"I've seen the world from both sides now," sings Judy Collins. Such has been my experience as an author, and, for the past ten years, an editor of the French Review, the official journal of the American Association of Teachers of French. After five years as Review Editor for Civilization, I became Assistant Editor for Civilization, a post I held for four years. Since 1996 I have been Managing Editor. I have been asked to reflect on my experiences in these positions in order to lend perspective to both publishing and editing in the 1990s and to provide a few suggestions as to how to be more successful when trying to publish one's work.
For an Assistant Professor striving for tenure, the pressure to publish can be overwhelming and lead to mistakes or short cuts that can compromise one's work and even one's career. Adding to this pressure are the relatively short periods of time between annual and special reviews meant to assess the progress of the assistant professor towards tenure and promotion. Since many journals may hang on to an article for a period of six months to a year, an author may not know the fate of his or her article in time to meet the deadline for a particular review. The problem is compounded if there are changes to be made. So, the temptation to double submit, for example, is very strong.
However, one of the first rules of scholarly etiquette is never to make a double submission. For most journals in the humanities, readers are distinguished scholars, but they are not paid for their work. To make a double submission is to abuse the good faith, commitment, and time of these individuals. It also leaves the editors of one of the journals in a bind if the article is accepted by both, or if the article is withdrawn from consideration after the process has begun. If the double submission is accepted at a lesser journal, then the author will have to withdraw it from the better review, thus compromising his or chances for a better publication. Such a maneuver can also cause tremendous headaches for editors who must schedule articles well in advance of publishing dates to insure their timely publication. The very least an author might do would be to inform the editors of both publications of the double submission, but since double submissions are frowned on, this may not put one on the good side of the editor.
A second rule is to hold on to your article long enough to make sure it is ready to send out. Having colleagues at one's home institution or somewhere else read one's work can be helpful because the reader is likely to offer a new, more detached perspective than that of the author. One of the traps of writing is that the scholarly writer can become too wrapped up in the work to see it critically. Another view is always valuable. Even if a negative decision is rendered by the journal where the article is sent, the author should receive valuable criticism which will help him or her to improve the work and eventually place it. A new submission after emendations will always stand a better chance of acceptance.
As a current and former member of several university and college promotion and tenure review committees, I can attest to the importance of publishing in high-quality journals. Another difficulty is how to choose the journal where one will submit his or her article. Granted that this may be (and often is) a trial and error process, I would suggest that authors first read carefully the editorial policy of the journal to discover a number of important points: Does the journal subscribe to the policy of blind reviews, that is, does the Editor-in-Chief remove the name and institutional affiliation from the article before it is sent out to readers? This is important for several reasons not the least of which is that it protects the author who teaches in a less well known institution from being the victim of negative assumptions about the quality of that person's work based on employment at that college or university.
It is also good to know whether or not the journal actually sends the article out to more than one reader and to readers who teach at institutions other than that which houses the journal. Sometimes in-house decisions can be contaminated by hidden agendas on the campus of the journal. I know from experience as both an author and a reader that readers don't always agree--this makes it all the more important that more than one reader evaluate your manuscript. If there is more than one reader, the author can't strike out on the first at-bat. With two or more readers, the author actually increases his or her chances for publication, much as a medical patient may benefit from a second or third opinion.
At the French Review, if the two primary readers disagree, the article is sent to a third reader who is not made aware of the criticisms or evaluations of the other readers and whose decision is final. So, be sure ahead of time how many readers there are--sometimes a journal may claim that there is more than one reader, but only sends comments from one reader if the article is returned. When this happens there is no guarantee that there was a second reading. In this case I would write to the journal and request the comments of the second reader. Of course, two readers can reject an article as well as one. However, one all-powerful and anonymous reader can increase demands for revision at each successive stage unless there is a second reader or the Editor-in-Chief acts as an arbiter.
