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Getting your work published.

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      04.04.2008 20:41
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      My experiences of being published

      Unsurprisingly for someone who has loitered around dooyoo for seven years, one of my ambitions from childhood was to be a published writer. I have written regularly since I started primary school, where a couple of wonderful teachers were very influential in encouraging my ambition and love of words; by the time I was 10, such was my verbosity that it became a running joke in my class that I had "swallowed a dictionary"! I wrote all sorts at this time, but most of all I loved writing stories; it was ambition for a long time to be a novelist when I grew up*. Unfortunately, the bog-standard comprehensive I later attended had no such lofty ideals about encouraging their pupils in their creative ambitions, and my imagination became slowly stifled under a nebulous mass of quadratic equations, industrial revolutions and half-hearted cookery lessons**. This would now be an excellent point at which to say I had risen above the constrictions of secondary school and published a novel to rapturous applause and widespread critical acclaim, wouldn't it? Sadly, no (or at least not yet). No novel, no critical acclaim...but I have been published (well, I couldn't very well write in this category if I hadn't, could I?). It was perhaps not what I had envisioned as a child when I dreamed of being a published writer, but I have fulfilled that ambition in a way (even if you don't count the short story that appeared in CHAT magazine some years ago - but we won't go there).

      While it may be true that all the schooling I have been subjected too may have squashed some of my earlier creativity, it has had it benefits - not least in providing me with a different form of writing to agonise over. While academic writing may lack the creative flair of story telling, in many ways it suited me rather well, as it favoured the sort of wordiness I already had. Academic writing is all about describing what you have to say in a very precise and stylised manner, following the conventions of your discipline; usually, this is very formal (most disciplines will not accept first person narratives for instance), with statements needing to be supported by properly referencing other authors who have published in appropriate sources. Admittedly, it is often quite dry as a result of this striving for precision and backing by what other people have published, but more importantly for me, however, academic writing is not exactly averse to the sort of verbosity that I often write with.

      While I had been producing academic writing for some time as a student, my experience with getting it published really began at the end of my viva examination for my thesis. The last 20 minutes of my exam was spent with me discussing with the examiners how I could publish my research (or "dissemination of knowledge", as they put it). This sort of discussion is invaluable for students, as it gives the benefit of the experience of the examiners, who also know your work well enough to offer guidance on where to target different aspects of your research, and which elements would work as stand-alone papers. If you are a postgraduate student, it is well worth trying to have such a conversation with your tutors or examiners about possible publication (undergraduate dissertations are unlikely to be substantive enough to become a paper in their own right without extra work/research, and only then when there is something sufficiently novel or important for journals to consider accepting it). I was offered very useful advice, and armed with these recommendations, I set about working on my first paper shortly afterwards (yes, I know that some PhD students publish during their studies, but I was recommended by my supervisor that I was better off concentrating on just the thesis - and that publication might undermine the originality element of the thesis by the time it reached the examination stage).

      I started off by picking the easiest "target" in the form of a short paper to a professional journal offering an update to an earlier group of articles that had been published by them some fifteen years earlier. The paper would need to be shorter than ones for academic journals, and the editorial requirements would be less strict, as there would be no need for refereeing in this case. This was simply*** a case of turning a section of my literature review and bibliography into a coherent article in its own right. I knew that the journal only published once a year, so I emailed the editor straight away to ask if they would be interested in such a paper, and if so, what the deadline was for that year's edition. I was lucky; the editor was interested, and the deadline was in three months time, so I got my first paper in print less than six months after my thesis passed.

      Paper number two was aimed at an academic peer-reviewed journal, and was based on a theme from my thesis. This was the first time my work was to appear in a "proper" academic journal, and despite all I had heard about how hard and frustrating a process this can be, I found this experience to be really positive. After submitting my paper, the referees for the journal sent back three pages of comments - which I found a little daunting! - but the editor of the journal couldn't have been more helpful. He could see from my bio that I was a new PhD graduate and guessed I didn't have much experience in publishing, so offered to talk me through the changes he would like over the phone. This was a hugely beneficial experience, as it allowed me to find out just what he liked and what he thought could be improved upon, expressed more clearly, or restructured. I was able to confidently make the suggested amendments and get the article accepted for publication a couple of weeks later. This gave me the confidence I needed to write paper number three, to a more highly regarded academic journal - which is still stuck somewhere in the editorial process, although I do have hopes that it will one day be accepted for publication.

