Publish or Perish: the dreaded motto of modern academia. Averil Cameron made a funny observation on twitter the other day about how things had changed since she finished her PHD. She commented that her advisors in 1960s Oxford told her that now that she had landed her first academic job, she could take it easy and stop publishing. My chair John Moorhead made a similar observation when he told me that when he first arrived in 1975 at Queensland University here in Brisbane he was one of the few scholars in the department who actually had a DPhil, let alone published work. Of course there are some departments in the world where scholars continue this tradition, but competition is making the unpublished scholar the auk of the modern world.
Though the quality of some of this work can be disputed, one is expected to publish at least one peer-reviewed article per year. This might help explain the numerous articles that have appeared in the past ten years dredging up old debates over the specific dates of Procopius’ publications. Reviews of recent scholarship on a particle topic or author are another easy pathway publication. While these articles have a small yet dedicated audience one suspects that ease of publication, as much as furthering scholarship plays an important factor in their creation.
So too can one protect oneself by writing so narrowly on an arcane topic that few can dispute its validity or worth. With the burst of peer-reviewed journal focusing on narrower topics and smaller audiences one can avoid the criticism one faces when seeking to publish in an old school journal. Sometimes it is a matter of luck if one gets a peer-reviewer in a bad mood. For instance, one reviewer of an article of mine that is soon to be published in a diferent but repected journal, made inane comments on my piece that made me question if he had even read my piece. Though my immediate reaction was to compose an angry response to the editor, I took a deep breath. Rather than get upset, I thanked the journal for its time and quickly resubmitted it to another journal (okay I thanked the one reviewer for his constructive observations, while ignoring the other’s very strange observations: hmmmm eunuchs were never seen in a gendered manner by Byzantines…). The internet at least has given scholars this flexibility. So too has the open nature of sites like academia.edu and research gate allowed one to at least get some feedback on one’s work before submission. If 500 people download your work, you at least know you are on the right track. So too has the unsolicited encouragement of esteemed scholars on a piece helped me revive my spirit to rework and resubmit a formerly rejected piece.
Sometimes it is just a matter of tweaking the title. I found that eliminating the word “masculinity” or removing the term “manliness” from the abstract immediately increased interest. This is not to say that peer review has no worth. Some of my best articles were rejected at first. But thanks to the sage suggestions of the reviewers, I was able to improve the article. Admittedly, I remain somewhat combative on certain issues, and stubbornly will reword a disputed point and/or back my argument with a wide array of evidence.
It takes a lot of gumption to pick oneself up after a hostile rejection. A friend of mine was two years down the path of publishing a book through an esteemed press, when one new reviewer put a halt to the project after a draft had been approved. Though some of his comments were valid, the vitriolic and personal nature of many of his comments seemed unnecessary. My friend was rightly devastated, and this is a scholar with dozens of publications; imagine the reaction of a novice scholar.
So I keep plugging away. My goal is to always have at least one book or article away in some part of the world getting reviewed. Though the punch in the gut one feels when a piece is rejected still stings, the thrill of the unexpected yes keeps me going. To quote Conan “What does not kill you makes you stronger.”