquiry and one with sustainable (my word that’s forthcoming in an article), durable, and portable scholarship (two words from Scott Graham and Kirk St.Amant and a forthcoming special issue of TCQ) then we need to talk openly and directly about what we expect from journals and other outlets and most importantly, the standards of peer review.
And I can say even having published a book with Routledge** that I am done giving them my knowledge work. I don’t agree with $150 books, which leaves so many scholars and so many libraries (remember the majority of TPC programs are not at research schools, whose library budgets are much smaller) without the opportunity to read them. What I look forward to are better models with fewer and much stronger books with clear audiences and purposes rather than the frenzy of publishing to publish.
Before the naysayers remind of RPT, please keep in mind that I’ve read about 100 reappointment, promotion, and tenure documents so I actually have data and interviews with faculty to back up my claims about what folks really need to get tenure. Reviewers and editors need to do their jobs and hold scholarship to a higher level. When that happens, we’ll start to see slower scholarship, better scholarship, and books with audiences. Then, we’ll get to reclaim our own scholarship in a number of important ways.
Which is why I am editing a new series in TPC.
The goal is make our work more accessible to those who need it and to try to model what strong, well researched, and well argued scholarship looks like. It’s shifting the ecology, and I’m hopeful that will be a good thing.
* in a different lifetime I’ll get a chance to finish this project on citations in the field. But based on the data on my computer and a quick analysis of this, I stand by this claim.
# and I can admit that my first one needed another edit at least, but it still had a better focus than most and remains one of the few engagements with accessibility in TPC.
&& This is why we aren’t publishing special issues in RHM to fill pages but rather to really focus on an important issue, which gives us the latitude to reject manuscripts or send them back out for another revision. See some of the backstory here.
** my co-edited book with Routledge was one of the last projects Linda Bathgate put under contract. For those of you who don’t know Linda, she was a strong and knowledgeable advocate for the field of technical and professional communication, health communication, and methodologies. In my view, there isn’t that type of advocate at Routledge anymore and there is also an increasing pressure for numbers of books not necessarily the quality of them. I can also say that we wouldn’t have signed that contract for Methodologies of RHM if we hadn’t been assured of a paperback publication, which put the book under $50.00.