Types of Publishing
the academic article
Academic articles are the most common form of scholarly publishing. Seasoned scholars usually have a lot of articles and a few books on their CVs. For first-time authors, an academic article is a great way to start and chances are you've got something to work with already. It is very common for an article to be an extension or revision of a seminar paper or a thesis/dissertation chapter.
The biggest distinguishing factor between this kind of writing and others is the requirement of adding something new to the field. For example, a book review might summarize a book and explain where it fits in the field, but it will not add something to or change the debate.
Never fear originality
The whole "adding something new" pressure can be daunting. Don't worry; there are a lot of ways to contribute something new to even longstanding and widely discussed topics. Adding to the field does not mean that you have to completely refute a theory or craft an entirely new study. Some of the most important contributions are smaller in scope. In fact, even if you frame an existing issue in a new light through a new example or a comparison, you're doing something new. As you read the literature in your field, you are likely to find that there are many articles on the same topic. You'll see that while they discuss the same ideas, they are not identical. Always remember that you do have something original to say! The challenge is to figure out which of your pieces of writing is the most worthy of taking the time to publish it.
If you're starting from scratch
You can begin with an example that has not been discussed (to the best of your knowledge) or you can explain a hole in a theory, or you can dive in and offer a new spin on an existing conversation. A good way to get motivated is to brainstorm (or do some other pre-writing exercises) a list of the ideas you have encountered in your research that have really piqued your interest. Return to specific texts and debates; toss around the ideas and find the way to make your mark on the topic.
Try to work with what you've already got
If you're thinking about publishing something that you've written, you need to page through your essays and assess the value of publishing each piece. Consider whether or not it was well-received by your professor/advisor or colleagues. (If not, that doesn't mean it's not worth publishing! You just might need to revise it a bit.) Also think about perhaps the biggest question: does this piece of writing offer something to an existing scholarly conversation?
The Taxonomy of an academic article
Academic articles have too many features to list and there are as many types as there are disciplines. However, a few requisite features include:
- A clear statement that relates to a fairly contemporary topic in the field.
- A defining characteristic: the thing that makes your article unique.
- A brief explanation of how your contribution adds to/fits into the conversation.
- A tone of authority and knowledge.
- A powerful conclusion that clarifies what the article adds to the field, why such an addition matters and where scholars can go next.
Unfortunately, journal publications are almost universally voluntary. Some elite journals do pay scholars, but in general, academic publishing is a labor of love and career advancement.
Articles and books are the most common forums for scholarly publishing. However, there is another option that is worth considering. A good way to jumpstart your scholarship, while adding to your research base, is to write and publish a book review.
If you have read book reviews already, you're familiar with this style of critiquing. It is somewhat different from a film review; the tone is not exactly "thumbs up" or "thumbs down," but more like a detailed and critical summary. In some cases, a reviewer will explain how a book fits into an academic field. Most reviews offer some form of evaluation, such as outlining the volume's strengths and making note of deficiencies (ex. topics that may be missing). While all book reviews are similar, some journals have specialized approaches, so if you've got your eye on publishing in a particular journal, read a few of its reviews.
Choose your journal
Most academic journals publish a few book reviews in each issue. In rare cases a journal will be devoted to publishing reviews only, such as Education Review: A Journal of Book Reviews. Rest assured; there are plenty of opportunities for publishing book reviews, and there are a couple of ways to find the right journal. In the research you have conducted for coursework, you have probably returned to the same publications several times. It's a great idea to publish in journals that you're familiar with because this can be (one of) your first entries into a scholarly conversation that you've been taking part in as a reader from issue to issue. Another way to find a good forum for your book review is to start with a specific book. If there is a recently published book that you'd like to review, you might consider finding a journal that suits the book well.
Shoot high! Don't be shy about seeking out publishing in the best journals in your field. Book reviews are not as competitive as academic articles (there is not usually peer review for this type of writing) so you stand a great chance of getting your words in the journal of your choice. See "Choosing the Right Journal" for some pointers on identifying quality and respected journals.
Choose your book
Editors are always seeking reviewers. They usually do not have particular books in mind, but some journals keep wish lists on their websites. Many editors send out CFPs (Calls for Papers, in this case reviews) seeking reviews of specific books. A good way to find out what the journals are looking for is to locate and subscribe to a popular listserv in your academic area. Editors regularly post to central lists, and people often forward requests that they get from other sources.
The most common way to publish a book review, however, is to propose a book directly to an editor. They expect scholars like you to contact them with proposals. Ideally, you would begin with a nagging urge to write about a specific book that you're incorporating into your research. Taking on a new book is worthwhile only if your larger research agenda will benefit from reading it. Be choosy!
A good way to jog your memory for interesting books is to take a look at bibliographies from papers that you've written in the last couple of years. If you wrote a literature review for a course or your thesis, it is possible that you have already started a review of a book that would be appealing to editors. You will have to revise and tweak your writing for the book review genre, but you might as well get used to doing so, as many published articles started out as seminar papers!
Contact the publisher
Calls for Papers (CFP) always provide email addresses for proposal submission. If you don't have a CFP in hand, contacting the editor can be tricky. Thankfully, most journals have websites which provide email addresses via "contact," "about us," or most conveniently, "submissions" links. If the journal of your choice does not have a website, contact information is available in the front, or sometimes the back, of hard copy journals. Phone numbers are pretty rare, as few journals have actual offices, let alone full-time paid staff! Many journals have review editors, but any submission inquiry email address will do.
Once you have the contact information, write a formal (and brief) letter proposing a specific book for review and hopefully you'll receive a reply shortly. The business of academic publishing can be quite sluggish (yes, even with the speed of the internet) so don't be surprised if they take a while to get back to you.
Note: It is customary to propose a piece of writing to one journal at a time.
Submit your review
As with all publications, you must follow the submission guidelines laid out by the editor. Each journal provides detailed instructions and they expect scholars to follow them to the letter. Please read Preparing for Publication for advice on how to submit works for publication.
Unfortunately, journal publications are almost universally voluntary. Academic publishing is a labor of love and career advancement.