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Publish, don't perish – Instalment 30

Persistence of print

As the ongoing talk about online publication combines with the ever growing popularity of self-publishing venues like blogs, you might wonder why you should bother continuing to submit your work to traditional print journals. Any librarian following the professional literature (or the general media) sees plenty of discussion of "the death of print" and of the pluses and minuses of each form of communication. We need to turn these same discussions to our own literature and to the purposes and strengths of various forms of professional communication.

I remain a big fan of both online publication in general, and professional blogs in particular. Yet, I also remain a big fan of the print literature. Rather than looking at these formats as being in opposition to one another, we can see them as complementary – serving different audiences, scratching different itches, and serving to cross-market their authors.

What to do, what to do

When deciding whether to blog a topic or submit it for print publication, you can ask yourself a number of questions:

How important is timeliness?

If your topic is "of the moment", print publication, especially peer-reviewed publication, may not be for you. By the time your article sees print, your conclusions will likely be out of date. If your topic lends itself to a longer publication cycle, and has long-term impact, you may wish to publish in an established journal to lend your work weight and permanence.

How much do you have to say?

If your topic lends itself to short bursts of discussion, you may wish to blog. If your topic requires an extended examination, people may prefer to read it in print rather than on screen – or even laid out nicely in PDF format and printed, rather than as a printed web page. You might also appreciate the freedom an extended article or book format affords you to explore your subject in depth.

How much editing do you need?

You know your own work and your own writing. While we all can benefit from another pair of eyes, some writing needs more hands-on editing, and some topics need more back-and-forth discussion before they can reach their full potential. If your work could benefit from an editor's eye or from peer review, consider established print outlets.

What audience do you want to reach?

Some people prefer to do their professional reading online, some prefer print journals, and some prefer a mixture of both. If your work needs to reach readers who are less likely to be blog aficionados, think about submitting it to traditional publishers.

How does your institution view various publication formats?

If you are up for tenure or promotion, you will want to publish in the journals and venues viewed most favourably by your committee. If you maintain a blog, you may wish to publish elsewhere as well. This both shows your versatility and gives you a body of published work to point to in the event that a colleague or administrator implies that blogging saps your professional productivity, or that your online writing reflects badly on your institution.

How can you create synergy?

If you choose to publish an article or book, continue the conversation on a personal blog or website. If you publish in print, include a link to your online work for further reading and discussion. If you publish a blog, include information on your traditional publishing activities and links to information about that work. Rather than viewing these formats in opposition, think about how these types of publication can complement one another.

How much feedback do you want?

If you blog about an issue, you're likely to get more (and more public) comments than if you publish in the literature.

What's your own commitment to the library literature?

If you see the importance of a robust body of print literature, then you may wish to make your own contribution. If you yourself appreciate reading colleagues' articles in journals, you may wish to participate in the same venues.

How linear is your topic and/or argument?

If you have bits and pieces of related ideas; work them out over multiple blog posts. If you have an extended linear discussion in mind, print might be your format of choice.

The answers to these questions will differ for each topic and at various times. Just as the right journal or other outlet for your work will differ, depending on your audience, topic, and tone, the right format for your work will also vary, depending on similar factors.

Best of both worlds

One way to give yourself the advantages of both on- and offline publication is to write for both formats. You can begin a blog to extend or take off on the arguments you make in your print publications. You can post your articles online after they've already appeared in print.

Pay attention to what you sign when you submit your work to print publishers. Many by default ask for all rights, preventing you from self-archiving material on your own website (or linking it to your blog) or adding it to institutional or general repositories. A number of publishers, either by default or as an alternative, have contracts that allow you to use your own work and/or to post it online after the print version has been out for a given amount of time (usually six months). Always look at what you are signing; don't assume that you have the rights to your own work unless this is spelled out explicitly.

Encourage the kind of conversation blogging enables by posting pre- or post-prints of your published work online. By posting your print work, and blogging about or otherwise linking to it, you get the advantages of journal publication, while also allowing for easy citing and feedback.

Look for ways to cross-market yourself and your work, and to reach a wider audience. Keep an open mind; don't limit yourself to one type of writing or let one advantage or disadvantage blind you to the rest of the issues. Instead of either/or, embrace both/and – and let your voice be heard!