      My tips for publishing academic work:
      1) It is better to chose a journal and then write an article for it, than to write the article and then decide who to send it to. With your article topic in mind, research journals that cover the same field; having researched (and probably done an awful lot of reading) in an area, you should have some idea of the journals that you wish to target, but it is also useful to look up listings in academic libraries for further ideas.

      2) Remember that there are different types of journals - would your research be more appropriate to a professional than an academic publication, for example? The gold standard for academic publications is that they are peer reviewed (sometimes known as "refereeing"), which means that your submission gets screened by two or three anonymous experts in the field who provide feedback on it before an editorial decision on acceptance is made. The idea behind peer reviewing is that it improves the reliability, credibility and quality of published research: referees can give constructive criticism to the author by highlighting areas in the research that they think requires more work, suggesting improvements for the way an article is written, and offering advice on further reading, for example, and also give a recommendation on whether an article should be carried by the journal or not. This means that having an article appear in a peer-reviewed journal is a longer and harder process than publishing elsewhere, but it means your work is more respected because of the scrutiny it has gone through to get there.

      3) Having selected your target journal, carefully read through the requirements for authors that the journal provides. Each journal will have this information clearly displayed on its website as well as in each journal, and will include points such as word length, style guide, abstract or keyword requirements, how to submit your paper, and how many copies to submit. Pay close attention to these instructions! You don't want to spend months researching and writing a paper only to reduce your chances of getting it published because of discrepancies with the requirements of the journal you send it to.

      4) Once you have written your paper, have a break from it for several days, and then read it through afresh. After a break, you will find it easier to pick up typos and sections that don't read clearly, and to spot mistakes, omissions and sections that aren't properly referenced. It is also a good idea to double-check your bibliography at this point - make sure all cited works are listed in full, all listed bibliographic works are cited in the text, the bibliography is in the correct order and the format meets any stylistic requirements (although most journals seem to opt for the Harvard system), and that your references are sufficient in number and breadth to satisfy the referees (N.B. referencing Wikipedia is generally not a good idea!). You might also want to let someone else to read it through to check for clarity; what is clearly obvious to you as the author may not be obvious to someone new to the subject.

      5) Be patient. Don't bombard the editor or journal administrator with emails or phone calls, especially if you are submitting to a peer-reviewed journal, as the process is a long one. An acknowledgement should be sent to you when your paper is received, but it can take anything up to six months for a paper to emerge the other side of the reviewing process in my experience. I was advised that if you haven't heard anything after 4-5 months to send a polite enquiry to the journal, but nothing before that.

      6) If you are sent feedback from referees or editors, with publication being conditional on amendments, then don't take it as an insult. Everyone gets this - even top academics! Accept the feedback with good grace, and use the comments to improve your paper. If there is something you especially disagree with, then discuss it with the journal editor, but be prepared to take the criticism of more experienced writers, researchers and academics than you.

      7) Be patient again. After you have submitted your amended paper it will take yet more time for busy editors to approve it, schedule it to appear in a journal, and then for it to go through the publication process. Many journals are only published three or four times a year, and if there is a queue of articles waiting to appear, it can take months for your accepted script to finally get into print. There is nothing unusual in a year passing between first submission and final publication!

      Although getting published in academic journals is a lot of (unpaid) work, I think it is worth putting the effort in if you have a suitable thesis or other research to take a paper from. After all, if you have done the research, you might as well let other people know about it! It does feel very satisfying seeing your work in print - even if it isn't the novel you hoped for.


      Useful further reading: Murray, R (2005) "Writing for academic journals", Open University Press.


