by Catherine Armstrong
This article is for postgraduate students and academics at the start of their career who have had little experience in trying to get their work published so far. It will offer advice on why getting your work published is important and how to ensure that you choose the best publication options.
It is very important for academics today to publish their work on a regular basis in order to ensure that they receive exposure in a very competitive world and improve their chances of promotion or getting a better job elsewhere. Also, recent government monitoring exercises of research output have placed the most significant emphasis on published work. If a piece of research has not been disseminated in print then it will sadly count for very little in these monitoring exercises. Although the parameters for the new REF exercise have not been finalised yet, as with the RAE, published work is likely to count a great deal towards defining your reputation and that of your department. On the downside, academic publishing is entering a difficult phase; many publishers are finding that their academic publishing sections are barely making enough money to stay afloat and so being able to prove that your book will work in the commercial marketplace is more important than ever. Publishers will not produce your book just for the good of the intellectual world any more.
What to publish
You need to decide which format would best suit your work. Do you have enough material to bring together into a monograph (i.e. a book-length piece of writing), or would your research be suited to an edited collection or a journal? This decision is best taken with the help of close advisors from your own field. They will know what would suit your work best and also know the state of your field and where your work would be most likely to be accepted for publication.
Where to publish
Choosing a publisher for a book or a particular journal to submit an article to is a challenging job and again will depend on the help of those with an expertise in your field. Taking publishers first, there will probably be around 10 or so who are very reputable in your field and have records of publishing books like yours in the last few years. You need to approach these first. There is no point sending a proposal for a specialist monograph to a publisher who deals with broad textbooks. Look at the books that have come out in the last 5 years that have most influenced your work: who published these books? Can you approach them? As mentioned in other articles on this site, the process of submitting a book proposal is a long and difficult one, so it takes patience and a ‘thick skin' to cope with the many rejection letters you are bound to receive. If you do get a number of rejections from your first batch, do not give up. Next try submitting your work to smaller, less well-known publishers.
Moving on to journals; again there will be a limited number of reputable journals in your field, with the most prestigious obviously being the most competitive. It is important to aim high and submit your article to the very best journals in your field. Ask your supervisor and colleagues for advice on the best route. In most fields printed journals are still seen as more reputable than online ones and hence your reputation will be enhanced more by print publication. This doesn't mean you should ignore online journals altogether, especially if you do not have your PhD yet. A publication in an online journal could be an excellent first step on the road to print publication and will certainly do your CV no harm at all.
How to publish
Getting a piece of work ready for publication is much easier if you have thought from the start about how to present it and have imagined it as a published piece from day one. Otherwise you will probably have a lot of work to do to reformat it from, say, a conference paper to an article or a thesis to a book. However if you have structured your piece for publication (for example in chapter by chapter format) then at this stage you will only need to remove obvious signals within the text such as ‘this thesis' or ‘this paper' that indicate it is not ready for publication. You also need to make sure you have matched your writing to the required editorial conventions. Each publisher and journal has different conventions so you will need to submit something slightly different each time you present your work for publication. For example, each will want the footnotes and bibliography done in a certain way, and if you have not followed this then it will count against you. This is a very time consuming part of the process, but worth it if it helps you to get your work published. When you submit your proposal or writing to a publisher or journal they will then send it out to ‘readers' who are reputable members of the academic community in your field. They will then recommend whether it is accepted or not. If it is accepted you may be required to make further changes to content or style at that stage, making the whole process a long one. However, the rewards are great in terms of academic prestige, potential career development and the sheer satisfaction of seeing your research in print.