Wicker Back

The dilemma of my eclectic interests sometimes runs up against the natural slowness of publishing.  My book on The Wicker Man has been given the green light by Auteur Publishing and should be out next year.  I just received the readers’ reports and they were positive enough to make me blush.  The thing is, I submitted the manuscript back in January and I’ve nearly finished writing my next book since then.  It’s on a different topic for which I’ve been collecting sources since January.  I really hope this next one won’t publish with an academic press.  The endless rounds of revision from peer review can wear a body out.  Reviewers, you see, have university jobs.  Libraries at their fingertips.  Sabbaticals.  (I work with authors who won’t write unless they have one of the latter.) Now my reading shifts back to Summerisle.

For those of us with 925s that get a paltry number of holidays per year (which are spent holidaying) and paid like most working stiffs, with no academic library access, this can present somewhat of a challenge.  I see peer reviews all the time.  Academics so deeply into the subject that they don’t (can’t) think of the practicalities.  When I see a reviewer write that a book is ready for publication, but if the author could only restructure the whole thing and approach it from this angle instead… I have to chuckle.  During my teaching career I worked in situations that didn’t allow for sabbaticals.  Even among academia those given such rare benefits are privileged.  It’s a wonder that so many books get written, all things considered.

Like waking from a dream world, I suddenly have to downshift to a previous project.  I haven’t really thought much about the Wicker Man since January.  My next book, which is eclectic, has been slowly gestating over the months.  My reading has been geared towards it and is financed personally.  I’ve tried contacting the local college and university libraries.  I can’t borrow, or do inter-library loan, so the weird resources I need I have to buy.  Preferably used.  One thing reviewers like to do is point out new resources.  And yes, I have to agree that my argument would be stronger with them.  I have a strategy to the way I write my books, now that I’ve found a receptive readership, so none of this is mishap, I hope.  (Ironically, now I get quite a few readers of my revised dissertation asking me questions about ancient West Asian studies.)  That trireme paddled from shore long ago.  I’ve moved my current project to another burner, and you’ll be hearing more about The Wicker Man in coming weeks.  Next year is the film’s fiftieth anniversary, so I have a deadline that I just can’t miss. It’s time to get reacquainted with an old friend.

The Archive

Publishers hate it, but I bless its holy name.  The Internet Archive is a major boon for “independent scholars.”  If you’re not familiar with it, the Archive is a repository of scanned books.  It doesn’t contain everything, of course, and some publishers have tried to sue, but it operates like a library.  You set up a free account, and if you just want to look up a reference in a book they have, you can “borrow” it for a while, check your reference, and then return it.  All without leaving your home.  Internet Archive really took off during the pandemic.  You couldn’t get to the library and some of us research as long as we breathe, so here was a solution without breaking the bank.  The bank, ah, there’s the rub.

The reason publishers hate Internet Archive is that it makes content available for free.  Working in publishing, I understand the concern.  Publishers have to make money off their books—they are businesses, after all.  And if somebody scans it and makes it free online, your sales are undermined.  But are they?  Now, I can only speak for people like myself, but if a book is directly relevant to my research I will buy it.  Reading online is a last resort. My library is full of books bought for that reason.  Once in a while, though, my research leads into areas I don’t intend to come back to.  Or I remember reading something in a book long ago, back when I had library access with interlibrary loan, and I can’t afford to buy the book just to look up that reference.  Well, Internet Archive to the rescue.  Publishers don’t often turn their mind to independent scholars since we’re not prestige authors.  Waifs of the academic world.

That’s one reasons I don’t feel bad blogging about Internet Archive.  Most traditional academics pay no attention to my blog.  If I were hired by Harvard that would change overnight.  Those of us who skulk in the shadows of the ivory tower don’t mind getting by with freebies like Internet Archive.  And some part of us, even if we work in publishing, applauds such ventures as SciHub.  I do not suggest visiting SciHub, however, and I’ve never done so myself.  Its software automatically scans your hard drive for content that it can add to its huge repository.  It’s not safe.  The idea stands behind Open Access as well.  Knowledge should be free.  But even publishers have to eat.  And those in ivory towers have everything to gain by keeping their edifices pristine.

