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I just had a paper accepted for publication in an Elsevier journal. It is to be published open access, so the journal has a sizeable open-access publication fee (or "APC") ~$2000.

I've sought financial support for these fees from external entities (waiting to hear back confirmations), but I'm not sure how invoicing/charging of APCs ultimately works.

What's the most typical way I enable 3rd party entities to help financially support me?

  1. Do I simply pay the APC myself and seek reimbursement from these funders (perhaps both internal and external to my employing institution)? Or is there some way to pay the publisher from multiple sources?

  2. Is it more appropriate / normal to send the invoice to myself or to my institution?

Any suggestion would be appreciated as this is [surprisingly] the first time I ever actually had to pay a fee of any kind to publish!

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    You really should talk to whoever controls the purse strings at your institution. Typically, these fees should be paid out of whatever grant is funding your work, or by your department, or possibly the university itself (maybe through the library?). I would not simply pay the charge, and then hope for reimbursement---you probably won't get your money back. In any event, you need to talk to someone at your institution who knows how funding there works. Jul 20, 2023 at 2:58
  • to expand on @XanderHendersons comment: in an effort to make research more accesible, my university has allocated funds for OA publication, and you can make a request with the organizing body (AFAIK library adjacent) to get the funding for your publication if that is not covered otherwise. Also, in Europe at least, it has become the norm that a lot of grants come with the requierement of OA publication, with some of the grant money set aside to pay OA fees.
    – Sursula
    Jul 20, 2023 at 7:53
  • Elsevier journals are normally hybrid, meaning you can choose to publish a subscription article with no APC. Are you required to publish OA for some reason? Jul 20, 2023 at 13:08
  • I'm actually trailblazing at my university apparently. First federal grant earlier this year (which unfortunately cannot cover publishing charges), which I had to do all the paperwork myself (since we have no grants office) and first with an apc requiring invoicing. No one knows what to do in my business office or my school regarding these things -_-. Also, yes, OA is only option. Jul 20, 2023 at 13:25
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    Yikes. If your university wants to stay eligible for federal grants, they really need to get you some help, from outside if need be. Jul 20, 2023 at 14:44

2 Answers 2

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As a financial approver in the US, the way it is typically handled is that for expenses that qualify as a business expense according to the IRS (as this should), it is allowable to be reimbursed. The sticking point is what is it allocable to? You need to have authority to charge to a funding source or otherwise get it pre-approved by whichever authority is required (e.g., a chair for dept funds) to prevent yourself from going out of pocket and being surprised later.

If you are the PI and you have a sponsored fund you'd like to charge; contact your assigned research administrator to look at the budget/terms and conditions. In the US, federal grants readily take these charges. Non-federal grants may have more specific budgets that must be adhered to. The main issue is that it needs to be allocable. I cannot tell you how many PIs ask me to pay a publishing fee on a grant but don't even cite the grant in the acknowledgments. Please check terms and conditions for publishing acknowledgments if this publication is the result of sponsored funding. This step is overlooked even by the most senior PIs at R1 institutions, and it violates terms and conditions of most sponsored awards.

Note: Much of this advice is true for all business expenses - pre-approval saves heartbreak later.

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I think you are going about it somewhat backwards. The first step is to determine where the money will actually come from: to request funds from whatever sources, internal or external, you think might be willing to pay. If your request is approved, then that entity will tell you how to go about actually processing the payment. Possibly by invoice, possibly by reimbursement, possibly by someone with a university credit card filling out a web form for you.

If you end up having the cost split between several sources, you'll have to work with them together to figure out the payment details. If it's multiple funds within the university, you'll probably have somebody make one payment and then reallocate funds internally. If you end up with both internal and external funds, it could be more complicated - expect to spend some time making phone calls and emails to get everyone on the same page.

Some possible directions to look for funding:

  • Some universities have funds specifically set aside for open access charges. It might be run through your library, or a research or grants office, so ask those people. (But it sounds like maybe you have already checked this.)

  • There might be internal programs where you can apply for funds for general research expenses.

  • Your chair / dean might have access to various "slush funds" that can be used to support research, e.g. from outside donors. If they agree to use it, it will probably be as a one-time thing, so you'll want to make a more solid plan for next time.

  • You mentioned that you have a federal grant, but that publication charges are not allowable. Double-check that, including whether other parts of the budget can be shifted around. But as another possibility, grants almost invariably contain a rather large "indirect costs" (IDC) item, which is basically unrestricted money straight into the university's pockets. Ask if the publication charges can be paid from your grant's IDC funds.

    (You mentioned your university doesn't have a grants office to help you with this, which sounds like a recipe for disaster. More serious research institutions have lots of dedicated staff working very hard to comply with the government's elaborate regulations in order to maintain their eligibility to receive grants. And even then, there are horror stories about things getting screwed up. Tell your university that if they want to have federal grants as an income stream - and believe me, they do - then they have got to provide appropriate support.)

If you can't get funds lined up before the bill is due, then ultimately your choice is to either pay it yourself (personal credit card is likely to be the simplest way), or else to withdraw the paper. If you pay it yourself, you can still try to seek reimbursement, but don't count on it - you'll no longer have much leverage. I would treat that money as gone from your pocket, and a pleasant surprise if you manage to get any of it reimbursed - and be asking yourself whether you want to be working for an institution that makes you pay for your research out of your own salary.

Don't have the publisher invoice the university unless the university has already agreed to pay; i.e. unless and until the expense has been approved by someone with authority to do so. Otherwise, the best outcome is something like them docking your paycheck for the amount. The worst is getting fired for financial misconduct. Universities take their internal financial rules very seriously.

If you have no institutional or outside funds available, you can ask the publisher for a fee waiver. However, these are usually intended mainly for authors from developing countries, etc, so if you are from an otherwise wealthy institution or country, your odds of getting a waiver are not as good. But they might at least offer you a discount.

Next time, get all this sorted out before you decide to submit to a journal with APCs. And if you can't get funds lined up in advance, you should seriously consider submitting to some other journal that won't cost you money, even if it's not your top choice as far as prestige or fit. (But, make a stink to your superiors about how the university is passing up an opportunity for high-visibility publications.)

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  • Nate. Thanks. This is good. I know I've gone about this a bit awkwardly (perhaps backwards as you've said), but it's due to 1) the novelty of this process to me and my institution, 2) a wishy washy co-author who was supposed to handle all of this and did not -- dumping it on my lap last second, 3) poor communication across the board, and 4) short turn-around time required by the publisher. It's been SUPER frustrating. (as has doing all my federal grant paperwork/processing on top of a 6x6 teaching load and running my own research program). Also, my grant has no IDC funds. Jul 20, 2023 at 15:45
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    @theforestecologist: No IDC funds!? So, either it's some very unusual kind of grant, or your university left a bunch of money on the table by not asking for IDCs that the government would have been more than happy to give them. Tell your superiors that. Jul 20, 2023 at 15:58
  • do you know of a guide for best practices regarding IDCs I could share with them? Jul 20, 2023 at 16:21
  • @theforestecologist, this is not typically part of IDC; most grants take this as a direct cost. Are you talking about an IDC revenue sharing model, where you normally receive a portion of the IDC you generate back as discretionary? Is this a federal grant? All US federal grants should have IDC as a requirement unless it's a special type of grant where it is prohibited (e.g., a training grant). Jul 21, 2023 at 2:52

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