How to Get Published: A Beginner’s Guide

Following their much-in-demand joint talk at RMA’s 2013 Research Student Conference at the University of Southampton, Southampton’s own Professor Jeanice Brooks and the Managing Editor at Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, Loren Diclaudio offer our Blog readers a comprehensive summary of what the session covered. For those who were at the talk, this is a welcomed refresher. And for those who didn’t get a chance to hear them live, and are anxious about publishing for the first time…? Well, dig in!

This blog post is based upon a presentation given at the Royal Musical Association Research Student Conference at the University of Southampton, in January 2013.

What to publish

Most early career scholars seek publication for their thesis research.  Don’t forget other possibilities, though: spinoff projects you couldn’t include in the thesis, or work done for a master’s degree.  Offering to write reviews (of books, editions or recordings) for scholarly journals is a good way to get experience of publication, especially if you are evaluating the work anyway for your thesis research.

Where to publish

Many recent PhDs aim to publish the ‘book of the thesis’ but this may not be the best place to start. Publishers will not issue a contract to a first-time book author, and book preparation is a lengthy and demanding process.  Contributing a chapter to an edited collection can be a good experience, but here too you may experience long delays.  So for most early career scholars, it makes sense to begin by writing an article for a journal. Journals can produce your work relatively quickly, and if your work has been through the process of peer review this can be taken as an indicator of quality. Journal articles should represent an original contribution to knowledge, and they should treat a single argument in a concise manner.

Choosing a journal

Choose your journal wisely: is your work best suited to a specialist publication, or to a more general journal?  Consider the audience: does your research look to appeal to both academics and practitioners, for example? music scholars only, or an interdisciplinary readership? Ask lots of advice, from supervisors, senior colleagues, and members of your scholarly network who may be able to share their (good or bad) experiences of publishing with particular journals.

Once you’ve chosen your target journal, make sure you do your homework. Look at recent issues – what kinds of topics appear? how long are the articles,  do they include images or multimedia, what is the reference style? check into any copyright issues that may affect your work – will you be able to obtain permissions for illustrations, for example? Ask friendly readers (not your friends! but other scholars in the field) to read through your work to ensure it’s ready to submit.

Submit to only one journal at a time: though it might seem to make sense to send your work to several journals, the editing and peer review process – which involves senior academics giving up time to engage with your work – doesn’t allow for your research to be on several desks at once.  Scholarly journals insist on exclusivity and will not accept work that is under consideration elsewhere.

It’s important to follow the specified submission process, which can differ from journal to journal. Always consult the instructions for authors (included in the journal, or on its website), which will give you clear guidelines on the submission requirements and details on preparing your manuscript. Most journals practice anonymous review of submissions, so ensure you do not identify yourself as author in the text itself. Your article is more likely to be reviewed quickly if you’ve followed the submission requirements.

Finally, make sure you don’t submit bleeding chunks of your thesis or dissertation that require other sections in order to make sense. A journal article should be a standalone piece.

Online Publishing

The availability of journals in both print and online formats brings a wealth of opportunities. It’s worth considering how readers engage with articles in different environments. People can access journals electronically via tablet devices and smart phones, and discover new articles via social networking or blogs. Your article may benefit from the enhanced functions (eg sound clips) the online environment can provide.

The peer review process

Once you have submitted your article, which may be via an electronic submissions system, via email or in hard copy, you should receive an acknowledgement. The Editor(s) of the journal will evaluate your submission and send it for review by specialist readers. This can be a lengthy process, so be patient!  If you haven’t heard back after 4-6 months, it’s acceptable to inquire; but don’t badger, and wait until at least a few months have passed before asking where things stand.  After the editors have received reports from specialist readers, they will write with the outcome, which may be:

–          Acceptance with minor revisions;

–          Invitation to revise and resubmit for a further round of peer review;

–          Rejection

Dealing with reader reports

Most journals will justify their decision by providing a summary of specialist reviewers’ comments, or anonymised versions of their reports.  Consider all the comments carefully, however they make you feel.  If your article has been accepted or if you have been invited to revise and resubmit, incorporate revisions where these seem appropriate. Where a recommended revision would introduce errors or problems, you are not obliged to make it, but you must be able to justify this decision to the editors: when you resubmit, include a cover letter explaining the changes you have made as well as those you haven’t.

Abstracts, keywords and article titles

Reader behaviour is continually developing, particularly in the online environment. There is a great deal of research available, and readers need to choose how to spend their time. Nowadays those who read online tend to want content delivered to them, and may come across your articles via discussion lists, table of contents alerts, or social networking messages, for example. It’s therefore useful to consider how the abstract, article title and keywords can help to make your article stand out, and persuade people to give up their time to read it.

The abstract is the part of your article that will be available online to potential readers, and is often the place where those searching online will ‘land’. It should accurately summarise your article’s topic, arguments and conclusions so that readers can quickly understand what it is about, and you should make it as engaging as possible so they want to read more.

A good title can ensure your article is discoverable online, help your work to stand out within tables of contents, and make readers want to read it. You should ensure your title is informative, reflecting the content of your article, and that it is comprehensible to the general reader as well as attractive as possible.

Finally, providing helpful key words that accurately reflect the content can help ensure that your article is discoverable online.

Further advice

The Routledge, Taylor & Francis Author Services website provides a host of useful information on publishing in journals.