Eventually e-mail may streamline the process, but it will take a very sophisticated program indeed to offer all the options of proofreader's marks. In the meantime, be sure to ascertain whether or not written comments are required from the readers by the journal. Nothing is worse than having an article rejected and returned without comment or with perfunctory comments, especially after waiting for months for a response. At the French Review evaluators are asked to return their evaluation within a month and are required to give suggestions as to how to improve the article if they opt to reject it, or propose binding or non-binding changes if they give provisional approval. Once an article is accepted, it will be published within a year to eighteen months. The total time between submission and publication will be anywhere from two to three years depending on the journal.
The French Review also requires that if a reader recognizes the author, he or she must acknowledge this and return the article to the Editor-in-Chief who will send the manuscript back out to a third evaluator. This policy removes the possibility of both favorable and unfavorable personal biases in the review and helps maintain the integrity of the journal. This can also be a problem in NEH panel reviews (reader's comments are usually available on request). It should now be clear why an author must scrutinize editorial policies and even follow up with a phone call if in doubt. Certainly you will waste a lot less time if you know the rules.
One can never forget, however, that evaluation of one's work can be exceedingly arbitrary and written comments offensive (at least to the ego). I believe that this stems from the fact that everyone is a terrific critic of another's work, but most of us are not critical enough of our own. However, to be too self-critical, may result in a lot of manuscripts sitting in drawers gathering dust. So, one needs a thick hide in academe and the publishing game, or a lot of really good connections.
I'll never forget one article I eventually published in a first-rate journal. Before the happy ending, however, one journal rejected the manuscript declaring that the research was original but the writing poor. The very next journal I sent it to found the piece to be extremely well written, but opined that there was nothing new in the research. Another journal suggested that the work was too specialized--a fourth that it was not specialized enough! Of course, along the way I did a lot of rewriting and additional research. What one must remember, and what I learned from this experience and from a knowledgeable colleague, was to rewrite the rejected article and get it back in the mail as soon as possible. This is easier said than done. Such an experience also reminds us of how relative criticism can be and how important it is to keep things in perspective. To mope over a rejection is to waste time and energy, as well as to compromise one's chances for tenure and promotion.
There are several other, more technical matters I want to consider here. First, it is critically important, especially in the age of computers, to follow the instructions journals set out about formats and diskettes. Because of problems of compatibility, the machines used by typesetters may well eat an improperly prepared or incompatible diskette. So, be sure to have a back-up diskette of your article and to use the format preferred by the journal. If, for some reason, the typesetter can't read your diskette, you will have to retype your entire manuscript or publication of your article will be delayed. For the same reason, respond immediately to editor queries and requests.
Do respect word limits for both articles and book reviews. If you don't, you will force rejection or heavy editing which you probably won't want. Finally, be sure to follow the appropriate style sheet when preparing your manuscript. In the long run this will insure that your article is not returned and that it will be published on time. Once you've gotten your galleys, proof them carefully--there may be typesetter errors, editor's errors, and yes, even your own misspellings and other stylistic errors. Your attentive proofreading will determine to a large extent how your article looks in print. It will also keep you on the good side of the overworked and underpaid Managing Editor, who, no matter how hard he or she works on your behalf, will always miss something! With tight publishing deadlines, an editor may not have time to send you your manuscript for additional editing before it reaches the galley stage, especially if it has slipped by an evaluator or book review editor without appropriate editing. Although, as Managing Editor, I try not to edit substantially articles already accepted for publication, occasionally I still have to correct egregious grammatical, stylistic, or formatting errors. I also respect most of the decisions of my book review editors, since that is their job, though I may overrule in favor of the author, or make my own changes.
Once I have author galleys in hand, I try to respect the author's requests for changes, but with tight publishing deadlines, I can only allow so many (cost of correction also figures in). I may also overrule an author whose native language is not English. The author who wants a major revision at this stage (this is doubly true at the page-proof stage) is out of luck, as is the author whose book review was too long to begin with. Further complications can arise if the author gets to galleys late, as this can result in delays in publication.
Some journals, like the French Review, are affiliated with national associations and membership in the association is required if one wants to publish in the journal. So, join and get going!