The other title for this post was ‘How not to piss off editors’ – because you shouldn’t!
There have been several recent posts at other blogs about what journal editors look for in submissions, and what the most likely grounds for rejection are. This post comes from another angle. It is a plea for a basic level of etiquette when submitting your work for consideration.
Academia is a small world. People will remember you for an excellent essay contribution and prompt responses and rewrites; they will remember you even better if you mess them around. Stories of your evil deeds will be passed around at every opportunity, amplifying in blackguarded-ness with each telling.
Every time I’m in the midst of editing a publication, I vent to unfortunate colleagues who happen to be nearby. I’ve been meaning to put these vents together in a document that will, hopefully, be useful (for you) as well as therapeutic (for me). I’ve edited a number of books (3), special issues of journals (5), and was the co-editor for Taylor & Francis’ Journal of Intercultural Studies for about 5 years. I’m now on the journal’s editorial advisory board.
Remember that these points below will only help your submission if it is of sound mind and body, and isn’t an ill-conceived rant, mere string of quotations, or afflicted by lack of critical insight.
I’m also speaking from my experiences, which are grounded in the social sciences and humanities; YMMV.
1. Meet deadlines
- This sounds basic, right? It’s also the issue that spawns the most headaches, weeping, and diatribes. If people would keep it as simple as it is, there would be no problem. Got a set of deadlines? STICK TO THEM. The editor is (usually) human and has a life. S/he set deadlines so the workload will be feasible in the lead-up to handing over an entire manuscript to the publisher. If you drag your feet and don’t hand things over till the last minute, who’s shafted? Possibly you if the editor gets too annoyed and just drops your contribution entirely, but it’s usually the editor and other production staff who have to work like the blazes to accommodate your tardy work.
- When you submit your final copy, make sure it’s your FINAL COPY. Don’t keep fiddling with it, or only do your proofreading after you’ve hit “Send”. Editors have enough to keep track of without your final1, final2, and final3 versions.
- Related to the deadlines issue: If you’re asked to submit something for consideration and you indicate that you will, then DO. Yes, I know that’s another point that sounds so basic it makes your teeth hurt. Failure to follow through happens a lot; it’s not unforgivable. Life’s crises can get in the way, the essay turns out not to fit the collection or issue as first envisaged, or time management leaves the building. The key is to tell the editor ASAP. ASAP, people, so that a substitute essay can be solicited and put through the review process. I’m thinking in particular here about special issue journals where there’s not so much lee-way with substituting material. If you leave it till the last minute to let the editor know you’re not coughing up, they’re left with a big old hole in the publication, super-tight deadlines, and a deep impulse to impugn your name should they ever hear/see it again.
2. Research where you’d like to publish
There are a heap of journals and presses out there. It’s up to you to make the most of your content by placing it in a reputable, strong publication. Particularly in the Brave New World of Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) and similar schemes, the selection of publication sites becomes even more important because some will become – officially – more worthwhile than others. A basic list of considerations:
- Make sure you are submitting to a place that will give quality exposure to your work. Don’t do it because it might be easy to get in there. If it’s easy to get in, there’s probably a trade-off.
- Check things like length of article. Don’t submit something that’s 10K words when the journal asks for between 5-6K. Part of your skill as an academic should include writing to length. No, your work isn’t so important that you need more room than anyone else.
- See Point 3 – it’s so very important.
3. Slavishly follow house or journal styles
Yes, it’s a pain. Yes, it takes a long time. Just do it. It’s part of being an academic, and (for me) you’re never enough of a Big Name that you can get away with handing over something that needs a total work-over. Sure, your stuff may still be sought after, but you’ll incur much impugning of your name.
4. Check exclusivity
To save everyone much pain and angst, make sure you find out the exclusivity requirements of the publication to which you are submitting.
