I receive the occasional email update from Quora on questions and answers posted in topics of my interest, and among those, I got one from 2015 going “Are academics paid for publication of an article in a scientific journal?” It’s certainly a good question, even if the answer for anyone within academia is a pretty obvious and unanimous NO. Somewhat regrettably, respondents were mainly working in STEM fields, not just on that question, but on other similar feeds from 2016 and 2017 as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the last guy ever to have anything against STEM folks; the regrettable part is that there’s no response from anyone outside those fields, say from a humanities or arts background. Not that the answer would be very different: scholarly journals in the humanities and the arts also pay nada. It rather has to do with the responsiveness of such academics: people working in STEM fields seem to be much more active on fora like Quora (pun intended) when it comes to sharing their knowledge and insights.
Writing a book and publishing it with an academic press is a different cup of coffee (I’m not into tea that much), as depending on the publisher, you may receive a flat-fee advance payment and/or royalties (usually quantified as a certain percentage of book sales). But the questions here mainly concern journals and maybe book chapters, that is, not standalone publications like a book under your name.
An obvious rationalization of such journals not paying for contributions (apart from the fact that quite a lot of them wouldn’t be able to afford it, especially the ones operating independent of big UPs at well-endowed universities) is that publishing in such journals is part of the job description of most academics    . They don’t get any cash for publishing in those journals, all right, but publishing their articles is just them doing what they get their salaries for, and they also get paid extra sometimes through promotions, grants, fellowships etc., many of which are attainable only if you have a strong list of publications in high-profile outlets. This is all good then, right?
Well, as long as you’re on tenure-track, yes, we can say that.
But what about adjuncts on casual contracts and hourly pay? Or, worse still, about independent scholars with no institutional affiliation (and thus no institutional salary)? Being a member of the latter cohort, that’s the big question for me, and I know from experience that I’m not the only one with such concerns.
So what can indie ACs (short-hand for ‘independent academics’, obviously) do to make up for that disadvantage? Seek out venues and publishers that actually do pay for scholarly contributions! I’ll tell you about one such venue here, one with which I have some personal experience, and that is the Critical Insights series published by Salem Press.
Critical Insights is the umbrella series which has four subseries as well: Authors, Works, Themes, and since recently, Film. Every volume in these series focuses either on an individual author’s œuvre, a single work of literature, a literary theme, or a a single film classic or a director’s body of work. Chapters in these volumes are in part commissioned by the volume editor and in part solicited through the circulation of open CFPs. Although these essays can be useful resources for established scholars and researchers as well, the primary target audience of the Critical Insights series is advanced high school and undergraduate students as well as teachers and lecturers. The volumes generally focus on authors, works, and themes which tend to be the most widely discussed ones in classes, thus providing a valuable resource for educators and students alike, equipping them with valid and current knowledge about a wide range of issues from a variety of critical perspectives. In short, they are great starting points for future literature and humanities scholars to introduce them to the study of literature and culture. Every volume is structured in the same way to make them easy to navigate; you can read more about it here.
And why did I bring up this series? Because the folks at Salem Press seek and contract-hire academics to author original scholarly essays for these volumes, and they pay you actual money for it!
Each chapter author receives a honorarium of $250 (via check), usually during the month following the one in which the book’s published (i.e., if the volume comes out in September, then you should expect to receive your check by the end of October). Contributors also receive a free copy of the volume in which their work appears: you will be mailed a print copy if you’re within the US, while overseas authors receive a camera-ready PDF of the book. On top of that, you can bag a decent 50% discount on additional copies you might want to buy.
I’ve so far authored (and co-authored) 3 chapters for different Critical Insights volumes, with the fourth one forthcoming later this year, and my experience has always been the same: great editors, helpful in-house staff, and timely payments, not to mention the beautiful and rewarding feeling of being paid for doing something I enjoy.
If you have the calling (and, quite frankly, the zeal) to take it a step further, then you can also become a volume editor. Editors are usually approached by Salem, either for their expertise on a particular topic or through recommendations and referrals, but if you think you have what it takes to see through the editing of a volume on a particular work / author / theme / film that is still missing from the series, then you can also try pitching your idea to the publisher.
Editors are of course better compensated than chapter authors, somewhere in the region of $2000. One large is paid when the whole line-up of contributors is on board (i.e., when they have all signed their contracts), while the other grand comes after publication, just like in the case of chapter authors.
With more money comes more responsibility, of course: as volume editor, you need to write the introductory chapter as well as most of the front and back matters, including compiling the general bibliography and the index (although you get assistance from Salem’s in-house editors as well). Besides these, you’re acting as liaison between Salem and the individual contributors, so if authors have any questions about their paperwork, the style guide, or anything else related to their chapter, then it’s your duty to find out the answer. Naturally, you need to recruit contributors for the volume, so if you were to propose editing a volume for Salem, it’ll come in handy to have at least a few provisional chapter authors up your sleeve already in advance. If you can’t find enough contributors, and especially if you miss authors for any of the four “Critical Contexts” chapters (which are compulsory parts of any Critical Insights volume), you may need to step in to save the day, which means writing one or more extra chapters for the volume (all chapters need to be new and exclusively written for the volume, reprints or revisions of previously published material are not accepted).
All this can of course be stressful, exhausting, and overwhelming, and surely there will be moments when you’d feel that there’s no damn way two thousand dollars will adequately compensate you for all the tribulations and the perceived white hairs. But all in all, and in spite of all difficulties that may occur, editing a volume for Salem Press is an incredibly rewarding task to take on. You will get to know fantastic people, you can even form long-term friendships and you will almost certainly find academics you’ll be able to collaborate with in the future as well. Plus a book-length byline always looks good on your resumé, especially if you’re someone falling into the somewhat obscure category of the ‘early-career academic’.
It is obvious that you can’t make a living off of writing essays or editing volumes for Salem, but as an indie AC (you surely must remember by now) you need to rely on multiple sources of income, and writing essays on topics in which you have a scholarly interest is certainly a very enjoyable way of earning some extra money.
I’ll hear you out now.