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A scholar’s pool of tears, Part 1

This is Part 1 of the origin story of the following scholarly article. In this blog post I review how this article was produced and accepted for publication, and why I chose a non-OA journal.

Schneider, K.G. (in press). To Be Real: Antecedents and Consequences of Sexual Identity Disclosure by Academic Library Directors, The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Available online 13 August 2016, ISSN 0099-1333, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2016.06.018.
Chapter 1: Somehow, I write this thing
To be Real is a heavily-remastered version of the qualifying paper I wrote for the doctoral program I’m in. This article was a hurdle I had to pass on the way to becoming a doctoral candidate in a program, now ended, for organizational leadership in libraries (officially called Managerial Leadership in the Information Professions). This program has produced PhDs at the leadership level now working in executive roles in dozens of library organizations, and I look forward to donning the tam that will invest me in their ranks.
To be Real was just one hurdle before I could begin working on my dissertation (now in progress). Some of you are now itching to tell me that “the best dissertation is a done dissertation,” or that “the most important page is the one with the signatures on it.” O.k., consider it said. Also insert any joke you like about the quality of dissertations; I’ve heard it. In the end, I still need to produce a redoubtable piece of original scholarship that meets the expectations of my program and my committee.  Now let’s move on.
There were other milestones in the program. I needed to stump through two years of classes, including 6 residential intensives in Boston or other East Coast locations; a heavy reading schedule; coursework, also known as endless hours flailing at a keyboard; a $500 moving violation incurred when I was headed to SFO to fly to Boston for my second semester and wearily zombied through a right turn without stopping; about 30 red Sharpie Ultra Fine Point markers (aka RPOD, or Red Pens of Death); and my “comps,” which were two four-hour closed-book exams requiring copious quantities of memorization, a feat at any age, no comment on what that meant for me.
What has kept me going is a mixture of pride, stubbornness, encouragement from others, good executive skills, and a keen interest in the topic. I have also benefited from the advantage of what is known in life course theory as the principle of time and place. (Note how I can no longer just say “I had lucky timing.” Hopefully, with a good intervention team, I can be deprogrammed post-dissertation.)
To be real, known as the “680” (for its course number), was not the first or the second, but my third attempt at producing scholarly research on the path to my doctorate. The first two efforts were technically solid, featuring all the structural elements of a good research paper. But the more I learned, the more I felt they were topically dubious, and I issued cease-and-desists after they made it through the IRB process.
Yes, I picked the topics, then watched myself outgrow them, which was a good process in itself. It was hard to wave goodbye to the earlier projects, but the value of earning an MFA in writing is that I don’t feel bad about discarding weak work. “Reduce, reuse, recycle” is my battle cry.
Once my committee accepted To be real, I began developing my doctoral topic, which builds on the work in this dissertation but goes into bold new areas–or so I comfort myself when I am spending lovely early-autumn weekend days analyzing 900 minutes of interviews and drafting chapters. I defended my topic to my committee, then squired my dissertation proposal through institutional review, and kaboom! I was finally ABD.
At several key points in my proposal, I cite To be Real, which was gathering metaphorical dust in a metaphorical drawer in my real-world office. Rather than have my dissertation lean at key points on an unpublished paper, my ever-patient dissertation advisor suggested that I actually try publishing To be Real. Frankly, as I trudged through milestones toward the doctorate while balancing huge day jobs and Life Issues, I had entirely forgotten this was something I should do.
Chapter 2, In which I seek publication
Publish my research–what a positively brill idea! I asked someone whose insights I deeply respect where I should send it, and was given a list of six LIS journals  to consider for the first round. Yes, that’s how I made the first cut, which is similar to how I have determined where to send literary essays: by referrals from people I trust.
From that list of peer-reviewed LIS journals, the key factors I considered were:
  1. Prestige of the publication
  2. How much work I had to do to have my paper considered for publication
  3. How likely it was my article would be published before I finished my dissertation
  4. Open access was a plus, but not a requirement.
You might be surprised to learn how much #2 and #3 drove my decision-making. At least for the first round of submissions, I rejected journals that require authors to reformat citations from APA to another citation schema simply to submit a paper for consideration. No other principle was at stake than “I do not have the time for this.” Nevertheless, learning that some journals do indeed require this investment of personal effort on a highly speculative venture made me greatly sympathetic to the thousands of tenure-track librarians jumping through hoops of fire to try to get at least an in-press citation in time to show scholarly production in their annual review.
