What I wish I’d known: Journal submissions

Kirsten McKenzie, Deputy Editor of Women’s History Review, shares the tips she wished she had as an ECR about journal submissions.

Pick the right journal: will they be interested in you?

Most of the submissions I get as deputy editor of Women’s History Review are great – and even if they aren’t great enough to be accepted they are at least on an appropriate topic. But sometimes I open an email and think: “What the…?!?”

Consider your readership. We aren’t going to publish your work if it doesn’t fit our aims and scope. Just mentioning a woman (or two) in passing won’t cut it, even if you have written an otherwise brilliant essay. Familiarise yourself with what the journal wants. For us, it is work that furthers “feminist knowledge and debate about women and/or gender relations in history”.

Pick the right journal: are you interested in them?

 You want to be part of the scholarly conversations that are most beneficial to you (and others). Also – in a highly competitive job market, will the publication help you? Don’t waste the core idea of your thesis on a second-rate journal when it could appear somewhere more prestigious. Have a wish-list of journals and don’t be afraid to aim high – just be prepared to reassess on the basis of rejection. At the same time, you do need to be careful (and strategic) about timing. You might find yourself in difficulties with overlaps between journal submissions and book manuscripts. Time pressure can become a problem too – all submissions will involve multiple rounds of assessment and revision. A journal website will often describe their process so do some research and find out what to expect. Although this is an extreme example, consider what is required to pass the gatekeepers of American Historical Review, which only publishes 8-10 per cent of the submissions it receives each year.

How long is too long?

All this being said, don’t let things stall. Editors are busy people, reviewers are busy people and email is not registered mail. Even the automated systems some journals use are not infallible. Things fall through the cracks – including your submission. An online system that fails to clarify the status of an accepted submission, an article lost when the journal changes publishers … yes, the horror stories are true. If it is several months and you haven’t heard anything, send a polite enquiry as to progress. Use the journal’s suggested lines of communication first, but if the automated system does not respond then email the editor directly. But be realistic, not annoying, about timeframes. Journals may provide details of how long they give their readers to assess work. But – have you ever been late for a deadline? Always expect people to take longer than they should.

Feedback – make it work for you

I try to provide a road map for authors, particularly when the determination is ‘revise and resubmit’. But how you read reports is beyond my control. Witness the varied replies I get to ‘this needs a lot more work’. There is the breezy and clueless genre: ‘great, the piece will be fixed within a week.’ ‘No, it won’t.’ But don’t go to the opposite extreme and give up in rage and despair when you get negative comments. Weeping, swearing and chucking things about is OK so long as you don’t stay there. A long and critical report is one that has made the effort to engage intensively with your work. Use this to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to seek clarification from the editor if you are unclear about conflicting advice from different assessors. Most journals ask you to resubmit with a covering explanation of how you have responded to the reports. Work carefully on framing this. And a final point on this topic – while you obviously want to get published, it shouldn’t be at any cost. If feedback is pushing you in directions you absolutely don’t want to go, it might clarify that you have picked the wrong journal. In this case a tactfully-worded email withdrawing your submission might be the most appropriate response.

Feedback – ask advice

 Get people you trust to look at the reports – especially if you aren’t happy with them – and advise on the revisions. Other opinions are always invaluable. I’d like to thank my own writing group, ‘The Alchemists’, for their advice on the topic of this blog.


Kirsten McKenzie is Professor of History at the University of Sydney. Her most recent book is Imperial Underworld: An Escaped Convict and the Transformation of the British Colonial Order (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

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