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Writing, and Academia, and Yog’s Law.

I got an email comment regarding my post about publishing and money flow from last week – and it’s probably worth it to go into a little more detail here.

There’s three kinds of getting published – the kind where you get paid for (my favourite!), the kind where you don’t see money, and the kind that you pay for yourself.

I’ve already written about what I think of paying for getting published. Now, for the record – I know that especially in academia, there are circumstances (like you have to get your thesis published, and it’s such a fringe topic nobody will ever buy the book, probably) where you will end up paying for getting the book out. Personally, I think that is not good, and even unfair, and I would recommend that if you do need to get the book published with an ISBN number and stuff, try to find a publisher that will offer you decent conditions, or look into PoD and BoD services. (If you feel that you really want to cough up a lot of money just so some big-name academia publishing house’s name and logo graces the spine of your book which will technically be on the market but cost a shitload of money so only libraries, if they, will buy it, feel free to do so. Myself, I have a strong opinion on things like that, which you can probably guess from what I have written so far.)

This leaves the two other options for consideration: publishing for free, and getting money for it. I will start with my favourite option. You write a book, you invest a lot of time and money, and nerves, and probably shed some tears or at least metaphorical tears, and wiggle so much on your seat you have pants-wear-and-tear to pay for, and all the black pixels in your computer get all worn out, and so on. You hand the book on to a publishing house, and they wear out some more pixels and chase around electrons and do stuff with ink and paper and advertisement designers and stuff. And then they do maths, and calculations, and then they send out a book, a real honest physical book that smells like newly printed paper, to bookshops and sellers and other people. The publisher deserves money for their work, and the booksellers need to buy their food and pay their rent, and the printing costs money and the warehousing too, so there’s not so much money left once that’s all paid for and done – but the author has also invested time and effort, a not inconsiderable amount of that, and that should also be rewarded with money. Not just with the good feeling of having a book out (because that won’t pay the rent for the author either). I am not expecting the book revenue to add up to a honest freelancing hourly wage, and about every author out there will probably tell you that you have to write really well and really much and really fast to make a half-decent living off writing, and that is for novels and not for science books too – but I would very much like to have something coming in onto my bank account telling me that what I did is appreciated, and rewarded, and I will be able to go have some moderately priced sushi once a year, at the very least.

Now, if you are writing a PhD thesis or something similar, maybe in an esoteric out-there field that you love and few other people even know that it exists… you will have a hard time finding a publishing house that offers you money for it. When I was starting out to write my PhD, I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to publish it in a “normal”, not a purely academic, publishing house. So from the very start, I tailored my writing towards that goal – and I was lucky on many counts with that: having a topic that does lend itself to being published regularly (since there is enough interest in that topic in the public), having supervisors who appreciated the style and voice in the writing and did not insist on “academese”, finding a wonderfully supportive editor and a good, solid publishing house, and last but not least getting additional funding from VG Wort which made publishing the book at that price possible.

However, I have also written and published for free, plenty of times. All the articles that I have written? There was not a penny passed towards me. That is the third case, and it’s the common method in academia – you publish, but you don’t get paid.

Here’s a snippet of the mail I received:

It does overlap your other articles on a fair price for craft though. By doing it for free am I lowering the costs for everyone? But by not doing it for free it wouldn’t get done! The ‘payment’ I’m getting is things that money can’t buy: I enjoy it, can see the longterm benefits from it (my work/ideas/research findings are published, I’ve gained experience, a reputation, it leaves the door of academia open and improves my ability to get in there later).

Ah, yes. I have firm principles in some areas of my life, and I have wishes that I know will not become true in others – and publishing (academic) articles and getting paid for them is definitely in the “I wish” category.
As in many things in Real Life (TM), there are shades of grey and not just black and white to things; and for some of the folks writing and publishing without getting pay for the article, it’s not really an investment of time with nothing in return. If I am doing research and am getting paid for it, I have already been paid for my work – publishing for free is not working for free, in that case. If I am publishing without getting paid in money, I am (as mentioned above) getting non-monetary things back too: an article more to my name, my ideas get spread, maybe I can inspire some nice fruitful dialogue, some research gets furthered. For a freelancer, getting your name known better may be the difference between getting hired for things or not – so I could see it as an investment in a (very special) kind of advertisment for myself.
In my personal case, it might also enable me to get some copies of the book for re-selling, so I still have the chance of making a bit of money after all. What really bugs me a bit, though, is having published an article for free and then seeing said article as the online version with a really hefty price tag on it. Yes, there are costs to the publishing house – but sometimes these prices just seem unrealistically high to me.

But if you don’t submit to this? We are, as academics, living in a culture where as a rule you publish your research and articles without getting money from the publishing house. You may get offprints or reduced prices for the printed article, but there is no money flow toward the author; in some cases, there is even Unlawful Flow according to Yog. Publishing for no money is not a too big deal for those who get paid for their research work, as much or all of that writing time is already paid for; it is, however, a serious investment of time with no direct revenue for an independent researcher. So the question is, in some way: can you afford to publish? On the other hand you cannot afford not to publish – to keep in the loop, to keep your doors open should you wish to stay or return to classic academia, to build up your reputation. And to get your research findings out – because unpublished research is a kind of a waste, too.
Best for publication is thus something that will get widely known, not just an obscure little place in the Internet, or a small regional journal that will be very hard to get in a few years’ time, if you actually manage to learn that something of interest was published in there.
And the big names of journals? The ones that get read widely, and have a high impact? Those are often the real pricey ones, where you have a hefty price tag on each single article – even the nonprinted e-version.

So if I get the opportunity to publish an article about the Spinning Experiment in a big, widely-read journal – I take a deep breath, and the opportunity.

Have you published your research for free? How do you feel about that situation, and the question of money flow? Please let me (and your fellow readers) know in the comments – I’d love to hear your opinion!

This entry was posted in fair prices for crafts campaign, papers and lectures, writing and publishing. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Writing, and Academia, and Yog’s Law.

  1. Phiala says:

    Congrats on getting the paper out!

    Yog himself says that Yog's Law doesn't apply to academic publication.

    The things I publish for work, I get paid for in the form of salary. Some of those academic journals have page charges, often hefty, though I don't have to pay them personally. In that sense, money flows towards the author because I'm paid for my work. But publishing in those journals also enables me to keep my job, be promoted, and improves my credentials in case I want to find a different job.

    Academic textile publications I do for free (I'd hesitate to publish those in a journal with page charges), but they improve my credentials and help get teaching gigs and paid writing contracts.

    In the science fiction world, I write for free (my blog and Science in My Fiction), I write for small payments for publishers I like, and I write for pro rates as much as possible. I would never pay to publish fiction: the publishing universe is very different.

    But the whole thing is quite context-dependent, and benefits accrue in ways not only related to immediate financial income.

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