Publishing my First Academic Journal Paper
Hello, Dear Readers! Welcome back to An Eddying Flight where, today, I'll be talking about the process of getting my very first journal paper accepted for publication in a peer reviewed journal (and apologies, as always, for any weirdness caused by Wix's profound issues with formatting. I tried).
The paper in question was adapted from an essay that I wrote for my Master's Degree, in which I analysed different versions of the fairytale 'Beauty & the Beast'.
It will be published, hopefully in April, in the first volume of Leaf Journal, whose focus is practice-led and practice-based research on writing for young people.
(A massive thank you here to my lovely friend Jo for tagging me on Twitter to point me toward the announcement of the open call for papers! I might well have missed the opportunity otherwise).
Leaf asked for papers to be submitted through Scholastica, which required me to set up a (free) Scholastica account with all my details, but spared me from having to compose a traditional covering/query letter or attach a CV. I did have to write an abstract and provide keywords and the word count etc. That page looks like this:
When I sent the paper in, I was (of course) hopeful that Leaf Journal might consider publishing it. But I was mainly hoping to get some kind of constructive feedback that I could learn from. I know I bang on a lot about coming from a non-traditional background - and perhaps all students feel like this occasionally - but I really do get a bit lost sometimes when it comes to papers, articles, chapters, and how any of these are put together, especially in contrast to something I'm more familiar with, like an essay. I wanted to learn more about what kind of content precisely would make up a valuable practice-led paper in my discipline, and because the Leaf Journal website specified that they were seeking to develop early career writers and researchers, I thought there was a chance that I might get lucky and get some critique even if they rejected me.
Well, I did get lucky - luckier than I expected. They came back to me to offer me the chance to revise and resubmit, which was effectively the ideal outcome for me. I was being offered the benefit of constructive comments on how to improve and add value to my paper from two anonymous reviewers, as well as an overview from one of the managing editors, and an assurance that if I did a thorough job of carrying out the suggested revisions, they would definitely be interested in publishing the paper. This, let me tell you, is much more straightforward than the sort of on-spec hedging and umming and aahing you normally get from a commercial publisher. I was of course delighted to accept.
I've seen some fairly scary horror stories about reviewer comments from other people in academia on Twitter, so I admit that when I opened the marked-up document which the journal had sent me, I was bracing myself. But the comments from the reviewers and from the managing editor of the journal all lined up. They noted the same issues in the same places in the article, without contradicting each other or going off on any tangents that revealed more about their own pet peeves than my work (again, not always the case when working with multiple editors from commercial publishers). They also made time to point out the aspects of the paper that they felt worked well, which is a real help for me when I'm revising because it lets me know which bits I can leave well enough alone.
Generally, the reviewers felt that the paper would be strengthened by adding an analysis of another important version of the Beauty & the Beast story and some acknowledgement of further work by one of the authors I'd cited. They recommended a bit of thoughtful engagement with some other scholarship (and differing points of view) on the topic and - most of all - more detail on the creative process of writing my own version of the fairytale, which was the final one I'd analysed in the paper.
As they pointed out, talking about creative process and what it teaches you, and then linking that back to your topic, is one of the main ways that Creative Writing research differs from English Literature research. Because submissions to Leaf Journal must be anonymous I'd struggled to talk in much detail about the creative process of writing Barefoot on the Wind, my Beauty & the Beast retelling, in the version of the article I'd submitted. I had to type XXXX whenever I gave an identifying detail! But now that issue was out of the way, I needed to go into some real depth there in order to make sure my paper qualified as truly practice-led.
I'm a veteran of dealing with constructive feedback in a professional and efficient manner, so of course my next step after checking out the reviewers comments was... to panic and freak out completely, convinced that I'd messed up by promising to resubmit the article, and that I was going to let the managing editor who had been so kind to me down. However! Because I *am* actually quite used to dealing with editorial feedback, I knew that this panic stage is fairly standard for me. So I gave myself a week to calm down, thinking about the paper and the comments whenever I could bring myself to do so, and on day seven I sat myself down and re-read the marked up manuscript. Then I made a list of what I needed to do to, in concrete terms, to fulfil the requests the reviewers had made.