      *It might still be actually - it depends whether you consider me to have "grown up" yet.
      **My verbosity and frequently pompous use of language remained stubbornly intact, however.
      ***I say "simply", but it actually took several weeks worth of evening and weekends while I was working full time.

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        16.03.2008 15:16
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        Write every day and keep sending in your work

        "Getting your work published" is a very broad title, but if you write a review on Dooyoo, then you are already having your work published. Even if all you write are comments on others' reviews, your own work is being published.

        But why stop there? Maybe you want to become a published writer of books or write for magazines, but don't know how to set about it.

        There are lots of books out there about how to become a writer, how to write that novel or how to write for children. There are magazines, such as Writers Forum and Writing Magazine, which are available at W H Smiths and other good booksellers. All these things give the aspiring writer hints and tips on how to write. The internet has masses of information for aspiring writers, just do a google search and you will find them.

        However, getting your work published is a totally different ballgame to the actual writing. It is also an expensive and time consuming process. It could be that you have already written a book, believing it will be a bestseller. You may think it is easy to get your novel published, surely if you send it off to a publisher or an agent they will jump at the chance to publish your work. Unfortunately this is not the case.

        Every writer will tell you that you have to get used to having your work rejected before it is a success. Agents are hard to find unless you have contacts or are already successful, many publishers won't even consider your work unless it is submitted via an agent. Catch 22 situation.

        So why not start small and aim to get something other than that novel published first? You could start by writing a letter to a newspaper or magazine or maybe letters to teletext. Write about something you know (that is the first golden rule of writing anything!). Maybe you have a trade journal or company magazine connected with your job, start with that. Or the women's magazines, or hobby magazines. Many of these pay for letters written by readers. If your letter is published you will know that the editor considered your work good enough to be read by a wider audience. This should then spur you on to write more letters. All good practice in the art of writing for publication.

        As you become more confident and have had more letters accepted, you could try writing feature articles about your interests.

        Invest in a copy of the Writers' Handbook or the Writers' and Artists' Year book. In there you will find details of publications who accept articles for publication.

        It is also a good idea to borrow books from your library on writing to see how to set out your work and other useful tips. Good presentation is essential if you are submitting work. If your library doesn't have many books on writing then look on E Bay to see if you can buy secondhand or browse in your local booksellers. A lot of "how to write" books are not very informative or they are repetitive, so it is best to borrow or buy cheaply if you can.

        There are many writing courses you could take, some of these offer a money back guarantee if you don't recover the course fees after completing the course. But be warned, these courses are not cheap and you may lose motivation to complete the assignments. If you just want to know how to write, without having to complete assignments, then again look on E Bay to see if there are any writing courses for sale. You will learn how to write, but not have the critique service available like you would if you purchase the course firsthand.

        An alternative is to take a university course in Creative Writing, these are very useful in that they often enable you to have contact with agents, as well as giving you a worthwhile qualification.

        I have been writing for many years now and have had lots of things published, books as well as magazine articles, but it is a long hard slog. I am convinced that it is often a case of not "what you know" but "who you know." So if you already have a writer in your family or know a publisher or agent, then you are probably well on the way to having your work published. Unlike the rest of us who have had to struggle through the mountains of rejection slips to achieve our aims!

        You can always self publish of course. This is not as daunting as it sounds, all you need is to write your book and then get copies printed off to sell. Selling is the hardest part. It is not easy to get self published books stocked by the larger bookstores. Even if you self publish, you have to do all the PR stuff yourself to get your book noticed. If you write about something that is specialised or of local interest then you may have a market in mind, but for general novels I would not advise self publishing.

        A word of caution, beware of so called "vanity publishers". These are companies which promise to publish your book, often at extortionate fees, then you are left to do all the marketing and selling yourself.

        Put off getting your work published after reading this review? Don't be, like I said, if you write on Dooyoo then others are reading your work, so set about tackling other markets.

        Never forget the advice to any writer is ALWAYS have a notebook handy to jot down your thoughts, then write something every day and keep on sending out your work. If you don't send it out to markets then you will never get it published!

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