[This post is a follow up to some passing comments in this post, which prompted a few emails from readers.--ES]
"You are publishing too much," said one of my letter writers (while I was preparing for the fourth time on the market), "Harvard will never take you." The preceding year (2004 or so) I had six acceptances. I loooked at him (and edited my words carefully), and responded: "Harvard has had its chance, I need a job!" In graduate school nobody explained how to write a journal article. After the third year out on the job-market I had one publication--a long piece on Adam Smith's obituary of David Hume (that was, despite some kvetchy refereeing, accepted and significantly shortened under the wise and helpful editorial guidance by Ken Winkler and Elizabeth Radcliffe--bless their souls). It's not like I wasn't trying to get published: a paper sat at Philosophical Review for a year (rejection without comment); another version of that paper was rejected after a year at BJPS (a one paragraph, misleading summary and no further comment). I don't recall the exact details, but another journal (PPR?) was about to stop accepting submissions, etc. Meanwhile, one other paper was getting elaborate referee comments on how I was clearly ignorant of the important work done by George Smith (George, my undergraduate guru, and I have had a paper forthcoming since the late 1990s).
So what changed was this: with the help of senior colleagues at Wesleyan and, especially, Red Watson at WashU in St. Louis (my first two adjunct positions--yeah, don't cry for me--), I learned how to craft a journal article, and started to send papers to slightly less incrowd journals with reputations for quick turn-around and getting things in print fairly quickly. Below the fold some of the things I picked up (with room for readers' comments):
- Keep it simple, decomplexify, or (if you wish) dumb it down. One thesis per paper; one thesis per sub-section.
- If you have more than one thesis, split the paper into multiple papers. (But don't try to reduce it to the minimal publishable unit; that's just boring.)
- If a footnote is really interesting and long, turn it into a seperate paper for Analysis.
- If you have no clear thesis you have not figured out yet why you should be published.
- Your summary and abstract should list the substantive claims you argue for (not some vague intentions), even the main argument. An expert in the field needs to be excited at once.
- Show command over the secondary literature in the first few footnotes. (Larry May said this in passing once; it was a total eye-opener to me.)
- After a rejection w/o comment send the paper to the next, pre-selected journal without delay. (This was taught to me as the "Chris Korsgaard rule"--not sure if it is true, and who my source was.)
- After a rejection with comments, incorporate them at once (unless they cause you to violate the one thesis per paper rule) and send the paper out the next day.
- If you have a revise and resubmit just follow what the referees want from you no matter how contradictory. (If you don't, explain it in a sentence or two in a cover letter--but the explanation needs to be simple.) After the paper has been accepted you can quietly remove or edit the worst suggestions--BUT ALWAYS CHECK WITH THE EDITOR FIRST (the original version gave unethical advice--ES).
- Have trusted friends, who will read your work quickly (within a week), and give you honest, detailed comments before you send it out the first time. (Don't wait for the people who promise you comments, but have -- ahum -- their own lives to lead.)
- Don't re-edit bibliography to fit the journal until after the paper has been accepted.
- If you have a known enemy in your niche, praise their work in the footnotes.
- Insert the mean-spirited critical footnote, if any, after acceptance during the final copy-editing stage. (I suppose that's the "Schliesser-rule.")
- Does the journal have an automatic computer system to handle submissions? If so, it probably has a smooth editorial process. (This is defeasible.)
- Try finding a journal that focuses on your niche. There are lots of great, niche journals run by extremely knowledgeable editors that know your field after a life-time of experience. They will become resources for life.
- Co-author with people who have a solid, ongoing publication record.
- You need lots of luck. These days a lot of journals reject papers without sending them to referees. It's unfair. If you want cosmic justice become an accountant.