A neophyte navigates the publishing process

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With my first journal article out with Ashley R. Kelly in Environmental Communication, I wanted to write about the experience of navigating the publishing process as a young scholar. Perhaps sharing my experience might help other young scholars as they work through the process.

Our path to publishing this particular article began last January, 2011, with the announcement of the Duke Energy and Progress Energy merger in the Carolinas and our decision to pursue a joint project on the merger. We conducted research on the online public reaction to the merger for a CRDM seminar class during the spring semester and concluded the semester by presenting part of the paper at a local conference, Environments, Risks, and Digital Media symposium, at NC State. At ERDM, we were on a panel with four other scholars who were also discussing issues related to nuclear energy. At that point in mid-April, the disaster at Fukushima Dai-ichi in Japan was a timely topic, and the other presenters (as well as we) discussed issues related to the Japanese nuclear accident.

The faculty member taking the lead for our panel, Bill Kinsella, at NCSU, thought that our panel was very cohesive and that it addressed an issue of relevance to the scholarly community. So, he contacted the journal’s editor to pitch a themed section of the journal for an upcoming issue featuring each of our talks in a manuscript form. The editor was interested and suggested we submit – great! At that point it was late April, and collectively, we aimed for a mid-summer submission, hoping to have the issue published in time for the one year anniversary of the accident.

Ashley and I spent many hours furiously revising our project to better reflect the discussion of the panel as a whole and to refine the arguments that we were making. At that point, we had received feedback from our seminar instructor, audience members at the conference, and Bill, as he was overseeing the submission of the whole package to EC. We primarily worked in Google docs, though as we got into later stages of writing and a couple sets of feedback from Bill, we switched over to Word documents with track changes. (I will still always prefer Google docs for collaborative writing.) We polished up our essay, and Bill put the entire package together, submitting it sometime mid summer. And then we waited.

And waited. That’s the toughest part! The first reviewer responded, generally in favor of the themed section, but with concerns for one of the papers that was ultimately cut and for revisions of the others – both of which we anticipated in advance. Unfortunately, the second reviewer never responded to our essays, ultimately delaying the process until the end of the year with still no answer at our end. Finally, the editor took it upon himself to make a decision, consulted with Bill on the revisions needed to make the submission a successful one, and returned the package to each of the authors for revisions on our respective manuscripts. This time – we had to cut the manuscript by nearly 2,000 words – no small feat for any author, when you generally want the information to be in there if you put it there in the first place! We turned to another colleague, who gave insightful and critical comments on our manuscript to help us see that we indeed had more to say than we were letting come out and helped us to be more assertive in our scholarship. While our collective group missed the deadline for submitting the final package in time for a March 2012 Fukushima anniversary issue, the package was ultimately submitted and accepted for publication, in the June 2012 issue.

Our path to getting our project in print was by no means a linear trajectory, and at times the wait was difficult. In the end, we were about 12 months from submission of manuscript to publication date – not unusual by publishing standards, and certainly faster than might happen with other journals. I learned a few important lessons about publishing as I move forward:

  1. When you think your manuscript is done, it is not. There are always more revisions to do, more words to ruthlessly edit for concision, or another piece of literature that would make sense to include. At some point, you have to say you’ve done enough to get it out for review and concede that you can still make key changes at the revision stage. Our essay is nearly unrecognizable from initial submission to the version we turned in for final publishing proofs. 
  2. Waiting sucks, but use the time wisely. It is especially hard to wait when the project is under review. But we took that time to work on other manuscripts, but also to get the word out as much as possible about the project that we had submitted (just not saying we had submitted it). We presented other data sets from the project at various conferences, gave poster presentations, and even visited Progress Energy. We got a lot of mileage out of the one project and learned a lot about being efficiently productive as a scholar from this research. 
  3. Asking others to review your manuscript is crucial. Our manuscript would not have been publishable without the assistance of at least four other people beyond Ashley and I. Each person who gave us feedback brought a different perspective and impacted our manuscript in various ways, but ultimately, they all made our drafts better and getting published possible. Seek out people beyond your close circle and take a chance on sending your manuscript to someone in your field outside of your institution or graduate program. You might be surprised at how generous a lot of people are with their time and ideas. 

Of course, I have by no means conquered this system, but this is my one idiosyncratic experience with scholarly publishing. While I would have absolutely preferred to publish in an open access journal, as just one person on a panel I was not able to make that choice for my work. However, I am very pleased with the fit of our article and entire section with the journal Environmental Communication. Our article is the first one that discusses Twitter and environmental comm issues at length and thus, I think, makes a significant contribution to the field.

Now, what’s next?!

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