Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Referee's Decision is Final

In the last week, I've submitted my first two articles for refereed journals - one here in Australia, and one overseas. Both were accepted for publication, which is good news. Both came back with overall positive reports from the peer reviewers*

It's funny, though - after ten years in the writing industry, countless newspaper and magazine reviews, not to mention editorial and readers reports, I thought I was done with nervousness about putting something I'd written 'out there'.

Turns out that I was wrong.

I've got pretty clear memories of the day that The Darkness was released, waaay back in 2000. I remember knocking off from work (one of the longest school days of my life) and driving directly to my local Dymocks bookstore, in the Morley Galleria. Before going into the shop I stood outside for a couple of moments and reminded myself that there was no point rushing in, because the book wouldn't be there, anyway. But, once I entered and made my way to the 'young adult' shelves, right at the back of the shop beside the 'alternate lifestyles' section, there, to my shock, was a single copy of my little blue book, parked spine-out on the shelves beside Nick Earls' 48 Shades of Brown and all five million copies of David and Leigh Eddings' The Belgariad.

It was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

Mainly because, up until that point, the whole 'publishing a book' thing hadn't been real - it'd been a sort of abstract idea, but with nothing tangible to show for it. Suddenly though, there was a copy of my book - my book - with my name on the front cover, sitting in a public bookstore for anybody with a spare $14.00 to just walk in and purchase, whenever they wanted. They didn't need to ask my permission, or wait for me to send them the latest draft of the MSS. Hell, they didn't even have to know me.

And, it also occurred to me in that moment, perhaps just a little too late, that when they read it, they didn't have to like it. My writing was 'out there' in the public eye, and totally open to criticism.

One of the most nerve-wracking realisations of my life.

Over the years, and the course of another ten books, I've gotten past that feeling. Nowdays when a book hits the shelves I just treat it with more of a resigned shrug and a que sera sera. Naturally some people won't like it. Hopefully more people will. Either way there's nothing I can do about it. I pretty much thought I'd gotten through the nerves.

Which is why I'm a little surprised to find myself so suddenly twitchy about these peer review articles. The thought that they're going to be published in proper academic journals is not an all together comfortable one, even though I'm happy with both pieces and it's an intrinsic aspect of my job. But still - it's one thing having my creative writing published; that's just stories, after all. These are somehow... different.

I think it's because academic writing is published for one specific purpose: to encourage debate. And discussion. And (occasionally) argument. We've all heard horror stories about academic feuds which have taken place in the pages of various journals and textbooks, sometimes for decades. There's also a strong and very edgy body of scholars who have specialised for years in the study of writing and children's literature and - if I'm being honest - I'm very aware that I might be seen as treading on some toes by weighing in to the conversation. Bloody upstart.

Of course, I know most of this is completely in my mind. Without exception, all the academics that I've met in the last couple of years at conferences, festivals, symposiums and other such functions have been nothing but lovely and supportive.

But that doesn't kill the nerves, though. I think only time and getting a few more of these under my belt will do that.

*For anyone not familiar with the workings of academic publishing, it goes like this: you submit your piece to your chosen journal who then send it out to (usually) two or three anonymous peer reviewers - other academics familiar with your field. They read the article, make any suggestions that occur to them, decide whether or not your arguments and / or data are academically sound**, and recommend either for / against publication in the journal. Once (if) it's published, you get points from the national research assessment bodies, which earns your university money, which means you get to keep your job. Which is nice.

**or, alternatively, full of shit.


  1. Yay for publications.

  2. Your work is great, Tony. You are still a bit of an upstart, though... :-)



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