NETWORKING YOUR JOURNAL ARTICLE TO PUBLICATION
Mitch Allen, Publisher, Left Coast Press, Inc.
The instructions are right there on the journal website. Second tab on the left. Click a couple of buttons, upload your abstract, your article, type in all that annoying contact information then wait for the confirmation to show up in your inbox. “Your article has been received, we will respond as soon as the editorial team has a chance to review it.”
And then you wait.
A month. Sometimes two. Sometimes more. Eventually, the answer comes back in an impersonal email from the editor:
Yes!!… No… Or, most commonly “revise and resubmit,” along with three sets of obtuse comments that suggest conflicting strategies for you to improve the article before resubmitting it. No wonder the journal submission process [note the term used to describe it] is so offensive to most young scholars. Yet you can’t avoid the game and succeed in the academy. Nor do you want to, you want your colleagues to read about the research that has you so excited. There must be a better way.
It’s a way that every qualitative researcher will understand instantly. It stems from a single insight: the decision to accept or reject an article is usually made by a person, a human, a single individual. A journal editor. One journal editor I know sings with her civic choir. Another is fanatical about Rottweilers. Pants go on one leg at a time. Good days, bad days. In short, they’re human. Same as you.
With this understanding, you the qualitative researcher are suddenly put in a position of strength. Who knows better how to elicit what someone is thinking (about your article, in this case) than a good qualitative researcher? All those networking, interactive, and sociability skills you learned in grad school and honed in the field can be brought to play in the service of advancing your career.
The Journal editor is almost always the final decisionmaker on which articles to publish. I have this on good authority, having launched several dozens journals for three publishers. The editor is where the buck stops. Those peer reviews? Usually just advisory. Why not make the journal submission gauntlet process interactive, collaborative, and mutually educative? In short, qualitative.
Start the process not with a finished journal article seeking a home, but with a title, an abstract, and a conversation. Rather than dashing off the first two just before pushing the Submit button, take some time and polish them. Then start the conversation with the journal editor. How? At a professional conference, via an email inquiry, or simply pick up the phone. If that’s too intimidating, use an intermediary: ask a member of the editorial board whom you know, a colleague in the editor’s department, or one of your mentors to introduce you.
“Would you be your reaction to submission of an article based on this title and abstract? What would make the idea more attractive to your journal’s readers?” Ask her to help you shape the piece so it best fits her vision of her journal. Turn the editor into your collaborator, not your judge. In partnership with the editor, you’re more likely to craft a piece that will be looked upon favorably.
You still need to write a good article, but your buddy the editor is more likely to give you useful answers to questions as you develop the piece. When you get those contradictory peer reviews back, she is more likely to give you guidance on which of the comments is important for revising the piece. And, when it’s time for a final decision, she’s more likely to send the email that says “Yes!!”
Pretty Machiavellian of you, isn’t it? Not so fast. A relationship usually involves mutual assistance. You’re much more likely to get help if you’ve already provided services to the overburdened journal editor. Send her your resume and ask to review articles for the journal. When the inevitable article comes, do thorough, helpful reviews. Repost Tables of Contents on your own social media pages when each issue comes out. And practice simple acts of kindness. If you read an article in the publication that has an impact on you and your work, send a brief note to the editor telling her so. Journal editors get lots of complaints, but rarely get fan letters.
It’s a social process. Use those skills you’ve developed as qualitative researchers to help build your publications record.
© Mitch Allen, 2014