Friday, November 20, 2009

Ironically Good News

If I ever had to keep confidential the details of my attempts to get a particular paper published, then I no longer have to do so. I've received an acceptance letter for a paper I sent off to a highly respected journal in the field of popular culture. It's very gratifying. But in the context of the most recent unfolding drama elsewhere in the romance community concerning Harlequin's venture into vanity publishing, it does seem somewhat ironic to note that before I can see my paper published I will have to: wait for around 2 years; pay to subscribe to the journal; sign away my copyright. Oh, and there will be no royalties of any sort flowing in my direction, and no "advance" either. This is all absolutely normal in academic publishing (well, apart from the delay in publication, which is a little bit longer than usual). I know the publishing model is very, very different than that for popular fiction, so I'm not trying to criticise the journal. In fact, I wanted to pass on what I think is good news. I'm really happy that my essay is going to be in the Journal of Popular Culture. As I said, it's a very respectable peer-reviewed journal, and I hope that my paper will help bring to wider attention the most recent wave of romance scholarship.

All the same, it does seem deeply ironic that the acceptance letter for my paper on "Feminism and Early Twenty-First Harlequin Mills and Boon Romances" should arrive during this particular controversy. I'm not worried about my paper becoming obsolete. In fact, in the paper itself I point out that the romance genre is a fast-changing one. But I do wonder what the situation will be with Harlequin, the RWA, and romance publishing in two years' time when my paper finally appears.

The image was taken from the Journal of Popular Culture's website. I hope they won't mind. The website has four pictures at the top, of an alien, a pair of superheroes, a horrified woman, and a spy. I didn't really feel I could make the others remotely relevant to the present post.


  1. Congratulations on the acceptance!

    We're all waiting to see how this current situation turns out...

  2. Thanks! I've been glued to my computer too, watching the developments and suffering from an overdose of irony.The announcement of Harlequin Horizons seems to have brought out some of the oldest, most tired cliches about the romance genre.

  3. Well done, Laura. It's always a good feeling to get something into print, even when one isn't paid and it takes two years. A delay of two years is not unusual with journals in my field, either.

    As you say, all this is par for the course in scholarly publishing: I still feel quite bowled over when I receive royalties for some of my books, because I am so used to the idea that even large volumes that took years to write don't actually make me any money. The publishers would undoubtedly argue that they don't make them any money, either.

  4. Great news, Laura! I believe that's the top journal in the very large field of pop culture studies. It's a terrific paper, that begins to meet a real need in romance studies. I can't wait until everyone has a chance to read it.

  5. Congratulations, Laura! This is very good news indeed, for all of us. It will have readers when it comes out, which is more than one can say for a lot of academic work. I can't wait to assign it to my students!

  6. That's great news! Reading about vanity publishing made me wistfully reflect on the fact that, years ago, I wrote a sequel to Emma (Emma has a daughter, Harriet has a son) which I got an agent for and thought was at least half way competent though I'm not the next Heyer or anything. It attracted some nice comments but there had just been 2 Emma sequels published and maybe it just wasn't good enough. Any suggestions for a publisher to approach about this would be welcomed!

  7. Thanks, Tigress

    "The publishers would undoubtedly argue that they don't make them any money, either.."

    True. The publisher of my book had to get "assistance with the production costs" from the Modern Humanities Research Association, and my husband did the typesetting for free (he offered - he thought it was an interesting challenge). If it had been fiction, then, judging by what I've learned from the recent incident, the publisher might well have been declared a subsidy/vanity press, but as it was academic publishing, it's just a fairly normal occurrence and a very reputable small academic press.

    Thanks Jessica! I'm very glad you think it's "terrific" and thank you for reading it during the process of revisions and giving me advice.

    Eric, if you'd like to see a pre-publication copy, I think I'm allowed to send you one, if you ask me for it and if you promise not to copy it. That would, admittedly, mean it wasn't much use in terms of assigning it to students. I've been thinking of it as a revisiting of the topic of Ann Rosalind Jones's 1986 "Mills & Boon Meets Feminism" in The Progress of Romance: The Politics of Popular Fiction, and so the early version I presented at the Feminism and Popular Culture Conference in 2007 was titled "Feminism Revisits Mills & Boon: Second and Third Wave Contexts and Struggles in Two Mills & Boon ‘Lines’."

    I thought that after more than 20 years it was a topic worth re-visiting, because there have been significant changes. In the intervening years since the conference I've changed the title and dropped the idea of the waves. They didn't seem to be so helpful in the end.

    Sarah, maybe you should go back to your original agent? I have the impression that most big publishers don't accept un-agented submissions. Harlequin/Mills & Boon's one of the exceptions in that regard. It certainly seems as though there are a lot of Austen adaptations being published at the moment, and from the number of them it doesn't seem as though publishers think the market is saturated, yet.

    And to be rather flippant, since I have no idea what publishers think, perhaps you'd have to add a paranormal angle to fit in with the current wave of Austen-inspired novels. Apparently "Mr. Darcy, Vampyre has the distinction of being the first vampire themed novel inspired by Jane Austen’s works to hit the market. I assure you that it will not be the last. At least five more are now in the queue," "Seth Grahame-Smith's zombie mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies [was] soaring to the top of Amazon's UK 'movers and shakers' chart" earlier this year and then the same publisher decided to unleash Austen and seamonsters.

