Today, we’ve got a special guest blogger, Ruth Mazo Karras, who is writing in her capacity as one of the new North American co-editors of Gender and History. Many of you may know her because of her record as a leading medieval European historian and historian of gender and sexuality for more than two decades. She is the author of Slavery and Society in Medieval Scandinavia (1988), Common Women: Prostitution and Sexuality in Medieval England (1996), From Boys to Men: Formations of Masculinity in Late Medieval Europe (2003), Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others (2005), and most recently, Law and the Illicit in Medieval Europe, co-edited with Joel Kaye and E. Ann Matter (2008). She wants all of you women’s and gender historians and historians of sexuality to submit your articles for consideration, and in this post, she walks you through Gender and History’s editorial process. My guess is that those of you who are new to academia will find it an extremely useful overview of how to get a journal article published. I’m not so new myself, but I always find it helpful to know what I can expect from a journal, so there may be something here to tempt even you world-weary old pros.
Please submit your comments and questions in the thread below–Ruth has promised to read them over and respond to them in a separate post next week, but we can also use the thread to talk over your issues, problems, and advice regarding academic publication, especially in journals. I think it’s wonderful that Ruth is interested in doing some guest posts here on behalf of G & H–and I hope that many of you will be encouraged to send something in.
Particularly because the discussion of Judith Bennett’s History Matters here earlier this week and at Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar last week drew many comments from people who work in earlier periods, I asked Historiann if I could put in a plug for a journal that is definitely not afraid of the distant past: Gender & History. I’d like to encourage all you historians of women, gender, and/or sexuality-or scholars in other fields who do historical work-to consider submitting your work to G & H. As we say on the web site: “Spanning epochs and continents, Gender & History examines changing conceptions of gender, and maps the dialogue between femininities, masculinitiesand their historical contexts. The journal publishes rigorous and readable articles both on particular episodes in gender history and on broader methodological questions which have ramifications for the discipline as a whole.”
G & H has a slightly different structure than many journals. It is published by Wiley-Blackwell in Oxford and has two separate editorial offices, one in North America and one in the UK. All book reviews are handled through the UK office. The current UK co-editors are Karen Adler and Ross Balzaretti of the University of Nottingham. You can submit articles to either editorial office; it doesn’t matter where you yourself are located. Sarah Chambers, Regina Kunzel, and I, at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, became the North American co-editors in September 2008. My field is medieval Europe; Sarah’s is colonial Latin America; and Regina’s is 20th century U.S.
I’ll try to answer here a few of the questions you may have about journal publication in general, and this journal in particular. If you have further questions, please post them in the comments, and Historiann has promised to let me do another guest post in a few days to respond.
What kind of work are you looking for at G & H?
We are looking for two main things: exciting original research and new insights about gender that may be of interest to scholars working outside your specialization. This is not an either/or: we are looking for articles in any field of history that encompass both. We occasionally publish more theoretical/methodological pieces as well, although those more usually come in the thematic special issues which we publish once a year. Calls for submissions for special issues can be found on the web site linked above and are publicized in a variety of other venues. The topic for the 2011 special issue, to be coordinated by the UK editors, will be posted later this year. Some examples of past and forthcoming special issues are “Gender, Change, and Periodisation” in 2008, “Homes and Homecomings” in 2009, and “Historicising Sexuality and Gender” in 2010.
Why does it take so long to get an article accepted and published in a journal?
When you look inside the journal cover and you see the address for the editorial office, you may imagine a large office with staff scurrying around. Wiley-Blackwell is, indeed, a large publisher, and they handle production and marketing for the journal. The editorial office, however, is no such operation. With most humanities journals, except the ones published by the largest professional organizations like the AHA or the MLA, the editors are unpaid; one part-time staff person, usually a graduate student, is typical. It takes a lot of volunteer work on the part of editors and reviewers, on top of everything else that we do.
Here’s a timeline for what happens when you submit an article to G & H. It is probably fairly typical of humanities journals:
- Editors read your article, discuss at editorial meeting, and decide whether to send for further review: one to three weeks. At this point, if we decide not to send it for further review, we would write to you briefly explaining why.
- Selection of reviewers: one to eight weeks. We may have to contact quite a few people before we find two who agree to take it on, and we have to give each person some time to respond. We try to choose readers who are as close as possible in field to the article. Experienced editors build up a pool of readers who they know write insightful and timely reports. But of course we can’t go back to the same reviewers too often. Sometimes we have to reach a little farther away from the specialization of the article to find reviewers. Our reviewing is double-blind (the readers do not know who the author is, nor does the author know who the readers are). (If you would like to be on our list of potential reviewers for articles, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Book reviews are done out of the UK office, however, so we can’t put you on that list.)
- Reports from reviewers: three weeks to ???. Once the article is in the hands of reviewers we have no control over whether they meet their deadline. We send reminders, we call people. In extreme cases we may send the article to a different reviewer, but that also adds extra time.
