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Publish, don't perish – Instalment 37

What editors really want, Part I

New librarian authors often feel a bit lost, anxious about how to find out what editors "really want". To help remove some of the mystery, I asked for you – and editors were quite happy to explain!

Eleven editors at library-related journals, magazines and publishers shared their responses to one simple question: "What one thing should potential authors know – or do – to have the best chance of seeing their work in print?". While some provided more than one suggestion (or pet peeve), their answers revolved around six main themes. That's it! Just six things you should pay attention to in order to up your odds of seeing your work in print. This month, read about editors' two major desires, then come back in November for the final four.

1. Editors want you to read and follow their guidelines

Almost every editor contacted mentioned the importance of guidelines, which can be found on each publication's website under headings like "guidelines" or "instructions to authors". When you follow guidelines, you save editors' time and show you pay attention to detail. When you fail to follow guidelines, editors assume your sloppiness will carry over into your written work as well.

As Tim Buckley Owen, editor, Business Information Review explains:

"Read the journal's guidelines to potential authors – about its aims and scope as well as any guidance on style and approach – and believe them! If you want to try submitting something that doesn't quite match them, make sure you can mount a strong case for bending the rules".

No matter how strong your work in and of itself, failure to pay attention to a journal's instructions can torpedo your chances of seeing it published. Just ask Christopher Cox, editor, Internet Reference Services Quarterly:

"To have the best chance of seeing their work in print, potential authors should always follow the submission instructions to the letter, so a great manuscript might not be rejected on a formality".

Instructions to follow guidelines may seem obvious, but the most common mistake potential authors make is in ignoring these. Carole M. Gilbert, MSLS, AHIP, FMLA, editor, Journal of Hospital Librarianship:

"Believe it or not, the most important thing from my standpoint is that potential authors read the instructions for authors. One would think that would be self-evident, but it is obvious from the way I get manuscripts that most people do not. I cannot tell you how often the references have to be redone because they are not in the style required by the journal – or numbers in the references list do not match up with the numbers given in the article, or they are incomplete".

A la Ranganathan, following guidelines saves the time of the editor. Trudi Jacobson, editor, Public Services Quarterly explains:

"Editors do appreciate authors following the guidelines for submissions. It is possible for authors to ignore the guidelines and still have an article published, but they'll have to make the changes before it is accepted. Editors (at least this one) would prefer not to have to spell out all the items that weren't adhered to!".

Overall, following submission guidelines is the easiest way to increase your odds of being published. Cathi Dunn MacRae, former Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) editor in chief, says:

"I'll throw in a second tip, simple but so often ignored: Read the submission guidelines and then follow them ...The road to publication would be sublimely easy if submitting authors of any age did their homework and followed directions. (Of course, that's only true if they also send a worthy submission.)".

2. Editors want you to be familiar with the type of work they publish

When you submit work outside of the scope or style of a publication, you again waste both your own and the editor's time. Read several recent issues, paying attention to tone, audience, scope, style, topics. Look for information on the website or in the publication on what its editor is looking for.

Kathy Dempsey, editor in chief, Computers in Libraries Magazine and editor, Marketing Library Services newsletter, explains:

"To better your chances of having a piece published in a certain periodical, you should know that periodical very well. Be (or get!) familiar with it: know what sorts of topics it does and does not cover, whether its articles are scholarly or straightforward, when it takes submissions, and exactly whom to send them to. Few things ruin your chances as much as sending a query or a finished article that's totally off base in terms of content and/or writing style".

Reading a publication will show you both its intended audience and the topics it has already covered. According to Francine Fialkoff, editor in chief, Library Journal:

"Know your audience. Check out a few issues of the publication you're pitching a feature to and assess its focus, readership, tone, writing style, and so on. That way you won't fall into the major pitfalls, like writing academic, jargon-laden prose for a more popularly written publication, submitting notes galore for a non-footnoted periodical, sending in a proposal on a topic that they've done to death or would never do in a million years".

Another way to approach this is by starting with smaller or local publications with which you are already familiar. Monique Cuvelier, editor of FreePint and founder of NewsJobs.Net says:

"Potential authors have the best chances of seeing their work in print if they look close to home. They should start with local publications writing about topics they have a unique understanding of, and they'll have a much higher chance of breaking into a market".

Along the same lines, try not to first write a piece and then seek a market for it. You will better your chances by first targeting a given outlet and then writing your article specifically for that publication. Cathi Dunn MacRae, former VOYA editor in chief explains:

"VOYA, which I have edited for nearly 11 years, has a specific mission spelled out on its website and known to its readers (it boasts a consistent 98 per cent subscriber renewal rate throughout its 30 years of existence). VOYA concentrates on school and library services to teenagers through their reading and writing – and more broadly, youth advocacy and intellectual freedom. Nothing wastes my time more than a submission about children or adults when VOYA has never wavered from strictly covering teens. Blanket submissions are useless. Know the magazine's mission and contents intimately, target the audience, and write a piece especially for that publication".

Last, beyond journals, this knowledge is equally as important when pitching a book proposal to a publisher. John B. Bryans, editor in chief and publisher, Book Publishing Division, Information Today, Inc. shares:

"The one thing authors must know is that the publisher to whom they are submitting has an interest in the subject matter they are writing on. So, research publishers before making contact. (This might seem like a no brainer, but you would be amazed how many authors send queries, proposals, manuscripts, and even self-addressed, stamped envelopes to publishers who are a complete mismatch for their project. A terrible waste of time, and money.)".

Overall, editors' top two desires ask potential authors to pay attention. Pay attention to their guidelines, and pay attention to what they publish. We tend to get caught up in what we want to write rather than what editors are looking for, what fits into their publication's scope, and who we are writing for. Simply pay attention to what editors want, and you will go far in the library publishing field.