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I just can't publish

(21 Posts)
ChristmasCabbage Mon 18-Jan-16 16:27:48

Ahhh. I've just had another paper rejected.

I am completely rubbish at writing papers. I've got three backed up that have been rejected from everywhere decent in my field. Some have been out for review, others haven't. Some reviewers comments are useful, others aren't.

I'm into the third year of my job as a lecturer at an RG university and I feel like I'm hanging by a thread. I've only published one paper since arriving and that was already accepted before I got the job so, technically, none.

The university is going to start shifting to a teaching or research contract track soon I suspect and I'm seriously thinking about opting for teaching only.

I can feel REF breathing down my neck and I just feel constantly sick. The university is having an internal mini-REF soon where we have to submit our papers in progress and I'm so nervous about opening myself up to that sort of scrutiny.

I know it's hard to get papers published, I'm not expecting it to be easy. But I'm just completely rubbish.

I've looked around for non-academic jobs but they don't pay the same wages or have the same security as academia.

I don't know what I'm asking really. I guess whether you think opting for teaching only track would be a good idea?

ChristmasCabbage Mon 18-Jan-16 16:41:10

Has anyone used this book to help with publishing: www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-Journal-Article-Twelve-Weeks/dp/141295701X

If so, any good?

gleam Mon 18-Jan-16 16:46:00

Do you have an academic friend who can give you any help? I'm thinking either a clear and detailed, not holding back review or, possibly, a template of a good paper for you to learn from.

ifigoup Mon 18-Jan-16 17:26:13

With the ones where you've had reviewers' comments back, could you see the logic of them even if you didn't agree with them? There's a difference between "the analysis is not sufficiently robust" and "the argument of the paper does not fit with the outlook of this journal".

Also, were all the rejections outright or did you get any "revise and resubmits"? Apparently a surprisingly huge number of academics never do resubmit even when the changes requested are relatively minor. For what it's worth, I've nearly always found the corrections make for a better paper in the end.

Possibly silly questions:
1. Are you being scrupulous about perfect spelling, syntax etc? They won't compensate for a poor argument, but similarly you want to avoid any hostages to fortune.

2. Are you asking colleagues to read and critique your papers before you submit them to the journals? Ideally you don't want the journal editors and reviewers to be the first peer reviewers your paper gets.

Are you doing any collaborative research projects? Co-authored papers are perfectly REF-able even in Humanities disciplines, and the process of writing with someone else (maybe more senior?) might improve your confidence that you know what's expected.

Finally: I know you know this, but the verdicts on your papers are not verdicts on you as a person. It can be hard to hold onto that.

HPsauciness Tue 19-Jan-16 08:26:43

I have found success goes in waves, and sometimes its hard to feel you are making headway.

I am not by any means the most prolific publisher I know. However, eventually over time I do get things published.

Things that prolific publishers do are...as soon as they get revisions, they do them. No pondering over whether this is the best place/revisions are unfair. Revise and Resubmit in my field is a good sign, it means they like the paper but it needs revising. Get on with this as it is much more likely to be successful than starting from scratch.

Secondly, as soon as you get a rejection, look through the 'why' and if there's nothing fatal, just send it elsewhere. It's easy to start thinking it has to be completely revised which will take months blah blah, but often rejections are just because the journal is super busy and only takes 1 in 10 if it's top in its field. Send it to a second tier journal, or even an easy to get into journal. Better to have an ok publication out than a perfect publication on your desk. The REF last time didn't measure publication place, so this is not as much of an issue as you think.

If you have three/four papers worth of publications, you can do just fine, you just need to throw them back out there, perhaps with some strategic thinking or advice on where to put them.

Also, if you can find a critical/supportive colleague who will really give an honest review before sending, take that opportunity even if it hurts a bit.

Finally- everyone gets rejections, if you look even at star professors you will see a few great articles in great journals, and a lot in really quite odd places! With open access now, you can put stuff on ResearchGate/Academic Edu for free in pre-print form so even if it doesn't go to the best journal ever, it can still be widely read and cited.

