Papers presented at departmental colloquia are nearly always invited. Usually the person in charge of the speaker program is responsible for invitations. Budget reductions have made this job more difficult, so that local volunteers are probably welcome. Some departments have published open invitations in journals to any philosopher in the area or passing through to present a paper.
If you are connected with a department that does not have a speaker program or even a works-in-progress group, consider starting one. It will appear altruistic rather than egomaniacal if you present your own paper (unless, of course, you do not invite anyone else to present). If you are not connected with any department, you can always ask a nearby philosophy department to notify you of its colloquia. Some departmental colloquia are not open to the public, but most are. If you regularly attend colloquia as an outsider, you will not only have the chance to discuss philosophy and get to know the faculty of that department; the chances will increase that the department will take up with enthusiasm your offer to read a paper.
Although a departmental colloquium is a forum for your work, you undoubtedly want a wider audience. Colloquia of departments in other areas, regional philosophical meetings and programs of philosophy associations are other occasions to present papers.
Invitations to departmental colloquia in other areas depend on informal contacts and/or reputation, both of which you may acquire through other means of making your work public. For instance, the more you attend and participate in philosophical meetings, the more other philosophers will know about your philosophical skills and ideas.
Regional meetings (usually for a metropolitan area, a state or part of a state) are often ignored because they appear to be low-prestige affairs, attracting philosophers whose small departments do not supply enough colleagues with similar interests. In the old days when departments had large numbers of junior openings every year, it might have been comforting to equate the status of institutional affiliation with ability. But now that everyone knows several people of great ability with "low" (or no) positions, that simple equation is less valid and less prevalent. And in fact, some of the papers at these meetings are of high quality and may eventually be respected by a wide audience and affect the course of future research. Yet because the percentage of papers accepted for these meetings is higher than for some other meetings, they represent a good opportunity for making your work public. Also, regional meetings are usually small enough to allow you to get to know the other participants easily.
Other philosophical societies include those organized by field, by methodology, by larger geographical areas and/or by other (e.g., political) criteria. The biennial Directory of American Philosophers lists most based in the United States and Canada. Nearly all these societies have programs at which papers can be presented; sometimes an associated journal routinely prints the proceedings. At field- or methodology-oriented society meetings, the audience will be people who share research interests and expertise with the authors of the papers presented. Participation in one of these societies is an important way to get to know the people in your field.
The APA's Proceedings includes announcements of meetings and calls for papers, as do some journals and society newsletters. Several philosophical societies hold meetings in conjunction with APA meetings. As a courtesy, the APA lists the agendas and rooms for the meetings in the program. Most of these societies welcome new members and submissions for their meetings. You can contact them in car of the APa or write directly to the organizers of a recently publicized session for more information.
Blind reviewing may not be the usual way these societies select papers for their programs. If not, and you become a member of such a society, you can certainly try to change their policy.
Every meeting of the American Philosophical Association attracts a large number of philosophers from all over the United States and Canada. Therefore APA meetings are excellent places to present papers. Any APA member may submit a paper for any program; one can apply for membership at the time of submission. For paper format and length guidelines, write to: American Philosophical Association, University of Delaware, Newark, DL 19716. March 15 is the deadline for papers submitted for the Eastern Division Meetings (held in December); September 15 is the deadline for the Pacific and Central Division meetings (held at the end of March and April, respectively, of the following year). The program committee of each division evaluates the papers submitted to it; blind review is the usual policy. Unlike the case with papers for some other professional meetings, the APA rejection rate is high (according to recent statistics, approximately 70 percent). Still, it is lower than that of many journals.
The program committees of each division invite most of the participants of APA programs, including all chairs and commentators and most symposium speakers. But all three program committees will consider volunteers for these positions, and are likely to invite authors of rejected papers to be commentators.
Each program committee is appointed two years in advance by the divisions's executive committee, which tries to ensure a fair representation of different areas and approaches to philosophy. Division officers take suggestions and criticisms from members very seriously. Address letters about any aspect of the program to the program chair and Secretary-Treasurer of your division. Bear in mind, however, that the absence of a particular topic from the program may reflect the pattern of submissions rather than a bias of the committee.
