More and more often, students of all levels want to share their discoveries by producing a published work. The good news is that there are many (and increasing numbers of) venues for academic publishing. But that doesn’t mean that they will automatically publish everything that’s sent to them! In fact, that’s a warning sign of a bad publisher. Today’s post offers some tips on getting your work into its best shape, whether you’re an upper-level undergrad or a grad student, and also offers a few caveats for where you shouldn’t submit.
Let’s start with the basics: just because you want to publish something doesn’t mean that your work is publishable. This statement might sound mean, but it shouldn’t be taken that way. There are ways that you can make your work more publishable, and that’s what most of this post is aimed to do. I’ve split my advice into two pieces; this post focuses on the pre-submission process, and the next post will focus on what you can do after you’ve submitted.
Tip #1: First, make sure that you are sending your most publishable work. Often, you’ll hear that you should “send your best work.” I don’t like this phrase, because best is subjective. Publishable is more objective, since most journals have criteria that all submissions should meet.
How do you know whether your work is publishable? The best way to find out is to get advice from the pros. If you are a grad student and you receive feedback suggesting that your work is publishable (and I mean explicit feedback, like “you should consider publishing this,” not vague praise like “well done!”), follow up on it. Ask that professor for advice on revision and submission. Ask other professors in a related field for similar advice. Follow any advice that is consistent.
If you’re an undergrad, you may have to be more pro-active. Undergraduate publishing is not on the radar for many professors, especially in programs with many graduate students. If you get a really good grade on a paper and think it’s one of your best, go to your professor’s (or TA’s!) office hours and ask about potentially submitting it to an undergraduate journal. Whoever graded your paper also graded all the other papers in your class and in other classes as well. That person has a good sense of what’s typical in an undergraduate paper and where your paper lies on the spectrum.
Tip #2: Research your venues. If you’ve asked for advice, you should have gotten a few ideas for where to submit your work. Take a look at the most recent issues of those journals. (Undergraduate journals will probably be online; for recent issues of professional journals, you may have to visit the library for a hard copy.) How closely does your work fit with what’s been recently published? Recently is the key word here, since journal editors change and the journal’s preferences change with them. Academic tastes change, too: your idea that was perfect for journal X in 1995 might not be what it wants in 2017. If your work is really different from what the journal typically publishes, this is not a good choice for you. Continue looking for a better venue. If you are an undergrad or MA student, many journals are interested in breadth of coverage; make sure that you look at the journal’s mission statement as well as recent articles to see whether your work might fit.
If there are multiple journals that fit, that’s great! You have an alternate in case things don’t work out. You can choose whichever journal is preferable to you – whether it’s the mission, the recent articles, or the prestige value that you think is most important. Just make sure that you have a reason for choosing the journal you did, because you want to feel happy with that decision when they accept you, rather than second-guess the choice.
As a sub-tip, if your work is solicited by a journal you’ve never heard of, beware. There are scammers who prey on inexperienced students. They will offer to publish your work, for a fee, and promise that you will make it back. You will not make that money back; academic publishing does not make academics money, and generally speaking they do not reach out to new authors (there are some exceptions, especially if you’ve recently been to a conference). There are some resources available to help you guard against fraudulent journals, but when in doubt, ask a librarian.
Tip #3: Read the submission guidelines. No one is going to be upset if you don’t format your footnotes perfectly, but they will notice that you’ve used footnotes instead of endnotes, that you haven’t double-spaced, that you’ve used author-date instead of author-title citations. Don’t make the editor’s life harder in order to make your life easier. Get reference-management software (Zotero is free) and invest an hour in following instructions.
Tip #4: Proofread! In fact, proofread several times and if possible, ask a friend to proofread for you. I know, it sounds so obvious. You’d be surprised. An unprofessional-looking manuscript is a potential reason for rejection. Don’t undersell your work by making it sloppy.
Don’t be too worried if someone catches mistakes after submission. That’s normal; we’re all human. But you don’t want to submit a manuscript with sentences that stop partway through, numerous typos per page, missing sections, etc. Make sure your work is an accurate reflection of professional you.
Tip #5: Submit!
Since you’ve read the submission guidelines, you should know how the journal prefers to be contacted. Follow their instructions, just like you did for formatting. If you’re submitting via an online submission system, you may not need to include a cover letter. I like to include a short one anyway, thanking the editor and readers for their time and consideration.
If you’re submitting via email, you should definitely include a cover letter. You can write it directly into the body of the email; you don’t need to include a separate attachment. It is a formal, but brief letter. Something along the lines of Dear Contact, I have attached my manuscript, titled X, for consideration in Journal. The word count is Y. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance. Thank you, Author is just fine. A sample email follows:
Dear Dr. Philodemus,
Please find attached my manuscript, “The Greek idea of the anima,” which I am submitting for publication in Stoic Studies. It is approximately 2000 words long, and as requested I have provided both PDF and DOC formats. My contact information follows; if I can be of further assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Thank you for your consideration,
There is a lot of advice on the internet about providing a summary of your argument, methods, or biography. That’s not typical in classical studies. Similarly, you don’t have to worry about providing a CV or other information unless it’s specifically requested (and that is an unusual request!).
Make sure your article is actually attached, and hit the send button! The next task is to wait. Try to get started on a new project (or even something fun); this one is now out of your hands for the next 3-6 months. The next post will give you some tips on how to use the response productively.