Advice for Submitting Work for Publication

While I have blogged before about submitting work as a student and author, I want to focus here on submitting work for publication in academic, scholarly, or professional venues, especially work submitted by K-12 teachers and university scholars.

For those new to submitting work for publication, an important first step is understanding academic and professional publishing. Academic/professional journals and books are edited and managed often by teachers and professors who are rarely paid for that work, and thus, must edit and manage along with maintaining their full-time academic work.

IMPORTANT: Submit your work in such a way that you honor the time and professionalism of the editor(s).

What does that entail?

Do your homework. Before submitting, and even before writing your submission, read and carefully consider the publication (journal) or publisher (books) for which you are seeking publication. You should read and familiarize yourself with the work of the editor(s) as well.

Especially if you are submitting to a journal, read and analyze several recent works in the journal or column you are targeting. Journals and columns can change significantly under different editors, so “recent” is key.

Draft with the publication in mind. Writing your submission must include maintaining a focus on the journal, column, or book call for manuscripts. Original pieces drafted after seeing the call or revising/reshaping existing work (such as a thesis or dissertation completed for degree work) must be crafted to fulfill the call focus and guidelines, including conforming to the word count.

Never submit a thesis/dissertation excerpt or manuscript for publication without revising/reshaping the work to meet the call you are targeting.

Format manuscript to citation/publication specifications. Two important points here: (1) manuscripts must be formatted and texts cited properly (impeccably), and (2) formatting should honor “less is always better.”

Formatting your Word document should conform to some standard guidelines:

  • Use Times New Roman (or similar standard font—although never submit a work with different fonts in body, headers, etc.) and 12 pt. font; double space throughout with the standard 1/2″ indent for paragraphing and 1″ (or per style sheet) margins.
  • Use appropriate header/footer requirements of style sheet identified by publication, but avoid decorative formatting of headers/footers (lines, images, etc.). Editors want and need clean files. All submitted work will be reformatted if published so your decorations are time wasting. (Don’t use italics, bold, or quote marks unless necessary—as in proper formatting required by the style sheet identified. Quote marks should never be used for emphasis.)
  • Note proper formatting for your title, subheads (academic/professional writing tends to have subheads), and references. Take great care not to mix citation conventions for levels of headings and designation of citations as well as the listing of sources (such as the use of footnotes/endnotes, in-text citations, and heading for references). Typically citation generating software or apps should be avoided since they are often flawed and also embed formatting that can be problematic.
  • Be sure to use your word processor appropriately. Know how to format paragraph indentations, hanging indents (citations), and block quotes with the ruler or menu options (and not manually with Return>Tab).
  • Include your name (as it should be once published) and contact information on the manuscript as noted in the publication guidelines. Also, be sure to have a reliable email address that you check often.

In academic/professional publishing, there simply is not room for muddled citation and documentation formatting. Yes, the many and varied style sheets are mind-numbing (APA, MLA, Chicago, Harvard), and the odd changes publications will make to those standards are a maze (use MLA but also for this publication …), but citation conventions constitute a significant part of the professionalism of your work.

Check, double-check, and have a peer check your citations—the consistency, accuracy, and formatting.

Submit a clean document. Submitted manuscripts send a powerful message to editor(s). Sloppy manuscripts (poorly copyedited, mangled formatting, improper citation, active track changes/comments) suggest the writer isn’t serious and the piece isn’t ready for consideration (note the “honor the time and professionalism of the editor(s)” above).

Rolling over a manuscript from one submission to another can be a problem if you are not careful to fully revise and reformat a piece. Never submit with the caveat you’ll properly revise to fit the guidelines if accepted.

Here, again, asking a colleague to read for edits is essential.

Make your contact with the editor(s) count. The actual submission of the work is a last and important step. Use email or postal as required, but make sure that the file or hard copy conforms exactly to the publication requirement (many publications have limits on Word file types; some hard copy submissions must have multiple copies included; and always note the guidelines for cover page and author identification on the manuscript).

Since most submissions are now electronic (either by email or through a submission system), be sure to name the electronic manuscript file as required (or if no requirements, be simple and practical, such as naming the file your name), put required or practical information in the “subject” line (if no requirement, your last name and call date/topic are helpful), and include a brief but effective cover letter.

The cover letter should, again, consider the time and professionalism of the editor(s)—so brief is excellent. However, be sure to include the title of your piece, the call topic/date you are addressing, and then a few details that may help your piece:

  • Note your professional context and why this piece is something only you could have written or is credible because of your background/expertise.
  • Identify your understanding of the publication by referencing a previous article, another work by the publisher, and/or some relevant work by the editor. These must be sincere gestures of your having researched the publications, however, and are not intended as merely cozying up to the editor.
  • Include any required information from the call, and verify you are available by a reliable email address.
  • If your submission is in any way unlike what the publication tends to accept or varies from the call in some significant way, you should note those differences with a brief explanation of why you think they are justified.

Blanch Dubois relied on the kindness of strangers. In academic/professional publishing, mutual kindness is a must.

Those submitting work should do so with the labor and time of the editor(s) in mind, and then the editor(s) must handle those submissions with the sort of care she/he/they would appreciate.

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