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Academic publishing query letters: should you bother? by Joanna Hare
D-41-notes

Joanna Hare is currently a Subject Librarian at City University of Hong Kong. As a research-practitioner, Joanna’s interests include information and digital literacy, research support for Humanities and the Arts, and innovative models of customer service. She continues Dave Hare’s series blog posts in the AcWriMo 2016 series.

dave_3_1As a librarian, I often attend presentations by representatives of academic publishers about ‘how to get published.’ These usually cover broad, basic advice like checking the journal’s scope before making a submission and using the correct academic style. One thing that is mentioned is to ‘pitch’ your article to the editor directly via a query letter. Book authors use query letters and academics can use them too. These letters typically include a brief (usually one to two paragraphs) synopsis of your academic writing, which is then sent to the journal’s editor asking if it is something they might publish. You can see a sample here.

Query letters are work. Thinking about them prompted me to reflect on whether they are actually worth the effort and if the letters actually do lead to higher publication rates. To find out, I contacted the editors of a few of the highest ranked Communication journals according to the Scimago Journal Rankings (SJR) and asked them about their thoughts on query letters:  

Steve Jones, editor of New Media and Society, does not mind receiving query letters. However, he makes it clear that he ‘cannot “pre-review” manuscripts on the basis of a query, which is something writers often seem to want’. Jones adds that ‘there is no advantage to sending a query letter, ultimately, unless an author is truly uncertain about whether a manuscript’s topic is or isn’t a fit with the journal.’

Jonathon Hess, editor of Communication Education, is ‘happy to get letters from people who are familiar with the journal… and are asking about specifics that couldn’t be answered by looking online.  But general emails pitching papers for which it’s clear the author has no familiarity with the journal aren’t a good use of my time.’ Hess goes on to say that if after reading the journal’s scope statement the author is still unsure if their work is suitable, he would ‘prefer that she or he just submit the article rather than sending an inquiry.  It’s much easier for me to see the paper and offer a clear response than to try to guess based on a description. I screen most submissions within a week, so authors will find out promptly if the paper doesn’t fit or isn’t strong enough for review.’

Tuen A. van Dijk, editor of Discourse Studies, says he does not receive query letters that often, which is perhaps due to his journal’s practice of pre-review: ‘prospective authors get an automatic reply when they submit a paper, in which they are asked to pre-review their own paper on the basis of very detailed criteria of the journals… so they already know what kinds of paper we publish or not.’

Rasmus Nielsen, editor of The International Journal of Press/Politics (IJPP), says ‘the majority of the query letters I receive are not very helpful, because they either (a) reflect that the author has not actually read the journal, or just consulted our aim and scope or (b) is trying to flog a sub-standard manuscript. A minority of query letters are interesting and useful for me, but in that case almost always reflect the fact that the author already knows that a given manuscript may not be a good fit for IJPP.’ ’

So, what should you do?

It is clear from these responses that if you only do one thing before reaching out to an editor prior to submitting your article it is:

Read the journal’s aims and scope first!

An editor’s receptiveness to a query letter has a lot to do with personal preference, with most stating that they do not mind receiving letters. However, it is critical that you demonstrate that you have an understanding of what the journal is about. You can make this clear in your letter (for example, ‘I have read your journal’s aims and scope and my work fits these guidelines for reasons A, B and C’).

If you are not already very familiar with the journal you are submitting to, I would recommend going further than reading the aims and scope to reading several of the articles published in the journal. This will give you an idea of the writing style and topics covered, and how your article would fit in an overall volume. Referring to specific articles in your email to the editor is also evidence that you are familiar with the journal and committed to publishing with them.

A caveat: in my experience it can be worth reaching out to the editor for advice on writing an article if they are producing a ‘special edition’ of the journal, such as a special topic or an edition dedicated to a recent conference. The scope and type of article accepted for special editions may be slightly different and the editor might be able to guide you in a direction that is more likely to lead to publication. But of course, check the website to make sure this information isn’t already easily available!

Thank you to the editors who provided valuable advice for this post.

dave_3_2

A simple start to a publishing strategy: journal lists by Dave Hare
D-41-notes

Dave Hare is currently a part-time lecturer at City University of Hong Kong. His research work concerns film studies, specifically contemporary cinema stereoscopy. This is his second blog post in the AcWriMo 2016 series.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14594792869/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14594792869/

So, following last week’s post, you’ve decided to use AcWriMo to finalise and submit your work to a journal. The next thing to do, according to almost every academic blog ever, is to create a ‘publishing strategy’ or ‘publishing agenda’. You can read about strategies and agendas here, here, here, here, here and here, and also here (and basically everywhere else*).

