A little while back I wrote about a presentation I gave to the Institute of Health & Society’s new Early Career Researcher group on getting published. I only managed to cover tips 1-5 in that post. As promised, here are tips 6-10.
6. Do unto other as you would have them do to you
Tip number 5 was ‘review, review, review’. Tip number 6 is a direct follow up and really comes down to ‘be nice’. Everyone knows how crushing it is to receive a damning review of a piece of work that has taken years to complete. Don’t be fooled. These horrid reviews are blueprints in how not to do it – not templates for your next review. Reviews have to be critical to be useful, but they don’t have to be harsh, personal or unkind. There are ways and ways of saying your whole research programme is scientifically unsound and you need a wholesale re-think.
7. Don’t make a rejection easy
Most assistant editors at most journals are unpaid volunteers. If they don’t do journal work in their ‘spare’ time, they do it in their ‘in-between’ time, around the edges of their real jobs. Online editorial management systems are good, but not great and it can sometimes be a bit of a struggle to keep track of all the documents associated with any one paper (original cover letter, original manuscript, two reviews of original manuscript, first response to author, revised cover letter, revised manuscript, two re-reviews of revised manuscript…). I am sure that most assistant editors have been tempted by the ‘reject’ button when they just can’t find what they’re looking for. You can reduce the chances of this happening by reading and following all the guidance provided. In particular, don't assume you know what the form letter inviting a revision says - read it carefully.
8. Expect rejection & find a (healthy) way to cope with it
A little while ago I was at a seminar delivered by a very well respected professor. The research they were presenting was just about to be published in The Lancet. During questions, the speaker told us about some follow-up work that was “currently doing the rounds of the journals”. This was a real reminder to me that everyone has papers that they struggle to get published: even important professors doing fantastic work that they think is really important. ‘Doing the rounds’ is normal. So you have to learn to deal with it – well. My personal preference is to ignore rejections for a few days. I see the email. I feel the sting. Then I let that dissipate before planning a time to read through the details and prepare the paper for the next place.
9. Don’t stop at publication
Getting published can be exhausting. After the research itself, the many rounds of drafting and redrafting, the formatting for endless different journals, by the time your paper is finally available for the world to see, the project has often long ended and the staff scattered. Despite this, publication in a peer-reviewed journal is just the start of the dissemination journey. If you really want people to read your paper, and find out about your results, you have to let them know about it. During your project you can keep a list of people who’ve said they’d be interested to read your results and send them the paper when it’s published. If your work might be of interest to the media, you can get in touch with your press office to talk about a press-release. You can present your results at academic conferences, and meetings of other people who you think might be interested. If you’re affiliated with Fuse, you might think about writing a blog post, or an evidence brief.
10. Enjoy the ride
If you work in university research, getting published is a core activity. Some people seem to be able to avoid winning grants, some people avoid much in the way of teaching, but you don’t come across many people who can wheedle their way out of getting published without attracting negative attention. If you’re going to do it, you might as well enjoy it. Enjoy the craft of writing, enjoy winning the battle with the reviewers, enjoy seeing your name at the top of the printed page, enjoy celebrating with your co-authors, enjoy how proud your grandma is of clever you.
As I said before, these might not be the toppest of top tips - just some things I thought worth thinking about. What are your top tips for getting published?