By: Will Arguelles, & the FI Team
Every Tuesday here at the Futures Initiative, our fellows and staff gather, update one another on our work, and brainstorm solutions to complex problems. A key component of our work is professionalization and helping our cozy community of scholars blossom into the best versions of themselves. The content of this blog post originated in our 9/19 weekly meeting, where Beiyi Hu led the group through a workshop on academic publishing. The text of this activity has been edited and reformatted to fit a wider, public audience.
The reality of academia is that scholars are being asked earlier and earlier in their academic careers to jump into the choppy waters of the academic publishing world. From peer review to final proofs, publishing can be one of the scariest and most intimidating parts of an academic’s career. But have no fear, the Futures Initiative team is here to help you out, with some key tips we’ve learned over our combined years in the academy. And to help you make sense of it all, I’ve organized it into an internet friendly numbered list.
- Timing is key! Try to always consider when your submission makes sense – often journals have certain cycles of publication, and sending an article at the right time might help get your work out faster. It is also important to consider a journal’s reported time between submission to publishing – sometimes it might make more sense to send to a smaller journal if you need something out more quickly.
- Learn about the journal! You should make yourself familiar with the type of work this journal publishes. Read the past few years worth of publications, to make sure your article fits in here. What kinds of theories are used, and what methodologies are favored? What topics are covered, and where are the gaps in their coverage? Each editorial team is different, and you should be clear to match your work with a team that works on the questions that are dear to you.
- Talk to others! Your work can’t just live in your own head, you need to put it out into the world. The easiest way is to go to conferences, as even at the smallest one, you’ll likely find at least one kindred spirit. Talk with them, and try to see how your work and theirs intersect – you might not realize what is the most innovative or coolest part of your research by yourself, so take any chance you can to talk with a fellow scholar about what you both do.
- Try not to be too picky! Don’t spend all your effort wallowing in indecision, unsure of where is best to send an article. The best articles for your career are the published ones – so try to keep sending things out as you can.
- Envision the whole process! Just as we all tell our students, it is important to always see writing as a scaffolded, multi-step process. So don’t forget to view this whole journey as having many many steps. One such timeline might be: you research your question and conduct experiments, then write an abstract for a conference paper proposal with your preliminary findings, to write the conference paper version next, and then work on the short version of your publication draft, which you next bring to your writing group workshops, to finally submitting the publication. It is a process, and it can be slow, but it is doable if you think of it in discrete steps.
- The “Perfect Draft” is the enemy of the good article! We all want our work to be the best version possible. But remember, publication is a process, and your work will be reviewed, edited, and revised multiple times before being sent to the printers. You can’t wait until the draft is perfect, instead, aim for the best version you can do right now, and see what happens from there.
- Know where your field congregates! It might be in a listserv, or a facebook group, or a twitter thread – scholars often circulate calls for publications widely, and finding an ad for the perfect collection for that article you’ve had shelved can be a euphoric feeling. These can also be great ways to break into publishing for early career scholars.
- Use your connections! Often your advisor or mentor will have better knowledge of the field and what editors and publishers are looking for work like yours. Listen to them, and don’t be afraid to ask for introductions or advice – your chair wants you to succeed, and part of succeeding is finding your footing in publishing.
- Expect to get feedback! It is very rare to submit an article, and have it immediately move into publication. Most scholars receive at least some level of revisions, and thus once you submit an essay, assume you will get feedback, even negative comments— and try not to be defensive about that feedback. Even when you may not agree, realize that their critique may just mean you’ve not yet made a case you think you’re making (writing for others outside your committee and friends is very different than writing to your own community). You may not be communicating what you intend as well as you could.
- Criticism is not personal! Most academics have gotten a rough rejection letter from the dreaded Reviewer 2. Try not to take it to heart – they’re only critiquing your work, not you as a person. Just keep your head down, and do what they ask within reason and make your responses to them and your incorporations of their edits REALLY easy to see or track. You don’t want to make them work extra hard, so make their lives easier. You will never write very much if you take rejection as a statement about “you” and not a statement about how that particular piece landed with that particular reader.
- Sometimes, it’s just a bad fit! Sometimes you might send something out, and get a clear rejection. That might mean your article needs work, but it also might just mean that the journal was a poor fit for this topic. And some reviewers are just plain irrational and might not understand the topic, and blame you for this. If you really hate what a reader says, send it elsewhere asap. A typical article or book might be rejected MANY times and in the strongest language and then go on to be a big success.
- Rejection is never the end! Just because a journal is not interested in your work, does not mean everyone is. You should always read the feedback and try to use it to reformulate the paper, but don’t get discouraged. Sometimes it’s better to just pick up your article and go somewhere else. But you will never write very much if you take rejection personally as a statement about “you” and not a statement about how that particular piece landed with that particular reader/publisher/editor.
- Don’t forget to consider licensing and accessibility! When you’re deciding which journal to submit to, it’s important to consider what audience you want to access your work. Learning more about Open Access and Creative Commons (such as from the Open Knowledge fellowship here at the GC!) will help you understand who can use your work, and in what forms.
- Don’t compare yourself to others! Like social media, what people tend to share with the public are successes, not failures. The people who publish the most have been rejected the most. Period. It can be intimidating because all you see or hear about is often just their success, not all the times they “failed” on the way to success. Keep at it!
- Be authentically you! What you bring to the academy is entirely unique – you’re the only you there ever will be, so find your authentic, joyful voice. Stop asking “so what?” or “who cares?” and instead simply think of stories that are authentic and relatable. That’s where your perspective will come through the strongest.
- Love what you do! Trying to get something past reviewers takes significant effort and a lot of time. Publishing can be a LONG process so make sure you choose something–topic, area of research, etc–you love. If you’re going to be an academic, you’ll need to really devote yourself to your work, and that’s much easier to do if you actually enjoy the topic.
- Be kinder to yourself! Publishing is hard, it’s a high bar to clear and many can get discouraged from a mean reviewer or sharp rejection. That’s why it is important to remember don’t be so hard on yourself and many academics get rejected several times before any article gets through.
- We’re in this together! Academia can feel like a lonely place, especially when it comes to publishing our work. But it does not have to be – you can find friendship and support in your communities by attending writing groups, finding an accountability buddy, or just verbalizing to someone else when you will finish a draft. Externalizing our timelines to others helps