  8. The dilemma in academic publishing is usually finding the right balance in the print-run / selling price / storage costs equation. Scholarly books sell in small numbers over a l-o-n-g period, which publishers hate, because it takes ages to cancel out their production costs (even though the author isn't getting any royalties!) and all the time the title is racking up storage fees. What they would really like is for all books to sell out the whole edition in the first month after publication, thus recouping all the costs and leaping straight into profit.

    But they decide on a print-run of 500 and a selling-price of £125, thus ensuring that the sales will be low, and thereby 'proving' that there wasn't much of a market in the first place. Oh, and they usually do very little to advertise or promote scholarly titles, either, so there are probably potential buyers out there who don't even know that the book exists until the reviews start to appear in learned journals, which will be between one and two years after publication, given the publication schedules of the journals.

    C'est la vie.


  9. Congratulations, Laura! These are wonderful news! You know how much I enjoyed your paper at the conference in Newcastle.

    You were lucky with your book, though: my future academic publisher in Germany will get "assistance with the production costs" from me. (And those Harlequin Horizons book packages are downright cheap by comparison!)

  10. "potential buyers out there who don't even know that the book exists until the reviews start to appear in learned journals, which will be between one and two years after publication, given the publication schedules of the journals."

    Yes, which is probably partly due to the fact that academic reviewers tend to be doing their work for free too. Well, I suppose one could argue that they get free books in return for their reviews, but I imagine that for many of them reviewing feels like something to squeeze in alongside their own academic research, teaching, admin etc.

    Last time I corresponded with my contact at my publisher she seemed rather excited by the idea of print-on-demand. Once all the books in the original, relatively small print-run of my book are sold, I have the impression they might continue to offer it via POD. I'm rather unclear on the details, though, so I might have that wrong, and it perhaps depends on whether or not there's actually any demand for extra copies, but all the same, I can see how new technologies such as POD and ebooks might offer interesting possibilities for small (and not so small) academic publishers who, as you say, have been working on the tiny print-run, high storage-costs, slow sales model for quite a while.

    Thanks, Sandra, and I hope you'll enjoy the new and improved version of the paper even more! :-)

    I'm sorry it's going to be so expensive for you to get your book printed. :-(

    (Specially for you, I declare this to be Laura V's personal smiley-contrast day)

  11. One doesn't necessarily get a copy of the book to be reviewed, Laura: if the journal is that of a learned society that has its own library, then the review copy goes into the society's library, not to the reviewer: at best they may lend you the book, and you have to return it after completing the review.

    The idea of print-on-demand after the original run is out of print is being considered in my field, too, and it may well become common. And from there, it is but a short step to print-on-demand from the start, with no initial multiple printing.

    It would be one way of dealing with that storage problem, I suppose. A standard work on some subjects continues to be wanted, in small quantities, by students in the field over many decades. Simple on-line availability is not necessarily the answer because technology keeps changing, which also means that a print-on-demand title would have to be regularly updated so that it could continue to be printed out.


  12. Laura, I've just sent you an e-mail. In fact, there's quite a lot I've got to smile about once I stop worrying about that dratted final exam. :)

  13. Congratulations, Laura! I know enough about the world of scholarly publishing through my job in a natural history museum library to know about the authors not getting paid and the high cost of the journal keeping sales low--so the publishers raise the price even higher. But I had no idea how long it took from writing the article to seing it in print.

    In the hard sciences, books are thought to be outdated by the time they're in print; scientists all want the most recent journal articles. Maybe in the social sciences it's different, but two years sounds like an amazingly long time, and, as you said, the romance world is changing very rapidly.

    But I also know what an achievement it is to be published in a peer-reviewed journal that's considered the top in its field. You should be feeling very proud.

  14. Ann: the natural sciences obviously do have a different pattern of use of standard books. Their readers want to have the newest information as quickly as possible.

    But any discipline that is connected in any way to history, art or literature is a different matter. I habitually use certain types of reference books, such as catalogues and corpora, that were published long before I was born -- and I'm no spring chicken. Factual information in a well-written catalogue remains valid however long ago it was compiled, and even theoretical publications proposing ideas that have since been disproved are grist to the mill of scholars studying the historiography of their own discipline.

  15. "One doesn't necessarily get a copy of the book to be reviewed, Laura: if the journal is that of a learned society that has its own library, then the review copy goes into the society's library"

    I have to admit a fair amount of ignorance about academic publishing. I've only written one review for an academic journal, and I got to keep the book.

    "I had no idea how long it took from writing the article to seing it in print."

    It definitely took a lot less time for my other articles in journals to get into print, and the JPC itself mentioned the two year period as being an anomaly, caused by a variety of factors. But as the Tigress said, "A delay of two years is not unusual with journals in my field" so presumably there's quite a bit of variation across different journals and fields.

    Thanks, both of you, for broadening my knowledge of academic publishing.

  16. Congratulations! I haven't been keeping up with events in Romanceland, but it's great to hear that your work is getting published where a lot of academics can see (and cite! citations are love) it.