Contributed by Eoin Magennis
The pressure-cooker world of academia now has two Holy Grails. The monograph has been dealt with by Pue’s before. The other, an article in a peer-reviewed journal, is what I’ve been asked to write about – from the editor’s point of view.
The first thing to say is an obvious point – writing briefly about the topic of your choice is harder than to cover 100 pages on it. Just because this is obvious does not mean that people pay heed. In my five years’ experience of editing Eighteenth-Century Ireland, there is nothing more off-putting than the over-long submission. It won’t mean automatic rejection but if you can’t say what it is you want to say within 10,000 words (including notes) then you are likely to need to do a lot more work.
A second point to make is that articles published today are not what they once were. This is not a case of casting a fond eye back to a golden age of well-crafted articles. Indeed if you go back through old journals you will see how many articles were poorly written, badly argued or both. That said, theses now lend themselves better to extracting articles than they once did, when narrative was more important.
So how to go about it? The following are some tips:
1.Have a reader who will be ruthless with you. Asking friends (or people you trust to be honest with you) to read draft submissions is a must. Usually when an article is rejected the first question that arises is whether the author had run their work past anyone. The answer is usually no.
2.Be strategic. For better or worse, specialization has had its effect on history journals. (If you are not submitting to a very specialized journal then do make your work accessible – even explanatory footnotes help!) Specialization means that the fields are narrower but it also means that more opportunities present themselves to potential authors. So choose wisely and do your research before submission.
3.Approach editors for advice pre-submission. This is probably easier in a place as small as Ireland where it is possible to contact editors to see if they would be interested in an article on such and such a subject. A few editors (and I would include those on Eighteenth-Century Ireland in this) do approach paper-givers to encourage submission.
4.Revise and revise again. You might hide flaws in a book but not in an article. And the peer review process will hone in on these flaws very quickly.
5. Expect to have more work to do even if the article is accepted. Readers will always suggest ways of improving on your efforts. This is part of the process so take the knocks, make the changes that make sense and challenge others that don’t.
6. Make a good impression. Too often articles are submitted with incomplete references or inconsistencies in style. This is easy to remedy by consulting style guides and taking care over the final version.
In terms of traps to avoid my advice is that conference papers rarely make successful article submissions. What works in a collection of related essays from a conference is unlikely to fly in a stand-alone article in a journal where it is jostling for space with other topics. Conference papers may have a honed argument but are unlikely to have the heft needed for success. Expect to do some additional research and writing before turning in a revised version of your paper.
After all of the above there is no guarantee of success. Rejection rates are lower in history journals than in other disciplines but the competition is still fierce. Remember though that articles can act as calling cards for your work. They are probably more likely to be read and consulted by your peers than monographs. Those historians for whom the essay format works best may be a rarer species nowadays but they are fondly thought of. So the effort put in pre-submission and post-report is worth it.
Eoin Magennis is the general editor of Eighteenth-Century Ireland.