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Friday, 16 September 2016

Should you self-publish your book?


Would you self-publish your monograph? The academic Lesley Hulonce has caused a stir this week by arguing for exactly that. Dissatisfied with the proposed sale price of her monograph from a traditional publisher (over £60) Hulonce decided to publish the book herself through Amazon self- publishing. Read more about her experience here

Other academics have expressed dissatisfaction with publishers; price and the quality of e-books seem to be a particular bug-bears. These are both issues that librarians sympathise with. 

Some authors and imprints have been experimenting with different kinds of publishing. Zero Books (and its offspring Repeater Books) have pioneered a model of quicker, easier publishing that also encourages more imaginative writing. Martin Parker, a Professor here at Leicester, published his co-authored book on Daniel Defoe and the Bank of England with Zero in 2016. Palgrave have developed (copied?) their own version of this model with Palgrave Pivot

Pros

There are some obvious pros to self-publishing:
  • You have the power to set a low price or make the book full Open Access. This allows you sell copies to people who aren't university libraries, and increase you readership. And hopefully improve your citations. 
  • It should be a quicker route to publication, as you will not be tied to a publishers' schedule. 
  • You can decide whether the book goes out of print or not. 
It's worth remembering that there is no official requirement that you have to publish with a traditional academic press. Guidance to REF panels is clear: it is the quality of the book that is being assessed, not the reputation of the publisher. 

Cons

However, there are some cons that need to be thought about:
  • Will your book be discovererable? Will it be indexed by a service like Google Scholar or a subject database (in Hulonce's case BBIH or Historical Abstracts)? 
  • How will a library know to include the book in its catalogue? Some author self-promotion will be required here, plus the the goodwill of your colleagues in other institutions. And if it was electronic only, how should libraries provide a copy to their users in a sustainable way? 
  • Who is going to arrange (and pay for) all the boring stuff: ISBNs, typesetting, copy-editing, and peer-review. Maybe you are happy to ignore conventions, but it could effect the quality of the final book.   
While the REF says that who you publisher with isn't important, the word-on-the-street is that is does matter when it come to hiring. Job panels aren't reading candidates' monographs (we are told), instead they are using the publisher as a proxy for quality. It takes a determined post-doc to self-publish their first monograph. 

These problems are not impossible to overcome. But they need a coordinated response, like we have for journal publishing with Open Library of the Humanities, rather than individuals having to fight their own battles. 




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