February
3rd 2010
Hug an Editor Day: Journal of the History of Sexuality

Posted under: happy endings, jobs, publication

A friend of mine submitted an article to the Journal of the History of Sexuality early in the fall semester.  Within six weeks, he received two readers’ reports and a notification from editor Mathew Kuefler of a provisional acceptance if the revisions requested by the readers were made.  Over winter break, my friend revised accordingly, and found out by the middle of January that his article was accepted.  Total time from initial submission to final acceptance:  four months to the day.

Now, my friend’s article was pretty polished–it was originally sent out to another journal, which took more than a year to reject it on the basis of one reader’s report.  (Not cool.)  Still–kudos to Prof. Kuefler for his speed and efficiency, and kudos too to the readers who must have read and responded to the article in an extremely timely fashion.  Because I’ve b!tched about the peer-review process at journals generally here, I thought I should recognize a journal that was exceptionally speedy in conducting its business.  So–congratulations and thanks to Prof. Kuefler!  Some of you might have work appropriate to this journal, but I thought all of you might like to hear some encouraging news about publishing in academia.  Of course, there are never any guarantees–but even a speedy rejection is vastly preferable to a slow rejection, right? 

Over the years, I’ve concluded that editing a journal is a job I never want, because it’s almost entirely thankless.  Even the scholars whose work you end up publishing get their noses out of joint about revisions, so it seems like it’s just a big opportunity to pi$$ off a lot of people.  (But if that’s your style–who am I to argue with you?  Some people enjoy pi$$ing off other people!)  On top of that, journal editing is usually volunteer work performed in addition to one’s own teaching, service and research.  There are a few prominent journals housed permanently at particular universities that offer the journal editors tenure in the History Departments there and that build the work as editor into the job, but most journal editors and associate editors are just volunteers. 

A few years back, a member of my department was offered the editorship of the major journal in his field.  When he went to the then-Dean to see what resources and time she could make available for him and for the department to host the journal, she congratulated him and told him he could do it if he wanted to, but that he was on his own.  No course releases, no funding for graduate student editorial assistants, no nothin’.  Tempting though it was, my colleague wisely said, “no, thanks,” and passed on the opportunity.  So, if you know any trusty, faithful, and reasonably speedy editors, give them hugs today.  (And, report on their trustiness,  faithfulness, and speediness in the comments below.  You may complain about journal editing there too, but please be discreet.  We all have students whom we’ve really pi$$ed off–but their opinions are probably not a fair judgement on the entirety of our teaching, are they?)

21 Comments »

21 Responses to “Hug an Editor Day: Journal of the History of Sexuality”

  1. Susan on 03 Feb 2010 at 3:50 pm #

    Most editors I know have been conscientious and careful. The bad parts of the job would be (a) getting depressed by really bad stuff that comes in and (b) not being able to publish things that were really promising.

    I am grateful to the editors I am working with in publishing an article by a colleague who has died. They have been incredibly helpful.

    One of my friends who edited a journal said the difference between those who got published and htose who didn’t was persistance….if you kept revising, you’d make it through.

  2. Lance on 03 Feb 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    This is awesome. I’ve seen so many journals promise rapid response only to deliver a glacial pace. Big hugs to the JHS folks.

  3. Tripartite Academic on 03 Feb 2010 at 4:58 pm #

    Kudos indeed for this journal! My guess is, many of us have our journal horror stories, so good for them for doing such a conscientious job. I had such horrible experiences when I was trying to publish for tenure that I vowed that I would *never* take longer than four weeks to read an article I had been asked to review. I would think that one of the hardest things about being an editor would be working with those unbelievably annoying readers who sit on a manuscript for months.

    It’s also worth noting that journals that are conscientious and professional like this one will reap some additional benefits. In some instances at least, folks will send their work there first, bypassing journals that are notorious for taking too long to respond. I know that in my department, we explicitly steer our tenure-track faculty in the direction (where it’s appropriate for their research of course) of journals with this kind of decent behavior. Certainly there are times when one is willing to put up with delays and difficulties because you really want to publish in a particular journal, but when that’s not the case, we should reward publications like JHS.

