Should I self-publish my work? This is a question many academics and authors ask themselves these days. I had a discussion the other day on Facebook that started with this question, related to my upcoming book, Create or Die.
Let me first explain my own rationale, then get back to the topic of blowhards and peer review.
In 2010, I self-published 4 Steps to Funding as a little book to share a framework for grant writing that I’d developed from my experiences with my own grants and in teaching others how to do it successfully.
I chose to self-publish simply because I had no interest in waiting around for months or years to first find a willing publisher, then for them to get it out into print. Self-publishing, for me, was the most expedient way to get the book in the hands of a wider audience. It has served that role well – having achieved for a short while #1 status in its category in 2012, and having remained in the rankings ever since then. We send out copies of the book on a weekly basis, and we’ve had a consistent stream of great feedback (and the occasional cranky person, which is to be expected with anything).
. . . .
There’s this godawful, ego-centric, and self-limiting notion that many academics cling to that somehow peer review provides a “safety valve” or some kind of assurance of “quality” of a work.
If you want peer review, go look at the reviews for my grant writing book on Amazon. There are people who love it, and people who hate it. That’s true for any book on Amazon that’s had any measurable readership.
The marketplace has voted with its reviews and its dollars, and seems to overall like the book.
Now, imagine if we randomly selected just two of those people and let them determine the fate of the book. The people we select, of course, will be other authors of competing grant writing books, who clearly think that their system of grant writing is superior to anyone else’s. Which means they are going to be some of the worst reviews. So, we send it out to these two people, anonymously, and based on their reviews, written while hiding behind that veil of anonymity, determine the fate of the book.
Gag. Argh. Stupidity! Why would anyone accept that?!?
. . . .
The critic might say: but reviews on Amazon can be manipulated
Yes, that is possible. However: is peer review never manipulated? Have there not been scores of retractions lately of papers that got through peer review with falsified or cooked data? Yes, there have. Are two anonymous reviewers anything but “anecdotal” evidence of the quality of a book or paper? No.
The statistics are clear: blowhards are wrong
When you have a book on a venue like Amazon, there’s this little thing called statistics that proves the case – if there are hundreds or thousands of readers, and a significant fraction of those give feedback, you can actually make a statistically sound argument that there’s some merit in the work. With two reviewers (or three, or four) in peer review, there’s no validity to statistics operating at that level. You are getting what are, essentially, the random effects of reviewer choice (plus some built-in bias against you because if they support your paper, they see it as more competition for funding).
This notion that somehow peer review, or tomes published with a “reputable” publisher of scholarly accord, will lead to “higher quality” is complete and utter nonsense. It is all a bunch of egotistical babble driven by ivory-tower ideals that make no sense in a world where academia is slipping slowly into irrelevancy