Presenting a paper at an APA meeting gives your work good exposure, adds luster to your vita, and usually elicits interesting comments. The APA publishes abstracts of all papers presented in its Proceedings and Addresses, which many philosophers who did not attend the meetings will read.
Non-members as well as members are welcome to attend APA meetings. Registration fees are very low ($5 for students, $10 for members, and $15 for non-members). Membership fees are based on income: in 1986, from $15 for students and those with annual incomes below $15,000 up to $60.
There are many other advantages of APA membership in addition to the opportunity to read papers, to perhaps chair or comment, and to make invaluable professional friendships and contacts. You will receive regular issues of Proceedings and Addresses, Jobs for Philosophers, the APA Shopping List (with discounts for books and journals) and other special publications produced by APA committees, as well as use of the APA's extensive placement services.
Virtually all freelance contributions to newspapers and magazines originate in one of three methods of contact with an editor: an in-person or telephone conversation about a writer's proposed idea or ideas; a query letter in which the writer outlines a proposed article and explains why he or she is the person to write it; or a completed manuscript that the writer submits with a cover letter. Unless you already know an editor personally or the editor is likely to recognize your name, you shouldn't try to get an assignment by calling the editor or dropping into the publication's office. Most editors do not appreciate casual interruptions of their already fragmented time. More importantly, an editor cannot judge by talking to you whether or not you can write a suitable article for that publication; the conversation is likely to be inconclusive. But except for short (under 1,200 words) opinion pieces or personal-experience articles, neither should you go ahead and write the whole manuscript first and send it in. For all other submissions, newspaper and magazine editors prefer query letters.
What should a query letter be like? First, it should be short, no more than one or two singlespaced pages. Second, it should be addressed to a specific editor at your target publication; you can find out the name of the appropriate editor from this year's edition of Writer's Market (see "Resources"), from the masthead of the publication (if no title jumps out at you as appropriate, try the managing editor or the editor-in-chief) or by calling the publication to ask who handles freelance articles on your subject. Third, it must be polished, lively and specific. The editor will be looking for evidence that you can write an interesting, readable article that will engage that publication's readers. One formula is to open the letter with a vignette or anecdote that encapsulates the importance or appeal of your topic, use the second paragraph to explain the scope of your article and sources of information, tell who you are and why you're qualified to write this article in the third paragraph and close with something like ",I look forward to hearing from you soon",. Finally, you must enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope for the editor's reply.
A query letter is like a try-out for a job, the job of writing a certain article for a certain publication. Besides checking and rewriting your letter if necessary, you can maximize your chances of being taken seriously by keeping in mind the different purposes of scholarly and non-scholarly publications. Most journals set up a gauntlet of referees in order to try to strike down earlier rather than later those papers that will not survive an onslaught of critical attention. Consequently, academic style is usually defensive. For professional journals, it is reasonable to hedge each sentence with qualifiers, announce, make and then repeat one's point and expunge any signs of personality. But for general audiences, that kind of writing is deadly. In a query letter you have to plunge right in without any throat-clearing, rely on one vivid example or anecdote and one fact to imply an argument and use concrete nouns and active verbs to form fresh, lucid sentences. If this advice rankles your sense of propriety, you are probably better off sticking to academic publications.
Because of the differences between academic and non-academic writing, you should probably not enclose a copy of your discussion note in Mind or book review in Philosophy and Public Affairs with your query letter as a sample of your writing. Mention previous publications if you like, but unless you have samples that would be appropriate for your target publication, let the query letter itself be your showcase. If, in addition to your scholarly credentials, you demonstrate that you can write crisply and concretely, the editor will most likely be extremely impressed.
After sending off a query letter, it may take as short a time as a week for your self-addressed stamped envelope to reappear in your mailbox. If more than two months elapse without a reply, feel free to write a polite inquiry about the status of your query. When you do receive a reply, it will take one of several forms.
