The Design History of Robert M. Pirsig’s Books

I published my article on the history of Robert Pirsig’s books at the Humanities Commons.

UPDATE: New Editions have become available.

I admire Rober Pirsig’s work on the Metaphysics of Quality as described in his two books Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila. Robert passed away in 2017 I started to collect all the English editions of his books. I wrote an article entitle “The Design History of Robert M. Pirsig’s Books” in which I analysed all these books and their covers. The book proposal for Zen was rejected by 122 publishers. My article was rejected by only nine journals but this was done sequentially, which took almost a year. It seems like Pirsig’s curse is upon this manuscript. Academic publishing remains difficult and I recently interviewed Anton Angelo about it.

It is time to take a new approach and hence I decided to publish the article in the Humanities Commons. Please enjoy the article. High resolution scans of all the book covers are available over at the Open Science Framework. I also published the scans of all the covers over at Flickr. Have a look at the Zen and Lila albums.


Below you find all the rejections I received.

Mémoires du livre / Studies in Book Culture

Submitted: 15 September 2019
Rejected: 7 January 2020


While it presents much information, the essay is not appropriate for publication in Mémoires du livre / Studies in Book Culture because it does not adhere to the culture of the argumentative essay of the humanities and social sciences. There does not appear to be an argument. The conclusion states that the editions of Pirsig’s books « are the ideal starting point from which to observe the changing design and publishing world » but the body of the essay does not articulate what these changes are or demonstrate them in any rhetorically effective arrangement. The organization of the discussion chronologically by edition produces a parade of insignificant details. The reader’s interest is quickly lost. A historical essay requires much more interpretation and a much better interweaving of generalization and example.

The essay does not situate itself in any field of philosophical or historical scholarship. There are no citations to secondary sources. Has anyone else written about Pirsig? Are there any studies of changes in the book publishing industry in the late 20th/early 21st centuries? The essay should begin by citing all existing scholarship on these questions and then move on to make its own original addition to them.

The article would also benefit from (loosely at least) referencing the general design history context in which this peculiar design story happened — which would lend more depth to the books’ meaningfulness.

Fine Books & Collections

Submitted: 27 August 2019
Rejected: 7 September 2019


We are too general a magazine for long scholarly articles such as this.

Book History

Submitted: 14 August 2019
Rejected: 27 August 2019


This manuscript doesn’t suit our needs and we won’t be pursuing publication.

Visual Communication

Submitted: 19 June 2019
Rejected: 5 August 2019


After reading your manuscript a few times, I had to come to the decision that your manuscript does not fit Visual Communication in its current form. While you address aspects of visual communication (typography, for instance), there is not a clear ‘methodology’ section, where you can lay out the study (allowing replicability to the study of other books, for instance) that could substantiate the discussion on book economy, much needed indeed.

Visible Language

Submitted: 6 May 2019
Rejected: 14 June 2019


The concern I have with your article as an editor is its relevance to the design domain. What precisely did you discover that might be widely applicable to designers? The comments in the conclusion, about including the trivialization of the book by featuring a photo of a motorcycle on the cover of ZAMM, are some of the more design-related comments but much more would need to be done to push this toward factual relevance for a design audience. For example, if the trivialization of the concepts in a book on its cover (featuring a photo of a motorcycle on the ZAMM cover) could be shown to be widespread, and due to confusing communication, such trivialization could be proven through a research study to be bad design practice, that would be something Visible Language would want to publish.

International Journal of Design

Submitted: 27 May 2019
Rejected: 1 June 2019


An initial review of “The Design History of Robert M. Pirsig’s Books” has
made it clear that this submission does not fit within the scope and focus
of International Journal of Design.

The Design Journal

Submitted: 22 May 2019
Rejected: 24 May 2019


Following an initial assessment, it has been decided not to send your paper out for review.

Design Issues

Submitted: 16 May 2019
Rejected: 17 May 2019


I notice your manuscript word count is over 7,500 words by Word’s count, and that you’ve used parenthetical citations. Design Issues allows for 5,000 words and uses CMS style with superscripts. If you adjust your citations using superscripts instead, your word count will come down considerably. Then, please shorten content to not exceed 5,000 words.

Journal of Design History

Submitted: 2 May 2019
Rejected: 9 May 2019


I am sorry to inform you that we will not be able to take it forward for publication as its aims and contribution to design history are unclear.

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