You might recall my Rule of Academic Emails, which I introduced previously.
It states: If someone sends you an unsolicited email asking you for money in return for promising to assist your academic career, what they’re offering is unlikely to assist your academic career and may actually hinder it.
But what if they don’t ask for money? Well, then things can get interesting. Let’s take today’s mailbag as an example. Out of the blue, unsolicited and with no previous engagement or interaction, I received an email from a woman called Hiteesha Bachoo, who works for an entity called Lambert Academic Publishers, inviting me to submit an academic monograph to her.
Now, sometimes legitimate academic invitations do occur. Mostly they occur to senior academics who are already very prominent in their fields. They get invited to give keynote lectures at conferences, and to contribute chapters to edited collections of essays, because their very name and presence, not to mention the likely quality of their work, adds kudos and prestige to the whole event or publication.
But it’s possible for little people to get invitations too. If you are one of the few people in a very niche specialism or with very particular interdisciplinary expertise, you might get an invite out of the blue to give a talk or publish in a special edition of a journal, or an edited collection.
Usually these kinds of invitations, to mere academic mortals, come from people who already know you and/or your work. But very rarely a legitimate invitation comes entirely out of the blue. I was once invited by the very prestigious Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin to take part in an event on weird fiction, and was delighted to do so. They flew me over, put me up in a nice hotel for a few days and even paid me. So it can happen. Here’s the proof:
Anyhow, let’s get back to Hiteesha’s email. She gets straight to the point immediately (presumably because she’s got a lot of other emails to send, but also perhaps for another curious reason which we’ll get to later).
Dear Jim Clarke, publish your own book based on your research titled" “The Lingua Franca of the Hedgerow”: Lapine Linguistics and Invented Languages in Watership Down ". New publications contribute to the development of the academic market. I am Hiteesha Bachoo and represent Lambert Academic Publishing, one of the biggest academic publisher worldwide. Your book will be published at no cost, with print-on-demand technology and distributed on Amazon, Morebooks, Hachette, Publishers Graphics etc. Jim Clarke would you accept to receive more information about publishing your own book? You might have questions or need details about publishing, so let me know how can I be of help. Sincerely,
So, she’s not looking for money, or at least not yet. My immediate presumption was that some mention of charges would occur down the line. After all, the usual procedure is that authors approach publishers with book proposals. I know because I’ve written two in the past six months, and I’ve done so multiple times in the past. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen that a publisher might approach an author, but it’s certainly not the usual vector.
So, I did my journalistic due diligence. I googled LAP, and then I googled Hiteesha. Let me summarise what I found. Firstly, NOBODY recommends publishing with Lambert. As this discussion on ResearchGate indicates, they spam an AWFUL LOT of academics, and their book production is low cost, low value and generally considered to severely devalue academic work. Their books rarely if ever get cited either.
In fairness to them though, no one seems to have been asked for money on that thread. Despite that, they and their parent company OmniScriptum Publishing were listed on Beall’s famous list of predatory publishers, but as an imprint of a vanity press rather than out-and-out predators. Eventually I found my way to this article from a decade ago, which includes loads of interesting information and background on Lambert, plus links to half a dozen more articles about Lambert.
Basically, universities, research advisors and higher education research councils on at least four continents have been advising students not go anywhere near Lambert, despite their lack of charging. They WILL publish your book, and they will do so for free. They won’t edit it. They won’t proofread it. They will do absolutely bare minimum design work on it. They won’t promote it in anyway. They’ll simply prep the copy structurally for print-on-demand and then pocket any sales that come in.
Additionally, there is some dispute over whether they even claim copyright, but as that often happens in academia, at least at the journal level, it really wouldn’t surprise me. In effect, you’d be better off self-publishing your work on Kindle or Lulu. At least then you might get some money from sales and you’d retain your copyright. But from an academic perspective? Worse than useless for your career. A waste of your research. A devaluing of your reputation.
I did mention that I also googled my correspondent, Hiteesha, and how her email seemed extremely rushed as if she was very busy. Well, she clearly is. I found her on LinkedIn, where she transpires unsurprisingly not to be an academic at all. She holds a BA in Marketing from the University of Mauritius. Additionally, while she does fess up to working for OmniScriptum as a “Freelance Acquisitions Editor”, her day job is as a management support officer with the Mauritian Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Additionally, she’s currently overtly looking for work, in office management or digital marketing, but she’ll even consider data entry work. The poor woman is basically doing this work as a side hustle. She’s almost definitely paid on commission of the sales of the books she recruits. No wonder she wants another job, and no wonder she spent very little time on my email. She’s clearly got a lot more to send, plus an office to manage in Mauritius in the morning.
How do I know she spent very little time on my email? Primarily because the paper mentioned in it, the one on Lapine linguistics in Watership Down, hasn’t appeared in public in any form yet! It hasn’t been published anywhere because it isn’t finished!
The research will only be presented for the first time later this month at the Critical Plants and Animals Studies Conference in Cappadocia. A more developed paper is also in preparation for the forthcoming Watership Down anniversary conference to be held at Glasgow in September. (You’re more than welcome to tune in to either conference and critique the work incidentally! Better still, attend both and see the interesting additions we have in store for the second iteration!)
Yes, I did say ‘we’. Because this is CO-AUTHORED research which I am conducting with the estimable linguist Hülya Mısır. Who coincidentally did NOT get spammed by Hiteesha, or anyone else at OmniScriptum. Bit sexist of them if you ask me.
Anyhow, what’s the moral of this strange story? I can think of a few. You should always check and double check any unsolicited academic invitations. The shady corners of the academic publishing industry extend quite a distance back in time and are somewhat persistent. Someone’s making money out of this, and it isn’t the researchers or indeed the poor hustlers working on commission. Oh, and office managers in Mauritius should be paid better, so they don’t have to do this in their spare time.