'Publish And Survive, Or Publish And Be Damned' - Your Choice

"Pursuing anything to the bitter end often means that a scholar will have his or her reputation fried beyond redemption"

'Publish And Survive, Or Publish And Be Damned' - Your Choice

George IV’s courtiers, reporting Napoleon’s death to the king: Your greatest enemy is dead, sir.

George IV, aghast, thinking his estranged spouse has expired: What?! Queen Caroline is dead?!

The relationship between a writer and a publisher is only as good as the work of the writer themselves. This does not mean that every piece a scholar pens automatically gets taken up by an unsuspecting editor, although that, too, does happen – especially if the scholar is famous in his or her field. But what if the writer is a young and upcoming professional?

Well, the answer to this reads like a partly exciting, partly depressing anime show. If the writer makes it a point to churn out solid and good work, an ethical editor will generally voice no objections. But many academic editors are fallible. Some are not. When I was about fifteen years younger, I used to work in a field that was not only predominantly white, but also predominantly male and European. Since nothing is more abhorrent to me than playing the “I am a coloured woman” card (a point that conjures up the rather ludicrous image of a woman painted in rainbow hues), I simply wrote and submitted what I felt was necessary. I was initially amused, later justifiably annoyed, by how the senior scholars of the field of Western esotericism would chase me like the farmer’s wife in that fabled nursery rhyme who ran after three blind mice (with a knife, no less). Messages attempting to block my work were sent to editors – once after the editor concerned had accepted my piece (in writing)! He then rejected my piece, also in writing, and ended up looking rather foolish, not just because of that but because I found a publication venue for the article anyway. I am not easily daunted.

I had expected this to happen at some of the lesser-known schools and with the lesser-known journals affiliated with those schools. But I was somewhat more chagrined when a (former) editor of the Harvard Theological Review asked me to convert my submitted article into an annotated biography (which I dutifully did, and resubmitted the piece), then blithely informed me after an inexplicable delay that the journal does not accept annotated bibliographies. The president of Harvard at the time was a woman who had attended my own alma mater, so I wrote a polite letter to her informing her that I did not take kindly to being duped in this manner. Being the first female president of Harvard she wasn’t exactly a weak woman (and, unlike a later female president of Harvard, she was a bona-fide scholar), so she took the editor to task. Rightly so. The journal’s editor wrote me an official note of apology, and cited reasons of ill-health for his misjudgement. He also CC-ed the president on the note. I sent him my sincere good wishes for his speedy recovery and left it at that.

Knowing when to step back is generally a smart move. Pursuing anything to the bitter end often means that a scholar will have his or her reputation fried beyond redemption. A recent post on social media was brought to my attention at the close of 2023, where a gentleman was ranting and raving (with more spirit than sense) about issue 10:2 of the IBA Business Review, claiming that some of his (former) colleagues had published sundry articles in it that were later retracted. I raised both my eyebrows at this because I myself had published in this particular volume and issue, and knew that he was erring on this front. For had there been anything genuinely suspect about that issue, it would not have been archived in the Internet Scholar Archive—a respected and vast public library of online, freely available articles which does the necessary due diligence on such concerns. The verification of the issue went beyond the institute that houses the journal—it extended as far as a well-regarded online depository of material.

Editors have the latitude and leeway to do whatever they please, as long as they can deal with the consequences. Every writer knows that. Scholars have the right to pen whatever they please. As long as they deal with the consequences. “Publish and be damned,” snapped the Duke of Wellington one day. One must respect the sentiment; after all, Wellington defeated the greatest Corsican-born general that history has ever known. But whether a writer is damned depends on two factors: good sense and integrity. Every editor worth his salt knows that.