Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Inking the Deal: How to be a successful academic publisher

A Ph.D. is an odd animal. It is the degree required by most institutions if you want to teach. So you get the degree to teach at a school, but often the requirement to keep that job is that you become a regularly published author. Few Ph.D. programs prepare you for either of these tasks. For instance, I am unfamiliar with a Ph.D. program that offers seminars on effective teaching methods. Instead, seminars are research focused to help you write that all important dissertation so you can get the degree and then get the job. The result? God help the poor students who sit in a class being “taught” by a newly minted PhD who has little to no teaching experience. These professors have been taught how to research knowledge, not how to communicate it. Luckily a number of books exist to help the new professor and there has been an effort in the guild to help the new professor communicate their knowledge in an effective way.

But the PhD program also does not teach you how to develop a publishing lifestyle. Often the candidate feels like she or he is groping about in the dark, bumping up against objects, seeking to publish that first article, hopefully before he or she completes the PhD program because that may help you land that first teaching job (see the above paragraph). Often the PhD candidate or new professor will publish an article or maybe even their dissertation, but does not really have a feel for how publishing happens. Usually they are relieved that they did it, even if they are not exactly sure how.

My own success in publishing is more a result of my stumbling along and learning as I go rather than from applying words of wisdom from a mentor. I have been publishing for eight years now and think I have got the hang of how to do it. But it would have been nice to have someone showing me the way.

Recently I was recommended a book that does exactly that. Stanley E. Porter’s Inking the Deal: A Guide for Successful Academic Publishing (Baylor: 2010) should be read by everyone who wants and needs to publish in an academic field. Porter’s book is a treasure trove for the newly minted and PhD candidate alike. And he covers many of the things that I have had to learn (sometimes the hard way) on my own. Porter covers every aspect of academic publishing from the very basic to the more advanced. In 11 chapters he covers such topics as:

  • Types of Publication
  • Basic Principles of a Publishable Manuscript
  • Always Writing for Publication
  • Selecting a Publisher
  • How to construct a proposal
  • Handling Rejection
  • Handling Acceptance
  • Living a Publishing Lifestyle

The main thing that I took away from this book was the need to live a publishing lifestyle. Porter stresses that publishing happens all year, not just during a sabbatical. He provides hints for finding what to publish and where. Probably one of his best tips is to set goals. Don’t just stumble around thinking that you will publish. Set for yourself reasonable, but challenging goals that you will meet over the course of a few years. Porter recommends the five and one approach (pp.154-57). Basically, you should aim to publish a book every five years and one article or book chapter a year. This is a modest, doable goal. And it is one that I have been doing. I always try to have at least one publication a year.

So if you are working in the academic field and want/need to publish I recommend this book. It is well written and informative. Porter will guide you on the path that you need to take.


  1. Thanks for this pointer - it looks a useful book. However, you say: "I am unfamiliar with a Ph.D. program that offers seminars on effective teaching methods". Things have obviously changed since you were at Durham then!

    The Department offers teaching experience, as well as Professional Development seminars including, next term, "Publishing Post-PhD". The Graduate School then runs a course on teaching theory and methods for those who have gained some experience, which leads to a recognised professional qualification and automatic associate membership of the Higher Education Academy in the UK (a Govt funded organisation which promotes teaching quality standards). The Grad School also run seminars like, "Getting published in the Arts and Humanities".

    I've been really impressed with the provision here, and it's not just targeted at those who want to follow the academic career path. In fact, I'd say that there are more opportunities for this sort of thing than most students have time to take advantage of.

  2. Ed,

    I am so glad to hear this. None of these opportunities existed when I was at Durham. In fact, when the dept was looking to hire Dunn's replacement I was part of the student team that participated in the interviews. One question that I asked every candidate is what she or he would do to help their students publish. With one exception, all of the candidates indicated that this was not the purpose of the PhD program. I countered, "yes, but many of your students are from North America where this is an expected part of the program and will help them to find a job." Nonetheless, they did not see it as an important goal of PhD work. So I am quite glad to hear that Durham is hitting both problems with some seminars. Makes me even prouder to have my degree from there.

  3. Thanks John, this is a great help. I have begun trying to cultivate a writing habit already; in the past couple of years I've presented two papers at conferences,and I'm hoping to get another one together for the next round of SBL meetings next year. I'm not even thinking about publishing. What I'm finding is that it helps me keep my ideas fresh and I enjoy getting feedback on my work. Eventually, I hope to publish. But at the moment just the process of writing and sharing ideas is energizing enough for me.

    I may just order this book! With two academic types in the house, it would be a good addition to the library. Thanks so much for mentioning it. And yay, Durham! Makes me glad to be studying there.


  4. Fuller has requirements for its PhD students to go to teaching seminars and submit syllabi each year (including gathering sources/ textbooks for the course as well as curriculum models). I appreciate the blog and will be checking out this book. Hope all is well in Ashland!