Getting published isn’t easy

My second publication

Getting published isn’t easy. That’s not strictly true. When I was ten I had my first publication. It was a short poem based loosely on the Command and Conquer series of military strategy games. It told the tale of an unfortunate civilian caught in the crossfire of civil strife. It is, I am told, a pretty forgettable piece of verse. Submitted as an entry to a poetry competition, ‘War, War, War’ did not win any prizes, but was available to purchase for £25 in a book called ‘Tales of the Wind’, along with all the other failed competition entries. And we complain about the cost of open-access publishing.

OK, so publishing IS easy, but perhaps publishing in a scientific, double-blind peer-reviewed journal isn’t? Well, that’s not strictly true either. If you’re a professor with 25 years of academic experience and a CV that already boasts 50 publications, you probably find publication relatively simple. Or maybe you’re like one postgraduate student I heard about whose supervisor happened to be the Chief Editor of a highly successful journal; the lucky lass negated that pesky submission process. Ah, academic integrity and an even playing field – you can’t fault it.

Maybe what’s difficult is publishing in a scientific, double-blind peer-reviewed journal if you’re a PhD student at the beginning of their 2nd year who lacks the guidance, experience and knowledge required to streamline the process. More so if you’re trying to publish a paper that pushes the boundaries of our understanding a little, or that sits firmly between two disciplines, and for which no journal seems appropriate. Perhaps you can’t get past the tedious submission procedure, or aren’t sure if the scope of the journal you’re submitting to marries up with your paper. You might be confused by impact factors and other potentially misleading metrics of academic attainment. Maybe you’ve already spent 14 months trying to get the thing off the ground and are disillusioned by your rejection from a fourth consecutive journal.

Any of these things are possible, and even the most dedicated, hardworking and intelligent postgraduate student may fall short under such circumstances. What can be done? I offer you three bits of advice:

  1. Seek help. Even if it’s not your supervisor, there should be plenty of other people within your department with lots of expertise when it comes to publishing. Failing that, postdoctoral and fellow PhD students can be a good sounding board. There is also a wealth of information online, and most universities run useful 1-day courses in how to get published.
  2. Be persistent. It’s a long old process and it can be tempting to give up. Rejection by a journal, in particular, can be difficult to deal with the first time. But stick with it. Everyone gets knocked back, but nobody can do anything to you when your name is in black and white, or you get your first citation. Those feelings of achievement are pretty amazing.
  3. In the words of the late, great Douglas Adams; DON’T PANIC. We’ve all been where you are now and made it through, so stay the course. You will get there in the end, and it will be worth it.

And remember, you’ll never forget your first publication. I know I don’t: Bond, T. A. (1996) War, War, War. In Tales of the Wind. Faber and Faber Publishing, London.

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