Fun with Academic Publishing

I have anxiety, and it affected my ability to submit my book manuscript about female comic creators in a very real way. I put it off and put it off and put it off for months, mostly because I was afraid of the reception the manuscript would receive. Blind peer review is notoriously cruel and awful, and people in the field of Comics Studies tend to take the subject way too seriously (the irony of this is not lost on me, by the way). There’s also the fact that the field is extremely male-dominated. This requires a lot of unpacking; but, to make a quick generalization, masculinist modes of scholarship view subjectivity and accessibility as weak and careless, and people who don’t identify as male in a male-dominated field can have a tendency to justify their presence by overcompensating and “leaning in” to masculinist modes of scholarship even more than men do.

So I was afraid of what would happen once I submitted the manuscript; but, as I continued to work on it, I realized that it was actually good and important. Even though it wasn’t perfect, I should submit it anyway. What’s the worst that could happen? The initial blind peer review reports for the prospectus were positive, and I already had an advance contract. If the press decided not to go ahead with publication, I would edit the manuscript according to the reader reports and submit it to one of the other publishers that reviewed the prospectus and offered an advance contract.

What happened is that one of the manuscript peer reviewers declined to review the manuscript. The press couldn’t find another person, so my editor sent me the report of the dreaded “Reviewer #2.” If you’re unfamiliar with the “Reviewer #2” phenomenon, it refers to an anonymous peer reviewer who has nothing good to say because they would have written the manuscript differently if they had written it, but they didn’t, and they feel bitter and threatened that someone else did. Their report is generally bracketed by two more helpful (and sane) reports, so they’re “Reviewer #2.”

Reviewer #2 had nothing good to say, of course. They picked out a few typos in a book-length manuscript in order to argue that the whole thing is garbage, said that one brief reference to the work of a controversial scholar means that my own scholarship is unbalanced, and declared that “female” is not a valid ontological category.

I read the report carefully, showed it to a few colleagues, got some quick feedback and advice, and responded to the editor within two hours to say, essentially, “That’s cool, I can work with this!”

I immediately got an automated response from the editor saying that he no longer worked for the publisher, meaning that he sent me the nasty reader report and then quit. Wow.

So now this book is up on Amazon but doesn’t have an editor, and the one reader the press could find to review it said that they’re unwilling to endorse its publication. Oh boy.

This isn’t what I imagined when I tried to think about “the worst thing that could happen.” This is actually worse, and it happened.

I’ve been trying to be more open about my experience of dealing with anxiety, and a lot of people have responded by saying something to the effect of, “But I could never tell! You seem to be doing fine!” I’m not doing fine, actually; it’s just that I don’t generally talk about things like this when they happen, despite the fact that this sort of thing happens all the time in academic publishing. I therefore think I’d like to talk openly and honestly about how broken academic publishing can be sometimes, as well as how anxiety-inducing subjecting yourself to the gauntlet of other people’s egos in the form of anonymous “critique” can be.

But you know what? I believe in this project, and I can, in fact, work with this. Maybe this doesn’t mean much coming from me, but this is a solid first book that deserves to be published! It’s unfortunate that I encountered this small hiccup with the press, but they do good work, and I’m going to stick with them. Starting tomorrow, I’m going to devote myself entirely to getting this book published, and I’m going to put more effort into communicating with the press. Lord help me, I might even call people on the phone.

I think it might be useful to document the process of getting this book published here on this blog, so stay tuned. If nothing else, I have a lot to say about this whole “‘female’ is not a valid ontological category” nonsense.