Best of all is an assignment to prepare the article you suggested, along with instructions about length and date of delivery for the article and perhaps a specified payment for a satisfactory result. You may even receive a written contract and the promise of a "kill fee"--that is, a fee (usually 10 to 33 percent of what a magazine would pay for the article if published) for an article that fulfills the magazine's specifications but nevertheless won't be published. Second best is an invitation to submit the article "on speculation" or "on spec." This means that the editor is interested in what you proposed but doesn't want to make any promises. Although you must bear all the risk of preparing the article, it still represents a good opportunity, and you should go ahead and do your best. Next best is any kind of personal rejection from the editor, even a handwritten "Sorry" at the bottom of a printed rejection slip, which in that world counts as encouragement. But even a completely impersonal, unspecific rejection need not be a sign that you ought to give up; the magazine may just have accepted an article on your topic or had its freelance budget reduced, or your idea may appear inappropriate to that magazine but exactly right to its competitor.
Much of what we have said about query letters applies also to short opinion and personal-experience pieces, which you should submit as completed articles. Always send the article, a self-addressed stamped envelope and a cover letter explaining who you are and why you have some authority on your topic to a specific editor by name. Neatness, spelling, grammar, tone, detail and style count here as well. It also helps to check your target publication to make sure that they do publish pieces like the one you would like to submit and of roughly that length. Editors appreciate a word count either on the manuscript or in your cover letter. The first paragraph of your article ("the lead") should be an example, anecdote, quote or controversial suggestion that that will hook the reader; then make sure that you don't let the reader down. Use more concrete examples and specific details than you would for a scholarly article.
If your article is accepted, you may be asked what rights you wish to sell or be told that the publication is buying "first North American rights" or "all rights." Try not to sell or transfer "all rights"; that means that the publication may republish or resell your work, to a syndicate, to another publication, in an anthology or even to the movies without consulting you and without paying you any additional money. If a newspaper or magazine acquires "first rights," you must make sure the article appears there first, but afterwards it belongs to you again. "First North American Rights" means the right to first publication in North America; "first serial rights" means the right to first publication in a newspaper or magazine; and "one-time rights" means the right to publish an article one time only, without regard for priority.
A lot of neophyte writers wonder about agents. Would it help to sell something to the Op-Ed page of The New York Times if you had an agent? It might, but unless you are writing a non-fiction book with commercial potential or a novel, no agent would want you as a client. Reputable agents work solely on commission (10 to 15 percent) and the amount you would make for such an article is simply too small (recently, around $150) to be worth the trouble to sell it for you.
A worry peculiar to academics who are interested in publishing for general audiences is whether or not non-professional publications can backfire on their career. That depends on what you write about and your ratio of scholarly to non-scholarly publications. If you want to write about your recent divorce, your secret drug habit or your disillusionment or scorn for your profession, you should consider adopting a pseudonym. Your correspondence with editors should still be under your own name, but if you explain why you prefer to publish under a pseudonym, most editors will understand and cooperate. If you want to win tenure and promotion, you should beware of a publication record that is heavier in non-scholarly than scholarly credits. But if it's a matter of a first or occasional opinion piece or article on Tahiti, where you spend summer vacations, you needn't worry. Your colleagues will probably react with mild, harmless envy and everyone else with congratulations and praise.
1. Attend local department colloquia and meetings.
2. Participate in philosophical organizations.
3. Make sure you are included in the list of unaffiliated affiliated philosophers in the Directory of American Philosophers.
4. If you have not held a regular academic post for several years, you may be eligible for the APA's annual competition for research by unaffiliated philosophers. Rules are available from the APA.
5. Get library privileges at a local university by asking the chair of the philosophy department, getting a letter of reference from your graduate school or writing to the head of an appropriate APA (or other organization) for help.
6. Try to get a university mailing address as well. This "credential" may subtly affect some review processes. Making nearby universities aware of your existence can't hurt your job chances, either; if there's a last-minute need for a fill-in course instructor, they may think of you.
7. Try to get a visiting scholar or adjunct faculty status if you can. Offer to submit your vita or give a talk to demonstrate your ability. The title may even come with an office and secretarial services too.
8. Keep in touch with your old friends, especially those who do not have academic jobs and still do philosophy.
9. If you think of anything that any organization or person could do to help you and others in your situation, let them know.