Publishing strategies don’t always come about in the prescribed way. For me, it was made clear in a job rejection email that I wasn’t being considered for a position because I didn’t have enough Arts & Humanities Citation Index (A&HCI) and Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) publications. I knew that I needed more work published, but I applied for the job anyway and (Surprise) got rejected. The upside of that downside was that I got specific feedback on how to shape my publishing strategy: to look to journal ranking lists, which university departments obviously use to gauge job candidates (as well as a bunch of other stuff, as in exchange knowledge, apply for funding grants, evaluate staff performance, build careers etc.).

There are issues, however, with this type of publication strategy. Tseen Khoo, one half of The Research Whisperer blog team, discussed a few of these issues in a post back in 2014. She concluded the post with the thought that ‘you may still end up “publishing to appease” every so often, but don’t let it be your life’; which is to say there are particular times to focus your attention on journals that others favour. For me, given the response to my job application, the time is now.

For the uninitiated, journal ranking lists are LONG. The A&HCI, for example, is almost 200 titles across multiple fields of study. So, you need to start by filtering out irrelevant titles. A friendly academic librarian can help you with this task; I know, because one helped me. Here is a summary of that librarian’s advice:

  • Step one: Create a spreadsheet to list the journal titles you are going to target for your publications. The spreadsheet should include all the relevant information about the journals you plan to target, such as the name, links to the Aims and Scope, recommended article word counts and a ‘Notes/Comments’ column for any extra details about the vibe of the journal.
  • Step two: Skim the title lists to identify titles relevant to your field. My field is contemporary cinematic stereoscopy, so keeping my outlook broad I selected any titles that seemed to be about film or media studies, as my work spans both aesthetic and industrial aspects of contemporary cinematic stereoscopy.
  • Step three: As you find a title that seems relevant, visit the journal website and find their ‘Aims and Scopeinformation. This should tell you if your work will fit in the existing scope of the journal. Add any titles that seem promising to your spreadsheet. At this stage be prepared to be both disappointed and surprised: you may find that the well-regarded journal you were hoping to publish in is actually not ideal, while the scope of journals you are less familiar with might end up being the perfect fit.
  • Step four (optional): Email the editor/s of the journal/s and ask if your work sounds appropriate for their publication (more on query letters in the coming weeks). Suffice to say this email should be short and to the point, with a brief description of your work. A typical response to this email will (1) note that your work is interesting and (2) that you should submit it for consideration, providing that (3) you have followed the journal’s style guide. It may not provide too much information, but it might just help you decide which journal you’ll submit to first.

After following these steps, my list included about 25 relevant journals, five of which stood out as being clear targets. In addition to these, I also included journals that might be useful for future research. Now, I am ready to get on with the task of editing, re-writing, and proofreading. A quick note for those AcWriMo-journal-writing peeps that already have a publishing strategy: Your target journals may have posted a recent call for papers, redefined their aims or have a new editorial board. A quick check to see if journals have changed is a good idea before settling down to write.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3903230097/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3903230097/

Forming a publishing strategy (or agenda), conducting research into a journal index, and creating lists, all count toward your AcWriMo success as well as the goal of journal article publication. If you’re doing these tasks, please share your experiences on Twitter and Facebook using the AcWriMo hashtag.

*because the interwebs is loaded with academic blogs talking about strategies … including this one.

Storify for Dec 11 #AcWri chat hosted by Dr Jeremy Segrott
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Be Inspired Out of Procrastination by Vivian Lam
infinity clock


infinity clockVivian Lam, a student at the City University of Hong Kong, is an intern at PhD2Published.

It is important to end procrastination through self-discipline and dedication, but you know what’s better? Be inspired from your time of procrastination and start working again not because you have to, but that you want to. This past week I have been browsing through the internet to see advice on how to end procrastination and there are literally hundreds of suggestions. However, only a handful of them focus on finding the inspiration we need. Below are a few that stands out.

