How to Get Published as an Educator

One of the best and most significant changes for me when I moved from high school English teaching to being a college professor was a blossoming of my life as a writer.

In the spring of my first year of college—almost 40 years ago—I had an epiphany: I realized that I was a writer. Much of my life in my twenties while I struggled to develop my professional credibility as a high school teacher, I was also writing poetry, short stories, and even a novel—all of which I religiously cast into the submission pond for publication.

For more than two decades, I dutifully mailed through the postal system 9 x 11 manilla envelopes including my hand-typed manuscripts and another envelope with return postage. Most of that work was returned with terse and impersonal rejections; a few had hand-scribbled notes of encouragement, and a smattering of work was accepted and published in so-called small or literary journals.

I had a couple professional education articles published before I entered my doctoral program in 1995 (Oregon English and English Journal), but I did not begin to recognize my writer life as less than a writer of fiction and more as a scholar and public intellectual until the late 1990s and especially once I left high school teaching and became a professor in 2002.

Since I was mostly a self-taught writer of fiction and poetry (not a part of an MFA program or the “in” circle of writers) and “only” a public school teacher, my efforts at publishing were almost all very discouraging and fruitless.

So here is my first caveat about publishing as an educator: Create a network and make contacts so that your work has a better chance of being considered and thus published.

Since I became a professor, I have published self-authored and edited/co-edited volumes (20+ volumes), about 30 chapters in volumes, and many dozens of scholarly journal articles and public articles and commentaries; as well, I have co-edited state education journals, edited/co-edited columns for 10 years in English Journal, and edited series for education publishers Peter Lang USA and Brill/Sense.

How did this transformation happen?

As I noted above, once in higher education, I gained access to publishing that I had not enjoyed previously. My affiliation with a university opened doors to public commentaries in local, state, and national newspapers and publications, and quite significantly, I made a connection through a colleague with a series editor (Joe Kincheloe) who believed in my work and started my career as a scholar.

Here, I want to emphasize that I was prepared for these opportunities by the years of mostly unproductive work prior; I had spent decades honing my skills as a writer—despite my lack of publications—and I had almost two decades under my belt as a classroom teacher (practitioner expertise) as well as a doctorate (scholarly expertise), including, of course, the powerful experience of completing a dissertation (which I later published).

As a series editor for two education publishers and as an editor/co-editor for columns in English Journal, I have learned a great deal about how to start and develop a career as a published educator; below, then, are some suggestions:

  • Determine the type of writer you are (or want to be). Essentially educators (K-12 or professors) who want to publish are either writers who want to publish scholarship or practitioners/scholars who need to write in order to publish. This recognition is not about being the right kind of writer (there isn’t a right one), but your attitude about the writing and your path to publishing are quite different between the two types.
  • Commit time to the craft of writing. If you want to publish, you must practice writing—including drafting a significant amount of text that will never be submitted or published. Read books on being a writer and writing well; read authors and scholars writing about being writers. But most of all, create writing time and build a reserve of writing that helps you hone your skill, explore the type of writer you want to be (voice, style, and genre/form), and accumulate texts that may serve you once you begin writing pieces targeted for submission and publication.
  • Begin to read professional published work as a writer. My time editing has included a great deal of energy gently responding to submissions that should have never been submitted; the format is unacceptable, or the piece simply does not match the publication or column. Want to publish scholarly articles? Seek out the journals where you would like to publish and read meticulously. What to publish a book? Explore publishers and read the books like the ones you want to write.
  • Do the due diligence of understanding and then conforming to submission guidelines. Well before actually submitting work, study calls for submissions and calls for proposals. Know the expectations for queries, proposals, and submissions. While some standard guidelines exist, almost all publications and publishers have unique requirements that demand you are meticulous and are willingly to honor the time and professionalism of the editors receiving your work; meet format, citation, and word-length requirements.
  • Join professional organizations and attend professional conferences. The most effective “in” to publishing as an educator is the professional organization, and then the professional conference. Professional organizations at the local, state, and national levels allow you to begin and grow a network, but they also often have publishing opportunities that far too few educators explore. Presenting at conferences is also an outstanding first step to having an article to submit—especially if you present with other educators and then co-author the article. Collaboration, in fact, is an excellent initial route to publishing, especially if you can collaborate with a published educator.
  • Create a social media presence (Twitter, etc.) that is mostly professional. Similar to professional organizations, social media can be a great community for entering the conversations you will want to explore as a writer. The key is to focus your social media time (who you follow, and what you share) on a professional community.
  • Identify your are(s) of expertise and then research to see what has been published, what is being published. As an editor and a peer-reviewer, I have very often had to reject work that simply walks well-worn ground or enters a conversation with no clear awareness of the status of that conversation. Being an educator at all levels can be very isolating, but to publish, you must be aware of what the conversation includes, what the research base has already offered (many call this standing on the shoulders of giants). First-time publishing is daunting, but those initial efforts have a much better chance if you commit yourself to knowing your publication, knowing your expertise, knowing your audience, and knowing the historical and current status of the conversation you wish to influence.
  • Recognize that academic/scholarly publishing is not the same as other types of publishing. Publishing as an educator is a subset of publishing in general. In my own career, the submission game for fiction and poetry is quite different than academic publishing. The “I want to publish” comment or urge must be qualified, and once you recognize you want to publish for practitioners and scholars, you need to understand the process for education-oriented journals and publishers. This is mostly the world of other educators and scholars; many journals, for example, are edited by practicing educators and professors (not full-time editors). And even book series are also edited the same way. Publishing as an educator is mostly entering a very distinct community, a community you are already a part of as an educator.
  • Consider blogging as a pathway to more traditional publishing. Nearly as important as the connections and access that moving to higher education afforded me was my deciding to blog, first at open sites and then on my own WordPress blog. Blogging provides for me a way to think through topics and issues, but it also creates a huge reserve of writing that I can cull from for formal submissions. Blogging also motivates me to write nearly daily (in a way that journaling never worked for me). As well, blogging helps you practice entering a conversation in ways that will benefit your formal submissions. Blogging has gained a much better status in recent years, and as I have done, a blog can be established as a place for your professional voice, and an outlet for establishing and developing that voice.
  • Submit your work. Ultimately, you must draft and finalize a manuscript, and then send it out. As I have detailed above, if you make the right efforts before you do this, you have very good odds of that work finding a home—probably in a smaller venue at first, but eventually in places that you have identified as your larger goals. Due diligence, and baby steps.

