August 09, 2024

The Dangers of Publishing Part I


Tis the season in publishing when our authors start returning from whatever villa in Italy they've been studying paintings at and start freaking out. Not the most stable of creatures, academics can literally go insane when their books (i.e. their children, their life's passion, their life's work), creep nearer and nearer to the point of publication. They excel at the grammar of passive-agressive behaviour, and their emails and phone calls to me can go from condescending coddling to rigid demands within the space of a few phrases. They become, simultaneously, experts at marketing and cover design, but incapable of writing their acknowledgements, chasing up a missing permission, or reviewing their copyediting on time.

As a result, I've developed a special editorial assistant power, a sixth sense for freak-out authors. I know when they call. I can detect a certain charge, an extra urgency, to the telephone ring. An email will surely follow. For fun, I'll add an auto reply to my email: "I am currently on sabbatical, studying the papyrus manuals of ancient Egyptian copyeditors. For the number of the nearest Kinko's..." The suspense over who in the office will win the bet and accompanying pool for craziest author becomes almost unbearable.

This year, the collective state of academics has deteriorated to such an extent I felt it was necessary to adopt a color-coded chart of the various stages of an author's freak-out, so that myself and the folks down in Production can better choreograph our response. Call it information-sharing, if you will. We've got a few authors who are pushing orange, so remain calm. Be vigilant, but try to go about your daily routines. Stay away from windows, stock up on booze and aspirin. And should they reach the red stage, turn off your phone and join me at Saks.

Posted by jason at August 9, 2024 01:14 PM

Excellent! You should submit this to the Chronicle of Higher Education, or -- at the very least -- the newsletter for the Association of American University Presses.

Posted by: Richard at August 9, 2024 07:50 PM

The odd thing is that it doesn't really matter whether the things get properly copy-edited or not, because nobody will ever read them. As a wit said once about the Publications of the Modern Language Association, "PMLA articles aren't written to be read; they are written to be published."

Actually, it's not quite true that nobody reads academic publications. Their authors read them. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote in his journal that he was at the Boston Atheneum or someplace when the latest number of the Atlantic was delivered, and everybody in the reading room sat down and read his own article. . . .

Posted by: glen at August 10, 2024 08:29 AM