The Foolproof Formula to Publishing in a Top Academic Literary Journal

You’re staring at a half-baked piece of literary analysis that your professor clearly loved – note the glorious “A” hovering over your witty title – wondering what to do with it.

Um start the process of publishing it – duh.

In a market where you’ll be competing with Harvard-level advanced professors, the phrase “publish or perish” is not figurative, it’s literal. This means that to even be considered for an academic position – let’s not mention tenure, ok? – then you should have a minimum of two articles out in respectable journals by the time your degree is in hand.

But calm down, calm down. Let’s take this one step at a time following a little formula I concocted after receiving an acceptance to the top journal in my field…

  1. Follow Alice Down the Rabbit Hole. The last thing you want is to submit a brilliant article you thought was making a serious intervention in your field only to discover that your thesis has already been published elsewhere. To avoid this, make sure to begin your project with at least a week of solid research where you accrue all the books and articles written on your topic. Begin by typing in your topic a variety of ways into myriad search engines and databases – including generic ones like Google Scholar. So, for instance, if your topic is “gender violence in Francophone African literature,” then try using other words for gender violence like rape, sexual assault, sexual violence, etc. in connection with Francophone African literature. Wanna go pro? Look up articles written in French on this topic to really cover all your bases. If you’re at the point in the game where you’re publishing then you need to follow any interdisciplinary rabbit holes there are to find as well which, for a literary critic would generally include history, film, theory, philosophy and occasionally psychology.
  2. Find the Best Journal for Your Submission. Here’s how you do this: Using your University library system, access the MLA International Bibliography database. At the top of the home page of the database will be the heading “MLA Directory of Periodicals.” Click it. Think back on the most relevant and well-written articles on your topic and note the publishing journal’s title. Start typing these journal titles into the MLA Directory of Periodicals and note the citation style requirements (i.e. MLA, Chicago, Turbian, etc.), page length, publication frequency, number submitted versus published yearly, and peer review policy. You absolutely want to submit to a peer reviewed journal since most academic search committees frown on publications in open journals. Also, ensure that the number of accepted submissions is low but reasonable (i.e. 50 accepted out of 125 per year). If you have your abstract ready, feel free to send a cordial and brief – by brief I mean around 250 words max – e-mail to the journal asking if your topic is appropriate for their journal. Remember that the person answering this e-mail has at least 50 other e-mails to sift through during the next hour so draft your e-mail to be as informative yet concise as possible.
  3. Wait. The time between my submission and the journal’s decision – with updates around every 3-4 months – was approximately one year. This is good. Many wait up to 18 months for a decision with no updates whatsoever. You may, if you’re feeling lucky, contact the journal at strategic times during the review process requesting updates. Appropriate times include one week after submission to ask for a confirmation that your submission was received if none was given, three entire months after submission to ask for updates, and approximately 7-9 months after submission. These e-mails should be incredibly brief and friendly – one paragraph max. After that, forget about it and hope for the best which, in the world of academic publishing, means receiving a request for “minor revision and re-submission.” Anything more glowing and you should nominate yourself for the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Literature or something because you’re freaking brilliant.
  4. Revise and Resubmit ASAP. Once you get that notification of a “revise and resubmit” first take a night off to pop some champagne. Then, after your hangover is gone, print out the critique you received from the editor and revise your original paper accordingly. I like having a printout of the critique next to my computer while revising so I don’t have to click back and forth between tabs, which can be disorienting while modifying an article-length essay. Editors typically give you a deadline – beat that deadline. You’ll show initiative and the editors will remember your professionalism and promptness when you make your next submission.

For a helpful visual guide on how journal editors review and decide on submissions, see this Peer Review and Editorial Process Article. It helps explain the various responses you might receive from editors and why that decision was reached. Also, if you’re a Doctoral student in the Humanities then you MUST subscribe to Dr. Karen Kelsky’s brutally honest academic blog, The Professor Is In. She’s been an R1 tenured professor, department head, and university advisor so she has experience to back up all her insights. She’s brilliant and everything she says is brilliant. SUBSCRIBE.

Give this formula a go and let me know how it all came out. We’re all in this academic racket together; I’m pulling for you! 😀

Have any comments or tips on publishing in academic literary journals you’d like to share?

Post below and we’ll toss some ideas around!


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  • Reply Andrea June 9, 2015 at 2:18 am

    what great tips amanda!
    very good tips for any publication submission, although the deadlines and timeline is a bit shorter for scientific journals (depending on the journal!) some of the bigger journals can take 3 months to give you back comments from reviewers, or as little as one month (as was my recent paper!), and then they can give you lots of experiments to do with a 60, 90 or 120 day deadline – and then you re-enter the review process for another month or so, and then you are either accepted or rejected! it’s really a gamble, and depends a lot on the reviewers you get! oh academic publishing! gotta love it/hate it!

    • Amanda Rico
      Reply Amanda Rico June 10, 2015 at 2:43 am

      Woah that sounds intense! It’s like three solid months of revising, re-revising, etc! It’s a toss-up because you’re finding out the results sooner but there’s tons more back and forth between authors and editors. Yikes! 😛 SO excited you got a paper submitted, though! It really makes you feel like you’re doing something right in your field! Ugh, for sure – love/hate!

  • Reply Eni June 6, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    Hi dear!!! Today Google translator not work, so I can not understand the post. But I wanted to thank you for your visit and your nice comment. Have a nice day, kisses,

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    • Amanda Rico
      Reply Amanda Rico June 8, 2015 at 2:25 am

      Mi dispiace, Eni! Forse posso tradurre in italiano…Grazie per la visita 🙂 Spero che tu abbia una bella giornata!

  • Reply Jessi June 3, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    This is fantastic advice. Great post.

    • Amanda Rico
      Reply Amanda Rico June 3, 2015 at 6:52 pm

      Why thank you! I learned most of it from you! I should probably have included: “All credit to Jessi S. for telling me where to find the MLA Directory of Periodicals for the 50th time.” Lol 😀

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