Not Taught in School: Reflections on Publishing for the First Time

Hey there, ArLiSNAP blog readers! It’s been a minute since we had a feature blog post so I thought I’d drum something up for you. Today I wanted to talk about my first experience publishing an article (which is forthcoming). I wrote this a few weeks ago, but put off posting it so as not to jinx anything with my own publication. However, I recently saw the proof (!!!), which means it’s really happening! So I decided to go ahead and post. Additionally, this very timely essay by Kathryn Rudy was recently published on The True Costs of Researching and Publishing for art historians, so I hope that in coordination with that piece, this post can offer some information that might be helpful. Publishing is intimidating, and, as it turns out, can be highly expensive. It’s good to be in the know regarding the components that go into it. 

black Corona typewriter on brown wood planks
Image Source: Unsplash

As a new professional, I’ve wanted to do research for awhile. I worked in a public library and then a community college library, both while teaching art history as an adjunct. In the latter position, I also started/completed library school, worked as a graduate teaching assistant, and had a baby. Needless to say, I wasn’t given time in my community college position explicitly to do research, and it wasn’t in my job description either. I was BUSY, and research was something I missed from graduate school, but something that seemed, well, out of reach for the moment. When I was hired into my first tenure track (TT) position, I was excited that research would be part of my job requirements; however, the type of job I had didn’t really line up with my actual research interests, nor did I receive release time in which to do research. If I wanted to research in my subject area of expertise, I was definitely gonna have to do it in my personal time. I’m getting to the point, I swear! 

Now, in my current position, I’m not only required as part of my tenure requirements to publish and present on research topics, as well as perform service for the profession, I’m given time to do so. As I write this now, I’m taking time from my daily librarian duties to serve my art librarian community. This is part of my job. I am given time to do this. I am one of the lucky ones. Many of those who are in TT positions don’t have this kind of dedicated research and service time. That being said, deciding WHAT and HOW and WHERE to publish is super daunting to the new professional. So where to start? 

In my case, I decided to start with something relatively finished. A few years ago, I adapted one of the chapters of my master’s thesis to give a talk an art conference. I decided that I could take some time to adapt what was already a written article into a more polished version and submit it somewhere. I found a journal that aligned exactly with my research focus. I edited my paper, had some folks take a look at it, read the guidelines on the journal website, took a deep breath, and hit send on the sucker. 

One hour later…

I received an email telling me that in the UPCOMING ISSUE, there was an article coming out on the EXACT ARTIST and related subject area, so that they would read mine, but likely wouldn’t publish it in their next run, since it was so similar. 

Full disclosure, I cried. Like ugly cried. 

Listen. Being hired into a TT position at a Research 1 (R1) university as a subject area expert (aka my dream job) was exhilarating! And a big confidence boost. That doesn’t mean that I’m not new at this stuff and that I don’t feel vulnerable and scared sometimes. There is a lot of pressure on all of us to do what we do well. Honestly, I’ve been told that publishing an article in a peer-reviewed journal your first year on the job is really not that usual, and that it’s ok if I don’t. But here I was, holding on to a COMPLETELY WRITTEN article…how could I not find someone to publish this? More importantly, why hadn’t I acted faster, so this journal would have read mine first instead of the other author’s? (Sidenote: I’ve since read the other article, which is quite different than mine, but offered some great insights. I actually used some of it in my revised article later on so…silver linings). 

So, I pulled down the shades in my office, had a good cry, tried to pull them back up again, couldn’t, had to ask for help from a student worker, and then went to a meeting, where I promptly spoke of my woes and received a lot of encouragement from my colleagues. I am nothing if not a verbal processor. 