Freewriting

When you are in the middle of procrastinating, or if you have the urge to start, give yourself five minutes to write non-stop about whatever. Most people recommend writing about what you are working on, maybe a short summary of your thesis or a rationale on why your research is worth the time. This method resolves the existential crisis all writers – no matter what kind – have faced at some point. We have all found ourselves, deep in a writing project, wondering about the value of what we are doing. Use some time to convince yourself that what you are doing is important and explain to yourself why it is important. Freewriting is not only an awesome way to motivate yourself, it is a chance for us to generate new ideas or access the ones buried deep in our mind that we have forgotten.

Relax

I have never actually tried this, since relaxing seems to defy the sole principle of ending procrastination, but a lot of people are suggesting this, so it must work for some of them. Basically, if you feel stressed out from procrastinating over an important task, take a break. You can watch some TV, listen to music, or take a walk. Personally I recommend staying away from the internet, or your electronics in general, for this to work. Do not relax by browsing BuzzFeed articles your Facebook friends share or watching funny cat videos on YouTube. Soon one article will turn into ten and the cat videos will eventually take you to the weird part of YouTube that you both don’t understand and don’t want to leave (I’m speaking from experience here, guys). The internet is your best friend only when you have time to waste.

Read

This is something I have tried, and failed at spectacularly, but again, someone suggests it and says it works, so it probably does for some. If you get stuck, find a book to read. I did this, twice, when I was doing a short fiction assignment. The first time, I picked up a novel I had just bought and ended up not putting it down for 3 hours. The second time I learned from my mistake and picked up a novel I had already read twice before. That time resulted in my deleting two thirds of what I wrote that day since most of it resembles that novel too much. Some say that, if you want inspiration through reading, you need to read something of a completely different genre than what you are writing. Novels are acceptable when you are working on your research paper, not when you are writing short stories. For fiction writing projects, try reading any kind of non-fiction. This helps to not distract you from your work while inspiring you at the same time.

Talk

Talk to anyone about what you are working on: explain your thesis to your parents during family dinners; call up your best friend and rant about how much procrastination sucks and proceed to tell them what you are procrastinating over. It may freak your friends and family out, or it may interest them. The point is you let people know what you are doing. If someone is interested, they may raise questions you have never thought of before or give – sometimes awful – suggestions that will help crush writer’s block. A lot of lightbulb moments happen when someone unintentionally says the right thing, even if it’s just a stupid joke at your expense. Alternatively, if you talk to too many people and absolutely no one is interested, this is a sign you should reconsider your entire project life 😉

Can Academic Writers Treat Procrastination the Same Way as Creative Writers? by Vivian Lam
infinity clock


infinity clockVivian Lam, a student at the City University of Hong Kong, is an intern at PhD2Published.

Being an intern at PhD2Published means in the past few months, I’ve read more pieces on academic writing than my entire three years in the university combined. Many of what I have read involves investigating the problem of procrastination. I can’t help but notice that academic writers and creative writers hold very different beliefs when it comes to that problem. Some people are calling for academics to cease thinking of themselves as just scholars or researchers, but also writers, so perhaps we can take a few notes from people who fully identify themselves as writers.

So what exactly do creative writers have to say about procrastination?

Embrace it. That’s among the first things you will hear.

Creative writers often have slightly more flexible deadlines, so when they hit a writer’s block, they probably won’t tackle it by sitting down and ordering themselves to write at least 5000 words a day. They prefer putting the tasks aside and wait until inspiration strikes. “I’ve spent the last two weeks not writing and I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it, and I don’t feel guilty for not feeling guilty about it [,]” writes Bryan Hutchinson, a creative writer and the proud owner of the Positive Writer blog. He explains in a blog post on why procrastination is a good thing that forcing himself to write usually results in work he doesn’t appreciate. He finds this method wastes time and is causes more stress.

Of course, this doesn’t mean creative writers simply procrastinate for the rest of eternity. Rather  they treat their procrastination period as a short break for their worn out mind. They believe creativity comes and goes as it pleases, and cannot be squeezed out like lemon juice. When the time comes, inspiration hits and that’s their sign of going back to work. Optimistic much? Perhaps, but funnily enough, from what I’ve read, this strategy usually works. “I discovered that the more time I put off writing and procrastinate, the more time I spend creating [,]” claims Hutchinson in his post.

Indeed, for creative writers, writing is a process of creation, not gluing your hands to the keyboard and typing until you hit a word limit. The problem academic writers have to ask themselves is, do they have the luxury to NOT do the latter? Sadly, most of the time the answer is no.

