Allison Symes’ sound advice on publishing and its perils, The Frustrations of Publishing, set me to thinking about my life as a writer and in some respects as a publisher, or rather editor of journals and series of books. I was fortunate in having a few bright ideas at the right time such that small publishers who were seeking to expand their business took me on as a series editor for books in philosophy, ethics, and science related topics.
Apart from a journal, Explorations in Knowledge, which I self-published, all of my books have gone through publishers acceptable to the academic community. There is much snobbishness about publishing in academia which probably connects with the requirement for refereed works. As publications for university staff are the key to job security and promotion as well as funding for your department through the Research Assessment Exercise, freedom to self-publish is not encouraged. So only after many publications and freedom from university requirements can one’s self-published work be accepted.
Academic writers can help each other by writing spontaneous reviews of self-published books thus party meeting the requirement for refereed publications.
However, it is with pride that I report on giving a start to many new authors by mixing their first book in a series, Avebury Philosophy, I edited along with well-established authors.
Censorship is always around. Orwell’s Animal Farm was held back during WW2 because the UK Government did not want to upset Stalin who was an ally against Hitler. During the Cold War it was promoted as a critique of Soviet Russia. His novel 1984, was banned and burned in communist Russia under Stalin and ownership meant possible arrest for its anti-communist views.
Having signed the Official Secrets Act I am prohibited from writing about my experiences in HM Prisons. There are grey areas in censorship; my wife’s book on prisoner’s rights was published in Iran, in Persian, which was a surprise.
Many publishers avoid controversial topics, such that when Professor Peter Singer’s book – Should the Baby Live? – advocating what is now described as post birth abortion, went out of print, no one would re-publish it.
I take an opposing view to Singer’s ‘preference utilitarianism’ but published it in Gregg Revivals, a series I edited on revived classics, so it is now available for other scholars to criticize.
My research area – philosophy and ethics – is notorious for acrimonious disputes and hostile reviews. Hence writing is no pleasure, and I was taught to treat the subject like boxing; defend your arguments and respond to critics with heavier blows. I published authors who have criticised me, which in turn gave me a chance to hit back.
Advice to the aspiring academic philosopher – treat every sentence you write as if your worst enemy will respond.
This year I intend to venture into self-publishing with a large book on animal welfare and bioethics which I would rather not be altered by a publishing house. Having spent two years being rejected by publishers and agents my good friend, Professor Gonzalo Munevar from Washington University, has published with Amazon his politically incorrect novel, Alex in Femiland, which has a swipe at the US campus culture. This book was written over a long period of time and whilst it is fiction there are concealed sections involving the author’s visit to Europe and to Chandler’s Ford where part of his book was written.
Gonzalo has published several fiction books in both English and Spanish as well as non-fiction books among which is a collection we put together on the controversial 20th century philosopher, PK Feyerabend, about which I hope to write on another occasion.
Thanks again Allison, with you I believe that there is a great future for self-publishing, whether fiction or academic texts. As the universities decline in the expression of knowledge and free inquiry, we are at a point where – thanks to technology – individual authors can maintain the great writing traditions.