Developing an Academic Publishing Strategy

Last week I tweeted the fact that I had received a rejection email from a high-ranking Journal less than 24 hours after I had submitted. The email stated that “We now have many more submissions for our refereeing process than we can cope with”. This annoyed me, not so much the rejection, more that it had taken me the best part of an afternoon to format the paper for this particular journals submission requirements and comply with the rather exacting requirements of Scholar One – when there was little or no chance of being accepted. Fellow twitter users suggested that such a situation may be due to a backlog of paper submissions as researchers seek to publish in time for the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment in the UK. Others joined in and shared their arguably worse experiences of long delays – sometimes months – before ultimate rejection in some of the top journals, presumably again due to a backlog of papers for consideration. Eventually the conversation turned to the difficulties for early career researchers seeking to publish in the run-up to the REF and possible publication strategies. You can view the entire twitter discussion on my Storify page here.

So what have I learnt from this experience now I have had some time to reflect?

Getting a paper through to publication can take a long time – Firstly an article has to be screened for acceptance/rejection. Should your paper get to review stage, it can take many more months to receive feedback, re-draft and resubmit. If rejected you need to find the time to re-format for submission in a different journal before the cycle begins again. All in all it can be years before your article sees the light of day, in fact in a recent post on the LSE Impact Blog, Aimee Morrison told of her horror of receiving a publication date 2 years in the future. Some fields, mine included, move fast. An article or idea expressed today can be out of date in a few months. I want to get my ideas out there now so the debate can be useful today.

Identifying the true scope of a journal is tricky – I have had two rejections recently which identified the scope of my paper as not fitting that of the journal. I had researched the journals carefully and was sure that my work did in fact meet the published scope. I guess this is something that I need to think more carefully about in the future and/or consider sending an abstract to the editor first to check.

Open Source or Subscription Journal – This is a big one for me. One of the reasons I pursued an academic career is that I believe that good research can change the world. I believe that my work has a contribution to make to society and as such it is my duty to disseminate it as widely as possible. In fact I believe that every academic has an obligation to do this. As such the idea of my work sitting in a journal archive where it can only be read by paying subscribers is abhorrent to me. The catch 22 is that if I need to publish in the top journals to build a successful career – I need to lock my work up in the big publication houses repositories. I guess it depends on what kind of academic career I want….

There is no ‘one way’ – Developing a research strategy is dependent on many factors. Your field of study. Your academic discipline. Your personal goals and aspirations. Your research institutions goals and aspirations. Many people give have given me advice over the last year or so on this. Nearly all of it conflicts. Academia at the moment is a moving target. There are big changes coming to publishing following the Finch Report (I am not going enter the debate on this here). There are also big changes going on in universities (in the UK at least) who are at the beginning of probably the biggest shake up of the industry in many years.

Keep at it – I love working as an academic and will continue to write and disseminate my work. I have yet to settle on any one particular strategy, and maybe never will. For now I am going to enjoy the process of research, enjoy writing those papers and presenting at those conferences and probably continue to submit to each and every journal in my field. However I suspect I will make more use of alternative forms or publishing such as this blog and others as well as open source research repositories such as that provided by my institution or the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). Maybe I’ll even engage in a little Guerrilla Self Publishing…

As usual I would love to hear what others think in the comments!

5 comments on “Developing an Academic Publishing Strategy
  1. Great post Alex, it does make academic publishing sound quite tricky. I found that my PhD supervisor had quite a lot to do with getting me started. My supervisor was in the editoral board, so we knew what we were writing for and the editors knew they were getting some sort of quality. After that I find its just a case of knowing who to propose as a reviewer. Generally they will know you are doing the research and will want to know what you are up to!

    I’m a bit torn on subscription journal argument, it does seem like a waste of money to pay to publish something. The most citations I have are for refereed conference papers, because the information is the same as in a journal paper.

    I think the annoying thing I have found is that it still takes years for a paper to gain enough citations to matter, and there is no shortcut to that. The best way is to make the paper preprints freely available (which I thought most universities did), then people have access to your work. Otherwise they can’t see it and cite it.

    Good luck with it!


    • Thanks for the comment Paul. I’ve had a similar experience with my PhD supervisor – we co-wrote an article for the top journal in my field which was invited by the editors who new my supervisor well. It is a little disheartening that even in the supposedly objective world of peer review – it still comes down to who you know. Again – a similar experience with citations – the conference papers are more accessible and as such cited more. As for university repositories – I think that most have them now however as I understand it not all publishers will allow even a pre-print version to be uploaded here – I know some of mine have been restricted fro this reason. This is something I hope will change in light of the Finch report..


  2. Hello Dr. A :-),
    I’m totally against ranking publications because real researchers can find treasures in regional or national publications that have a ranking B or C. Does it means that only fews journals know what ‘excellence’ is ? I’m not sure and for having published in some of them, it’s more “I’m the friend of this one” attitude that gives the chance to publish and not really the content.
    Now, I know that I have been identified as a delator ;-))), and I like it !!! That’s intellectual independence :-).

  3. I just started a new “open peer reviewed journal”. It’s free. Everyone can see your research only members can post comments without your approval. Members are academics in all fields. Started by a designer and a postdoc due to the frustration of traditional journals and paid online journals. Hope you will try PrintedScholar.

  4. Hi there- many interesting points here, though I just wanted to comment on a couple of them:

    First, re rejections based on apparent ill-fitting with journal scope, I have had problems with this recently when a paper I had prepared meticulously for a particular journal was rejected on the primary grounds that it did not fit the scope of the journal. The key thing here is that I not only reviewed the ‘aims and scope’ information on the journal’s homepage and researched the scope of already published issues of the journal, but I also emailed the editor with a brief summary of my paper asking for an indication of whether they would consider it relevant to the journal. Frustratingly, I received no response to this, so had no option but to just submit the paper and see what would happen. The paper was then rejected for the reason above.

    Whilst I appreciate many editors work under pressure to review and accept/reject papers, especially in higher impact print journals, I can’t help but think they’d be saving both authors and themselves a lot of time if they, or their staff, responded to informal enquiries about paper suitability before the papers are submitted. It’d certainly reduce the traffic in the submission system.

    Secondly, re open access – I’ve always thought there are two ways of thinking about it. One way is the perhaps more traditional way: That open access publishing is less prestigious than publishing in print journals because their review system is (stereotypically) less rigourous, and, therefore, that anyone who published in them is (obviously) doing bad research. In short, open access publishing is for losers. The other way of thinking about it, which I prefer, is a bit more progressive: That open access publishing has many ups and pros – like it being a lot more environmentally friendly, that many high profile researchers also have numerous open publications in less famous journals, and that, most importantly, open access research is politically liberal and emphasises freedom of access and debate for everyone. The implications of publishing open access really depend on how you, and the people around you, think about it. Even in my own limited field, I’ve come across academics who quietly self-promote with a short list of open access papers, hoping no one will notice the lack of prestige, and also some who have made an active choice to only publish open access. They defend that choice on political grounds – by arguing that the prestige trumpeted by high impact print journals has attached to it a disturbing kind of ‘intellectual elitism’ that keeps the ‘best’ research in the hands of fee-paying subscribers. And in these days of austerity entering higher education, I would personally buy that argument.

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