This post was written by NCTE member Toby Emert, Coeditor of English Journal.
The first article I submitted to English Journal took me almost a year to write.
I began the draft in a three-day writing retreat in Santa Fe, New Mexico, hosted by the National Writing Project. The thirty of us teacher-authors spent the mornings with our notebooks, pens, and laptops on the sunny benches of the center where we had gathered to work on projects that we hoped were imminently publishable. In the afternoons, we read from the drafts, and the facilitators guided us as we provided feedback and support. It was a magical three days.
After the retreat, I continued working on the article for months before I felt it was ready for submission. When I finally uploaded it and hit “submit” on my keyboard, I felt relieved and excited.
A few weeks later, I got a response from the editor. The letter began, “Thank you for submitting your manuscript to English Journal. Unfortunately, we will not be able to use it.” It was disappointing news, of course, but the letter also provided reviewers’ comments, which I found to be encouraging. Reading their notes helped me consider how I might improve the article and submit it elsewhere, which I did (eventually).
When Joseph (Rodríguez) and I accepted the offer to edit English Journal, we knew we were interested to help writers understand the process for publishing in an academic journal like EJ and to encourage teacher-authors to submit. One of the ways to learn the “rules” for successful publication is to work through the steps and see what happens. But the “rules” can also be explained so that it’s easier to avoid some of the missteps that writers often make.
We tried to describe some of those “rules” in a fun conversation with Lisa Fink, the project manager of NCTE’s ReadWriteThink, and Tiffany Rehbein, chair of the Secondary Section Steering Committee. We recorded the chat for the NCTE website. You can find it here.
In this blog post, I’d like to share a few of the highlights from that conversation—tips that will help you understand the submission, review, and publication process for the journal and, I hope, encourage you to consider submitting work.
Tip #1: Know the kind of article you have written or intend to write
EJ publishes several types of articles in each issue, so review recently-published issues to understand the tone, style, and length for each type. For example, shorter, more personal essays are a better fit for the Speaking My Mind feature or, depending on the topic, for one of the columns that appear in each issue. The guidelines for each type of article are available in the front of the print version of the journal, as well as on the EJ website in the section titled “Write for Us.”
Tip #2: Read the guidelines for submission closely
One of the most common snags early in the publication process is the submission of manuscripts that do not follow the expectations for the journal. That means that we have to return the manuscript, the author has to revise it, and the article has to be removed from the system and then resubmitted later. That delays the review process. Before you hit the “submit” button, re-read the guidelines and look closely at your manuscript to be certain you have clearly met the expectations (length, audience, formatting, reference style, etc.).
Tip #3: Understand the review process
Academic and practitioner journals have different types of review protocols. EJ uses a double-blind peer-review process. That means that when you submit a manuscript to the online editorial management system, it is first reviewed by an editor who assigns it to peer reviewers—teachers, writers, professors, and administrators who regularly read EJ and other journals and have volunteered to offer feedback and suggestions. The reviewers do not know who authored the manuscript and, as an author, you will not know who reviewed it (the “double” in “double-blind”). The aim of this process is to ensure an unbiased evaluation of the submission. The reviewers submit notes to the editors and authors. Their reviews are then shared with you in a letter when the decision on your submission is made.
Tip #4: Expect to revise the manuscript before it’s published
It’s possible that you will submit a manuscript that needs little editing before it appears in print, but that’s not likely. Almost all manuscripts that are eventually published have been through several rounds of editing. Generally, you work with a field editor (likely either Joseph or me) and your editor provides notes, suggestions for responding to the reviewers’ recommendations, and line editing as you move toward final acceptance. Once it’s accepted, the article is read by a copy editor and someone from the publications team at NCTE, who may also have suggestions. This editing phase often takes several months (which is why our submission deadlines are so far in advance of publication dates).
Tip #5: Remember that everyone wants the issue to succeed
Sharing our writing makes us vulnerable, and it’s natural to feel protective of our ideas. The process of publishing in the journal though requires flexibility, compassion, and tenacity. As editors, we are hoping that every article we receive inspires us as teachers and engages us as readers. We are always rooting for the author and the manuscript, and we also know that we can only publish a small number of the manuscripts we receive. We work hard to offer helpful, but rigorous feedback, and we try to make decisions in a timely manner. Putting together each issue is a kind of collaborative dance, and the choreography is intricate. Expect that the editorial team wants to create a memorable issue every time and wants authors to have a good experience. Entering the process with patience and goodwill is a gift to everyone.
Toby Emert is a professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. He is a former middle and high school English and drama teacher, and he, along with R. Joseph Rodríguez, currently edits English Journal.
Department of Theatre and Dance
Agnes Scott College
141 E. College Ave.
Decatur, GA 30030