Penny Roberts (Warwick) recently gave a great talk at the ASMCF-SSFH Postgraduate Studies Day at the University of Exeter. As co-editor of French History, her tips on getting published in academic journals are … well.. priceless. Here is a transcript of her talk – thanks for sharing, Penny!
I don’t need to tell you, but in these days of REF and a competitive academic job market, publications matter. The production of a research monograph obviously takes time and so an article in a refereed journal is a good foundation/starting point, and more realistic goal, for the early career academic/postdoc. It’s worth saying straight away that it isn’t as terrifying a prospect as it may as first look if you are well prepared and pay care and attention to the journal’s criteria. Editors are looking for good copy and are generally keen to encourage up-and-coming scholars. There are very few academics who have never had a piece of work turned down by an academic journal or publisher, and it is important to approach the process, whatever happens, as an opportunity, and not to be disheartened by rejection if it happens. For, even if your piece is not accepted, the submission procedure should result in a constructive dialogue which will allow you to improve your work and, if necessary, seek submission elsewhere.
- Choosing a journal
My main advice here would be to consult specialists in your field – your supervisor, but also early career scholars you may know – as well as thinking about which journals you yourself consult most often. Which journals are likely to be receptive to work in your area of specialism (any uncertainty here, editors are generally receptive to enquiries)? There is a ranking of journals, and opinions may vary whether you should aim for the top at this stage; such journals can afford to be more choosy about what they take and may reject even very good submissions (so if you aim high you should steel yourself for rejection on the ‘opportunity principle’ and think about a back-up). Even if accepted, these journals may also take a long time to publish your piece, BUT obviously the dividend is high. It’s a matter of weighing up the pros and cons and, again, others will advise, so do your homework and assess the merits of submission to one journal over another. Timing is also crucial, too, of course. When is your work sufficiently far along to consider publication? Again, seek advice on this.
- Preparing your submission
Once you’ve decided you’re ready and have chosen your target, then it’s important to take time to prepare your submission. Consult the journal website and advice for authors and have a look at recent volumes. As an editor, I am easily impressed by submissions that are professionally produced and stick to the ‘advice for authors’ provided on our webpage! This may seem like an extremely basic piece of advice, but it’s remarkable how often pieces come in where the author has seemingly paid very little attention to our requirements – e.g. on word-length, house style etc. The piece should be freestanding and tailored to the format. So no chapters just lifted from a thesis – in particular the introductory and concluding sections are important, especially if the journal expects a wide readership to engage with your work (again the webpage should indicate who the expected audience is). A balance between the demonstration of specialized research and making clear why your topic/argument is important and/or significant is crucial.
- Editor’s tips (or how to keep us sweet!)
If you are resubmitting a piece, don’t do so without revising it on the basis of the feedback you’ve already had. More than once I’ve sent out an article for review to be told by the reviewer that they read the same piece for someone else! It suggests that you are unwilling to take criticism and accept the need for revision of your piece. On this point too, when you do receive feedback, do so gracefully. If the reviewers and editors are doing their job properly, even if they don’t think your piece is right for the journal, they should be offering you constructive and helpful advice. So take some time to think about it before you respond. On the other hand, reviewers often ask for too much, so also be prepared to be flexible on what changes/revisions you can live with while sticking to your guns on the wider points. Very few articles are accepted without some (often quite substantial revisions) designed to make your piece the best it can be, so do take advantage of this expert feedback.
To find out more about Penny, check out http://frenchhistorysociety.co.uk/blog/?p=364