Manga Cultures Book Cover

When I was young and stupid, I included a critical comment about a book’s cover in a review I wrote of an academic monograph. Like the fool I was, I blamed the awful cover on the book’s author.

That book was published by Palgrave; and, now that I’m publishing my own book with Palgrave, I know a little more about how this works.

Palgrave has a policy of taking its cover images from stock photograph websites, specifically Getty Images and Alamy. I’m sure this is appropriate for some books, but it’s not particularly suitable for a book about East Asian popular culture.

Getty Images and Alamy are open for anyone to search. If you like, you can try your hand at finding a good cover for a book about shōjo manga and women’s comics in an international context. To save you the trouble, I’ll go ahead and tell you that there isn’t much there.

You’ll mostly find a lot of pictures – generally of poor quality – of manga magazine covers. Almost all of these photos depict manga magazines for boys and men, and some are adult magazines that can easily be interpreted as catering to fetishes that sexualize minors. None of these photographs is particularly visually appealing. Moreover, since many magazines rebrand themselves according to current trends, a photo like this is going to feel very dated very quickly.

There are also photos of people reading manga in convenience stores and bookstores, but (again) they mostly depict men, and their focus seems to be on “wacky Japan” street fashions. Given that this is a book about “the female gaze,” I would feel weird about a photo depicting an actual woman to begin with, especially if it’s a candid photo and the model hasn’t given her consent to have her face appear on the cover a book.

I therefore requested that we use an original illustration commissioned especially for this project. Since this is a book about women reclaiming the way they’re depicted in popular media, I think it would be cool to have a depiction of a female artist in an illustration created by a female artist. This would also be a good opportunity to have a colorful and eye-catching cover, and an illustration would avoid the pitfalls of gender politics inherent in the medium of photography.

This request met with really strong pushback from both my original editor and my current editor at Palgrave, and I had to push back with equal force to even get them to consider using an illustration drawn by a female comic artist for the cover of a book about female comic artists. I’m not going to lie, it was a super awkward conversation to have, and it lasted for months.

Now I feel awful about criticizing that scholar about the cover of her book. It’s so embarrassing, because I was so wrong. Academic publishing is just like this, I guess.

Anyway, I’ve been in touch with one of my favorite artists in the world about this book cover, and hopefully I’ll to be able to make progress soon!

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.