“Publish or perish” is a phrase we often hear in relation to tenure, but a sparse job market glutted with applicants has brought it down to the graduate level. As Lehigh’s Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences told grad students and faculty at a panel on academic publishing, having publications has become absolutely necessary to compete in that market. As I’m sure you’ll agree, this is a daunting and disheartening statement. However, the panel members—Dean Donald Hall, Dr. Suzanne Edwards, Dr. Ed Whitley, and grad student Jenny Hyest—offered practical, manageable, and comforting advice to combat it.
On turning a seminar paper into an article:
A seminar paper is a great start to a publishable idea, but, whereas this hastily-written paper shows something interesting or new, an article needs to speak to the larger field, while also saying something new. In other words, that’s a cool idea, but so what? Why is this “something new” important? Rather than a “quibble” with a minor point in a text, engage with a larger point, using a solid critical framework. An article will be thoroughly researched and include the all-important literature review. However, as frustrating as this may be, the lit review should only be a very small portion of the paper—a few sentences—that shows that you really do know what you’re talking about, without sounding like you’re trying to prove yourself. In fact, much of this reading might end up in the footnotes, but the overall knowledge still provides a strong background to your larger argument. This is one reason why it may not be worth turning every successful seminar paper into an article: pick and choose what will help you in your field so that you can make a thorough argument. Part of what this argument will look like and how you will structure it will depend on the journal that you choose.
Choose a journal and revise a paper accordingly:
Every journal is different, so make sure you do some research before submitting your paper. What does an essay in this journal look like? What are the tonal conventions? What types of approaches, structure, and analysis are typical? Have a look at the editorial board for keys to interests and trends. Also look into how the journal handles the submission process. One way to do this is to go to the MLA directory of periodicals and scroll down to the bottom of the journal’s entry, where you’ll see how many papers are received and accepted (20-30% is pretty favorable) as well as the timeline for publication. Especially for grad students, single-author journals can be a good place to start: they are small, specific, and respectable.
After you submit your paper, there are several possibilities. I think we all know by now that rejection is the most common: this is comforting and frustrating at the same time. I’ve recently started having back-up cfps or journals on hand so that a rejection doesn’t end up being the end of a particular project. The thing to focus on is not the rejection itself but what can be done differently to try again. This can be as simple as finding a journal that is a better fit. If you do receive feedback from the journal, it is important to consider it (though not blindly) and to consult your advisor about what changes or revisions need to be made. If you do receive a revise-and-submit response, communication with the journal editor can help you negotiate conflicting or confusing advice from peer reviewers and make the process as smooth as possible. When you do make changes, be sure to put them through the same revision process as the original version.
Conferences are important!
How does a conference paper compare to a seminar paper or an article? It should be a small, yet general argument, and it should be comprised of just one or two pieces of basic evidence that you can explain thoroughly to an audience that may not be familiar with your texts or standpoint. A conference can also be a place to try out new ideas while also establishing your place in an academic community. This community can not only provide you with other like-minded academics with whom to exchange ideas, but can also open up a world of opportunities, including publishing opportunities.
Other things to consider:
While getting your name out there in terms of participating in a community and creating an online presence, you also want to be cautious. Do not post unpublished work online. This is not in the open-access, share-the-world’s-knowledge spirit, but you don’t want to be rejected because your work has already been “published” online. Sadly, you may also have to be careful about other academics “borrowing,” *cough, stealing* your work and publishing it on the sly. Share ideas, but be careful with whom you share written work.
Some additional resources:
- Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks, by Wendy Laura Belcher: the department owns this book as well as many others that may be helpful.
- AcWriMo: Academic Writing Month is NOW. A scholarly version of NaNoWriMo.