Monday, January 26, 2009

Submit, Submit, Submit, Submit, Submit

"Quantity, intelligently managed, produces quality." (Jonathan Mayhew)

I'm holding a writing process reengineering seminar today. My theme is going to be the importance of submitting work to the relevant journals in your field. A writing process does not just result in words on the page. But it also cannot be evaluated in terms of publication. Your research in general can be evaluated by counting your publications—or that's what your adminstrators believe, anyway. But your writing process as such is a success or not depending on how regularly you submit work to journals.

Obviously, if you're publishing two articles a year, with plenty of time left over to enjoy your teaching, your research, your family and your friends, I don't have much to contribute. But if you are not publishing as much as you'd like, let me ask you: How often do you submit your work for publication in the major journals in your field?

Everyone needs to find their own benchmarks. But I would suggest submitting work five or six times a year. If that sounds like a lot, you are not considering the possibility that the same paper may be submitted to different journals (after intelligent attempts at revision, of course). Consider the rejection letter I got earlier this year: We don't publish that kind of paper, it said, but we "strongly encourage" you to submit it to a journal that does. The letter included suggestions. Well, if you do that, that counts as two submissions. That wasn't so hard, was it?

The important thing is to have a writing process that is constantly bringing packages of prose up to a particular journal's standards. Or trying to, anyway. If you are submitting six times a year, you are very definitely learning something about the standards that operate in your field, and the degree of fit between those standards and your work as a writer.

The quantitative focus of your writing process should be "number of submissions". That's the number you are trying to improve. The quality of your writing will improve as you react to your editors and reviewers. A good writing process will include time to react to them. And I really do mean re-act. I don't mean have an emotional or intellectual "response" to rejection. I mean looking at what the editor/reviewer said and planning a discrete series of actions that engage with those comments. I mean something very practical.

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