Chances are, journals are only interested in original, unpublished work. Books of essays may take previously published work if it’s significantly revised/worked up for the publication. Be particularly aware of publishing in conference proceedings or blogs if you want to take that same paper (more or less) for further publication. This may not be acceptable to many journals and books.
5. Engage with reviewers’ comments constructively
Don’t whinge when you get your editorial feedback or referees’ reports. Well, don’t whinge to the editor, anyway; you can sound off all you want to your mates. In my experience, no-one’s work escapes amendments and polishing. All the refereeing processes I’ve done are double-blind peer review (i.e. authors don’t know who has assessed their work, assessors don’t know who the authors are) and, as a general guide, the longer and more involved the review, the more constructive it is for the author and editor. Shorter responses are often more difficult to deal with.
In short: If someone’s gone to a lot of trouble to work through your piece and suggest improvement, take this as a Good Thing and step up to make the work better.
If you think a reviewer is being particularly unfair, take it up with the editor. Otherwise, suck it up, even if it’s mildly ranty and (you think it’s) misguided. Not all suggestions have to be taken on board, but you should think about the points that are brought up, and clarify if necessary. It’s good practice for when someone pillories your work later down the track – ‘How much do I need to take on board?’, ‘Is this a fruitcake’s response?’, etc. Chances are that even ranty-rants have a kernel of constructiveness in them.
6. Don’t treat your editor as your research assistant
- Seeking permission to reproduce images/tables/whatever is YOUR job. Consulting with the editor about the process is fine, but the actual doing is all yours.
- Don’t leave unfinished references or incomplete quotations because you assume the editor will know the publication. This earns many anger-points.
- See Point 3 about following house/journal styles. In the end, someone has to do it. If not you, then who?
- Almost all major publications have moved to electronic submission of essays, but some still ask for (several copies of) your final piece. If so, make the copies. Send them on time. That’s it.
7. Proofread, proofread, proofread
Proofreading is a fundamental element of good academic submission behaviour. While I doubt that postgraduate students (or even staff!) can afford a professional proofreader for everything they do, it’s always worth running your work past someone else’s eyes to make sure you haven’t ‘normalised’ mistakes because you’ve been working on it too closely. It’s also a very good way to start building your critical collegial network; proofing each other’s articles leads to incredibly valuable links for future grant application vetting, book manuscript assessment, etc.
Having a good, honest-but-kind, critical reader for your work is a wonderful thing. Just make sure their reading of your work and quality of commentary is reciprocated by you!
Out of all this rambling, if you only take away one point, let it be this:
Be professional and considerate.
It can take you a long way.
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Hi and hopefully I’m not too late as I’ve just come across this excellent piece of advice.
Can I ask how an editor would view a paper from a sole author not affiliated with a University? Would they still review it as if the author was affiliated or is it a “thanks but no thanks scenario”? The lack of an academic email address seems glaring….
From my point of view, the quality of the paper is the key point. We’ve sent out articles for review that were by “independent researchers” (i.e. not affiliated with a university), and I’ve collaborated several times with a superb independent scholar. So, that in itself wouldn’t be a sticking point.
I do understand the seeming exile that having no institutional affiliation can bring. Is there the possibility of requesting an ‘honorary scholar’ status with one of your previous institutions? The material commitment of the institution is usually (shared) office space, library access, and an email address – that is, not much.
Well that’s good news on the independent researcher front and the honorary scholar approach is something I will check out.
Thank you for the prompt reply and helpful advice!
I’m wondering what your thoughts are on multiple book reviews in the one journal. If the editor is friendly and asks if you would like to do another, is it wise to say “yes”?
Hi Elizabeth – I think that would depend on: a) how much you would like to review – and own! – the book in question, and b) whether you have time to do it! Reviewing books can be time-consuming and, on the Australian academic scene at least, not something you need that much on your CV. I would do it if you think you’d like to review the book, but don’t do it out of some sense of obligation to the editor (you’re already doing one!). Hope that helps!
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These are good thoughts — thank you!