  4. DeeDee on 03 Feb 2010 at 6:02 pm #

    Journal of the Society for American Music is like that; turnaround can be as little as 6 weeks. Amazing.

  5. Rad Readr on 03 Feb 2010 at 6:42 pm #

    I waited about a year for a top journal in my field, and then after they accepted it came out very quickly. The wait didn’t bother me at all. By contrast, I sent something to a journal and got positive reviews plus the editor liked it, but then I had to wait extra time for it to go to the editorial board. It was turned down by the board, and I was not happy. So it seems the waiting is not the hardest part.

    A prof in grad school told me that when you send out something you should have a second envelope ready to go in case it gets rejected. Good advice. The article rejected above was accepted by a better journal.

  6. Shane in Utah on 03 Feb 2010 at 8:25 pm #

    While we’re singing praises: I had a piece rejected recently by Modern Language Quarterly, but the editor was so professional and so efficient that I still left the experience impressed, and with some excellent feedback for improving the article. If only every journal was so tightly run…

  7. Indyanna on 03 Feb 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    My possibly favorite journal submission story is about a rejection. I had a chapter of a still far-from-ready-for book form project that I wanted to get out there somewhere. Preparing for my late-May drive back East from the deep Midwest I decided that, no, I didn’t want to drive through Indianapolis on Race Weekend, and I had never seen Bloomingon. So instead of mailing the ms. to the Journal of American History I decided to hand deliver it. One of the things I liked best about Bloomington was that it took me almost an hour to even find the U., whereas in my university’s town you couldn’t miss finding it in say ten minutes. [o.k., so I guess I do the "don't ask for directions thing."]. Anyway, I located the little off-campus bungalow where the JAH offices were situated. On the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, no one was in there editing, amazingly enough! So I stuffed the envelope behind the screen door and headed on East, figuring I’d probably get an acknowledgement by say the end of August. But two days after July 4 I received a thick envelope with four detailed reader’s reports, two of them very complimentary, one more equivocal but positive, and one fairly negative. This came with the requisite “we can’t proceed from here on this basis” letter, but offering the editor’s encouragement wishing me well anyway. It felt more positive and professional than some acceptances I’ve had. I ended up sitting on the piece until it did become a chapter, but it was a better chapter for all that, and I became an undying admirer of both the editor and the two readers who decided to be named.

    I fear I may have told this tale here before, and if so, sorry about that.

  8. Gavin on 04 Feb 2010 at 12:54 am #

    History Journals Response Times is a web page where you can anonymously post response times for your submissions and check out other people’s experiences. Some of these are quite shocking. It’s made me much less likely to submit to certain journals. Although it’s a small sample so far, I get the impression that journals specializing in gender history are more efficient than average.

    In my limited experience editors are great but reviewers suck.

  9. Matt L on 04 Feb 2010 at 6:16 am #

    yes, this is a happy story! I wonder how the response times work in the sciences or other social science disciplines where the journal article is the main unit of scholarly activity? I suspect that the great variation in response times between each history journal has a lot to do with how much weight each discipline gives the article as a genre of scholarship. If the article is just a way station on the road to becoming a book chapter (as it is in history), well then the speed of publication isn’t so important. But if the article is seen as an important, timely, and self-supporting piece of scholarship, that contributes to an on-going debate in the field, then time to print is very important.

    This is not an original observation, but given the amount of space devoted to book reviews in history journals, it seems like the book is more important than the article. If that is the case, then you can see why departments would not devote resources to having faculty members edit journals, as Historiann noted above. The article is secondary to the main effort of the discipline. This is a shame. I think the discipline of history and research in the humanities might be better served by fewer books and more timely articles.

  10. other side of the pond on 04 Feb 2010 at 6:49 am #

    Just to add that I have reviewed for the JHS and they are a total joy to deal with from that perspective too. Charming correspondance from Matthew Kuefler, and a complimentary copy of the issue the article eventually appeared in, which I thought was a really nice touch.

    They seem to be running a seriously classy operation there. Kudos!

