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Saturday, 5 January 2013

Not quite the positive year-opener I'd intended

Over the Christmas/New Year break I was reading a book that had been sent to me for review, published by the press of a fairly distinguished university.

I was driven to google 'X University Press' to ascertain that this was, indeed, the publishing arm of 'University of X', because I wondered if we were in the realm of the 'Watford University Press' of Havelock Ellis's publishing misadventures with Sexual Inversion, or one of those 'open access' academic publishing enterprises which send out spammy emails soliciting contributions in a particularly untargetted way.

But no, this appears to be the Print on Demand and digital press operation of the University of X.

What they don't appear to have is editorial staff (the only staff member I could locate on their website was a 'business manager', not terribly encouraging). The book as received looked as though somebody had just put into print the kind of unfinished, unpolished draft one might send on spec to a likely publisher for consideration. The references - where there were any, because there were quite a lot of places where there were no citations to material quoted - were all over the place and in various inconsistent forms (some as footnotes; some in brackets after the quote; and some I think the reader was required to match up themselves by going to the bibliography at the back - which was incomplete). If it had ever received the attentions of a copy-editor, the individual in question should be sacked for incompetence.

It seems unlikely that the work had been sent out to external reviewers for comment before publishing, which might have eliminated a few bloopers.

I have read self-published works in which the necessary editorial work has been much more conscientiously done and which have perfectly acceptable scholarly apparatus.

Reading this book was a depressing experience of potential wasted. Its issue in  this condition did no service to the author, to the potential audience, or to the press itself and the institution of which it is a part. Is this the way university presses are going?

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