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Getting Published in a Peer-Reviewed Journal

My very first scholarly article in a LIS journal is about to be published in the fall issue of the Journal of Web Librarianship!  And I have two more articles submitted to two other journals, the Reference Librarian and Technical Services Quarterly.  As you can imagine, I am very excited.  But on the other hand, I still find it difficult to believe that my article is actually getting published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Getting published can be a daunting task for new librarians. Considering that a two-year LIS program may well fail to provide sufficient practice and experience for LIS students to gain confidence in writing a scholarly article, new librarians without prior experience in scholarly writing are likely to not know where to begin.  I am personally divided on the issue of the faculty status of librarians and the resulting obligation of publishing.  But that certainly is not an excuse for avoiding writing.

As to many others, the major problem to me was how to begin.  The pace of my work was extremely fast as I was working towards opening up a brand-new library.  My work life as a librarian seemed to leave no room left for scholarly writing.  Moreover, I  wasn’t sure what my true scholarly interests were and whether I knew enough to write about anything.  This is to say that, like many new librarians, I was not sure when or how I was ever going to get published “ever.”

National Maritime Museum - A flight of three Supermarine  Southampton Mark II Flying boats in the air over HendonI was lucky to attend the ACRL New Members group meeting about “Academic Librarians and Getting Published” at my first ALA Annual Conference that I attended in 2009. Not only did the three presentations given by Emily Drabinski, Lisa Carlucci Thomas & Karen Sobel, and Linda Hofschire offer excellent and practical tips for writing but also this session helped me realize that writing is something everyone struggles with and being rejected is part of the process of getting published. Even though we all know that writing is horrendous to many others, not just to us, we tend to believe that those who have been published are somehow quite different from us who have not been published.  This session effectively demystified this misconception of mine.

In this session, one of the presenters gave this tip: “To get motivated, use deadlines, generate good ideas, write them down right away, set aside time to write–get up 30 min. early everyday.”  Although I liked this idea very much, I just could not sit down everyday to write for 30 minutes.  I could not get up 30 minutes early and I could not spare 30 minutes before going to bed.  It could have been a lack of the will, a doubt, busy work, or numerous other things.  But the real reason was, I think, this crazy thought of mine that I would get published “once” I first figure out my interests, do some thorough research, generate some worthy ideas quite different from others’, and am convinced that I am ready to write an article of a journal.

Oh well, I can tell you as the first-time author who wrote for a LIS journal that things don’t work that way. Period.  But I used the most important part of this tip to get started: “Use Deadlines.”

This is how I started writing.

  • Read some blogs on which CFPs are collected and listed.
  • Pick one CFP and write a proposal.
  • Get the proposal accepted.
    (This is generally not difficult.)
  • Announce yourself the deadline forced by the journal editor.
    (This is hard but could be the best thing that happens to your writing.)

The deadline for the article was Halloween last year and I submitted a very unorganized and hard-to-read draft.  The thing is, until somebody tells you this, you cannot wash the fish scale off of your eyes, which make you so completely falsely believe that your paper is half-way presentable.  Interestingly enough, you cannot see how truly bad a writer you are until you get the dreaded peer reviews.  I was not devastated but simply agreed with the feedback I had received, which was beyond devastating.  For some unfathomable reason, my truly nice editor, Nina McHale, gave me a chance to revise with wonderfully helpful comments. This lead to some agonizing time I spent trying to re-write my own paper that was practically-impossible-to-read now that I could read it through others’ eyes.

US National Archive - Older Women Doing Hand Ironing in Laundry Where General Lay-Out Is Good, But Women Apparently Have No Seats

So the second deadline came.  I was convinced that my paper would be rejected. I was also so tired of the topic by then.  But my wonderful colleague, Marissa, who patiently read through my paper and gave me plenty of helpful advice and comments, kept telling me that I had some good ideas.  The most surprising thing was that I thought better and more clearly when I was in conversation with her than when I was writing alone.  Writing is basically a dialogue between a writer and his/her readers.  But we write as if writing is a soliloquy.  Marissa also gave me the very useful tip that by changing font-size and style, and page orientation, I can more effectively proofread.  I also read aloud my entire paper before submitting it this time.

I had not heard for months again.  The peer-review process can really takes eternity.  I was dreading the rejection notice.  I could hardly believe when I was told that my paper was accepted.

The hardest thing in writing is to say what one wants to say. I spend so much time writing something that doesn’t speak and rather misrepresent what I want to say.  Now that I have gone through my first experience of writing for a peer-reviewed journal, I realize that a scholarly article is not just a product of an author.  It is so much more than that.  My article would not have been written that way without the comments from my editor and the reviewers.  Although being reviewed can be a dreadful experience, this is a boon to new librarians since it means that they will receive much-needed help and get invaluable comments for their writing.  I will be forever grateful for my editor and anonymous peer reviewers who took upon themselves reading my awful first draft.

I am not any better writer and I am not any more knowledgeable.  But through my experience I have learned that writing begins with a deadline and beginning is nearly the half of the work of getting published.  Well, that and making a bibliography one-hundred percent correct in the asked citation style is no less than art (and I say this as solemnly as I can as a librarian).