Jon Lewis on Academic Publishing

As the first half of today's Philadelphia Cinema & Media Seminar, Jon Lewis (of Oregon State, current editor of Cinema Journal) talked about academic publishing in film studies. Not all of what he said was new to me, but as a junior scholar beginning to submit material to journals, I really appreciated hearing nuts and bolts advice about how to place scholarship at journals or even book publishers. I can't capture all he said, but at a high level, his advice for submitting to a journal was as follows.

Read the journal before submitting. An obvious directive, perhaps, but one apparently many do not follow. Get a sense of what the journal publishes and what they do not. Current essays can give a sense of length, tone, and scholarly approach. If reviewed by editorial board, look to see who's on the board. Find a journal that fits what you write and how you want your research identified.

Send a brief, simple cover letter with the submission. Editors rarely read the essays until their review, so complicated summaries in the cover letter are a waste of time.

Follow submission guidelines. Be sure to match the style manual specified.

Get good at waiting. Peer or editorial board review takes time. Journals will often specify the time frame for consideration. After a reasonable amount of time, feel free to send a polite query about the status. The process will take several months for review; just note that if accepted, expected turnaround for revisions, illustrations, etc. may be short.

Be willing to revise. If rejected, take time to digest the reader's report. If accepted, do not dig heels in at every stylistic suggestion.

Additionally, Lewis advises the following:
  • Avoid jargon where possible
  • Do not argue by namedropping
  • Keep literature survey to a minimum
  • Contextualize quotes (e.g. "political historian Richard Hofstadter")
  • Ask - and answer - the "so what?" question
  • Find your voice
  • Always revise your work before submission
Sorry for the programmatic summary, but I imagine folks out there might find these reflections helpful. By the way, the more quantitatively minded out there might be interested to know that Cinema Journal receives about 300 submissions a year (with 50-60 clearly inappropriate and rejected without review), out of which 16 articles a year get published.

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