This amounted to:
Read the suggested literature. Happily, I'd previously read and still owned two of the versions of the story that the reviewers mentioned. I just needed to dig those out and skim them again to refresh my memory. The other scholarship was easily accessible online.
Write and insert the new analysis and acknowledgement of other works suggested.
Come up with a response to the further scholarship and differing points of view. Insert that, too.
Fish out all my old longhand journals and notebooks from 2014-15 when I was writing and revising Barefoot on the Wind and see what interesting stuff I could glean to share about the creative process, then rewrite that final section of the article in response.
Revise the new version of the paper as a whole to smooth over the transitions between old and new material, and fix some small inconsistencies in my references.
Point 4 was obviously the most challenging one, since it involved me going into detail about choices, changes, creative false-starts and inspirations for a book that I wrote nearly a decade ago, and connecting these back to the themes of the paper. Never have I been so glad for my habit of 'thinking on the page' when I'm drafting, or for my hoarding tendencies!
After a day of flipping through my dog-eared and sometimes barely legible notes, I had found several areas that I thought might be interesting to write about, but which didn't necessarily fit with the themes of the paper. For instance, I had nearly forgotten that at one point the first half of the novel had a non-linear structure. I loved keeping certain secrets from my reader this way, but my editor declared it too confusing, so I was forced to cut and paste about 40,000 words into a more conventional first and second act structure (though this proves that I was obsessed with playing with narrative time even then).
But I hit gold when I came across scribblings that detailed my struggle to deal with supporting female characters - including Beauty's traditionally wicked sisters, and the 'evil fairy' - in a way that would reject the misogynist stereotypes and the tendency to exceptionalise Beauty which were exhibited by many tellings and retellings of Beauty & the Beast. This linked directly into the analyses I'd done of the other versions of the story in the paper.
I de-anonymised the section dealing with Barefoot on the Wind and rewrote it top-to-bottom, talking about what I'd hoped to accomplish, what decisions I'd made and why, and what I eventually learned. My objective was to offer insights that might be useful to other creative writers, and link my own decisions back to the ideas about the 'timeless' fairytale tropes and ideals I'd examined throughout the paper.
To my surprise, doing this work didn't take nearly as long as expected. I had submitted the first version of the article to Leaf in September, but in November there were some big changes in my caring responsibilities which left me with much less time to write (and feeling exhausted and swamped besides). Because of this, when Leaf sent me the invitation to revise and resubmit, I'd asked for more time to work on the paper, and the managing editors very kindly agreed, even though this would inevitably delay the paper's inclusion in the online journal. I really thought it would take me weeks and weeks to find the time to make significant progress, and that I would find it a real slog to expand the piece as much as the reviewers comments suggested (I needed to add between 2000-2500 words, almost doubling the length). But it turned out that (once I'd dealt with my standard existential crisis) things went quite quickly, and I managed to get the paper in by the original deadline in mid-February.
This is a reminder to me that although the voices of my anxiety and insecurity certainly scream loudly, they don't often have much truthful to say. I'm so glad that I shut them out long enough to grasp the opportunity to submit the paper, and that I've been able to learn such a lot through working with Leaf to improve it. Sometimes the best way to deal with a crisis in Real Life is to write your way through it.
Now, I am (clearly) a beginner at this, and so while I've related my own experiences here in the hope they will be helpful to others, this is in no way a template for how anyone else, even within my discipline, should approach things. I think I've lucked out bigtime with this publication, really. So if you're seeking publication during your PhD work: avail yourself of the advice of your supervisors and colleagues, as well as other resources available online and from your institution!
Was this post useful or interesting? Did I miss anything out? Would you like to share your experience of academic publishing? Please do share in comments, on FB or Twitter - and as always, I promise to respond.