Academic Self Publishing


On other pages .....  A short history of self publishing  How to self publish Some sample academic titles

Self-publication - a short guide, with an assessment of the pros and cons for academic writers and others.

Do-it-yourself - the future of publishing

The information on these pages concerns specifically the publication of academic books in print form, notably as paperbacks; some of the information also relates to other forms of publishing, such as e-books, hard-cover books and document-sharing websites. However strictly speaking, the term self-publishing refers to the creation of books and monographs for distribution either privately or through traditional or online  bookstores, or on e-book readers such as Kindles. It does not cover document sharing on the Internet, which is an altogether different and lighter process.

In the past

Not so very long ago, academics who wanted to publish their work - something that had become vital in the publish or perish atmosphere of higher education - could do so with relative ease and obscurity. In the fragmented world of pre-Internet academia, it was difficult to know which publishers had high academic standards, and which publishers, particularly smaller university presses and less-well-known commercial publishers, had little or no quality control in place. Bibliographical references had to be taken at face value, as it was very difficult to check out titles from the majority of the world's publishing houses.

   There were of course the "majors", the large publishing houses,  national or international, who had a global reputation. An academic book or journal  published by OUP or Cambridge or Yale, or Wiley or McGraw Hill or Hachette or Springer or a similarly high-profile publisher with trusted editorial boards, would by definition look good on any academic's resumé or CV. Until the Internet came along, recruitment and promotion committes in universities worldwide had no means of actually checking up on the publications listed on an academic's profile, unless they happened to have the book or the journal to hand in their university library or department, or could rapidly buy it or obtain it on an inter-library loan. CV's listing books published by major publishing companies, and articles published in top-ranking journals, thus tended to find their way to the top of the pile, since actually checking out academics' less visible publications was a complex process unless candidates actually provided copies of their works, which was generally not the case.
  For titles published by small publishers, or by publishers in other countries, checking was even harder.

The new order

  Fast forward to the 2020s and the situation is very different. The Internet, and with it academic document sharing sites, have put academic publications from the whole world  just a click or two away. Academics on one continent can consult or buy  books and journals published on any other continent with an ease that was impossible at the start of the century; information on the quality and practices of academic journals – are they peer reviewed? do they publish interesting articles? – is instantly accessible. As a result, serious academic job applicants no longer have an absolute need to present CVs or resumés with a list of publications including big name and reputed publishers and internationally known journals; any publication from any publisher can be checked for quality in a world where aspiring applicants can even include digital copies of their books, or extracts from them, with any application.  

   Of course, having work published by a major international publishing house remains a strong plus on any academic's CV or list of publications, and is likely to remain the gold standard. There is no change at this level. What has changed is that the playing field has been levelled up for those many academics and aspiring academics – probably the majority of us – who have never had any work published by a major internationally known academic publisher, but on the other hand have had interesting and original work published by local university presses, small lesser-known publishers, or even through vanity publishing or self publishing. These "minor" publishing channels, that once offered little or no visibility beyond their own printed catalogues, can now offer the same visibility as that provided by the majors, with their powerful marketing departments,  or at least can be made to provide this visibility when it is needed. Yet although books published by minor or local publishers can now  be much more easily found and acquired than in the past, it can still remain very difficult for academics to actually find a publisher willing to take on their book.  In many cases, books will not get published at all as academics give up the seemingly fruitless and stressful task of trying to find a publisher. In this scenario, self publishing offers an obvious solution to the fundamental binary question: to publish or not to publish?

   Many traditional publishers are swamped with publication requests, and unless a book publishing project comes with a grant to help with publication costs, or from an already-published author, the chances of acceptance may be low. University presses have limited resources, and commercial publishers are looking for titles that will sell. Major commercial publishers in the Springer / Wiley / McGraw-Hill league have it easy;  they can just slap a 300-dollar price tag on an academic title, in the knowledge that enough university libraries will automatically buy it to make it profitable for them; but smaller publishers do not have this option unless the author is particularly renowned. Most academic authors are not particularly renowned; many are quite unknown outside their own university or college. Besides, when a book has a $ 300 cover price, very few sales will be to individuals, almost all will be to institutions, so getting a book published with a high cover price by a major academic publisher may be a boost to an academic career, but it will not lead to the book being made available to as many readers as might like to buy it.

   This is where the new option of academic self publishing comes in, removing the stressful task of searching for a publisher,  allowing a book to be published at a reasonable price and... a big plus for many academics... rewarding the writer with some royalties at the same time.

Self publishing

   Self publishing, particularly of the print-on-demand 1 variety, is the fastest growing area in the world of book publishing, and alert academics are jumping at the opportunity. With self publication, any academic can  publish research (books, monographs, dissertations) or teaching material, and do so at no cost and in a form that can be purchased on demand by students, other academics, libraries and the general public. Being the publisher, the author generally retains all the rights to his or her publication, including the right to send electronic copies to friends, colleagues, and recruitment boards.
   While the self-service nature of self publishing means that the main self-publishing platforms like Kindle KDP have in place absolutely no quality control regarding content, let alone regarding academic value, authors have no interest in publishing rubbish, even if it is free to publish, since there can be little or no use in publishing, let alone publicising, rubbish. Attaching a copy of a poorly researched book to an academic job application is unlikely to produce the desired result.

   Apart from the fact that it can be done for free, the greatest advantage of self-publishing (and there are many, see below) is that anyone can publish anything, just as long as it meets certain ethical standards and is produced in an appropriate format; besides, doing so is fairly simple ( see how to self publish).  The preferred file format for preparing books for self publishing is .pdf, though KDP accept (with warnings) documents saved in .rtf  or even .docx formats. Self publishing can also be more or less instant, and it allows authors to completely bypass what was often in the past, and is still to this day with many traditional publishers, the stress, delay, and trauma of finding a publisher.

   It remains true, however, that many professors, particularly in universities and departments that imagine themselves to be a cut above the others, still look condescendingly at job-applicants whose research has been published solely or mostly by minor publishers, unfamiliar university presses, vanity publishers, Internet document sharing websites like Academia (which is a commercial website, not an academic institution) and  self publishing.  This state of affairs is not going to change overnight, but self publishing is still in its infancy and is a fast-growing option. It is inevitable that the more good quality and interesting academic books get self-published, the more self-publishing as a genre will gain in credibility.  It is a fairly safe bet to suggest that well before the middle of the century, self publishing of academic titles will be considered as part of the norm – if not the new norm.

Advantages of self publising

Disadvantages of self publishing

1. Print-on-demand.  With print-on-demand (POD), a book is stored electronically, and copies are printed to order, often one at a time. In terms of production costs, POD has been a game changer, doing away with economies of scale, and with the costly jobs of  print-runs (printing maybe 500 copies by offset), holding stock (books that have been printed but not sold), selling to retailers on a sale-or-return basis, and in the event of poor sales the final and valueless operation of "pulping". POD publishers, which means all self-publishing platforms, have thus done away with the biggest overheads and fixed costs  that traditional publishing needs to pay for, allowing any title to be sold directly at little over cost price, and still be profitable for the writer and the publishing platform.

List your self-published academic title

In order to illustrate the range of academic titles now being self published by their authors or academic institutions, Academic-self-publishing.com  is happy to list a selection of representative titles in the discipliary fields of arts and humanities, economic and social sciences, and  the sciences.  To submit a title for listing, please use the contact information indicated below.

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Top photo from an original by Andrew Tan

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