- Editorial decision and notification: two to three weeks. When we have both reviewers’ reports back, we discuss the article at our editorial meeting. If both reviewers say “This is great, publish it, I have no major revisions to suggest,” we would send you an acceptance letter, but I haven’t seen that happen yet. More typically one or both reviewers will ask for significant revision. We write a detailed letter, attaching the readers’ reports, setting out what we think is most important in the reviews and any additional suggestions we have. If neither reviewer recommends publication, we will likely reject the piece. The most difficult cases are where the reviewers don’t agree; one likes the piece much better than the other, or they have diametrically opposed suggestions for revision. We re-read the article and read the reports very carefully and make a judgment as to which report we find more convincing. On occasion we might send the article to a third reader to adjudicate between the first two.
- Revision and resubmission: it’s up to you; two to eight months is fairly typical. We don’t give you a deadline. If you are asked to do significant rethinking, we want you to take the time to do so.
- Second round review: three to ten weeks. When you resubmit the article, we will send it back to one of the original readers. This should take less time than the first round of review. Usually we send it to the reviewer who has asked for the most revision. If that person can’t do the re-review, we would ask the other reviewer. However, we would not send an article for re-review for someone who recommended rejection the first time around, nor to someone who recommended publication without revision. If neither of the first two readers are available or appropriate, we might have to send it to a third reviewer, and it may take time to identify such a person.
- Editorial decision and notification: one to two weeks. If the re-review comes back positive, we send you a letter of acceptance, usually conditional on a few further changes, and asking you to reformat according to our style sheet.
- Final revision: two to eight months. We give you a deadline based on our production calendar. We publish three issues a year, but one is thematic special issue, usually edited by a guest editor. If your article isn’t for the special issue, we might not be ready to put it into production for a while. Some journals develop a backlog, and accepted articles sit for a long time in the queue before they see print. Right now we don’t have that problem, but we have in the past and might in the future.
- Production (copy-editing, typesetting, proofreading, on-line and print publication): four to five months. The variation depends on when in our production calendar your final article gets back to us.
In the best case scenario, then, your article might take about five months from submission to acceptance, or just under a year from submission to publication. That’s with an article that needs very little revision, and a great deal of luck: editors having time to read the article immediately when it comes in, reviewers accepting immediately and submitting their reviews before their deadline, and you having time to do revisions right away. Much more typically, not everything breaks the right way, and a year from submission to acceptance would be doing pretty well.
Different journals have different procedures, but what I’ve described here is fairly typical of most humanities journals. We try as hard as we can to deal with submissions in a timely fashion while also giving them the attention they deserve.
Who are you, anyway, to sit in judgment on my work?
There has been some suggestion on this and other academic blogs that junior faculty are put through the wringer for no good reason other than that universities have outsourced to publishers the process of tenure review. I’ll just say that the double-blind review process may be less inherently political than the tenure review itself, where a department’s choice of outside reviewers may be influenced by whether or not they want to grant tenure, and where the reviewers may know you, for better or for worse.
We don’t ask for reviews from people whose views we know in advance or people whose work you have criticized harshly in the article. If we think the article does not fit well with our journal, we will reject it rather than send it for review; we don’t want to waste our reviewers’ time and goodwill, or yours, by sending out something we don’t want to publish. Peer reviewing is crucial to our editorial work. We do our best to find experts who can give us an informed evaluation. Of course, scholarly opinion differs, and different reviewers might give us different answer. A certain element of luck is involved. But we do read the reviews very carefully. Reviewers do this as a service to the profession and most of them try to give helpful suggestions for improving the work. Occasionally a reviewer has a fundamental theoretical disagreement with the project. That’s where editorial judgment comes in, and we have to decide whether this reflects a fundamental flaw in the work or whether it is a scholarly disagreement which can be productive of further discussion.
Most of us have had the experience of a reviewer who just doesn’t get what we are trying to do. If a journal rejects your article and you feel that the reviewers did not understand or were out of sympathy with the project, well, there are a lot of other journals out there. But I would also recommend that as you prepare to submit your work elsewhere you take the criticism seriously. If the reviewer misunderstood you, is there some way you could frame your argument better to avoid that misunderstanding? If the reviewer has disagreed with your approach, could you be more persuasive about it? Perhaps you will decide that the answer to these questions is “no,” but it is worth considering them. Learning to sort through criticism, building on what’s useful and discarding what isn’t, is difficult for a lot of people (I’ve been in this profession for a lot of years and it’s still difficult for me), but it’s an invaluable skill.
In my experience people who take on the job of editing a journal don’t do so because they’re power-hungry. We do it because we learn a lot from it and it gives us a chance to shape the field. We don’t see ourselves as gatekeepers trying to keep things out. The point is to make sure that the most interesting and innovative work gets published in a venue that will get it the attention and exposure it deserves.
Thanks, Ruth! Those of you who are looking at clean calendars for Spring Break this week or in the near future should think about fixing up something to send in to Gender and History. If you have questions or comments for Ruth, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the thread below.