Next in our series on students and scholarly publishing, Steve Gentry (@StevenGentry15) offers practical advice on the nuts and bolts of submitting an article. His post is based on conversations with College Archivist Kent Randell and former editor of Provenance, Dr. Cheryl Oestreicher, in addition to his personal experience as a peer reviewer of the Museum of Science Fiction’s Journal of Science Fiction and work as a Graduate Student Assistant at Simmons College.
Although few experiences are more satisfying, going through the peer review process and publishing a work can be exceptionally daunting. Having recently published a journal article in Provenance, Journal of the Society of Georgia Archivists, I want to pass on some information that may be of use to future writers. By the end of this piece, I hope you’ll understand that flexibility, patience, confidence, and perseverance are key qualities needed to successfully endure the peer review process and, ultimately, publish a work. Furthermore, a strong editorial support network can be a major boon when editing drafts. Although this post focuses on publishing articles in a peer-reviewed journal, these lessons can also be applied to other, similar endeavors (e.g. publishing a book chapter).
After finishing the rough draft of your article, determining a few appropriate journals to publish in should be your next step given that serials have different expectations of what form (e.g. research articles versus case studies) and content (e.g. specific topics/themes) their submissions should assume. For example, my article is a case study examining the selective application of “more product, less process” to a moderately sized archival collection. This article therefore fits with the editorial statement of Provenance—the journal I was advised to submit to—as they desire “[archival] articles, case studies, and review essays for its upcoming issues.” Furthermore, Provenance also stated that “[novice authors] are especially encouraged to submit articles for consideration.” New writers should especially seek out similar journals at this stage due because of opportunities to receive further editorial assistance during the peer review process—which can contribute towards a well-polished paper! Regardless, this step—including choosing one journal—demands flexibility.
After selecting a specific journal (in addition to a few alternative serials), it’s almost time to submit your draft! At this point, however, it is strongly encouraged that you send the draft to several readers who have previously agreed to examine the work. Having outside editors (i.e. those not associated with the journal) will increase the chance of spotting (and correcting) both minor problems (e.g. grammatical errors) and major holes in your thesis. Although I personally relied on a single person—Kent Randell, College Archivist of St. Mary’s College of Maryland—to examine my article’s drafts, having additional reviewers who possess a variety of perspectives will ensure that any issues are addressed, or suggestions offered, before the paper is first submitted to your desired journal (these editorial relationships can, of course, continue beyond the work’s initial submission)![i]
After your draft has been scrutinized, and any existing errors addressed, you should feel confident enough to submit your work to the selected journal! It is at this point, however, that I encountered one of the most frustrating parts the peer review and publishing process: waiting. This stage can be frustratingly slow, emphasized by the fact that I spent nearly two months waiting to hear back from my peer reviewers (the editorial policy for the American Archivist states that you will probably be waiting for more than three months to hear back, so I guess I shouldn’t complain). So get cozy, stay patient, and maybe pick up a hobby—I’ve heard knitting is a pretty good way to pass the time. Just make sure to check your email account for updates about the status of your submission!
After enough time has passed, you will receive a “grade” based on your peer reviewers’ attitude concerning the work. According to Provenance’s editorial policy, these individuals will rate a submitted manuscript based on “appropriateness, scholarly worth, and clarity of writing,” and would ultimately “recommend acceptance, acceptance with noted revisions, or rejection” (other journals may use slightly different terms). Although receiving a grade of “acceptance” is the most desirable outcome, the “acceptance with noted revisions” (what I received after submitting my manuscript) or “rejection” recommendations should not be viewed negatively. The former simply means major editing is needed before the draft is accepted for publication, while the latter means submitting your manuscript to alternative serials and repeating the above process! Stay confident and persevere!
Regardless of the outcome—and especially if your manuscript has received grades akin to “acceptance” or “acceptance with noted revisions”—you will likely have to address specific comments articulated by your peer reviewers. You will probably experience mixed feelings at this stage, as you must contend with their (often) blunt and harsh comments despite now knowing your work possesses enough merit and value. As you persevere through this stage, bear in mind two important points: 1.) reviewers want to see your work improved, and blunt or harsh comments reflect this sentiment (you wouldn’t want these individuals to sugar-coat their feelings, right?); and 2.) these reviewers are your peers, meaning that you have final say concerning which suggestions will be implemented or rejected. After carefully considering their comments, make any necessary changes to your manuscript and re-submit it! You may even receive additional input from the journal’s editor during a second round of reviews—reflect on those suggestions, and keep moving forward! It will take confidence and flexibility to apply or reject different suggestions, but after several more months have passed (with revisions being made), you’ll get that coveted email stating that your manuscript is ready to be published!
At this point, my experience with the publishing and peer review process concluded in a fairly straightforward manner. I was provided one final opportunity to review a draft of the article—and request any further corrections—before the issue went to press. I then signed some paperwork (e.g. a “publishing agreement” concerning topics such as reproducing the article), created a short authorial biography, and let out a huge breath. It was done: this process, which had taken roughly six months from start to finish, was now completed![ii]
What I got out of this adventure was the necessity of having some key personal traits throughout the entire publishing process. Having an editorial team can go a long way to polishing your manuscript before it’s even submitted to a journal, although the peer review process ensures the work is thoroughly inspected and evaluated before becoming publicly available!
Publishing and going through the peer review process is a fascinating adventure that yields many rewards even as it demands much of your time and attention. Considering my experience and my recommendations will hopefully make this process far more enjoyable. So with all that being said…get out there, and make your mark!
Steven Gentry is an Archives Management student studying at Simmons College. He has worked or volunteered at Simmons College (as a Graduate Student Assistant), the Technical Information Center of FM Global, the Houghton Library, and the St. Mary’s College of Maryland Archives, among other institutions.
Aims & scope. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/provenance/aimsandscope.html
Author guidelines. (2016). Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/(ISSN)2330-1643/homepage/ForAuthors.html
Editorial policies. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://publish.lib.umd.edu/scifi/about/editorialPolicies#focusAndScope
Editorial policy. (2016). Retrieved from http://www2.archivists.org/american-archivist/editorialpolicy#.V00KuvkrJhF
Policies. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/provenance/policies.html
Provenance, Journal of the society of Georgia archivists. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/provenance/
Submissions. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://publish.lib.umd.edu/scifi/about/submissions#onlineSubmissions
[i] One of my mentors told me that he had three individuals review his manuscript prior to submitting the work to a journal.
[ii] Not including the time spent actually researching and writing the article’s first draft.