Every academic journal is eager to review content that its audience will want to read. This is true no matter the field. Although placing an article can seem intimidating, especially for early career academics, there are some basic steps that can improve your chances of seeing your great ideas in print!
When I’ve talked to prospective authors for the journals I’ve edited, I’ve encouraged them to think of placing an article as looking for its home. An article’s home is the journal where it will find its best readers, the people who are going to be engaged with the ideas it has to share and excited—or challenged—by the arguments it presents.
Mapping your field’s journal ecosystem
What’s the best way to find these readers? The first step in finding the right journal for something you’ve written is to create a map of your field’s journal “ecosystem.” What are the different scholarly journals in or around your field and what audience does each of them serve?
In US literature, for example, we have journals that survey the entire field: American Literary History or American Literature or Arizona Quarterly. They publish articles on nineteenth-century literature, but are also eager for submissions on other time periods as well. Some journals survey the field but do so with a particular emphasis: African-American Review publishes scholarship on works by Black authors while Legacy focuses on women writers. There are journals that limit their interest by century (J19), era (Early American Literature), genre (Studies in American Fiction or American Literary Realism), or author (The Henry James Review or Leviathan).
Thinking about how different journals in your field’s ecosystem overlap or intersect—their particular terrains—provides a way of thinking about what each publication offers readers that isn’t hierarchical. The best journal for a given essay is, after all, one that wants to publish it.
Journals differentiate themselves in terms of methodology as well as subject matter. Turning again to the field of nineteenth-century US literature, there are some journals that favor historicist inquiries, while others are looking for submissions that are more focused on close reading or theoretical interventions. This is also material to be included on the “map.”
For scholars whose work is interdisciplinary in nature, methodology is an especially key consideration, as is making sure to survey the various academic disciplines on which they draw. A quick way to keep track of what journals publish is to sign up for Table of Contents alerts. This makes it easy to see what a journal is publishing, providing a way to track which journals are more likely to be interested in your scholarship.
This basic map of your field’s journal ecosystem can be refined over time, helping you organize your submissions as your career evolves.
Consider the target audience for your article
The next step, then, is to think about the article you want to submit in terms of this map. Who are its ideal readers? Here it’s important to be honest with yourself—each essay does something different and that’s great! Being realistic at this stage can help you to be more successful in getting an acceptance. Some articles aim to speak to the whole field, while others are more likely to interest a subset or particular group.
If you’ve written a whole article on a single poem, for example, ask yourself where you might expect to find its best audience. Take a quick look at your bibliography. Do you cite articles from one or two journals regularly? What kind of citations are they: Are you revising a model or theory or applying it?
Articles come into existence in multiple ways. Some are revisions of prior kinds of writing—dissertation chapters, conference presentations, or seminar papers—while others are written as articles from the start. A piece that is central to your research agenda differs from a one-off piece about something of passing interest and you should be most careful, and most ambitious, about where you send the work that is most consequential.
Crafting your submission
Once you’ve identified the journals that would be most appropriate for your piece, go to their websites and learn what you can about them. Do this even if you read the journal a lot. Often journals will provide information about length, citation style, and even subject matter or scholarly approach. Pro tip from a former journal editor: take length requirements seriously!
Your motivation for wanting to publish this article is also worth considering. Is this a publication intended to bolster a job application, a fellowship proposal, or a performance review? If so, you might want to prioritize journals that publish more often: this can influence how many submissions they accept.
Additionally, you can take a look at the journal’s editorial board: What do you think of the scholarship of the people listed? They aren’t likely to be the only readers for submissions but one of them could be asked to evaluate your piece.
If the journal you’re submitting to is new to you, be sure to read a recent article or two before hitting send on your piece. This way you’ll have a preliminary sense of what its editors and readers value.
It is possible to improve your chances of finding a home for your article by doing a little work, sometimes before you even begin to write. Mapping your field’s journals and being honest about what an article does, and does not, do are steps in the right direction, as is making sure the article you send is ready for review.
Working with a coach or a developmental editor, like those at Flatpage, might be a great option to be sure the article is ready to go. A coach can help you to brainstorm your ideas and find the right journal, while a developmental editor can work with you to refine a draft and hone its argument.
If one journal says no, that doesn’t mean all journals will say no. Some lucky editor out there is waiting to read your article—you just need to send it to them!
About the author
Elizabeth is an author, editor, and academic. She recently stepped down as one of the two editors of J19: The Journal of Nineteenth Century Americanists. The academic article is her preferred scholarly genre. Find her at the English Department of Gettysburg College and here at Flatpage.