The bottom line, creative writers are people who value quality over quantity, while the academic world seems to expect the opposite. Quantity often dictates a scholar’s worth: The number of their works which have been published by high impact journals; the number of citations those works have received… The list goes on.

Just to cheer things up, I believe academic writers do have the chance to procrastinate. One thing both academic and creative writers can agree on is the best time to procrastinate: Something good usually comes out of putting your work aside after the very first draft. Give yourself a break before revising and editing and you will see your writing in a whole new perspective. If you don’t experience an inspiration spur during one of your showers at the procrastination period, it often still comes when you start working on the piece again.

On a final note, creative writers enjoy the writing process itself. As academics, you may find joy in researching or being published, but do try to enjoy the in-betweens like creative writers do. When you sit in a café with no wifi, writing your literature review, treat the process as something you have come to love. Passion always makes quality work.

 

The Pros and Cons of Procrastination by Vivian Lam
infinity clock


infinity clockVivian Lam, a student at the City University of Hong Kong, is an intern at PhD2Published.

Here are some common conceptions about the negative impact of procrastination:
1.Decrease in productivity: Obviously, procrastination means avoiding serious or pressing tasks. When we procrastinate, we basically stop achieving anything constructive. It delays our work progress, creating much bigger problems down the line when that chapter is due.
2.Decrease in motivation: The longer you drag your feet on the task, the less motivated you become to start working on it at all, resulting in lower quality work overall.
3.A decrease in self-discipline: When we start giving ourselves reasons to believe we have all the time in the world to finish a task, we become more and more disorganised and our lack of work discipline can lapse into other areas.

However, a quick trip to the mysterious realm called ‘the internet’ reveals some benefits of procrastination:
1.Stress relief: If a current task is difficult enough to make us want to stop for a while, it usually means we are too stressed up by it. Taking a break from it can relax our mind.
2.Boosting creativity: A lot of people, especially creative writers, believe coming back from procrastination gives them a fresh perspective, and thus stimulates creative thinking. Personally, I am a firm believer in this point. In fact, as a student, the best grade I ever received from my assignments came from a sudden outburst of ideas right after a bad case of procrastination.
3.Sense of control: When we force ourselves to turn off the internet, ignore all the WhatsApp messages, and simply write, write, and write, it feels like we are letting our work control our life. The realization is both unpleasant and counterproductive. We need passion to get a job done well and right now all we’ve got is a deep sense of loathing. Procrastination gives the sense of control back to us. It might be a waste of time, but at least it would be your choice to waste that time, and when we start working again, we may have a new-found appreciation of what we are doing when we cease wasting time.
4.Getting the overlooked tasks done We accomplish a lot of other tasks when avoiding the main one (This is basically the idea of “structured procrastination” I talked about before. Some people procrastinate by completing less important, but also pending, tasks. Some do it by cleaning up their desks. All these, while less important, are still productive tasks. When we procrastinate, we actually have the chance to work on the responsibilities we normally ignore.

Apparently, even procrastination can have its moment if we look at it from the right angle. Some psychologists are brushing it off as people trying to reduce the cognitive dissonance in the act of procrastination. However, if you find yourselves trapped in a procrastination period, don’t panic. Remember, you are not alone!

Tempting Titles by Professor Helen Sword
helen sword book cover


helen sword book coverProfessor Helen Sword (The University of Auckland) is the author of the hugely popular Stylish Academic Writing. Below is an excerpt from her book which offers her top 10 tips on titles.

1.  What first impression do you want to make on your chosen audience? Remember, your title announces your intention to be serious, humorous, detailed, expansive, technical, or accessible—possibly several of those things at once. Double-check that your title matches your intention.

2.  Take a look at the publication list on your curriculum vitae. How many of your past titles contain colons? In each case, can you clearly articulate your reason for needing both a title and a subtitle?

3.  If you use colons frequently, try crafting a colon-free title. As an extra challenge, see if you can come up with a colon-free title that is both engaging and informative.

4.  If you seldom or never use colons, or if your titles are informative but not engaging, try out the “catchy: descriptive” trick. First, formulate a snappy but appropriate title (for example, “Snakes on a Plane”) to go with your not-so-snappy descriptive subtitle (“Aggressive Serpentine Behavior in a Restrictive Aeronautical Environment”).

5.  Next, ask yourself whether your title would still make sense without the subtitle. In some situations – for instance, a disciplinary conference or a special issue of a journal, where the context may supply all the extra information that is needed – you might find you can get away with just “Snakes on a Plane” after all.

