Our scholars are sitting on goldmines!

USC Publisher-in-Residence George Thompson assesses the publishing landscape and offers graduate students some publishing advice

Publisher-in-Residence George Thompson knows a lot about top tier-research universities.  For years, the former editor of John Hopkins University Press and current academic publisher has been traveling across the country as a publishing consultant.  Having visited college campuses all across the South—including University of Texas, University of Georgia, and University of North Carolina—Thompson is familiar with the publishing landscape among graduate students at flagship universities.  

And, he sees something different brewing at the University of South Carolina. 

No one else is doing what you are at USC

The Graduate School brought Thompson to campus November 13-16, 2102 to consult individually with USC graduate students and to give a public lecture entitled “Current Trends in Academic Publishing.”

The response from both the students and Thompson was fantastic.

“No one else, anywhere else, is doing what graduate students are here at University of South Carolina,” said Thompson.  “The students I met this week didn’t just have future publication plans, many of them already had two, sometimes three, publications under their belts.”

Peter Warren, a PhD student in Clinical Community Psychology, learned about the opportunity to have an individual publishing consultation on The Graduates School’s Facebook page. “I didn’t know what to expect going in; but, Thompson took his time, got to know me, and asked about what I wanted to do before giving me publishing advice. He gave great insight into the publishing process and was very encouraging. I had received a revise and resubmit from a journal and we went through the feedback together.”

Like many students, Warren cites faculty support as one of the leading factors in early publishing successes.  “Everyone I work with in my department has been very supportive in giving me feedback.” Chaz Yingling, a second year PhD student in history and author of several peer-reviewed articles, agrees. “What has been critical to me is having mentors in my department who are willing to give their time and energy to critique the empirical weight and analytical value of what I have tried to put together.”

Our scholars are sitting on goldmines

Perhaps even more significant than graduate student productivity was Thompson’s assessment of the relevance of our scholars’ research.

“There have been meetings this week with scholars who are sitting on goldmines!”, he said.

As an example, Thompson pointed to PhD candidate Marc Canner, an Army veteran and linguistics scholar whose work has the potential to radically alter our view of how we learn languages. 

Writing tips as told by the Publisher-in-Residence

In light of both the supportive culture at USC and the importance of academic scholarship, how might emerging scholars get their work off of their hard drives and into the hands of the public? Thompson gave several suggestions.

1)      Clarify Your Ideas

Technology, for all its virtues, has also led to sloppiness, says Thompson. ”We tend to think more carefully when we have to white-out or re-write something.  Although the technology is there [in the academic publishing industry], the process of revise, resubmit, and peer review still takes the same amount of time.”

As a litmus test, Thompson suggests looking at the title of your work. “If you cannot summarize your thesis in a succinct title, you probably don’t have a clear enough idea.”

To make the leap from an article to a book, Thompson suggests a similar process: “Vet your thesis through an article first. If your main idea withstands the scrutiny of a peer-reviewed article, then you can move to the book.”

2)      Avoid Revise & Resubmit

A press spends about $1,500 to peer-review a manuscript. To publish a book, the cost jumps to $20,000-$30,000. Tightening budget constraints across industries, including academic publishing, means there is less opportunity for younger scholars to rely on the advanced contract (in the case of a book) and (in the case of peer-review articles) longer lag time between submission and response.  

Despite these trends, the publishing demands for scholars remain unbending. This holds true for PhDs entering the job market, as well as faculty approaching tenure. Thus—for their own interests—emerging scholars and junior faculty stand to benefit from skipping the “revise and resubmit” process and instead aiming straight for an “accept with minor revisions.”

What does this look like? Expect to do more front-end work, Thompson advises. While still in graduate school, scholars should get in the habit of relying on internal review. “PhDs should be thinking about networking now. Set up a circle of confidants who know your topic and can vet your material before it ever gets to the publisher.”

3)      Find a Home for Your Work

Equally important, says Thompson, is to find a home for your work. “Never go to a conference and lay out research proposals on the table. It’s inconsiderate and unprofessional,” says Thompson. Instead, spend some time creating a context for your work. “Look at the books that influence you, the books you use in the classroom, and see where those are published. Publishers invest in their writers and want a good fit. There is a reason it’s called a publishing house.

4)      Go Public

When consulting students and faculty, Thompson always challenges scholars to think beyond their immediate circle. “Don’t just sit on your scholarship! And don’t be afraid to go outside of academic publishing on occasion, if it gives you the opportunity to reach more people.”

For Thompson, the charge for academics to offer their insights to the public is not just savvy career advice, but something of a civic duty.  A least once a year, he says, “take the time and effort to speak to the public on topics in which you are working.” 


November 19, 2012


Public Lecture on Current Trends in Academic Publishing