By Fraser Raeburn |

As was unkindly but fairly pointed out by one of our colleagues recently, the title of our blog is a lie. We’ve barely touched on either pubs or publications since we started in February. Laura has promised an article on pubs, but in the meantime, it has fallen on me to write about getting published.

I was fortunate enough to have my first academic article appear in print last month. It is, I think, a milestone that everyone who starts a PhD looks forward to – in fact, it’s taken me quite a while to calm down enough to write something vaguely coherent about the experience. If I had tried to write this a month ago, most of the post would have been pictures of puppies and rainbows.

pub1
This dog knows what I’m talking about, she has an OUP (PUP?) monograph.

While I’m not remotely qualified to give anyone advice on how they should approach publishing, there were some aspects of the process that took me by surprise:

It can be easier than you expect: I started by entering a postgraduate essay competition run by the Economic and Social History Society of Scotland. There are quite a few such competitions around, the prize generally consisting of a small amount of cash and being considered for publication in the organisation’s journal. Often, you don’t even have to win to be invited to submit for publication – it’s also common for the runners up to be invited to publish. As a bonus, these competitions are often incredibly poorly publicised. It’s worth trawling through the minutiae of any organisation with relevance to your work, just in case they have a half-forgotten annual essay prize, for which you might be one of the only entries.

It’s not quick: After getting accepted for publication in mid-2013, it took close to two years to actually make it onto the page. To be fair, the editors were very up front about this and I was mostly just happy to get accepted at all. The downside, of course, is that for a postgraduate two years is an awfully long time. Not just in terms of degree or career progression, but also in how our research evolves. While I’m still working on a very closely-related subject to my original paper, how I approach it, my methodology and even the sources I use have all changed considerably in those two years. This leads to a strange disconnect between how you’ve represented your research in the public record, and what you are actually doing by the time it appears in print.

pub2

Not to mention the disconnect between my research and how I present it at family gatherings.

Physicality matters: Actually holding a physical copy was definitely the moment when it became real – it’s a pretty amazing feeling that something you wrote has achieved some kind of permanent place in human scholarship, no matter how minor (very, in my case). The problem is that getting your hands on an actual, printed copy is getting more and more difficult. I had rather foolishly assumed I would get a complimentary copy, only to be informed that the publisher’s generosity went as far as offering a small discount to authors. This might be because they barely print any physical copies these days; it took me a couple of weeks to find one. Despite being published by Edinburgh University Press, the university library stopped ordering physical copies of the journal in 2009.

Peer review is…interesting: I was fortunate in that peer review was a relatively painless experience, from what I hear this isn’t always the case. Most of the comments and criticisms were genuinely useful, especially when it came to areas that I didn’t previously have much background in. It can also be strangely empowering – I received some critical comments which were quite simply factually incorrect. Realising that someone specifically chosen for their knowledge of your field knows less than you do about your topic really drives home the feeling that you’re doing something original.

There’s one last, unexpected benefit that publishing for the first time brings with it: as we reach the age where all those real, functional adults we grew up with are getting engaged, having babies and whatnot, posting a photo of your first article is just about the only to compete in terms of Facebook likes.

 

If you’re seriously desperate for procrastination material, you can read Fraser’s article at http://www.euppublishing.com/journal/jshs, or, if you live in the 1990s, at a library.

 

(Cover Image ⓒ www.commons.wikimedia.org, Image 1 ⓒ https://www.flickr.com/photos/1juniper, Image 2 ⓒ https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephadamo)