We’re very excited to be partnering with The White Horse Press for the next Environmental History Workshop in 2019. Below, Dr Sarah Johnson, partner at WHP, shares some advice and guidance for early career researchers looking to publish their work.
At The White Horse Press we are always interested to observe, support and encourage the progress of early career researchers. We are proud to have been involved in the British environmental history community almost from its inception – we began our flagship journal Environment and History in 1995 under the founding editorship of that giant of British environmental history, Richard Grove; and we have attended ESEH conferences from the beginning. We hope to establish an ongoing relationship with Environmental History Workshop. All our publications are linked to the broad theme – some might say the overarching theme of everything! – ‘environment and society’; and my own academic background was a Ph.D. on responses to landscape in 18th c. Pacific exploration accounts. One thing scholars can be sure of when publishing with the White Horse Press is that we understand both the discipline and the academy. I’m confident that almost all our authors would attest that this makes a real difference to the publishing experience. We are (very) small, friendly and personal, but also long-standingly respected in the field and nimble – we have adopted as fast as many of the bigger players new publishing tools such as online submission systems, digital ‘print on demand’ and online first publication of journal articles, whilst resolutely holding onto our humanity (often required in the face of these technical ‘miracles’).
But a publisher is nothing without authors. We are aware of the difficult current environment for researchers, especially early career researchers, seeking publication. We know that achieving publications in journals or with publishers that are on approved lists – whether for Impact Factor or some other metric – is essential for promotion, funding applications and such hoop-jumping exercises as the REF: we try our very best to make decisions and see through publication speedily; and to support our authors as best we can in meeting the demands of bean counters and promotion boards. For example, we offer Open Access options, as these are often demanded by institutions or funding bodies, but passionately believe that good scholars should not be excluded from publication because they cannot pay page fees. With monographs and edited collections, we aim to make decisions on proposals within a few weeks and to publish within six months of the final MS being submitted, and whilst we will never come near the marketing abilities of the biggest players, our innovative print-on-demand publication model (the books look identical to those with traditional print runs) means that our books are widely available through booksellers and wholesalers worldwide and need never go out of print. POD also reduces print run costs so we can afford to publish works that are unlikely to become bestsellers without undue risk – this definitely works to the advantage of less well-known scholars.
In both our book and journal publishing we try always to be flexible and supportive, and many authors over the years have become friends. Early career researchers with whom we have worked have often come to us highly recommended by senior figures we know of old. Mentoring is more than ever important in the academic environment, and developing networks with more established colleagues is vitally important – not in terms of slavish devotion but because, in my experience, senior environmental historians are some of the nicest people one could hope to meet and endlessly supportive of those rising in the field. Don’t be scared to approach those you admire. Don’t regard the publishing journey as a competition – share your ideas with others ‘ahead of’ ‘alongside’ or ‘behind’ you on the career path and you will often be rewarded. Writing book reviews is an excellent way to ‘score’ publications and – I probably shouldn’t say this! – to endear yourself to editors and publishers who struggle to find willing reviewers. In this, as in all things, be kind but honest. Think of the reviews you would like to receive yourself. Think of the peer reviews of your first journal submission that made you cry, and resolve to choose a different way. Learn early, and hold onto, the difference between fair criticism and attack. And remember that too when you receive peer reviews – take the good advice from them and pass by anything toxic graciously. Personally, I read and often solicit peer reviews for our journals, I make judgments about book proposals and consult with our editors about journal articles. I get to know and form opinions about names and behaviours. My best advice to anyone working in a relatively small field like environmental history is that taking the time to be nice WILL be noticed.
For what it’s worth, I’d offer a few further common sense pointers to early career researchers seeking publication, especially in journals:
- Write with a journal in mind and respecting its norms – effective targeting of articles so that they meet a journal’s key focus will reap rewards. No overworked editor likes to read a paper that’s clearly a reject from a perhaps higher-ranked competitor or one in a subtly different field! Read and try to adhere to the journal’s stylesheet – on the rare occasions when I copyedit an article with all its references in order, I basically want to marry the author. I will probably publish their book on that basis alone. Whilst being ambitious, consider whether a lower ‘ranked’ but well fitting journal with a faster turnaround time to publication might be a better option. Familiarise yourself with the stats and feel free to ask questions informally before submission.
- Take feedback on board and, when undertaking revisions do so promptly and making clear how you’ve addressed feedback and which parts you respectfully disagree with (this is allowed!). During the submission, revision and publication process, don’t be afraid to ask – rather than stewing for months, only to discover in the end that an only-human-after-all editor or publisher has lost or forgotten something, make a polite enquiry. But don’t be avid – ten minutes after submission is not the right time; or accusatory if latter scenario turns out to be the case!
- As touched on above, don’t feel victimised by peer reviews. Try to take the good, ignore the bad and only complain (but never feel afraid to) if you decide – perhaps after talking to others – that you really have been badly treated.
- If you have the opportunity to attend writing / publication workshops, do. And talk to your colleagues about the nuts and bolts of publishing, as well as your actual research. Try to find out their experiences with different journals and presses – the good and bad aspects, and perhaps any personal contacts they can share.
- And always wear sunscreen.
Authors and publishers are mutually constitutive. I’d like to conclude this blog by asking what (other than always-elusive riches and glory!) we can do for you? The White Horse Press is proudly independent and free-thinking; we have no intention of being absorbed by a large conglomerate. Can we make a difference, while also making a living?