Top 7 reasons why young scholars should contribute to The Avid Listener (You won’t believe #4!)

Last week I returned from the annual meeting of the Society for American Music. A great time was had by all, as usual. I won an award, there was lots of great scholarship, and, of course, there was lots of time to visit with some of my favorite people in the world. On our name tags we have affiliations under our name. This year mine read THE AVID LISTENER. Every knot of people I stopped to chat with greeted me with “I love The Avid Listener!” or “I read The Avid Listener every week!” Or “I use The Avid Listener in my classroom and it’s awesome!” But I also had conversations with quite a few young scholars in the early stages of an academic career who would like to write for TAL but aren’t quite sure how it would benefit them. Conventional wisdom says that hiring committees and tenure and promotion committees are looking for publications in peer-reviewed journals or books with reputable scholarly presses. So after giving this some thought, here’s my top seven reasons for why you should consider publishing with us:

  1. You will get great feedback and a quality editorial experience. Raise your hand if you’ve ever submitted something to a journal and the feedback you’ve received was either minimal at best or exceedingly negative and discouraging. Or if you’ve ever submitted something, it’s been rejected, and you have no idea why. Here’s how we work: you send us a draft of an essay and you get detailed (hoo-boy, SO detailed) feedback from two (2) experienced scholar/editors. We make no decisions based on a first version. We give you time to work with our suggestions and send us another version. Then we decide whether or not it will be a great fit for the site, and if we believe in the possibilities, we keep working with you until it’s ready, no matter how many drafts it takes. You won’t get this kind of mentoring elsewhere. Now, like all publications, we don’t accept every submission. But EVERYONE who submits goes through this initial feedback stage. So you get quality, detailed feedback on your work no matter what.
  2. You will get feedback about how to write for a non-specialized readership. If you’ve gone through a graduate (or even undergraduate) program, you’ve probably been trained in academic writing. That has its purposes, but we’re more interested in public-facing scholarship, essays you can send to your Mom, or Grandpa, or best friend’s nephew. We want essays that can be read by folks with a PhD, and students from high school up to graduate school level. We help writers craft essays that are accessible, both in the disability sense of “accessible” and in the “non-specialized audience” sense of accessible. If you don’t already have training in how to do this, you should submit to TAL. At this point in the digital world, EVERYONE needs to be able to write for many audiences. And let’s face it: journal essays are for a specialized audience. So if you are hanging on to your work because you want it in a journal, remember: we publish for a different audience.
  3. You won’t have to wait years for your work to be published. So your work gets accepted in a journal, and then you copy edit, and then you wait…2 years for it to show up. Sometimes only a year, sometimes 5 years. This gap is deadly for an early career scholar. You need visibility and you need it now. Our authors currently wait at most 4-6 weeks before seeing their work published. It could be in the future that we have a backlog of a couple months, but even that is much faster. To play it safe, you should send us something now and beat the rush.
  4. Your work will be read, and by more people. We’ve been tracking data for TAL readership. Hundreds of people log into the site every week. Single essays have gone into the thousands for number of readers. Classes assign essays from the site and incorporate them into syllabi. As of last November, TAL had 15,000 unique visitors to the site and 42,000 total page views. How many people do you think read scholarly articles within the first year? (Kris Shaffer, public scholar extraordinaire, has shared the following sobering statistic: about 3 people read the average scholarly article at all. 3 as an average vs hundreds as an average. You do the math)
  5. You will build your online presence and exert some control over what people find when they search for you on the internet. This is something I hadn’t thought about until recently, and it certainly isn’t my original idea; hat tip to Kris Shaffer for articulating this, too. When someone googles your name–as a search committee will absolutely do–what do they find? How much effort have you put into making sure that your work comes up first, rather than what other people have said about you? How much of your work is hidden behind multiple steps of paywalls and how much is right there, available for perusal at the click of a mouse? Even if you don’t build your online presence with us, you need to do this. At least some of your work needs to be available online. Your name recognition increases exponentially when you publish online. I can’t tell you how many people have reached out to me because of my Hip-hop Diplomacy essays on TAL. Conversely, many of my colleagues working in similar subject areas still don’t know about the slam-dunk peer-reviewed essay I published 4 years ago. So again I will say: you must increase your online presence. This is the new reality of being a scholar.
  6. You will help us in the on-going work of canon-busting. Ok, so maybe this isn’t a great sell for early-career people who are worried about what hiring  or tenure committees might think of their work. But we have more room on our site for narratives that lie outside of the canon, more room for voices that aren’t usually given space. Canon-busting is an editorial priority for us.
  7. You will be compensated for your work. That may or may not seem like a big deal to you. But very few venues pay for writing in the humanities, or at least pay anything worth thinking about. We are consciously trying to grow and support a new economy of valuing scholars for their public work and putting money where our digital mouths are. Our managing editor at Norton came up with this idea and we have fought to continue it. You can help change the economy of scholarship by choosing to participate in venues that compensate, and staying away from venues that offer only “exposure.”

So what do you think? Got anything to send to us? The first step is to really familiarize yourself with The Avid Listener. (For ease of reference, here’s our most recent digest.) Look at our scope and style. Think about how you could join the conversation. Take a look at our editorial guidelines. And then let’s have a conversation.

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