Publishing in Germany

The last post was about publishing with English publishers, written in German for a German audience… To make it even, this will be about the German academic publishing system based on my experiences with it. My first two co-edited volumes were both with a German publisher (transcript) although one of them was in English.

Furthermore, I had book chapters published, and I am planning on publishing the dissertation in Open Access via the university server.

And that is one specialty of the German academic system which – in my opinion – leads to many other idiosyncracies for publishing here. A doctoral thesis has to be published before the doctoral candidate can use the title “Dr.”! Depending on your discipline, this can be cumulative in several articles, is easily done via the university server, or – mostly in the book sciences like history – with an established publishing house. Usually, the regulations at the university does not care much which way you choose, but the traditional way of using a publishing house offers visibility and more reputation. Also, it’s nice to hold the product of your hard work for many years in your hands, finally. In general, I quite like the idea that a doctoral thesis has to be published: this work is often well researched and fundamental, and should not disappear into some drawers. However, for two years I’ve been explaining why I cannot wear the title “Dr.” yet, even though I am one, count as one in most other academic systems (I submitted, had my defence, and so on), and when the book is published, I will have been a “Dr.” since my defence date in February 2017. Just in the meantime, I cannot claim the title… It’s thought of as a control mechanism so that you’ll really publish (there is also a time limit on it), but it would also work the other way round: having a time limit when you’ll loose the title unless you had published by this date. And much easier for the international field.
Alright, back on topic: doctoral candidates have to publish. As you can imagine, publishing houses are well aware of this, and we now have a culture in which academic authors of all stages pay for publication. I am not exactly sure if there is a causality? It remains, that for publication, academics pay a so-called Druckkostenzuschuss (subsidy for printing costs). Depending on volume, images, paper quality and so on, this can be anything between ca. € 2,000 and € 10,000, or more. Usually, doctoral candidates start saving as soon as they found out about this practice. Of course, there is also the possibility to apply for specific grants to cover printing costs. The whole system is prepared to take this on…

In terms of the argument for open access, this means: the taxpayers pay for the work of the doctoral candidates if they are employed by an university,or funded by one of the public funding agencies (most of them are). Then, taxpayers pay (via the grant for printing costs) to have the work published. And then they pay for the public libraries to buy this work (we have to face it: most academic books are bought by libraries, not by the interested private person).

Nonetheless, doctoral theses are usually peer-reviewed, just a bit differently. Instead of a book proposal which is send out to various blind reviewers, a doctoral thesis is, first of all, graded by a committee. We have actual marks, ranging from summa cum laude, magna cum laude, cum laude, (satis bene) to rite. If you’re below, you failed. If you don’t have one of the two highest marks (summa or magna), you probably should not try to stay in academia – which is fine, and we have a lot of jobs outside of academia in Germany where you need (or should have) the doctoral title, e.g. in public service for the highest pay level, in archives, libraries, museums, research institutions, and so on. #altac is actually a reality here. So, the first peer-review is from your committee, and the mark is a trusted standard for the scientific quality of the thesis. Also, after your defence, you’ll get the copy of the thesis in which everyone from the committee added their thoughts and corrections back, and you have to consider them for your review. Before you are allowed to publish, you have to show your advisor the reviewed manuscript, and they have to give the imprimatur (it can be printed). If you publish on your university server (as I will), this is actually the only peer-review (my research had another peer-review since I will publish it also with Routledge). If you publish within a book series at a publishing house, you’ll have to hand in the manuscript, or a shortened form of it, or even something close to a book proposal (the requirements are changing at the moment), and the book series editors will decide if they accept you for publication. If you publish outside of a series, the editor(s) at the publishing house will decide. If you apply for a grant, you’ll also have an additional step of peer review – if you pay out of your own pocket, you’ll skip this step.
Finally, the thesis (or another academic book) is accepted for publication! The manuscript is written, and you have the imprimatur. Then, often, you’ll do the typesetting, or pay someone else to do it for you. Either the people at the publishing house, or private enterprises and freelancers (I actually did the typesetting for another thesis as a freelancer).
When the book is printed, you’ll receive a few copies for yourself, can buy more with a discount for authors, or buy other books from the publisher with this discount, and then the moment has come to hold your book in your hands. This is actually quite the same as in international publishing. One thing more: you might want to consider joing the VG Wort which is a collection society for the printed word. If you authored publications, you’ll get some income from them (not enough to cover printing costs, but still).

I hope to have given you some (subjective) insights into publishing in Germany, and how it differs from international publications, esp. considering the need to publish the doctoral thesis.

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