Tuesday, 11 January 2011

How to get published

I am again picking up Philip Nel's blog post.

There are lots of blogs written by authors, established and aspiring, on how to get published. But as Philip points out, in academic life we often forget that publishing your work does not come naturally. If you are lucky, you may have a mentor who can help you in many ways. Unlike Philip, I had tons of publications before I got my degree. In fact, my first serious academic article, published in 1977, was the very beginning of my PhD, published as The Magic Code. My mentor told me that it was easier to write a longish article and cut it down. This is what I have done ever since, so it was good advice: write without thinking about word count.

Most of my early article publications fed into the thesis. Just before I was leaving Russia I was invited to contribute to a special issue of a very obscure British journal, Labrys. Since I knew I would be leaving Russia soon, I did write a piece, otherwise it would not have been possible. To publish in a foreign journal was high treason. But when I came to Sweden I already had an international publication. I haven't re-read it for a long time; I guess it was pretty horrid. But I was proud then.

My dilemma was whether I should publish in Swedish or in English. Both markets were important. I still publish in Swedish occasionally, but whatever we think about it, English is the international scholarly language, and if you want to be known, English-language publications are imperative. Sometimes I have published related papers in the two languages.

I was rejected repeatedly by Nancy Chambers at Signal which made me upset but I see now why: I sent her my thesis chapters, and these are typically unpublishable. It takes a lot of work to turn a thesis chapter into an article. But an article can be developed into a thesis chapter. I was rejected a lot, and this is just a fact you need to accept. Our successful submissions are visible in our CVs, but the rejected ones aren't. There are two ways of dealing with a rejection: submit to another journal or sit down and think what was wrong with it. With luck, you have received good feedback from reviewers.

I have frequently been invited to contribute to a special issue of a journal or a collected volume, and that comes after you have become established. But often you see calls for papers, and if you can even remotedly fit your work into the topic - submit! If you are rejected, you can send it elsewhere.

It even happens that you have been asked to write a piece, and then the reviews are negative. That really hurts, but it's also part of the game.

The best message to young colleagues is: you must start somewhere; everybody has been rejected over and over again, just go on. Ask your mentor to read your stuff - their mentors have done it for them. Ask your friends to read you stuff and read theirs. Read a lot of published stuff. Make sure you have something interesting to say. 


Cecilia said...

Best Maria Nikolajeva!
Thank you for all your well-written, funny, informative and insightful blogposts - for all of them, and now for your careerpath-tracking. I have read some similar 'paths' in other blogs, and am left impressed and in awe from your struggles and achievements.
I read your blog while I sit at my computer, taking (too long) breaks from finishing the last weeks/months of my own PhD thesis. I am left with the impression that I actually get it, the advice and experiences on how to make, or try to make, an academic career.
But what is seldom discussed is the why, or if it is worthwhile. I am left wondering: How much have you loved - I mean really passionately loved - what you do, to get where you are today? The most common answer from most professors is; 'this is what I do best', or sometimes; 'this is the only thing I know how to do'.
But I don't buy this cheap answer, it is lazy. We all know how to do a lot of other stuff, and if we try them out, we will become good at those as well. So, I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter. I sit here with my almost-finished dissertation. And I can honestly say that I love it - it is funny and good - but I think I hate it more. And I hate how many hours and years it has robbed. And I constantly think of all the non-academic things that I will pursue when I finally hand it in to print.
But will I? How did you get stung by this tumbling, frustrating and exhausting but also fascinating, incredibly 'lärorik' and humbling career that is the acadmic one? I would love to hear your reflections on this.
Best, Cecilia

Maria Nikolajeva said...

This comment needs a thourough response, so I will do in in another post.

Anonymous said...

Dear Maria: It is very useful for me to know your experience. From now on,I should see rejections as a matter of common practice and try again. Thank you for sharing.
Hsiao-Hui Yang