Go With a Publisher or DIY? Archaeology Publishing

Posted on September 2, 2014


The world of publishing has changed dramatically in the last few years. E-books and E-readers are now a thing. Open Access is dominating the discussion in journal publishing. Big chain bookstores are going out of business like it is the cool thing to do. Now, anyone with a computer and an Internet connection has all of the tools available to them that a big name publishers does. This leads people to ponder,  ‘if I can do everything myself than why do I need a publisher? Why not do DIY (do it yourself) publishing?’

Not so fast

It is true we have the all the tools to publish but not necessarily all of the resources available to established publishers e.g. connections to libraries, built in reader base (societies) . Also, while some of these dramatic changes in publishing are the result of digital publishing a good portion of it is because we now have more authors and readers. Even with the recession there are five times as many professional archaeologists in the UK than 30 or 40 years ago, double of 20 years ago. We have more PhD students, lecturers and students all producing (well maybe not too many undergrads) and using publications. A large demand results in a more diverse ecosystem. Look at Ubiquity Press and their Open Access Book publications. Francis Pryor is publishing books with Unbound based on  pre-demand e.g. if enough people pre-buy the book it gets printed (pretty cool idea).

This diversity means that going with a traditional publisher these days is not a one size fits all sort of affair, if it ever was. Some publishers cover everything, cradle to grave of the publishing process, while others expect you to shoulder some of the burden. With DIY it is not a one size fits all either. There are a myriad of different services that one could use for DIY. For example, you can publish a book and undertake all the editing and layout, etc. but then hire a graphic artist to design a cover.  In fact, we shouldn’t be asking asking DIY or publisher but the question- what do you want out of publishing?

What Do You Want

Things that you might consider:

Prestige – Certain publishers are considered more prestigious than others.  Some departments will only count books from certain publishers towards tenure. Decide if ‘prestige’ matters for your work or not. Of course prestige means many different things to many different people. What I consider a prestigious publisher e.g. Society of Antiquaries of Scotland for Scottish Archaeology, may not be consider a prestigious venue by others e.g. your tenure committee.  For the love of knowledge, don’t rely on one person’s opinion about where you should publish. I hear too many people say I heard this but have not idea where they heard it from. Ask if for tenure you need to publish somewhere. Ask, ask, ask.

Audience 1 – Make sure to ask about your particular circumstances — looking at you CRM archaeologists who publish in “academic” venues because you were told to when really your regional publishers would have better served the crowd you want to reach. Being published by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland is a much better idea if you are doing Scottish Archaeology. The right people will read your work or at least know about it. Too often people over look getting published by societies that specialise in their field of work.

Audience 2 Open Access – Can the right people read your work. If it costs $150 and they only print 80 will the people that matter read it (however you define them- employers, public,etc.)? This is the consideration of Open Access.

Time 1 – This is one of the main reasons people do DIY, quick publishing. How long will it take you to publish. Will it be in time for when you come up for tenure or the REF? Will technology have moved on by then? How fast does it need to be published and can publishers do that for you?

Time 2 – Your time. I will tell you right now DIY is incredibly time consuming. Do you have the time to do it?

Money– As I mentioned in my last post there is not a lot of money in scholarly publishing but you do have to consider if you want to get paid and how much.

Does it need to be published?– That might sound like a silly question but many publishers run the numbers and if they don’t think they can make money they won’t publish your work. Which means you need to decide if you are up for DIY. Note this is not always a reflection on the quality of your work. Except of course if you are claiming aliens built the pyramids, then yes it is a reflection of you work. Usually it just means they don’t think they will make money off your work. Though publishers has been wrong about that, think Harry Potter.

Services Offered

These are the different components of publishing a book:

  • Developmental Editing- evaluate and critique the manuscript i.e. suggest and provide revisions, make it into a readable piece. Not the same as peer review
  • Peer- review – Is the work sound and not some crackpot theory about aliens. More importantly will experts vouch for it.
  • Fact Checking- When they say Mount Everest is 8,848 m high, is it really?
  • Copy-editing- a copy editor or line editor to go through and catch spelling mistakes and adjust for grammar, punctuation and consistency.
  • Graphic Design- what is the cover of your book
  • Formatting (Print and Digital)- Convert your book into pdf, print on demand, kindle, etc.
  • Getting an ISBN- An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is recommended. Some platforms require you to have one to sell your book with them.
  • Distribution- how are you going to send the book to people/take money or give away
  • Marketing/PR- these are getting reviews, letting people know on social media about it, letting individuals and libraries know about it, etc.
  • Preservation- will people be able to find your work in 200 years?

The question you need to ask is does the publisher provide all of this or will you have to do some of this work?

So Decide, What Do You Want

All of these factors should be taken into account when thinking about publishing a book.  There also might be some I have not listed. For me, the most important factor is getting more work in front of the right audience, which is everyone. That means Open Access. Which, unless I am going to pay $10,000,  eliminates many publishers. However, I can still publish with many societies. But, that means I need to take on most of the work so the societies don’t lose money. Even then, I might hire someone to do design or copy- editing, etc. In my case, it is an a la carte process that combines both DIY and traditional publishing work. DIY does not mean do it all yourself.

For you, it might be very different. You might want to have input into all phases. You might not want to deal with a single thing except writing.

Up Next- the Full DIY

This post is meant to give a bit of context for choices in publishing. The point, I hope, I got across is that you need to decide how you want to publish and what you want to get out of it. In some cases, a publisher will cover all you might need and you won’t have to worry about a thing. However, if your publisher can’t provide everything you need or you want to go full DIY than in the next two posts I will discuss how to do the different components of publishing through DIY.


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