  11. perpetua on 04 Feb 2010 at 6:56 am #

    @ Matt L – I completely agree about the articles vs books, especially for beginning scholars. So many of us write interesting-ish dissertations that would make two excellent articles, but don’t really need to be books. But tenure of course requires that it be a book (I know people who have scrapped the diss, but this is not a path for the faint of heart). I’ve been told by friends in art history that departments are getting a little friendly to the six article vs one book idea, because publishing in art history is brutal (due to the expense of reproducing images). I’ve even read articles by Major Scholars that I thought far exceeded the quality of some of their monographs.

    I’ve had good experiences with conscientious editors and reviews with journals. (The book ms reviewers, on the the hand, took almost a full year.)

  12. Historiann on 04 Feb 2010 at 8:04 am #

    I’m glad so many of you have had good experiences. Unfortunately, I’ve also recently heard from a colleague who had an article rejected although 2 out of 3 readers recommended publication. (This was after a revise & resubmit.) Ze got the impression from the editor that the one nay vote was from a Very Important Person, and so it outweighed the other votes.

    If there are any journal editors or people with insight into this, I’d appreciate hearing from you, but: why on earth send an article out to three readers when it’s really only one reader whose opinion counts? It seems to me that an article that has satisfied the concerns of 2/3 of its readers should proceed to publication. I know it’s more complex than just “majority vote,” but why is the majority not heeded in these cases?

    (Full disclosure: I once had an article rejected after winning over 2/3 of the readers, so this in particular chaps my a$$. The one nay vote in my case admitted that I had addressed each and every one of all of the readers’ concerns–he just personally was unconvinced of my argument. The editor of the journal sent an odd, convoluted explanation for this decision, saying that the one nay vote was from a Really Important Person Who Must Not Be Crossed. That seemed totally chicken$hit to me, but the bigger question I came away with was: is it the job of every article that’s published to convince absolutely every reader that it’s 100% correct? Or is it enough to raise interesting questions with enough evidence and scholarship and thought, and we just accept that no article will ever please absolutely every reader?)

  13. Janice on 04 Feb 2010 at 9:06 am #

    What a heartwarming story and kudos to the journal editor, board and readers for being so on top of matters! Makes me wish I had something up their alley to send for consideration but nothing current fits their fields.

  14. Historiann on 04 Feb 2010 at 9:10 am #

    Janice: I know! I wish I had something for them, too, but I don’t.

    Thanks to Gavin for sending on that link to the journal wiki. I scanned it–it looks like the ones I know to be notoriously slow are listed as notoriously slow there.

  15. Kathie on 04 Feb 2010 at 10:13 am #

    As someone who has reviewed many articles, as well as been at the submitting end of the process, I simply do not understand why people agree to be an outside reader if they are not prepared to read the submission and make comments within the near future of their agreement. I have often declined to be a reader if my time did not permit (or if the article was too far outside my areas of expertise). Why say yes if you will sit on an article for months on end?

    I did recently withdraw an article from consideration at a journal that had not acted on it for nearly eight months, because it was solicited by another journal for a special issue. It will be published in journal number two, I just got the page proofs today.

  16. Cattyinqueens on 04 Feb 2010 at 10:39 am #

    I had a submission go for almost 2 years with no response or readers reports. The newly assigned editor emailed me well after my essay appeared elsewhere to ask what the status of the submission was (apologetically). As you all note, it would be laughable if it weren’t really important in terms of tenure. Worse still, my essay appeared in a pretty low-tier venue, and a book on the same topic came out at the same time. If the original journal had actually published it, it might have come out sooner, and in a place more likely to get read. Instead, I think the book;s author is going to get all kinds of credit for working on the stuff and I will get next to no recognition.

    And don’t get me started on the time from acceptance to publication–I think some journals in my field are up to a couple years between the decision and the printing!

  17. Matt L on 04 Feb 2010 at 11:03 am #

    @ Perpetua: It seems like there are lots of dissertations that could go either way, a handful of nice articles with a modicum of work or a monograph, but with a lot more research. I think the idea of equivalance is interesting (6 articles = monograph; or 4 articles = monograph) but points to a fundamental problem facing historical research right now.

