Maize photo: Wikimedia/Sam Fentress

As an open-access advocate and co-editor of a forthcoming book from the University of Michigan Press, I was delighted to read their recent announcement about Maize Books, a new imprint that offers a “lean, responsive model for publishing scholarly and creative works.” Rethinking the routines of academic publishing is wise, but brief announcements from innovative publishers sometimes raise unanswered questions (see a similar exchange with Anvil Academic in October 2012). For the benefit of all prospective authors and the future success of the Press, here are questions currently on my mind. Feel free to comment or clarify below, or add a link to responses on your own site.

How to interpret ‘peer review when desirable’? The main selling point of Maize Books, according to this announcement, is that “titles will be evaluated by the acquiring editors and Editorial Director of the University of Michigan Press. They will undergo peer review when desirable, including experimental forms of peer review designed to suit the requirements of individual publications.” Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s recent book, Planned Obsolescencepersuaded me to consider alternative models of peer review, including the “open peer review” model of designated experts and general readers that co-editor Kristen Nawrotzki and I organized with the University of Michigan Press for Writing History in the Digital Age. But what does “peer review when desirable” actually mean in practice? Given the higher value that scholars — and tenure committees — place on peer review, will books published under this imprint be viewed differently than others issued by the Press? Will each Maize book include a clear statement that describes what kind of peer review, if any, was supervised by the Press? (Picture a kosher stamp of approval, or digital badge if you prefer.) 

Which imprint is preferable? The more I ponder the flexible options promised by the Maize Books imprint, the more I wonder: wouldn’t every prospective University of Michigan author want this? The benefits include “fast turnaround times” for “distribution both online and in print”; the latter will be “high-quality, low-cost print editions produced on demand.” (Do any authors really prefer slowly-produced, higher-priced editions?) Furthermore, Maize Books offers authors the option to distribute via “freely accessible open access publication as well as via recognized sales channels,” which reinforces this  flexibility. Unless there are some hidden downsides that I’ve overlooked, my conclusion is: which authors wouldn’t want all of these options? Taken a step further, what author would submit a manuscript via the “traditional” route at Michigan (or whatever you wish to call it). Part of the answer depends on if/how the Maize Books imprint is described on the general “information for authors” page of the Press website. It’s not there yet, nor do I see any mention on that page of digitalculturebooks, another open-access & paper imprint of the Press. How the publisher spells out these subtle differences will influence prospective authors. Does the Press portray Maize Books as a normal route — or an alternative way to publish? (And if you didn’t detect the status implications in that question, go back and read it again.)

What’s up with the Maize metaphor? Tell us more about the name choice and the vision it signifies. Should we picture a sustainable grain product that takes root at Michigan and spreads widely across the Americas and the globe? Or will Maize come to represent lower-track scholarly publishing, similar to corn syrup? I’m clearly rooting for the success of the former, and encourage the Press and its prospective authors to work together to clarify and shape the robust future of this promising imprint.