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Publish, don't perish – Instalment 39

So long, and thanks for all the tips

This month marks the thirty-ninth, and last, instalment of "Publish, don't perish". After two and a half years, it's simply time to move on. Never fear, though; we can continue our relationship at my new Emerald for Librarian's column: "The accidental library manager". Beginning in January 2008, I'll be bringing you advice and insights based on my book of the same name (

So, let me leave you with my top ten tips for publishing success. If you have been a loyal reader of the past 38 instalments, you may already be familiar with some of these. Consider them, though, a gentle reminder – reflect, then make your resolution to go out and write in 2008!

Rachel's top ten tips for publishing success

10. Keep alert to opportunity

Watch for calls for contributors, suggestions for further research, and announcements of upcoming themes in the publications you regularly read. Talk often with co-workers who are also in the tenure process or interested in publishing; brainstorm ideas together and collaborate on proposals and articles.

9. Practice makes perfect – or, at least, better

Like anything else worth doing, good writing requires regular practice. Make it your habit to write something every day; start a journal, start a blog, or start working on a lengthy journal article. After a while, you'll find that the process goes much more smoothly – and that, the more often you write, the more you find you have to say.

8. Get active

Use "being" verbs sparingly, and use active over passive tense (unless your publishing outlet requests otherwise). This automatically tightens up your writing and helps you say what you mean. Whenever you finish a piece, let it sit – at least overnight, preferably for a week – then go back and cut out excess verbiage.

7. Get professionally active

Become as active as your prose. Present at conferences, participate online, spearhead projects and always stay alert to the ways in which your professional activities intertwine with your writing career. Turn presentations into articles; watch for ideas at programmes you attend; write up project results for publication.

6. Become someone editors want to work with

Writers who build the reputation of being pleasant to work with get invited back, get solicited by other publications, and increase their chances of getting published. As in your library career as a whole, your attitude and willingness to do the necessary work are equally as important as your skills. Remain open to editors' suggestions, using these to make your work stronger. Respond to questions and comments in a timely manner. Interact professionally and courteously at all times.

5. Do your homework

Familiarize yourself with a journal or publishing house before approaching an editor. Know the topics they cover, the audience they reach, the tone and style they prefer. Find out whether they publish themed issues, whether they prefer queries or full drafts, whether they've recently published other material on your topic. Determine whether they publish lengthy peer-reviewed articles or shorter opinion pieces. Think about whether your topic and approach are appropriate for this outlet, or whether you should take the time to find a better fit.

4. You can't publish what you don't submit

Banish any lingering embarrassment about the quality of your work or concerns about the reaction of your editor. If your goal is to be published, you need to allow your writing to see the light of day. Remember: your very participation in this profession qualifies you to write for its literature. This parallels the help wanted ads; your professional participation serves as your basic "required qualification". Your additional experience and abilities then become "preferred qualifications", giving you that extra edge.

3. Guidelines serve a purpose

Yes, you're sick of hearing it, but editors' number one pet peeve is contributors' failure to follow guidelines. Take the easiest step towards publishing success by reading, studying and following the guidelines of any publication to which you intend to submit your work. Read and absorb a publication's guidelines before you start to write, so that you can follow them throughout the process.

2. Read, read, read

The American Library Association publishes a series of "READ" posters. Build on these and picture your own favourite actor/singer/character exhorting you to read the professional literature. Good writers grow from good readers; reading the literature shows you what's topical, the types of material each journal publishes, and examples of good writing. Keeping up with the literature also prevents you from duplicating topics already thoroughly covered elsewhere.

1. You're in demand!

Over my past two years as an acquisitions editor, I have actively solicited a good 80 per cent of my authors. Over my past seven years as a newsletter editor, I have scrambled to fill more issues than I can count. Nothing delights an editor more than opening an unsolicited, well-thought-out proposal; these come alone more seldom than you might think. Why not make an editor happy today?

I've appreciated the opportunity to share my thoughts on the publishing process with all of you over the last couple of years. The library literature is near and dear to my heart, and I hope to read you all there soon. So, make 2008 the year that you meet your own writing goal, whether you aim to get your first piece published in the professional literature, publish your first book or break into an exclusive journal that has eluded you in the past. So long, and thanks for reading!