Zoe Lang’s Guest Blog: Journal Woes and Whoas

September 8, 2008 at 8:18 pm 1 comment

When I last wrote for amusicology, it was to register my frustration with several futile attempts to get an article published.  That was nine months ago, and a lot has happened since then – for instance, another article that I wrote was also rejected, demonstrating that I am nothing if not consistent.  More exciting, though, is that the “article known ‘round the blogosphere” is going to be published by an actual, peer-reviewed, musicological journal on its fifth attempt.  While I don’t pretend to know the magic formula for publication, I would like to share my thoughts on why, after so much struggle, the article was finally accepted.

At the time of my last post, the article had been rejected by three reputable journals in the field of musicology.  The feedback that I received had not helped me to better my work, particularly from the last rejection that was accompanied by no feedback at all.  This journal recently did the same to a friend of mine, rejecting her article without sending it to readers or providing feedback.  Unlike many of the journals in our field, this one publishes a broad spectrum of research, thus making it a good place to send research that does not fit into categories like ‘early music’ or ‘American music.’   If the editors are limiting the scope of the journal, such information should be made explicit.  By not sending articles to readers, they are very possibly missing topics that could be of interest to a wider audience, particularly more experimental or radical ideas (or to be less generous, topics beyond the familiarity of the editors).  Furthermore, such policies are more likely to ensure the same kinds of research get published and new ideas – often originating with young scholars – go unread.

I was at a loss after my no-feedback-rejection and decided to try a new direction, sending my article to a history journal instead of a musicology one.  What I learned from this experience was that my knowledge of history from the time period I wrote on was, to paraphrase one reader, not much more developed than an undergraduate (as consolation, I reminded myself that this person probably didn’t know all that much about Josquin, much less that there were two Josquins).  However, the readers gave extensive feedback, much of which I was able to incorporate into my article revision.  What impressed me the most was not only the helpful suggestions given in the comments but the swiftness with which these comments were returned: I sent the article in January and it was rejected, feedback and all, by March.  This experience differed greatly from the seven-month/no feedback wait at the previous journal.

I will admit, though, that I had to give up the article for a bit.  Going 0/4 was quite disheartening and I was almost ready to abandon the whole topic.  Yet I hated to toss the work of two years aside.  In the meantime, I took on a new project of getting caught up with many of the journals in musicology (and history).  Part of this consisted of making files for each journal, recording the types of articles that were accepted and finding common, larger themes among these acceptances.  My journal catch-up project yielded good results and as I was reading the back issues of one, I realized that I had found a potential match for my article.  The time had come to revise (again) and send (again), I hoped that my luck would change, and, thankfully, it did.

There were even a few mishaps with this submission: after it was sent in, I was quickly glancing through the file for something completely unrelated and naturally stumbled upon what I felt was a glaring typo; I cited one person in a footnote then referred to him as someone else in the article text; and (my favorite) I realized two months after sending the article to the editor that I had included the wrong musical examples (leading to a sheepish email to the editor apologizing for being a clod).  Even with these mishaps, the article was still accepted, which is a good sign that spending too much time on minute revision is not necessary – although I do have to suggest sending the correct example file the first time around.

I don’t consider the entire exercise to be time wasted and I’m glad that this later version of the article (after I have incorporated the seven – yes, seven – pages of suggested revisions) is being published rather than my first version.  When I did get feedback, it strengthened the project and showed me new ways of thinking about the topic, which is exactly what I think submissions should do, whether they are accepted or rejected.  The support of colleagues and realization that it was not just me (or my work) was very welcome and I hope that this blog can foster more of such a spirit of collaboration.  Unfortunately, I also became quite jaded toward the less helpful journals that I submitted my work to and hope that we, as a field, can begin to revisit some of the less commendable practices that seem prevalent.  Submissions should be assessed within an acceptable time frame.  Readers and editors need to be diligent about such deadlines.  Feedback should be honest – brutally honest if necessary – but not disparaging or demeaning.  Most of all, there should be dialogue and comments to improve the field as a whole and better all of our scholarship.

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Entry filed under: publishing.

Wiki Round-Up 2008 Congratulations to Charles H. Garrett

1 Comment

  • 1. Jake Cohen  |  November 15, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Posted by Jake Cohen at 2008-10-07 09:59

    Congrats Zoe, that’s excellent news, I’m very happy that you didn’t decide to give up on the article. So when’s the Kanye’s “New Workout Plan” article going to come out?


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