copyright © 2004-2007 by Mary Bucholtz, University of California, Santa Barbara
These comments draw on both my personal experiences as an author and my professional roles as a journal editor and book series editor, with a special focus on common mistakes of first-time authors. You probably need to publish in order to get a job or tenure, which is increasingly the case even at schools whose primary mission is teaching. How much you should publish and where you should publish depend on the idiosyncrasies of your department: ask your colleagues, mentors, and people at comparable institutions. A rule of thumb: More is always better. Not more pages, more publications (of good quality, of course). So if you have a long article (i.e., longer than about 60 double-spaced manuscript pages, seriously consider splitting it into two shorter articles.
Producing a manuscript
Don't compare yourself to other people. Everyone has their own writing biography, and you can't tell from looking at a person's CV how many failures and wrong turns they took in their publishing career. If your best friend has five articles and you have one or none, work on building your publication record, but don't feel inadequate; although numbers do matter, in most hiring and tenure situations you're being evaluated on the quality of your ideas and your scholarly potential as well as the quantity of publications you've already produced. Abandon perfectionism. Academic writing is understood as a contribution to an ongoing intellectual dialogue; it's not the last word on the subject. Present your ideas as clearly as you can, address any weaknesses to the best of your ability, and then let it go. However, if you tend not to be careful enough as a writer, work to ensure that you don't send out sloppy work. Know yourself. You should indulge your own writing style to the extent that it works for you rather than trying to fight it. Don't hate yourself if you seem to write best under pressure; just recognize that so you can plan for it. If you write slowly, don't beat yourself up, just give yourself an early start. Allow yourself to do whatever weird thing it takes to get your writing done: buy yourself new office supplies, lock yourself in the bathroom, snack, go for a walk, talk obsessively about your project to your friends. One scholar I know talks about the wall of pain she confronts before beginning to write. If you have a wall of pain, don't pretend it's not or shouldn't be there; plan for it in your writing schedule. Use what you write. Articles can and should emerge from conference papers and often don't. They can also sometimes emerge from ideas you develop in the course of teaching; ideally, your teaching and research will inform and inspire each other. Don't let the writing you've done go to waste; very few ideas aren't worth pursuing at all, although they may take some time to develop. Keep a file of writing ideas so that the pipeline keeps flowing. Set your publishing agenda. Don't just respond to external deadlines or react to others' projects, although you should treat these as stimuli to produce your work. Instead, figure out your longterm research plan and set your own personal deadlines to achieve it (although you can and should deviate from it or even revise it altogether; just be aware you're doing so).
Show people your work. Many people are self-conscious or don't want to trouble overworked colleagues and mentors. People are busy, so respect their time and ask before giving them something to read. But find a few people you can trust to give you good feedback and approach them, with plenty of lead time. I strongly recommend writing partners: people at the same level as you in generally related (but not necessarily identical) areas of research who agree to meet regularly and exchange comments and suggestions. Don't take criticism personally. This is what hinders a lot of very promising scholars from sending out their work in a timely fashion. Criticism is part of academic life. In blind review, it can be a bit unpleasant; people are often very frank, and sometimes blunt. Be willing to make revisions; even very senior scholars may be asked to make extensive revisions in content and style. Don't assume that you're right and the reviewer is wrong, and don't dismiss conflicting reviews. Bear in mind that reviewers are identifying problems and offering potential, not mandatory, solutions; often, the solutions they have in mind involve no more than adding a clarifying word or sentence. Conversely, don't conclude that you're stupid and should give up if you're asked to make extensive revisions. And don't assume that the reviewer's word is final; the editor can often let you know how seriously to take criticism that is of concern to you. Most authors just starting out will tend to be asked to revise and resubmit until they master the highly specialized genre of the academic journal article. "Revise and resubmit" means just that. If an editor asks you to revise and resubmit a manuscript (the usual decision on a journal submission), do it! Most authors don't, but they're missing an important opportunity. If an editor and reviewers take the time to make detailed comments on your work, they're already invested in it. For this reason, often the revise-and-resubmit process goes more rapidly than an initial review. Expect rejection and keep trying. Like criticism, rejection is part of academic life. If you're not rejected at least occasionally in your academic career, you may not be setting your publishing sights high enough. If your paper is rejected, you should revise it to incorporate at least some of the reviewers' comments and then send it out to another journal as soon as possible. Don't delay; your paper will not improve with age. Create a publishing pipeline. Keep your publishing program moving. There are multiple stages to publication and each one can take a long time. It's typical for manuscripts to take several months to be reviewed and six months to a year (or more) to be published after acceptance. Try to have several projects in the works at different stages: (1) ideas, (2) research, (3) conference papers and/or manuscript drafts, (5) manuscripts under submission, (6) forthcoming publications, (7) published work.
