Writing and publishing academic work is a fairly solitary experience and this goes for both pre- and post-publication. While I may have started writing for publication as far back as 2005 I rarely receive unsolicited correspondence from that work. I think I have had a grand total of 3, legitimate, unsolicited enquiries from readers. The first was a simple request for a copy of an article not otherwise available. The second, came recently, from a small-scale, but entirely legitimate, publisher interested in a conference paper I gave (which the publisher thought would fit nicely in an academic monograph series he is planning. Sadly, I had to disappoint them). The last, which arrived yesterday, came from just about the last place I would have expected.
Normally, the protocols of peer-review preclude direct contact between the author and the reviewer. Many journals go to great lengths to ensure one or two-way anonymity for submissions and reviewers. This is mostly a professional courtesy and a means of ensuring that reviewers and authors are not completely paralysed by insecurity or blinded by academic pettiness. One of the articles I submitted back in early September went to a journal that keeps the reviewers anonymous but does not conceal the identity of authors from said reviewers. Normally, the only interaction one has with the reviewer is through the journal editor and I am fine with that. In this case, the option is available for the reviewer to contact the author directly, since they know who it is anyway. And that just happened to me.
Yesterday my reviewer sent me a note, ‘out of the blue’ with some kind words about my paper and an invitation to talk further sometime in the new year. That was very nice of him, and this may not seem like a blog-worthy post if it were not for the broader academic context, and the academic charisma of the correspondent.
That paper was based on part of my 2011 MA thesis. After I defended the thesis in August, 2011 (on my 37th birthday, to be precise) my external reader wrote up a short summary for the defence committee and the department. She ventured very close to the territory of hyperbole when she wrote that “there are probably not more than one or two scholars, if any, in the world who know these texts (and their previous scholarship) as well as [auctorum pbs] does.” While that is a very head-swelling compliment, it is also probably true since I can’t actually think of more than one other person who is likely to know that peculiar academic cul-de-sac better than me.
Apparently, neither could the editors of that journal when they got my paper in September. That e-mail from the reviewer was the academic equivalent of the Cohen brothers calling you because they liked the short film you posted on Youtube. As my Oxford supervisor put it, “how’s that for a Christmas present!” Indeed.
This, and a few other minor successes over the last three months are nicely compensating for the failure to land the last big funding sources. I may not have the money to show for all this work but I am getting some valuable attention.