    The question we should ask as a discipline is this – What provides more ‘oxygen’ for research in a field or subfield: several really great articles that are in dialog or debate with one another or several monographs doing the same thing? It seems to me that articles would be superior in this regard. They can deal with a discrete topics and be turned around quickly (a couple of years) relative to monographs (which take what, five-six years?). Some topics are probably better served by a monograph length treatment, but I’d bet two-thirds of the research in any field would be equally well served by an article.

  18. Historiann on 04 Feb 2010 at 11:40 am #

    As someone who turned her diss. into 3 or 4 articles and in the process decided that no, it wasn’t anywhere close to the book I wanted to write–it wasn’t easy, but most people who “revise” their dissertations into books seem to demolish them, rebuild, and do a lot more research along the way. In some ways, I thought that starting with a totally blank slate was freeing. I think it also made it a lot easier to move on to the next book, because I had already conceived of, written, and published a book based entirely on post-dissertation research and thought.

    I see what you’re saying, Matt, about articles. I think it’s a really interesting point. But, the usefulness of books is something that varies subfield-by-subfield. As a North American Anglophone historian, it’s still relatively easy for me to find a publisher–there are lots of them out there, by comparison to my colleagues and friends who work in other national histories and/or languages. I also think that there are a lot of ideas in my field that profit from development over 200 or 300 (or on rare occasions, 400) pages.

    I think it’s going to take a tsunami of economic change for historians to give up their books. I suspect that for the rest of my career (30 years or so), articles will continue to be considered the farm club and books the show. The exception to this is articles that are either published in leading multi-subfield journals, and/or articles that get traction and end up being anthologized or recognized as making an important contribution in their own right. (But there are a lot more books published each year than articles like the exceptions I describe.)

  19. Indyanna on 04 Feb 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    You definitely took the path less taken, Historiann. And, as perpetua notes, the path not for the faint of heart. I at one point envisioned a much more radical “pull-down and rebuild with the rubble” strategy for my diss. revision, but in the end couldn’t bring myself to go that way. The book ended up being way different from the diss. anyway, but not in the same sense I had imagined it might, mostly by a process of inserting newly written chapters in an unconventional sequence. I still have great fun with students and colleagues, challenging them to guess what order I actually wrote the (11) chapters in the book. No one’s ever come close. And I ended up being satisfied enough with the way I ended up resolving the choice between the total rebuild and the substantial reconstruct.

    This reminds me, I ought to check up on that longish piece I submitted to the Journal of the Societe Royalis- Americanus back in 1992 or so. I thought it was a long shot myself back then and said so in my note to the editor, but not THAT much of a long shot.

    As for historians and articles v. books, I think tenure means not having to care about that disjunction again. Articles are just fine, if they’re satisfying to do and say what you want them to say.

  20. cgeye on 06 Feb 2010 at 11:11 pm #

    no comment:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/jobs/31search.html

  21. takingitoutside on 07 Feb 2010 at 10:16 am #

    I used to be an editorial assistant at a sciences journal, and the difference in time-to-publication between fields was astonishing. Math was the longest, because the reviewers actually went through and re-proved the new proofs that were submitted to the journal. Average time: years. (At a rough estimate, I’d say 2-10.)

    Environmental science was also pretty slow, though nowhere near math. The problem there was that “environmental science” includes so many fields – from chemistry to geology to weather – that there were only so many qualified reviewers to go around, and those reviewers were typically working for several journals in addition to doing their own work.

    With the exception of those two, though, the biggest predictor of speedy turn-around was the editor in charge of the manuscript. Some editors I would e-mail and call over and over again with no response, others would unilaterally call the reviewers and say that they wanted reviews quicker than we normally required or simply cancel slow reviewers to get new ones. You can guess which kind we editorial assistants preferred. I always felt guilty when manuscripts started getting older, but after a certain point I couldn’t badger the editors/reviewers. The worst offenders didn’t care to begin with, and if they got irritated by a lowly EA they would slow down even more. It was very unprofessional. Still, most editors weren’t like that. I’m happy to say our managing editor ran a pretty tight ship.