What's it like to be scholarly-published?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I sent out a ton of student-essay-award applications, based primarily on term papers. One of those was the Gerd Muehsam Award, run by ARLIS/NA. I didn’t win (Jasmine Burns won [by submitting her MA thesis, which is another thing you can totally do]!) but the award committee very kindly wrote back to say that they had “recommended” my essay for publication in Art Documentation.

Spoiler: I totally got published, and it’s awesome.

Now that I’ve been through the process start-to-finish, I thought it would be useful to recount it all and show what it’s like for a first-timer. There are a few embarrassing moments, which I’m happy to share in the hopes that other people won’t make the same mistakes, and I’ll end with other things worth taking into account.

Important: I have a background in publishing. I worked for several years as a section editor, copyediting, doing ad sales, layout, etc. So, I’m more familiar with a lot of this stuff than your average MLIS student. Everyone should graduate with some publishing experience, at least from WordPress on up, but unfortunately LIS education does not yet seem to guarantee that. (Oh hey did I mention ArLiSNAP loves volunteers and you should totally write for us?)

 

The first step was, of course, waiting politely for Judy Dyki, the editor / human interface of Art Documentation, to reach out and tell me she thought my essay about Linked Open Data could be “worked into a very interesting article.” Cue the gushing. In its original version as a student paper, it had adhered to a harsh page limit (shunting off a large portion into an Appendix), used the wrong citation style, had a Terminology section I figured I would probably want to cut, and was generally in a format I wouldn’t condone for anyone’s first foray into getting their name into scholarly print.

Your mileage will certainly vary on this — if you’re using student papers it will likely be a “state of things” style essay; as a practitioner your submission will probably be a case study or a best-practice review, reporting on your own collection or exhibit; original research is the least likely, perhaps if you’re reproducing a thesis or independent study. These formats all require different skill-sets and expertise, and I can only tell you my experience in the former, which to me is not strenuous, as it’s all lit review and some wild speculation — my specialty! (I have done some copyediting on original research in my time, and I only want to say one thing: Triple-check your math, and your explanations thereof.)

My initial rework shifted things around, added a few minor sections, and updated the entire piece with recent scholarship: it had been written for the Fall 2013 term, so by the time I turned in a revised version it was August 2014, nine months out of date. This doesn’t sound like much, but I was writing about an emerging technology and how it might be used in the field of art librarianship, so nine months was forever. As an example of a minor edit, the Getty had released another of its name authorities into Linked Open Data in that time period.

Then there were general formatting changes. Art Doc uses Chicago Style, which almost nobody uses in school, and is a substantial change not just to the look of an essay but to the sentence structures that contain citations.

Here’s where my first warning occurs: beware the formatting changes, especially when it comes to citation. I introduced an error into my manuscript at this stage that didn’t get caught until the proofing step — my last chance before publication. For the “case study” in my essay, I had cited several progress reports and presentations done by the American Art Collaborative throughout their LOD implementation process. At some point during the reformatting into Chicago Style, I managed to lose an entire paper citation from my reference list. More on this later.

 

After turning in my article for the September 2014 deadline, I was sent an article for peer review. The deal is this: if you get published, you should pay it forward (i.e. if two reviewers worked on your article, you should be a reviewer for two articles in return). It turns out I really like peer reviewing, because of my editorial background, and greatly enjoy providing constructive criticism with suggestions on how to improve.

I think looking at the process from both angles (as a submitter and a reviewer) helps improve each task — for example, part of deciding whether an article suits a journal is seeing whether that journal has published similar articles in the past, and whether this new addition refers to and builds on those, or pushes the field in a new direction. One of the articles I reviewed clearly did not refer to earlier pieces on the same subject in Art Doc, and basically rehashed existing discussion — meaning regular readers would find it redundant.

I had of course done lots of research for my own essay, but hadn’t really scoured the past issues of Art Doc in particular to see if there was any mention of my topic. Once I performed that search, it helped me think about whether to keep my terminology section, because I was introducing phrases and concepts that had never before graced the pages of the journal. Of course, my article was already being peer-reviewed at that point.

PR instructions

I wrote a lot of words about this, so there will be a Part Two ….


About allanaaa

allana.mayer [at] mail.mcgill.ca

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