Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Avi Staiman. Avi is the founder and CEO of Academic Language Experts, a company dedicated to assisting academic scholars to prepare their research for publication and bring it to the world.
It’s Never Too Early to Care
“Have you prayed for your spouse yet today?” The teacher at my religious seminary asked me.
“Excuse me, Rabbi,” I responded. “I don’t even have a partner. I’m only 18 and not thinking about any serious relationships at the moment,” I retorted.
“So you care about your partner only once they become part of your life?” he retorted. “You don’t care about how they are doing now?”
This conversation was dragged out of the recesses of my mind at the recent Frankfurt Book Fair in October when a number of publishers told me that they tend to stay out of the research development process, seeing it as the author’s responsibility to bring the manuscript to the point of submission. They perceived their role as only engaging with authors at the very end of the research workflow, when the project is complete and ready for review. I wondered whether the gentle rebuke I received as a student might be a good parable for describing publishers’ attitudes in building relationships with potential authors.
Publication as the Final Stop of a Lengthy Journey
We tend to forget that publishing does not exist in a vacuum; rather, it is the end of a prolonged and protracted process for the researcher that may include (but not be limited to): applying to and receiving grant funding, putting together a research team, enlisting research participants, digging through archives, conducting interviews, writing and revising findings, making publication choices, and more. By the time researchers (especially, early-career) are ready to submit their manuscript, they tend to already be quite worn out and exhausted with the research they are working on and have moved on to their next project.
Of course, publishers can’t and shouldn’t become involved in every stage of the publication process and many have already taken steps for building out a range of post-publication services to help authors fulfil funding impact requirements. Some of the bigger publishers have also made moves to move upstream in a significant way as well.
However, many other publishers continue to not seriously consider the steps authors go through to arrive at the moment of submission at their own peril. The steps that precede an author’s decision to submit to one publisher over another are directly impacted by the author’s impression of and experiences with those respective publishers.
With article processing charges (APCs) becoming a driving economic force in academic publishing, getting in front of authors at an early stage becomes all the more important. Publishers need to engage in a serious manner with authors in the steps leading up to the submission decision in order to ensure that they have a positive experience and choose to use their funding with that publisher and not elsewhere.
Publishers can, of course, rely on their brand reputation and wait by their inbox for a flood of submissions. However, publishers who take active interest in helping authors further upstream have much to gain. Not only can editors help build trust by shepherding authors through processes that may be intimidating or unfamiliar to them, but they can also proactively attract authors searching for guidance who have yet to decide on a publisher, thus increasing the quantity and quality of manuscripts they receive. This doesn’t have to mean considerable investment in acquisitions, but can simply include the establishment of strategic partnerships with author service and tool providers designed to empower authors.
Pro-active Engagement with Authors
I want to suggest a few ways that publishers can make authors’ lives easier, build trust and, in turn, increase the number of quality submissions they receive:
- Make editors more accessible– Authors often report that it is challenging to them to figure out when, how, and to whom they should submit their work. Should they be reaching out to the editor, uploading a form via the website, or emailing one of the editorial staff? Most publisher websites require authors to hunt around the site looking for information. Even if they can find the right editor, will they receive a timely response with clear step-by-step instructions? Engaging when authors are still mid-project can enable deeper engagement and substantive improvements.
- Offer author services– Many authors need external support and assistance at various stages of the research and manuscript development process, from formulating their research design through developmental editing and proofreading. This is especially true for English as an Additional Language (EAL) authors who are up against the additional disadvantage of having to work in their second or even third language. Some authors who need these services most are embarrassed to ask publishers for help as they are worried that it will reflect poorly on their work and don’t know where to turn.
- Give feedback early and often- Make it clear to authors both on your website and in personal communication that they can be in touch with their editor before they have a fully formed manuscript. Many authors wait until the very end of their writing before reaching out. Be the publisher that rolls out the red carpet and delights authors when they least expect it.
Thankfully, we have many tools at our disposal and aren’t left to prayer alone for help. In the new world of OA publishing, authors are looking for publishers who are excited by their work and can help make the process as smooth and painless as possible. By being proactive and engaging with authors before their projects are fully formed, publishers can better educate authors about their priorities and expectations and find more authors primed and eager to find a home for their work.
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