Booboostwo Tue 19-Jan-16 08:46:52

Rejections are awful, I know first hand having been rejected by the best journals and best jobs in my discipline! But it is a fact of life. Journals receive an insane number of submissions, reviewers are asked to consider an impractically large number of papers and at the end of the day you need quite a bit of luck to get published.

For each paper you have take ten enveloppes and write the names of the top ten journals in that area, start sending them out one by one. If you receive useful feedback, revise before sending to the next one, otherwise just send to the next journal in line.

Put together a small grant proposal to run a conference, take the papers from the conference and submit them as an edited volume, it will give you experience of the publication process and fill up your CV (of course you present at the conference and include your paper in the volume).

Chat to colleagues working on Companion, Handbook or Encyclopaedia volumes, they have a huge number of entries to fill up, maybe you can help by writing something for them.

HPsauciness Tue 19-Jan-16 09:33:56

It has taken me seven years to get a publication in the top journal in the field. I've been rejected by them three times, and the fourth time managed to get a publication in. Each time, the rejected papers went elsewhere, and in the case of one of them, did very well indeed.

I don't think top journals matter per se, but what you want to do is make your work accessible to the right audience as quickly as you can. Sometimes this means holding out for a key paper to go somewhere great, other times it can mean shovelling something out quickly into an online journal which has good open access and putting it on the sites I mentioned before.

I have put things in 'top' journals before only to find no-one really cites them as they were too general and no-one was looking in those journals for that paper.

Also, paper title is incredibly important as are key words, as these are the ways you are googlable now, and if you write a very easy-to-find title (often not that fancy, or with a fancy bit then a very descriptive phrase) then others will find your work by searching, even if it is not in a top journal.

TychosNose Tue 19-Jan-16 09:47:56

Getting rejected doesn't mean your papers are rubbish. It's very competitive and often one has to "be in the club" to get accepted into certain journals.

It is so depressing though and I feel for you.

Would you be happy in a teaching only position? For some people the constant rejection/criticism in academic research is too stressful and a teaching only position might be more enjoyable (though student feedback can be pretty demoralising too).

Booboostwo Tue 19-Jan-16 10:33:02

I have found it quite useful to put all my work on Academia.edu. My papers get downloaded a lot, there are no barriers to access and people interested in general areas might see my papers pop up in their feed. Is this something that applies to your discipline?

JellyMouldJnr Tue 19-Jan-16 16:12:59

I second a PP, just keep sending stuff out there. Don't take it personally, rejection is the norm.

MedSchoolRat Tue 19-Jan-16 20:52:22

Christ-Cab - that booked you linked to looks very basic. It's more of a beginner's guide than what you need, I reckon.

No way is REF worth sacrificing your mental health to. Whatever else you decide to do.

ChristmasCabbage Wed 20-Jan-16 10:04:31

Thanks for all the comments back. I'm sorry it's taken a while to come back but yesterday was crazy busy with teaching.

I was in a complete state on Monday, proper meltdown territory.

All your advice is excellent and I appreciate suggestions. The biggest issue does seem to be internal peer review/critical friend which we don't have. The department is a bit toxic in some ways and I don't really feel that I can ask colleagues to look over papers. Numerous, on-going issues there. There are moves towards more internal review but they are slow.

The other issue is that, TBH, I'm ashamed to send out the papers I've written. I know my arguments are weak and I'm embarrassed to have other people see my work in progress. Pathetic I know.

I've got some co-authored papers on the go but I really need at least one sole-authored paper every 18 months or so, which is the standard in my discipline (social sciences).

I'm a lot less panicked today and planning to spend the day working on some reviewers comments then getting the rejected paper out to a second tier journal today or tomorrow. I'm still expecting a rejection TBH but here goes...

secretacademic Wed 20-Jan-16 10:28:28

Given some of the papers I've reviewed and even seen printed it does not necessarily mean your papers are weak.

