Breaking the Process into Manageable Tasks
It’s article writing season. Do you have something to submit? You probably do and just don’t know it yet. In this issue I offer my go-to tips for dusting off an old essay or drafted chapter and pulling an article idea from it. A client of mine just recently published a revised version of a seminar paper from six years ago, so I can tell you with confidence that it is absolutely possible with the right help.
When I advise clients on how to convert a chapter into an article, or pull an article from a previously written piece, I break the process into 4 big steps:
1) evaluate your draft & choose a journal
2) revise for audience & evaluate footnotes
3) revise the narrative & transitions
4) write/revise intros & conclusions
Why should “evaluate your draft” and “choose a journal” happen simultaneously? Because you can’t reasonably evaluate what you have written if there’s not at least an imaginary audience in mind, and you can’t expect to choose the best fit journal for your article without taking stock of what you already have and what you will need to add. If you’re familiar with Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks*, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, though you might wonder why I bumped the journal step up and combined it with the evaluation. I give you my reasoning and advice on the first step below. (Future issues will tackle the next three steps!).
*I may receive a small amount if you were to buy this book through this link. However, I only recommend it because I have found it to be extremely useful.
Finding Your Audience
When you evaluate your draft and research possible journals to send it to, you are essentially looking for your audience. This is perhaps the most difficult task for a first-time author. Many people struggle with envisioning who the readers are, even established authors writing in a new subfield or drawing on a different body of work than they’re used to. But every article has to have a specific audience or two in order to get published. This has to do with the nature of articles: they are contributions to an established academic conversation or the beginnings of a new one (that refutes or adds to an established conversation). You don’t have an article unless you have an audience.
Selecting 1–3 journals cuts down the work of finding your audience dramatically because a journal has a built-in audience that you can learn about. Ideally you want to publish in a journal that is respected in your field and that you are already familiar with. But if that’s not the case, here are some things to keep in mind when investigating what journals might be a good fit:
–Level: Has this journal only published full professors/people with multiple publications in the past few years?
–Field and topic: Does this journal publish the kind of material your article presents in terms of field (modern languages, history, comparative literature, etc.) and methodology/framework (close readings through psychoanalysis, biopolitics, feminist thought, etc.)
–Your goals: Are you trying to introduce your work to your field or showcase experience with a subfield or secondary field?
–Turnaround time: When do you need this thing published? Can this journal accommodate that? If not, is it worth the submission anyways?
–Citation style: Are your footnotes way out of proportion for this journal? How much work will it take to bring them into line with the journal’s preferred style and use of footnotes?
The journal will determine a lot of the revisions you make before submission (which is why I picture the audience driving the revision process.) For example, say your draft takes as its object a modern play written by a celebrated Spanish author but the play itself is not particularly well-known. If you want to submit this to a journal of modern literature, then you’ll want to give some historical context on the author and the play, and a brief overview of why this play is significant for modernism writ large. But if you submit the article to a journal on Spanish literature, then you can get away with a minimal intro to the author (assuming this author is well-known to scholars of Spanish literature) and your contextualization will focus on the importance of the play to Spanish literature and culture.
This website is a great resource to help you begin to narrow down your choices. Put together by a class at Princeton, it gives a concise view of aspects that are critical to deciding if a particular journal is a good fit for your article. Here are some other things you can do to find out more about a journal and its practices:
–Ask colleagues about their publishing experience at conferences
–Look at previous issues to see who gets published and what methods they use to make their argument (literary theory, historical analysis, comparison, etc.)
–If you have a question that you absolutely can’t find the answer to, write the managing editor
Evaluating the Draft
What should an evaluation of a draft accomplish? A couple of things but most importantly for a chapter to article conversion, the evaluation should target sections and paragraphs that do not move the argument forward. You really can’t decide what to throw out if you don’t have a sense of what will be useful to your audience, which you can’t answer if you don’t know who your audience is. Even if you don’t know for sure where you want to send the article, you should have a few journals in mind that share similar audiences or else you risk having to do more revisions later if you change journals midway into your revision process. Other important things to keep in mind at this point have to do with your personal and professional goals and your time frame. Here are some questions to consider before deciding what journal to submit to and what work needs to be done on the draft:
–How much time do you have to dedicate to revising?
–Will revising this article help you in your current project at all?
–What is more important to you: getting it published or placing it in a top journal?
The answers to these questions all impact your time. No one has to tell you, as an early-career scholar, how valuable your time is and how working smarter is not a luxury but a necessity if you want to meet your professional goals. Spend good thinking time on these questions since your answers will guide much of your revision plan.
An easy way to start chipping away at these decisions is to find 1–3 journals that might fit your article and see what their citation styles and word limits are. This will give you a rough sense of how much you have to cut from your chapter, how much space you have in the footnotes, and what kinds of footnotes they expect. (More on footnotes in a later issue, promise!).
Once you have an idea of who your audience is, you can start taking stock of what should stay and what should go. You’ll continue to prune your article as you get further into the revision process, refining your references, calibrating your exposition and footnotes to the specific journal.
Start by taking the main section that will be the heart of the article out of the chapter/essay document—I mean copy and paste it into a new document file. If there are other paragraphs that you definitely want to include, move those over as well and place them more or less where you think they should go.
As you read through this new document, take note of the main point of each paragraph and when there is a topic change. This will help you get a sense of how the argument hangs together and where it needs more support. This technique will also demonstrate pretty quickly where extraneous information detracts from the main argument. These vestiges of the original essay cannot be shown any mercy—if they don’t move this argument forward, they have to go. From here, you can identify your argument and make a plan for revision. It’s common to have competing arguments when you convert an article from a previously written text, or even to have a lukewarm claim due to the way it’s been separated from the larger text. Just be wary of these tendencies and keep your eye out for non-essential information.
This is essentially the first part of a developmental edit. If you need help with this process or need to finish this evaluation stage quickly, you can hire a professional editor to do this work for you and perhaps even supply you with a revision plan (like I do!).
Until next time, stay well and take care!