Many articles targeted at academics about publishing are written from the perspective of the scientific disciplines but getting published in the humanities sector has its own specific challenges.
Publishing is fundamental to academic life. It is the most important method for disseminating your ideas and for sharing the key findings emerging from a piece of research or from a conference. It is part of your function as a scholar, but also plays a central role in your CV building and career development. You will not be taken seriously by job interview panels without publications to your name.
Your university also wants you to publish your work because its reputation is enhanced by employing scholars who are active in their field. Auditing the number and the reputation of publications is also a key part of the REF exercise.
What to publish?
Scholars can begin to publish even while still working on their PhD. It is never too early! Many academics in humanities disciplines begin by writing academic book reviews or conference reports. There are also online journals designed specifically to publish the work of postgraduates, such as Ex Historia, based at Exeter University, publishing articles in any field of History.
Later in your career, you will be invited to publish some of conference papers, perhaps in an edited collection or a special edition of a journal and, as you become more experienced, you will submit your work to international peer reviewed journals or prepare book length monograph projects.
Coping with rejection
Academic publishing at the highest level is very competitive. The most reputable presses and journals have far more material submitted to them than they can ever publish and so the assessment process is very competitive. You must prepare yourself for rejection. In many cases, peer reviewers who assess your publication will provide very useful feedback to help you to improve the project.
It is devastating to be told that your work is not good enough for publication, especially if you have worked on it for months, sometimes even years. But don’t take rejection to heart, instead try to build on the constructive criticism and improve your work for the future.
Collaboration: how different in humanities
In science publishing, junior scholars often co-publish with a more senior academic and thus build their reputation, but this is unusual in the humanities. However, this doesn’t mean that you should dismiss the option of collaborative publication altogether. Co-authoring a conference paper is increasingly common, especially in order to provide a cross-disciplinary or other comparative perspective. Sometimes co-authoring makes you more attractive to a publisher too. For example, if you work with a scholar from another part of the world, some publishers believe that this will broaden the audience for your work.
So here are some final tips on how to get published:
- Think about publication when you start a project. As you design and plan your PhD or any other research project, think of it in terms of ‘outputs’ (i.e. how is it going to be disseminated to a broader audience)
- Consider who you will publish with. Publishers do have different reputations but also have different areas of focus and expertise. A student textbook would be published elsewhere than an academic monograph.
- Do not be downhearted if you get a rejection; instead use the feedback to build a better piece of writing.
- Be patient: the process of submitting work to a journal or publisher, having them peer-review it and then come to a decision, can often take many weeks or months.