6.  Identify some typical titles in your discipline and analyze their grammatical structure: for example, “The Development of Efficacy in Teams: A Multilevel and Longitudinal Perspective” becomes “The Abstract Noun of Abstract Noun in Plural Collective Noun: An Adjective and Adjective Abstract Noun.” Now see if you can come up with a title that does not use those predictable structures.

7.  For inspiration, find an engaging title from a discipline other than your own and mimic its structure. No one in your discipline need ever know.

8.  Make sure your title contains no more than one or two abstract or collective nouns. (Many academic titles contain seven, eight, or more!) Abstract nouns (analysis, structure, development, education) and collective nouns (students, teachers, patients, subjects) have a generic, lulling quality, particularly when they occur in journals where the same noun is used frequently, as in a criminology journal where most of the titles contain the nouns crime and criminology.

9.  Avoid predictable “academic verbs”, especially in participle form: for example, preparing, promoting, enforcing (law); engaging, applying, improving (higher education); rethinking, reopening, overcoming (history); predicting, relating, linking (evolutionary biology).

10.  Include one or two words that you would not expect to find in any other title in the same journal. Concrete nouns (piano, guppy, path) and vivid verbs (ban, mutilate, gestate) are particularly effective. Proper nouns (Wagner, London, Phasianus colchicus) can also help individualize your title and ground your research in a specific time and place.

Storify for Oct 23 #acwri chat hosted by Pat Thomson

Weekly Wisdom: Brought to you by the Letter Q
Boxes

BoxesQuestion your questions. Your research question is the first step to putting your ideas into action. The process involves forming viable research questions that address what interests you, indicate a trajectory for your research, and make a contribution to the field. Yet the first questions you articulate may not be the final questions you answer. Throughout your research, be sure to question your questions. Are you asking the best questions? Might your research take a novel approach if you ask it another way? Does your question have an easy answer? Does it get you where you want to go?

 

Weekly Wisdom: Brought to you by the Letter O
Boxes

BoxesOn over-organization. Workshops, books, planners, webinars, retreats–everywhere you turn, someone is promoting a new method for organizing your workflow and your life. It is not difficult to be persuaded by a hard sell trying to convince you that a new product will be just the thing to transform your life. Many academics go from one planning system to another, looking for the right software, hardware, or paper system to match their scheduling needs. Unfortunately, those investments of time, energy, and money spent on transferring your information to a new system and learning its quirks can drain the time and energy you might spend on writing and research. Organization is key to successful writing, but over-organizing can be a terrific distraction.

Weekly Wisdom: Brought to you by the Letter N
Boxes

BoxesNoticing: a nip of mindfulness. One of the important concepts in practices of mindfulness is noticing. This can be useful in situations where it is difficult to get started writing, where the process becomes frustrating, and where distractions lead you away from the work you would like to be doing. If you find yourself out of sorts, take a moment and notice what you are doing, how you are feeling, and what you might wish to be different in that moment. Noticing is a basic first step to getting to where you want to be. An analogy for road travelers: it’s not until you realize that you are lost that you pull over and look at your GPS, your map, or ask for directions. Then you can reset your course.

 

Weekly Wisdom: Brought to you by the Letter M
Boxes

BoxesHave a meeting. Rather than have a meeting about your project, have a meeting with your project. Maybe you’ve assigned a pet name to your research project, or otherwise seen that it has some anthropomorphic qualities. Imagine that your project has a persona. Fix it a cup of coffee or a cup of tea. Write an agenda if it would be helpful. Then you two can talk. What’s going well? Where does Project need more help? How has Project been successful? What resources can Project benefit from? What are your concerns? What do you need from Project? How can you help it along? It’s best recommended to not have this project meeting in public spaces…and you both might appreciate some privacy for your discussion.

Storify for June 11 #acwri chat
Weekly Wisdom: Brought to you by the Letter L
Boxes

BoxesGet to know your librarian. Researchers have few better allies than librarians, who are themselves trained to conduct research broad and focused, using any and all available sources. Good librarians love good challenges, so they are not only tremendously helpful but may also share your enthusiasm for finding an obscure document, a new theorist, or a new direction for your project. Librarians are also among the leaders at the forefront of digital humanities.Your campus librarian can be a great resource for promoting your scholarly work and helping you develop digital projects.

 

#acwri Twitter Chat: Dealing with Reviewer Comments