How to Make Sure Your Academic Book Chapters Get Noticed Online

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In the days of libraries and bookstores, book chapters in academic research were widely cited, had a large audience, and were highly sought-after. Perhaps it was easier when all research was analog and it was necessary to physically thumb through books to find the relevant chapters. Sales of academic titles were higher as many scholars needed to borrow or purchase the entire book and pore over individual chapters, often stumbling upon information they did not know would be important. Not only was it easier for researchers to sell their published works, but the setup also allowed scholars to discover information they may otherwise not have found.

It may seem counterintuitive since the whole idea behind the internet was to make information more accessible and easier to share. Still, something has been clearly lost given that instead of organically stumbling upon chapters, one has to know the exact search term to find content to cite. While the rich search functions of online databases do make it easier to find what we’re looking for, they can also serve as a barrier of sorts to information we don’t yet know we need. Though the internet has indeed fulfilled its purpose by greatly improving access to knowledge, when it comes to research, chapters are often overlooked in favor of journal articles or other academic publications, and scholars may be missing out on a treasure trove of research gold. 
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Now, let’s figure out why your chapters aren’t being widely cited and what you can do about it.

Visibility limitations of individual chapters 

Many databases only include journal articles since it would obviously be quite laborious to skim and scan every academic book ever written. However vast the internet may be, someone still needs to upload the information, and with more and more quality research produced every day, most database operators probably don’t see the point of scanning older publications, particularly when some chapters are out of print or contain data that is no longer relevant. Nevertheless, it is crucial to have a context when conducting research in the 21st century, even if the studies of old have been rendered obsolete by newer research.  

Additionally, there are still many books being written that busy researchers overlook in favor of easy-to-access papers, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, which are famously text- and literature-heavy disciplines. If scholars can access high-quality, relevant information online with simple keyword searches that immediately present them with works pertinent to their studies, they are unlikely to voluntarily sift through long print books of unclear relevance. Moreover, databases seldom scan academic books, so a chunk of the academic literature out there is effectively becoming inaccessible to the modern scholar.

Speaking of the humanities and social sciences, some have also suggested that since bibliometric systems were invented and encouraged by STEM scholars, works in other disciplines were considered less worthy of uploading to online databases because they didn’t directly relate to STEM. This is, of course, just speculation. Either way, it remains true that the humanities and social sciences are literature-heavy, rendering the process of scanning and uploading such books all the more labor-intensive.

Publishers have jumped on the bandwagon and failed to list the titles and authors of individual chapters when digitizing their resources. On occasion, they will provide a table of contents, but it hardly contains the information a potential reader would need to know before purchasing the whole book. Thus, in many cases, they simply don’t buy it. Readers seeking to learn more about the contents of a book can only glean more information if there was a free chapter available online or they could leaf through the book at a conference, library, or specialty bookstore. This setup is certainly not optimal for chapter visibility, leaving academic writers in a bind, with not even their publishers supporting them.

That being said, let’s take a quick look at how journal articles get noticed and see how this can nudge scholars to pay attention to your chapter, even if it won’t be officially published for a while. Yes, even in today’s hyper-digitized environment, where many scholars rely almost entirely on academic journal databases to inform their research, you can still make your academic book chapter a success if you adopt the right strategy.

How journal articles get noticed

  • They are search engine-optimized or at least include long-tail keywords that get them noticed in search results. Generic, short-tail keywords are not sufficient, especially when you consider that most academics will naturally employ more precise terms. Therefore, devising long, specific, detailed keywords (up to a point) is crucial for getting your book chapter noticed.
  • They are not hidden behind a paywall. Regardless of how insightful your research is, a paywall will turn away most potential readers since they can still find plenty of relevant information from free sources.
  • They are generally not trapped in a larger book, thus making them much easier to assess. The fewer obstacles you put before a potential reader, the more likely they’ll be to read your chapter—if it seems like too much work to get the relevant information from your text, many readers will simply look elsewhere.
  • They are linked in Wikipedia and blog citations. The more citations your research book chapter racks up, the more credible it will appear, making academics more willing to read it, even if other obstacles complicate access.
  • They have been given more publicity by publishers. Not only does this help get the word about your work out (you certainly won’t get readers if no one knows your chapter exists), but it also lends more credibility to your work.

How your chapter can get noticed

  • Take matters into your own hands. As soon as you get word that your chapter will be included in a book, publish the manuscript yourself on academic research sites. However, tread carefully—if you’re too free with publishing your manuscript online, you may face legal ramifications. Make sure that you give proper credit to the editors and publishers at the beginning of the PDF and that you’re not violating your publishing contract (it’s good practice to obtain written permission). 
  • Once you have published your chapter manuscript online, don’t hesitate to take to social media. Publishers will often welcome the advance publicity, and you will appreciate your name being associated with the book as a whole in addition to the chapter. Of course, it’s crucial to ensure that you are on the same page as your publisher, but if they’re on board with you publishing your manuscript in advance, this can be a win-win situation. Include the page numbers (approximate, if needed) for your chapter in the book so that scholars can begin to cite you.
  • Write a blog post about your chapter or encourage another academic blogger to review your work. If you write the post yourself, make sure to sprinkle it with all the right keywords to attract the right readers. Good SEO will drive traffic to your chapter and get it noticed much faster than traditional routes allow, especially if you link to the publisher so that people can order the book directly. Make sure to get a quote for our editing and proofreading services before you hit that publish button—even if your research is stellar, careless typos and ambiguous wording can undermine both your work and others’ trust in your academic rigor.
  • Request that your chapter be included in the free sample chapters publishers make available online. This allows you to avoid the “paywall trap,” which could constitute a major barrier to garnering more citations.

The takeaway

Social media is your friend! If you’re not using it to promote your own work, you might be missing out. Academics are all over the Twitterverse, and they tend to love a good academic blog. In some ways, technology may make it harder to spread your book chapters far and wide, but you can use these powerful 21st-century tools to your advantage.

Naturally, if your research is highly prescient and needs to be seen sooner rather than later, go ahead and publish it in a journal. However, having your work immortalized in a book chapter will be a boon to your career in the long run, and the more you can do to facilitate access to individual book chapters, the better. It takes time and effort, certainly, but using the tools and opportunities the modern-day academic world offers to publish chapters in prestigious books that attract the same level of attention as journal articles is absolutely possible.

If you need another pair of eyes on your chapter before you submit it for publication or put the PDF on your website, try our academic services package. We can ensure that you meet all submission requirements and give you editorial feedback so that you can be proud of the work you’ve done. 

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