Going through and answering the reviewers' comments (or suggesting why the comment does not need to be applied) often improve papers so the next journal will publish them. Often its about playing the game (like REF etc) using buzzwords /phrases/conventions. In my field if you are reviewing it really needs to be a systematic review and otherwise if you have some data analysis you can include that helps.

I'm inundated with open access journals wanting me to publish at the moment. Most universities do have some limited funding available which might be worth exploring to get you started especially if you can argue you are new in your career. However many open access publishers are predatory publishers -see list below and should be avoided. Another thing you can look for is if there are going to special issues in your field

scholarlyoa.com/publishers/

I think Hindawi and MDPI are probably ok but you might need to look at individual journals within these

Lweji Wed 20-Jan-16 10:33:32

I'd avoid Hindawi, actually.
Unless you're desperate.
But do check that the journal has a reputable impact factor or a made up one.

Booboostwo Wed 20-Jan-16 13:05:58

How about submitting papers to smaller friendly conferences or visiting speakers' programmers? Hopefully you'd get a good discussion and feedback.

I often mention my wip papers on Facebook and ask if. Anyone fancies reading them. Also Academia.edu allows you to invite people to a discussion of your paper.

ChristmasCabbage Wed 20-Jan-16 13:17:24

Thanks for the additional comments and for the list of places to avoid.

I'm working through reviewers comments today but they are very abstract along the lines of 'this isn't good enough' so not too much help to be honest!

I'll put some feelers out for people to read papers but not on FB and very few colleagues use academia.edu. smile

fluffikins Wed 20-Jan-16 16:59:31

My advice would be go to a conference and find someone who is good in your field and talk to them about writing it together, they can only say no and if your basic premise of data is good then they'll more than likely want to get involved. Then work to build a circle of people who all publish in your field and use that to support each other. I hate writing so I tend to help out on the data collection and analyses side of things and collaborate with people who are excellent at understanding what the journals want

HPsauciness Fri 22-Jan-16 11:47:52

You sound like you need a mentor or a friendly colleague who would give you blunt advice on how to improve- it is not about being 'clever' but about, as others said, knowing how to phrase things, how to make your work appealing and how to play the journal game to some extent. I have worked with two colleagues slightly less experienced than myself (I'm not a professor) recently and both got papers published after my comments as the work they had done was good, but the papers weren't- but this is fixable , a skill to be learnt.

I would still create an Academic.edu profile even if lots of your colleagues aren't on there, be an early adopter. I also use Twitter as I'm in a very policy driven applied area and so lots of people are on there (not for writing, but to share papers). Lots of people aren't on there either, but lots are- so get yourself on these sites (and ResearchGate) if and when you get anything in press.

You say 'second-tier' journal in a very dismissive way- I've had some really lovely papers (though I do say so myself) published in second-tier journals. It is more important to get your ideas published somewhere, as it is then accessible than worry too much where it is.

You sounds stressed, tbh, juggling writing with the high stress demands of the term is difficult. Any way to get a little less stressed (apart from change profession)?

HPsauciness Fri 22-Jan-16 11:49:45

I was going to say- for a mentor could you approach a former supervisor, someone you worked with on a project or a nice member of staff elsewhere- it doesn't have to be at your institution if your colleagues are not that friendly. There are also paper-writing workshops and other training run by ESRC methods institute (can't remember their name) or internally in some unis- look out for one of them and get your confidence up.

murmuration Fri 22-Jan-16 11:59:18

HP is thinking along the same lines as me. Can you contact someone elsewhere - former supervisor, co-student, whatever - to give you some preliminary feedback on your paper? Someone you met a conference? I've done the latter for grant proposals, and gotten good feedback.

HPsauciness Fri 22-Jan-16 12:24:18

I have read sooo many PhD chapters, whole theses, draft papers for friends/colleagues over the years- usually people I am friendly with and they are having difficulty getting a paper (or publishing in general) off the ground. I am always happy to do this as long as they don't leave it til the last min to ask (if grant application!)

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