Also, time was of the essence, since I wanted the article to at least be accepted before my dissertation was finished, and I’m a writing banshee these days, trying to get ‘er done. We all at least nominally subscribe to the myth of scrupulously avoiding simultaneous submissions to multiple journals. Indeed, I was faithful to this practice simply because I didn’t have the bandwidth to submit to more than one journal at a time. But that ruled out journals that might take a couple of years to reject my article, let alone accept it.
I was open to paying subvention fees (the cost to make an article Gold OA), noting that they ranged from $1100 to $2500 for the journals I was considering–something that would be prohibitive on a junior faculty’s salary. In the same vein, I would have paid an author’s fee to publish in an OA journal that used that funding model. But not everyone has that kind of scratch.
In any event, the paper went out to the first journal on the list, and very quickly I heard back from the editor with feedback from two reviewers. The paper was accepted, provided I made some changes. I hadn’t planned on being accepted by the first journal I submitted to, but to paraphrase Yogi Berra, I saw a fork in the road, and I took it.
Chapter 3: In which I encounter the peer review process
Yet another advantage of having gone through an MFA program is understanding that Anne Lamott’s writing about “shitty first drafts” is an artful understatement; for most of my writing, I can only tell if a piece is a keeper by the fifth or so draft, if that.
I had faith in my research, and my paper had all the right components, well-executed, but I questioned my writing. It felt turgid, dense, and remote–characteristics belying its subject matter or the very interesting interviews that were its primary data. I know good writers feel that way pretty much all the time, but I had a persistent sense of unease about my paper, without quite being able to determine what to do about it. It did not help that when I showed it to peers their response was… silence. Above all, I wanted my research not simply to be published, but to be read.
I have written in the past how much I love a good editor. It’s like working with a great hair stylist. You are you, and yet, so much better. With that in mind, we’ll scoot quickly past the feedback from Reviewer 1, a living parody of the peer review process.
You know those jokes about reviewers who blithely object to the research direction on which the paper is based? Yes, Reviewer 1 was that kind of reviewer.  “The authors really only present the viewpoints of those who are ‘out.'” I don’t even know how to respond to that, other than to say that’s my area of research. Reviewer 1 also ruminated aloud–painfully, considering this person lives and breathes among us in higher education–that he or she did not understand the term “antecedent.” (The “antecedent and consequences” framework is classic and well-understood in qualitative research; and in any event, the word “antecedent” is hardly obscure.) And so on.
If Reviewer 2 had been like Reviewer 1, I would have pushed on to another journal. There is a difference between knowing that my work needs improvement and radically redesigning a valid and important research project from the ground up based on reviewers’ whims, nor was there a middle ground where I could have simultaneously satisfied Reviewer 1 and Reviewer 2. As much as I wanted to publish To be Real in a timely manner, my career wasn’t hanging on the balance if I didn’t.
But Reviewer 2 not only respected my research direction, but  also provided some of the best writing feedback I have received since, indeed, the MFA program–advice that I fully believe not only improved this paper tenfold, but is helping my dissertation. In close to 1,000 words, Reviewer 2 commented on the value and quality of my research, but gently advised me: to use pseudonyms or labels for the research participants; to extend quotations more fully; and to do a better job of summing up paragraphs and linking the findings to the literature review (“divergence and convergence”). Reviewer 2 ever so delicately observed that the conclusion had “too much context” and that all that blurbage (my term, not the reviewers) blurred the main points. There was more, all of it worthwhile.
I summarized Reviewer 2’s advice, taped it to the wall over my desk, and got to work. Indeed, once I labeled participants (Leader A, Leader B, etc.) and extended their quotations, I felt vastly better about my article. Doing this moved my writing from being an over-long jumble of “data analysis” to a paper about real people and their lived experiences. Following the other recommendations from Reviewer 2–expand, chop, link, add, tighten, clarify; Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!–also improved the paper to the point where I no longer felt apologetic about inflicting it on the scholarly canon.
Several more editorial go-rounds quickly followed, largely related to citations and formatting. The editors were fast, good, and clear, and when we had moments of confusion, we quickly came to agreement. In the last go-round, with a burst of adrenaline I looked up every single citation in my article and found that five had the wrong pagination; each one of these errors, for the record, was mine alone. Correcting these errors felt like a victory lap.
I then tried to follow the guidance for green OA, and the reason this blog post doesn’t link to the author’s final corrected proof, and indeed the reason I broke this post in two, is that three weeks and two days after the first of three help desk inquiries with very pleasant people, I’m still not entirely sure which document version To be Real that represents.
Part 2 of A Scholar’s Pool of Tears will have a link to the author’s final corrected proof of To be Real and will discuss the intricacies of navigating the liminal world of OA that is not born OA; the OA advocacy happening in my world; and the implications of the publishing environment scholars now work in.