Getting published is tough, and when it comes to finding post-doctoral jobs and positions, a good publication record is a must. But academic journals are picky, and the competition is steep. A lot of early-career academics feel that it's impossible to break through the barriers and get their first article published, and constant rejection can take a toll on researcher's motivation and morale. There's no single trick to getting published, but there are a lot of ways that you can improve your chances of acceptance. Here are seven ways to make your work stand out from the crowd and attract the right kind of attention from editors.
1. Give yourself enough time
Early-career researchers are busy, and while the need to publish is pressing, they have lots of other responsibilities which can make writing difficult. One of the biggest mistakes that post-doctors make in the publication process is that they don't give themselves enough time. It's tempting to fire off article after article in the hopes that one will hit the mark, but writing for journals isn't the same as writing a term paper. You need to plan carefully, write deliberately, and take the time to reconsider and edit your work. Don't try to do it all at once. Luckily, most calls for papers in academic journals go out weeks if not months before their deadlines, so check regularly in applicable publications, and when you find a call that suits your research area, make sure that you have time to plan, research, write, and edit your work.
2. Ask for help
The post-doctoral world can feel very lonely, especially after years working in an academic department as a student surrounded by peers, instructors, and advisors. But just because you've graduated doesn't mean you have to go it alone. Your former advisers have a vested interest in your success, and your former classmates are likely looking for the same sort of support. So keep in touch with your inorganic chemistry lab partner and contact your thesis advisor when you need a reference or someone to assess your research ideas. If you were involved in a post-graduate association, see if there's a way to stay involved.
3. Target the right journal
Sure, we all want to be published in the American Historical Review or the Annals of Mathematics, but the biggest journals are not always the best option for a first publication. Instead, try to find publications that are more specifically oriented towards your thesis. Or find a journal that specializes in one of the sub-topics of your dissertation. Smaller journals or university-based publications often focus on more niche topics and can be the perfect place to publish your chapter on ancient Roman religions in Britain or your sociological research into street-performance. Whatever your research topic, there's likely a related peer-reviewed journal, or at least an up-coming special issue, that focuses on your academic specialty.
4. Follow instructions
Another big mistake that academics make when submitting for publication is that they ignore the editor's instructions. Don't submit your entire thesis when the journal has asked for a 300-word abstract. And just as it's important to select the right journal for your submission, make sure that you provide the context for your research requested by the editor. Journal editors receive countless numbers of submissions, and they have to narrow their selections as much as possible from the outset. Make sure that your submission is clear, follows the instructions, and is as applicable as possible to the context of the journal.
5. Accept and embrace criticism
Hurrah! The journal accepted your submission, you gave yourself lots of time to write and review, and produced what you thought was an excellent article. But the editor sent it back with revisions and critiques. Don't panic and don't give up. Just because you've earned your title, doesn't mean your work is perfect. When you were a student, you dealt with criticism on a regular basis, and your adviser always sent your drafts back covered in red. So use the editor's critique and take another look at your submission. Maybe the editor has highlighted areas where you need to be more (or less) specific. Perhaps you need to reconsider some of your sources or be more balanced in your argument. Criticism is good. Criticism is how we grow as researchers and as writers.
And don't assume that returned submission means that the journal won't publish your paper. Often, academics give up and fail to resubmit after a journal has asked for revisions, but this is a huge mistake. Remember, this is the point of peer-reviewed journals. Scholarly publications are designed to vet and challenge professional academics in the hopes of disseminating useful and accurate knowledge. Use the criticism and suggestions to improve or revise your work, and then send it back. As long as the publication is asking you to improve your work, they're still interested.
7. Be Patient
Getting published takes time, and only a small minority of early-career researchers have their work accepted on the first try. Sure, it feels horrible to have your paper rejected, especially after all the work you put into it. But you just have to try again. And again. And again. In the meantime, don't let your skills stagnate. Apply to review books and articles in your field. Reviews are easier to publish and help you to stay up-to-date on new publications (plus, you usually get the book for free!) Or look for opportunities in academic publications like textbooks, encyclopedias, and collections. In some cases, you can earn money, or at least receive a copy of the publication. If nothing else, keep active on a pet research project, work on editing and improving your dissertation, or even just start a blog.