A debate has simmered on the comment thread to my post, Does the Status of the Press Matter, in recent weeks, on the question: is Palgrave MacMillan a press with high enough status for a US R1 tenure case? My position has always been, based on my years at two R1 universities (in a total of four departments due to joint appointments in Anthropology and East Asian Languages and Cultures): don’t count on it. While as far as I remember this was not put to the test during my years in the academy, I do know that I was told point blank that anything less than a major university press was thin ice for my own tenure case. This was also the explicit message I received from the Associate Dean for the Humanities who worked with me when I was Department Head, handling my first tenure cases.
In other words, a monograph out with Palgrave MacMillan or another reputable and well known non-university press of that ilk was not an absolute torpedo to a tenure case in the humanities and social sciences at an R1, but it was a definite weaker link.
I believe that these presses would be absolutely fine for tenure cases at lower ranked institutions — R2s, teaching colleges, and so on. But not at R1s or Ivy Leagues.
And then–the field may play a role: Brill, for example, is a strong press in some humanities fields (art history springs to mind), but not others. You must know your field context.
So the status of the press must be evaluated for every tenure candidate’s individual case: what is your institution? what is your field and subfield? what are your departmental and campus expectations and standards?
Understand that the principle here is the rigor of the peer review process. The top presses will subject every manuscript to a lengthy and exhaustive peer review process and will not bend on its outcomes—if the reviewers say that X and Y are invalid scholarly claims, they will not publish the book until X and Y are rectified. The process is long and time consuming and grueling.
By contrast, many of the lesser presses will do either no peer-review process, or a relatively truncated peer review process, in which the mss is sent out to academic reviewers, but the standards are lax, and most things will pass with a few general critiques. The process is shorter and easier. As a result, as one commenter below says, these presses “seemingly publish anything that is sent their way….” and “show signs of poorly digested junior rank scholarship–as if they don’t really have to worry about trying to sell the books and so don’t demand quality.”
There is no free lunch here. If you go with a lesser press that is known to have lax peer review standards and a quick timeline, your book will not achieve a top-rank reputation or value for purposes of the job market or tenure. You and your mother may be thrilled to death to see your dissertation in print, but everyone else is making judgments about it based on the status and rank of the press that put it out.
If you observe that some famous senior people in your field are publishing with these presses, do NOT assume that this guarantees they are safe for you, just starting your career. Many senior academics publish with lesser presses late in their career because they already have established reputations and don’t want or need the hassle of an extended peer-review process. The presses often lavish them with perks and series editorships and various vanity opportunities. You, however, have no such luxury. You NEED the extended peer-review process to demonstrate that you are deserving of a place at the table.
Nobody can produce a definitive ranking of academic presses that can account for every single field and subfield and institutional bias. There is no shortcut to you doing the work of thoroughly investigating your own field and subfield, asking hard questions of trusted senior advisors re the ranking of presses, and then making a conscious and intentional choice for yourself about how hard you want to work and how much time you want to spend. If you are aiming for a career at the R1 level, know that anything other than the top presses is risky.
Below I will paste some of the comments I received about this question, to help young academics understand the scope of opinion on this matter, and judge for themselves where they consider submitting their manuscripts for publication.
As for Palgrave Macmillan, in my field they’re not the same as a university press (or, I should say, a top university press). I’m an historian, and I work on early modern Europe, and there are only a handful of presses that are actually top presses: Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford, Chicago, and formerly, Johns Hopkins (they’re moving out of early modern). There are other presses that publish in my field, U Toronto, Duke, Penn State, Penn, California, Stanford, for example, but they’re not as good in my view. The private presses can likewise be ranked: Ashgate is among the best, if only because they publish a lot in early modern history/Renaissance studies.
Palgrave, Routledge, Rowan and Littlefield, Scholars Press, and even Brill are all minor players, who seemingly publish anything that is sent their way–then charge exorbitant amounts for it.
Price point is something that scholars don’t often take into consideration, but they should: a book like my most recent that is priced at $35 will be purchased by individuals, while something priced at $100 (or above!) will only be purchased by institutions (and typically only those with subscriptions or standing orders). For example, Brill’s books are outrageously priced, and they show signs of poorly digested junior rank scholarship–as if they don’t really have to worry about trying to sell the books and so don’t demand quality. Routledge and Palgrave are the same–although they publish less in my field. I was approached by Palgrave to put together a “Handbook”, and I declined when they told me that the organized volume (which is what this was intended to be) would result in my getting “one copy” of the book. I told them, much to their displeasure, that by paying peanuts, they would only get monkeys. Those monkeys, increasingly, are junior scholars who need to build their resumes, and British academics who need–desperately–to publish in order to boost their department’s rankings on the RAE. It’s a sad state of affairs, but the private publishers, esp. Routledge, Palgrave, and Brill, live off of it.
Full Prof, History, R1
My first book was with Brill and it was more than enough for tenure (2014) at George Fox University. My field is religious studies and I consider Palgrave a major publisher but not quite as good as a university press.
Tenured Prof, George Fox, a private Christian liberal arts college
I guess there are a bunch of important things here: discipline, country where one is employed (eg, US versus UK), specific regional fields, but for the most part university presses almost always trump the private academic presses. This matters most at the time of tenure decisions. If you want to do a Palgrave book in cultural anthropology, do it as a post-tenure book. That said, I think that if a department wants to tenure someone, they will find a way to do so. And in that case, it doesn’t matter if their book comes out from University of California Press or Berghahn.
Consider what I call The Book Room Test: at the annual conference of your discipline, what are the publisher’s booths you do not miss going to? And what are the ones that if you don’t have time to go to their booth, you can maybe just grab a catalogue and (perhaps) look at it later….?
Full Prof, Anthro, R1
A negative R1 tenure review letter I have seen tells the candidate, “Your book was your dissertation that was essentially neither peer reviewed nor edited, and was published by what is in many academic circles considered a non-reputable publisher.” [this publisher is one of the ones listed in the first comment above.]
Karen’s personal experience
“I encourage you to warn folks about Left Coast Press. In a recent campus visit I named it among four presses that are interested in my work (the others were all university presses) and was warned – by a department chair where I was interviewing – that LCP is considered undependable because only some of their books go through peer review or editing, and the press is not transparent about which ones those are (or aren’t). I always knew that LCP was a para-academic press, but this insight was great enough that I removed the mention from my cover letter (and rehearsed interview answers).”
A client on the job market, in social sciences