The Price of Independence

Recently I was updating my Amazon author page.  Since this is purely a self-promotional place (my books aren’t exactly priced to move) I try to approach it with a sense of humor.  I need to be in the mood to write funny, and some followers of this blog often mistake what I’m doing when I try it here.  (Satire and irony, at least to me, have quite a bit of inherent humor.)  In any case, the trick with Amazon author pages—or any internet sites really—is being an “independent scholar.”  To both the academy and to educated laity, that moniker suggests you’ve somehow failed to impress the academic establishment.  No institution wants to claim you, and why should anyone listen to someone who “blows their own horn”?  If you sell enough books you’ll gain some credibility, but at these prices?

Still, I try.  The marketers and publicists I know all talk about building a platform (“shares” and “likes” help).  Platforms require a lot of planks.  One plank I recently learned about was JSTOR (a not-quite acronym for Journal Storage).  Well, I’ve actually known about JSTOR for decades but only recently have been able to use it.  JSTOR scans and indexes academic journals.  While that may not be exciting to the average layperson, for academics (and independent scholars), this is a great tool.  Prior to JSTOR you had to spend hours plowing through various indexes to learn what had been published on a certain topic.  Then you had to go into the stacks and look the material up.  And probably end up photocopying it.  JSTOR makes all of that obsolete with a few keystrokes.  The problem was you could only get in with your university’s subscription.

I stand and applaud JSTOR because they have now made it possible for independent scholars (we are a growing demographic!) to access 100 free articles a month.  Even though “independent scholar” often means you have a nine-to-five with no sabbaticals, that’s quite a lot of articles you can now access.  While I think this is a great move, I do wonder if it’s part of the writing on the wall for higher education.  Around the world universities (except those well endowed, or supported by federal funds) are having trouble staying solvent.  Knowledge is free on the web, until you run into that paywall at internet speed.  Well, at least for now we have JSTOR and access to otherwise inaccessible journal articles.  But that’ll have to wait until after work.  And after I update my Amazon author profile.

Google Scholarship

The other day I had to check something on Google Scholar for work.  Since our computers now know who we are, mine asked if I would like to update my profile on the site.  I figured it couldn’t hurt.  I waited until after work, however, since my scholarship is strictly separated from my job.  When I went to complete the profile I learned that you can’t do it without a .edu extension on your email.  In other words, and independent scholar is no Google Scholar at all.  It’s not the first time I’ve run into this bias.  I have sat through many meetings where those with no institutional affiliation are spoken of with deep suspicion, as if the extreme shortage of academic jobs has left only the worthiest employed.  Classic blaming the victims.

Having once been a full-time academic, I have watched the job ads for nearly three decades now.  The number of positions has steadily decreased while the number of new Ph.D.s has readily increased.  There aren’t enough jobs to go around and those who don’t land one of the few available are considered inferior scholars.  Even Google says so.  The interesting thing about this is there is little outcry from academia itself.  You’d think that, given the protests that go on in other areas of perceived injustices that the educated would call for redress.  You’d think incorrectly.  As a society we distrust those who don’t have an institution backing them.  Unless they’re rich (for money is a kind of institution).  It’s a strange state of affairs.

In my line of work citations on Google Scholar don’t really matter.  In fact, many publishers are kind of embarrassed when their employees are published, or are even cited in the books they produce.  Scholarship, in other words, is institutionalized.  The thing is, life in our society isn’t so neatly categorized.  My first job, in a poverty-level family, was working as a janitor.  I was always surprised at how philosophical the discussions were among the cleaning staff at our local school district.  Many of these guys were deep thinkers behind a  broom.  In the schools where they worked the students tended to make fun of them.  You certainly won’t find their musings on Google Scholar.  I tend to think that our society might be more equitable if we’d recognize intelligence where it exists rather than sticking it behind the walls of academe.  But then, I’m no Google Scholar so you need not believe a thing I write.