So the follow-up to my advice of “write stuff down and send stuff out” is that the “send stuff out” part is neither random or straightforward. So “send stuff out” should really read “send stuff out well” – and this post is aimed at some of the ways that one can do that. There are two main elements of “well” that i want to address – doing a good job packaging something to send it, and choosing the write place to send it. This post will talk about journal articles specifically, and future posts will address the book process.
So, what do I mean by doing a good job packaging something to send out? Assume for a second that we have chosen an outlet to send the article to (discussed below). That outlet has a guideline word count, a proposed submission format (word or PDF, Chicago or Harvard citations, footnotes or endnotes), a submission process (ScholarOne or email), a preference on self-citations (omitting them, replacing name with ‘author,’ doing noting), anonymity, the inclusion of a cover letter or bio. Follow them. Every single one of them. Some journals desk reject things that miss these things, but even the ones that don’t are annoyed by it. It is worth the couple of hours of your time to follow the guidelines. Make sure that you have copyedited what you’re sending, or that a friend or advisor has. Use a working email address (preferably a professional one) to make the submission. You might think that I am being silly about this, but as a journal editor, many submissions violate one or all of these rules, and it matters in their chances for publication success. When you submit something, do tailor it to the place you are submitting it.
Which brings me to … how do I choose an outlet?
1) Pay attention to the formal remit of the journal. For example, I co-edit the International Feminist Journal of Politics. That journal has a very specific remit: it publishes articles that are international in scope, feminist in perspective, and address politics in substance. If your article does that, it may be a good outlet for your work. If your article is about domestic politics in one non-US state, does not address gender, and/or does not clearly describe its substance as political, then you should pick another journal. Many cases aren’t that clear, but many journals do have a specific statement of intent and remit, and submitting to them when your article does not meet their remit.
2) Pay attention to what sort of work the journal is likely to publish. If you want to make a political statement by sending post-positivist, critical analysis to a journal that has only previously published large-n statistical work, or take a chance that the journal changes its preferences for your work, more power to you – but know you are doing it for that reason rather than to increase your likelihood of actually getting published. If you are looking to increase your likelihood of actually getting published, choose a journal that publishes the sort of work that you are doing. Look at the table of contents of journals for the last three or four years. Look at the bibliography in your article. Look where your advisor has had the most success getting published. Look where the conversations in your field are taking place.
3) Correctly estimate the size of the idea. There are big, prestigious, generalist journals in the field that accept very few articles, ever. You might have an idea appropriate for that. I have known people whose first articles were that sort of idea. But not every idea is appropriate for that – not every idea is widely applicable, and not every idea has wide appeal. Not every idea is going to get three reviewers that say this is the 1% of articles this journal gets that is worth publishing. Some people suggest they are sending the article to that big journal ‘just for the reviews’ and expecting to get rejected – but that assumes that the generalist journal gives better reviews, which is not always the case. I don’t mean that you can know if a big, generalist journal is going to accept your article. But you can, I think, know if there’s not really a chance that they will – both in terms of the scope of the idea and the level of innovation in the work. Send some work to the big, generalist journals, but send some work to the places where they are more likely to contribute to the conversation (after all, there are some quite well-ranked subfield journals).
4) Write for the audience, not for the journal. If you write an article that a particular journal should publish, looking at getting published there, and something weird happens, you do not want the article to be useless because the article was so tailored for that journal that it can’t be resubmitted elsewhere. While you should tailor for a journal, the article should not be limited in its audience to a particular journal. Along those lines, know that journal rank does not always dictation the citation count of a piece, and that the field is increasingly privileging citation count. So, for example, my co-blogger and sometimes co-author J. Samuel Barkin’s publication record shows that his second highest-cited article is published by International Studies Review – it has about ten times the citations of his article published by International Studies Quarterly, despite the fact that we all know that the impact factor of the latter is significantly higher than the former.
5) Know your incentive system. Know where you work, or where you aspire to work, and what they value. You will usually need to meet the standards in order to have a say in changing them. I know someone whose job context means that writing book reviews relatively frequently keeps him engaged in the literature of his research, and makes his university consider him research-active. I know other people who work places where book reviews are neutral or a net-negative on their publication records. Some places value interdisciplinary work (for example, work published in high-ranking journals in other disciplines, like gender studies or geography), while others require publication in disciplinary journals exclusively. Some focus on journal impact factor, while others focus on citation count. Some are more interested in the level of wide reading and citing of articles, while others are more interested in the volume of articles. If you are a PhD student or recent graduate on the job market, knowing those variabilities means you need to make some choices about the sort of job to which your CV will be most marketable. That doesn’t mean not to apply widely, but not knowing some of these trade-offs might mean that your applications fall through all of the cracks. If you are on the tenure- or lecturer- track, then it is important to think about the ways that your work is judged as you strategize where to send it.
6) Know what you can about the place to which you are sending your work. Different journals have wildly different turnaround times, different desk reject rates, different quality of editorial letters, different backlog lengths, different uses of online first publication, etc. While the scholarly preferences of good journal editors do not influence their openness to your work, there are a wide variety of other factors in journal editorship that make each place unique. Sometimes, though rarely, major journals in the field get a high enough turnaround time or a high enough backlog that sending things to those journals becomes problematic. While that may seem unknowable early in your career, there are a number of experienced people in the field who can act as mentors and provide a fair amount of this information without a lot of trouble, and are willing to. This will be discussed in another post about asking questions, but the punchline is that there is knowledge to be had about journals before you commit to sending your stuff there, and much of that knowledge is available for the asking.
For me, these are a number of the factors that are important in choosing outlets, which is an important part of “send stuff out … ” well.