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Publish, don't perish – Instalment 38

What editors really want, Part II

Instalment 37 discussed editors' top two desires of their authors, which boiled down to:

  1. read and follow guidelines, and
  2. be familiar with the type of work they publish.

This month, find out what else is important in getting your work published in the library literature.

3. Editors want you to be familiar with the existing literature on your topic, to have something new to contribute and to know who will want to read it

You may have a truly wonderful topic – but if it has already been covered in the literature, you need to find a unique angle or conduct some unique research. Editors, and readers, don't want articles that cover the same old ground; they want to see new research and new perspectives. In terms of monographs, this extends to having something new and marketable to contribute; not only do you need to be familiar with the existing literature, you have to target your audience.

As Christopher Cox, editor, Internet Reference Services Quarterly points out:

"They should make sure they keep up with the literature to verify the uniqueness of their research and understand its place in what has already been done. I'm always looking for manuscripts about the next big idea but also want it to be grounded in the literature".

Trudi Jacobson, editor, Public Services Quarterly, agrees:

"Authors should look for a new and interesting angle on their topic, while acknowledging the existing literature (i.e. a literature review). So many submissions that I see are on topics about which much is written. In these cases, a fresh approach can make all the difference".

In terms of writing a book, Sue Easun, PhD, acquisitions editor, Libraries Unlimited offers some blunt advice:

"In the world of commercial monograph publishing, you have to think about who's going to buy it… it is not enough to say 'every academic librarian should own this' or 'every public library will want a copy'. Whether or not it's true, we all know deep down it's not going to happen! I recommend potential book authors take a look at their own professional libraries, as well as the professional collections in the institutions where they work. Given how many titles are published each year, what percentage is reflected there? Even more important, take a look at those titles and see if you can figure out/remember why they were selected. If you can tap into those qualities as you write up your proposal, your would-be editor will recognize a kindred spirit. Yes, you won't get far without a good topic, the expertise to handle it, and the writing skills to express it. But if your own experience shows you don't buy everything that's published, it's a good bet your colleagues don't either. So figure out who will, and target them".

4. Editors want you to be easy to work with

Editors are busy people, and many work on a volunteer basis. Build up your reputation as someone who is easy to work with, who will follow deadlines, communicate well, and take the time to ensure your final draft is in the best shape possible before turning it in.

Just ask Kathy Dempsey, editor in chief, Computers in Libraries magazine and editor, Marketing Library Services newsletter:

"As an editor who's in charge of two publications, I'm extremely busy. I want to hire authors who will be the easiest to work with. I look for people who will require the least hand-holding and who will write articles that will require the least editing. Even if you've never published before, you can prove to me that you're a worthwhile risk by ensuring that your query is written clearly, that it speaks to my publication's needs, and that you've done your homework on the publication. Bottom line: Show me that you'll take on the detailed work instead of throwing together something that I'll have to rewrite later".

Sarah Johnson, book review editor, Historical Novels Review, Charleston, IL notes that it can be easier than you might think to get published, if you just follow a few simple rules:

"Potential reviewers should be able to write well, follow the guidelines, and obey deadlines. Simple as that. With the Historical Novels Review, I ask for a sample review ahead of time, before I send reviewers any books. I also don't accept unsolicited reviews; everything is assigned in advance. So, with very few exceptions, everything that authors submit will be published".

5. Editors want you to communicate with them

Along these same lines, editors want authors who communicate quickly and clearly. Authors often complain about editors who are slow to respond – but, this works both ways! Editors working on deadlines to get an issue out need to know that you will make necessary changes, sign releases, answer questions, and otherwise get back to them in a timely fashion.

Carole M. Gilbert, MSLS, AHIP, FMLA, editor, Journal of Hospital Librarianship:

"They should read and sign whatever copyright release form the publication requires. Most journals cannot publish without the release and it is really difficult to get people to send them. Not having the proper documentation holds up the whole publishing process. Along with this, if the author is using a picture or logo, or any other graphic that is owned by someone else, they must send permission from the original owner. That can take time so authors should plan for that in their timelines."

6. Editors want you to work well with others

Like so much else in librarianship, writing often works best as a collaborative endeavour. Brad Eden, PhD, editor, OCLC Systems & Services: International Digital Library Perspectives, editor, The Bottom Line: Managing Library Finances, and associate editor, Library Hi Tech suggests:

"Have two colleagues read and provide comments, criticism, corrections, and revisions, before they submit their article for publication".

John Webb, editor, Information Technology and Libraries, concurs:

"I can give you my opinion in one word: collaborate. With the probable exception of the humanities, scholarship is not a game of solitaire. I'll quote from my first editorial in the March 2005 issue: 'Libraries are among society's most cooperative institutions, and librarians, members of one of the most cooperative of professions. The work we do is rarely that of solitary performers, whether it be research or the design and implementation of complex systems to serve our users. Writing about that should not be solitary either'. Obviously, retrospective works and think pieces are often exceptions. Even those benefit when a sole author shows his or her drafts to knowledgeable colleagues before reaching a finished copy. Therefore, collaborate in the writing, or, if one is the sole author, seek comments from colleagues before finalizing a piece of writing. The failure to do one or the other is the biggest mistake I think beginning writers in our profession make".

We tend to over-complicate the publishing process. But, by following a few simple rules and keeping in mind the dictum to save the time of the editor, we can drastically improve our odds. Take the advice of these working editors and take the time to make sure your interactions match up with their expectations.