Where to publish
Create your own publishing opportunities. Look for calls for papers, propose special issues or edited volumes (for example, based on a conference panel that you've organized). If you've got a paper and you don't know where to send it, ask around, especially an editor or more senior member of your field. On the other hand, be selective about where you publish. Don't seize the first opportunity that comes your way; it may not be the best forum for your work. In particular, it's easy to focus your energies on book chapters, proceedings papers, or texts designed for teaching purposes. It's good to have some publications of this kind, but bear in mind that at most institutions, even those focused primarily on teaching, the gold standard for publications at hiring and tenure time is the peer-reviewed article (and/or book). If you're not sure what your institution's view is, ask. Departments can vary widely on this issue. (In some fields and departments, for example, peer-reviewed book chapters are seen as equivalent to journal articles; in others they're less highly valued.) Generally submit from the top down, not the bottom up. Start as high as you reasonably can in the journal hierarchy; if you're rejected you can go to the next journal on the list, but if you're accepted at a lower-tier journal it's considered very bad form to pull the manuscript and send it elsewhere. Don't bury your work, and don't sell it short. If you're not sure how high you should aim (or what the hierarchy is in your field), ask a trusted senior person. In general, the more specialized the journal, the lower it falls in the rankings (although there are important exceptions). As a rough rule, the more words there are in the title, the lower the journal is ranked (because it's more specialized). Journals associated with major university presses tend to be higher-ranked than journals published by smaller or more specialized presses. There are "objective" ranking systems of various kinds, based on things like citation numbers and rejection rates, but these matter less than the journal's reputation in the field, so ask around. The top journal in your field is typically the one associated with the national association of your discipline (not your specialty): for sociolinguists, this would probably be Language; for linguistic anthropologists, American Anthropologist. Most scholars, including many extremely well-respected and well-published researchers, never publish in their discipline's top journal for various reasons, so don't expect to do so (at least not right away).
How to publish
Read the journal (or book series) before you submit a manuscript. Take its mission statement seriously: if it says it doesn't publish theoretical pieces, don't send one. If you have any doubts, contact the editor before sending the manuscript. And when you're writing, be aware of your audience; don't force them to adapt to your issues. Instead, address theirs substantively and explicitly. This means using the key concepts and terms circulating in the journal or book series, citing research in the field (and perhaps published in the journal), and framing your work as a contribution to the issues of concern to the readership. Follow submission guidelines. Don't submit an overlong manuscript; do not violate word limits. Follow the style guidelines; the editor will be very grateful. In some cases, editors will return unread any manuscripts that don't conform to style guidelines and word limits. And don't forget that it is considered unethical to submit a manuscript to more than one publisher at a time (this rule does not apply to book proposals). Approach editors unofficially about your project, especially a book project. They can't make any commitment based on your conversation, but you can let them know your proposal or manuscript is coming and you can get useful information (including that your book isn't appropriate for them). Don't hesitate to email the editor if you're not sure; most editors will be glad to have the chance to redirect an inappropriate manuscript to another outlet. Acquisition editors attend conferences and spend a lot of time at their press's book exhibit waiting for people to approach them with project ideas; you can also email the acquisition editor for your discipline. If your work is interdisciplinary, choose a primary audience and approach the editor for that field. Look at examples of successful book proposals. It really helps to see what they look like. Ask a friend, colleague, or mentor to share one. There are also books to help you through the academic publication process, such as The Handbook for Academic Authors by Beth Luey and Getting It Published by William Germano.
Start early. Publish as a grad student, ideally. If you didn't, then start now, especially if you need a book for tenure. And whatever you do, do not change your project from your dissertation research--it will set you back for the amount of time it took you to do your dissertation, and you'll be in danger of coming up for tenure with nothing in hand. Whatever you do, make writing part of your life, not an exceptional activity. It gets easier--and (even) more enjoyable--over time.
University of California, Santa Barbara | College of Letters and Science | Department of Linguistics
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