Over at the Anxious Bench blog, Philip Jenkins and Tommy Kidd have been posting a lot of helpful advice on publishing. In his latest post, Tommy Kidd talks about platform publishing as a significant factor for prospective authors.
As a prolific historian who has published nearly six single-authored titles, Tommy is an appropriate resourceful for giving advice to young scholars. Indeed, his many books provide a platform for him to speak to people on this subject. We need scholars like Tommy and others who are serious academics that engage with the public and serve as foils to charlatans posing as leading authorities on various topics. I do, however, believe that there is an important dimension to publishing that needs to be stated. While some authors write in order to sell books and to speak as guest lecturers around the country, I hope that academics don't loose sight of the need to disseminate knowledge, correct misrepresentations in scholarship, and writing for the sheer joy of intellectual curiosity.
Tommy and others are right in saying that you do need to have a marketable topic in order to publish even with academic presses. But some of the most important books in one's field are not necessarily best sellers, and have taken individuals years to produce. Some of my favorite monographs are by authors who have written two books or less. One particularly author I have in mind took over ten years to write his most recent book, an award-winning monograph. I admire this person because of his scholarship, even if his book cannot be found on the shelves at Barnes and Noble.
I think that all academics, including myself, want as many people as possible to read our books. But I hope that we remember what our main goal should be: to produce first-rate scholarship that fills important gaps in our field and challenges current perceptions.