The next day, I looked at other journal options. I emailed the person who had given me a no and asked to withdraw my article. I found a journal published by an association I’m familiar with and resubmitted it there. In order to do this I had to: edit it again, reformat to meet the requirements for that particular journal, and move my images from within the article to a separate document.

woman writing on notebook
Image Source: Unsplash

Much to my overwhelming surprise, the editor got back to me quickly and let me know that they thought it would be a good fit, and that they would send it on to the peer-reviewers, which could be a lengthy process (in the humanities especially, they have to find reviewers that are not only subject area experts, but also specialists in the particular era you’re researching). Within about a month, which I’m told is MUCH faster than usual, the reviewers sent back my article with the recommendation to publish contingent on pretty substantial revisions. I was given about a month and a half to complete the revisions (should I choose to at that point…sometimes writers will look at reviewer comments and decide to withdraw their article if they feel they just need to redo and resubmit or think perhaps it’s just a better fit elsewhere). I accepted the charge though and decided to revise.

OK. I was elated. I am elated. Imposter syndrome is such a real thing, right? And not only am I super new at this: my job, professional research, publishing, all of it, but I also only have a master’s degree. Therefore, to me, publishing in my subject of interest felt out of reach, even as I was trying to do it. But in the words of one of my art history colleagues, I had to “just put it out there. See what happens.” 

When I finally had time, I sat down and looked over the reviewers’ comments in even more detail. Panic ensued. Imposter syndrome struck again. How the hell was I going to address all of these things in a month and a half?? After verbally processing my feelings with probably ten people (I’m not kidding, I do this when I’m making a big purchase, too, which in my world is anything over $50), I printed out the comments and made a list. I made a list of the comments I could look into and/or change quickly, and the feedback that would take more thinking to approach. I tackled the ones I could do quickly. Got them done, patted myself on the back, and then got to work on the big stuff. I sent it back in.

black pencil on paper
Image Source: Unsplash

The article was returned from the editor with heavy edits (I wrote the bulk of this as a grad student, I totally expected heavy editing), some comments to respond to, and the charge of obtaining permissions and high quality reproductions for all the works I planned to include with the article.

Enter panic again.

I had never gotten rights to images. I have no money. I thought we were good, people! This artist’s work is all in the public domain! Buttttt, to publish in print, images need to be 300 dpi. There are some images in the public domain that are high resolution and can be sized up, but high res images for the works owned by museums, well, you have to go to the museum to get those. And they all have different ways of handling their visual resources. Thankfully, a number of museums, like the National Gallery of Art (D.C.), have made reproductions of public domain works in their collection open access. For at least one painting, I was able to download a print quality high res image with language regarding attribution and rights, straight from their website. Others are often handled through reproduction requests, which, for public domain works, are sometimes free. I did have to pay out of pocket for a few, but those were reproductions handled by a private French agency and their U.S. counterpart. To be totally transparent, I paid around $200 for the rights to publish four images. Some journals, such as The Metropolitan Museum Journal, have begun to pay this cost for authors; however, I don’t think this is common, and in the case of smaller journals, they simply don’t have the budget for it. 

Basically I’m here to tell you: if you are writing an article that requires reproductions of specific works of art, in the public domain or not, AS SOON as your article is recommended for publication, start figuring out what your options are. It takes time and I had to do some scrambling, which didn’t help my first-time author nerves. 

After all of that, my final revised article, along with the images and required attribution information, has been submitted to the journal’s editor. It went through copy editing, and then to the designer, and then I was shown a proof of the way the pages will be laid out with the image reproductions to look over. I had one last chance to note any typos or mistakes and then give my approval, which I have now done. Woohoo! 

It’s important to me that I record how I feel as I navigate these types of transactions. And as a new academic, who is also a socialized (and identified cis-gendered white) woman, it is important to me that as I learn, others do too. There is no reason for the process through which we research and publish to be opaque, but it often is. Each journal will have a different set of requirements and timeline. For instance, another colleague of mine submitted an article several months ago that was sent to readers, and they haven’t heard back at all. An experience like that is within the range of typical. Like anything else, once you’re doing it, it will begin to feel normal. That hasn’t quite happened for me yet, but going through the process has helped me understand that publishing is an attainable goal in my life. 

I hope this blog post provides some needed encouragement or empathy with whatever you’re going through. I seriously cannot wait until I get to see an article that I wrote (even though I still want to change things about it) in print and in my hands. It just feels like a pipe dream. BUT! It’s really happening and it will for you too. Godspeed, friends!

you are enough text
Image Source: Unsplash

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