Publishing Your First Article
Few PhD candidates will get an academic position without having published at least one article. Most first articles stem from your PhD research, but on occasion they can come from a research paper you wrote for a grad seminar on which you received an A; your teacher will usually tell you if s/he thinks it is worthy of revising for publication. Papers written for the Proseminar/Seminar sequence are often likely candidates for publication. It is often a good idea to give a version of the paper at a scholarly conference in order to get feedback before preparing the final draft to send off to a journal. Indeed, editorial board members in the audience will often approach speakers to suggest that they submit to the journal on which they serve, which offers you a good ‘in’ at the journal.
Once you have a viable draft, make sure that you have at least one faculty member (usually your PhD mentor) read and comment on the article before you send it off. In fact, it is good to get in the habit of having several people whose opinion you respect (including fellow students) read the article over and offer comments on its prose, organization, and argument. The more input and feedback you can get before sending it off to a publisher, the better.
The next step is to decide where to send it for publication. (Note that submitting your article to more than one publisher at a time is not acceptable.) Here it is a good idea to take the advice of faculty members, particularly your mentor or the instructor for whom you wrote the paper in the first place. While you want to aim as high as possible (what are called the ‘A Rank Journals’), be aware that it is very, very difficult for graduate students to be published in these journals (such as American Historical Review, Journal of American History, Past and Present, and Speculum). It might be better, therefore, to target a well-respected journal in a more specialized field (such as Journal of the Early American Republic, Sixteenth-Century Journal, Journal of Medieval History) or even a regionally focused journal. If at all possible, however, aim for a peer-refereed journal. When choosing the journal, find out the following: does this journal regularly publish articles covering the type of material (or period or place) that my article treats? Does the journal have a word limit that I need to adhere to? If the journal has a specific aim, does my article meet that aim?
Before sending off the article, make sure that you have followed the style sheet preferred by that journal (this information is usually available at the journal’s website, or even in the hard copy of the journal itself). All text and notes should be double-spaced; tables, figures, and illustrations should be on separate pages placed at the end of the manuscript. Some journals want you to send two copies; few journals (except for online journals) will accept submissions by email. For more tips on preparing a manuscript for publication, see the Chicago Manual of Style. Your submission should be accompanied by a brief cover letter (preferably written on departmental letter-head) that notes the title of the piece you are submitting. It is acceptable to offer a brief summary of the article in order to drive home its originality and suitability for that particular journal. If a member of the editorial board has urged you to submit the article, mention that here.
Then you sit back and wait. It is not unusual to wait over a year to hear the results of a submission, though it is acceptable to write to the editor after about four months asking about the status of your submission. For smaller journals, it can sometimes be difficult to get a straight answer from an editor (who is also likely to be an over-worked faculty member too), who may be waiting for reports on your article from busy readers. But the editor should at least be able to tell you the stage that the submission is at.
If your article is refused, you are usually told why. If you are lucky, you will have at least two readers’ reports which outline how to improve the essay. Sometimes your article will be refused, but you are invited to resubmit based on meeting the concerns expressed in the readers’ reports. Even if your article is accepted, it is not unusual to be asked for further changes, including elaborating on a certain point or even reducing the length of the essay. And once your article is resubmitted and given final approval, it can be up to a year before it is actually published (and even longer in some cases). Journals published four times a year will have a faster publication schedule than those only published once a year.
At some stage you will receive copy-edited text back from the editor, although some journals will simply email you with particular questions (to check a footnote reference, for example, or clarify the meaning of a particular word) rather than sending back copy-edited text. You will then receive proofs of your article back from the editor. The trend today is increasingly towards online proofs, but there are still many journals that send out proofs in hard copy (or as pdf files). You will be required to read over and correct the proofs in a short period—usually within seven to ten days at the most. Do not miss this deadline! Also be sure to follow the directions closely and to make sure that your corrections are clearly written on the text. If you have any doubts at all, or if you want to make sure that a particularly egregious problem is fixed, it is a good idea to write out this particular correction in a letter to the editor, along with marking it in the text. Note too that you will not be allowed to make any changes to the text at this stage unless the change is minor or the fault of the press.
Once the corrected proofs are in, you will usually see your article in print within three months, though on occasion it can take longer. Some journals continue to give authors a number of offprints (and ask you to pay for them if you require extra copies), but the trend now is increasingly towards sending authors a pdf of their article (which can also be acquired online if your article is published in a journal that is available electronically.
Other Publishing Opportunities
Many graduate students seek other publishing opportunities in order to build the Publications section of their academic CV. These include writing encyclopedia articles in your field, an opportunity that you can learn about from History list-serves, notices printed at the back of the AHA Perspectives (or other specialized journals), or from your mentor and other faculty members. You are often paid a small fee for these articles.
Students can also sometimes be asked to do a book review, particularly if you have begun to establish a reputation inthe field so that scholars who cannot do a review suggest your name instead. Students can also publish translations or short articles online and claim credit for a publication.
Guides to Publishing
“Practical Advice for Writing Your Dissertation, Book, or Article” AHA Perspectives (2006)
The AHA Guide to Teaching and Learning with New Media, by John McClymer, 2005. Available in a hard copy or online.