And this brings me to a final thought that isn’t so much about how to get published as an educator, but something to expect once you do get published: A sudden sense of terror often follows the thrill of acceptance and publication.

For me, publishing has been a powerful, important, and even necessary aspect of being an educator; I simply can’t see doing one without the other. Once you make the same decision, I think you will find a new level of satisfaction that enhances your life and profession.

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Advice for Submitting Work for Publication

While I have blogged before about submitting work as a student and author, I want to focus here on submitting work for publication in academic, scholarly, or professional venues, especially work submitted by K-12 teachers and university scholars.

For those new to submitting work for publication, an important first step is understanding academic and professional publishing. Academic/professional journals and books are edited and managed often by teachers and professors who are rarely paid for that work, and thus, must edit and manage along with maintaining their full-time academic work.

IMPORTANT: Submit your work in such a way that you honor the time and professionalism of the editor(s).

What does that entail?

Do your homework. Before submitting, and even before writing your submission, read and carefully consider the publication (journal) or publisher (books) for which you are seeking publication. You should read and familiarize yourself with the work of the editor(s) as well.

Especially if you are submitting to a journal, read and analyze several recent works in the journal or column you are targeting. Journals and columns can change significantly under different editors, so “recent” is key.

Draft with the publication in mind. Writing your submission must include maintaining a focus on the journal, column, or book call for manuscripts. Original pieces drafted after seeing the call or revising/reshaping existing work (such as a thesis or dissertation completed for degree work) must be crafted to fulfill the call focus and guidelines, including conforming to the word count.

Never submit a thesis/dissertation excerpt or manuscript for publication without revising/reshaping the work to meet the call you are targeting.

Format manuscript to citation/publication specifications. Two important points here: (1) manuscripts must be formatted and texts cited properly (impeccably), and (2) formatting should honor “less is always better.”

Formatting your Word document should conform to some standard guidelines:

  • Use Times New Roman (or similar standard font—although never submit a work with different fonts in body, headers, etc.) and 12 pt. font; double space throughout with the standard 1/2″ indent for paragraphing and 1″ (or per style sheet) margins.
  • Use appropriate header/footer requirements of style sheet identified by publication, but avoid decorative formatting of headers/footers (lines, images, etc.). Editors want and need clean files. All submitted work will be reformatted if published so your decorations are time wasting. (Don’t use italics, bold, or quote marks unless necessary—as in proper formatting required by the style sheet identified. Quote marks should never be used for emphasis.)
  • Note proper formatting for your title, subheads (academic/professional writing tends to have subheads), and references. Take great care not to mix citation conventions for levels of headings and designation of citations as well as the listing of sources (such as the use of footnotes/endnotes, in-text citations, and heading for references). Typically citation generating software or apps should be avoided since they are often flawed and also embed formatting that can be problematic.
  • Be sure to use your word processor appropriately. Know how to format paragraph indentations, hanging indents (citations), and block quotes with the ruler or menu options (and not manually with Return>Tab).
  • Include your name (as it should be once published) and contact information on the manuscript as noted in the publication guidelines. Also, be sure to have a reliable email address that you check often.

In academic/professional publishing, there simply is not room for muddled citation and documentation formatting. Yes, the many and varied style sheets are mind-numbing (APA, MLA, Chicago, Harvard), and the odd changes publications will make to those standards are a maze (use MLA but also for this publication …), but citation conventions constitute a significant part of the professionalism of your work.

Check, double-check, and have a peer check your citations—the consistency, accuracy, and formatting.

Submit a clean document. Submitted manuscripts send a powerful message to editor(s). Sloppy manuscripts (poorly copyedited, mangled formatting, improper citation, active track changes/comments) suggest the writer isn’t serious and the piece isn’t ready for consideration (note the “honor the time and professionalism of the editor(s)” above).

Rolling over a manuscript from one submission to another can be a problem if you are not careful to fully revise and reformat a piece. Never submit with the caveat you’ll properly revise to fit the guidelines if accepted.

Here, again, asking a colleague to read for edits is essential.

Make your contact with the editor(s) count. The actual submission of the work is a last and important step. Use email or postal as required, but make sure that the file or hard copy conforms exactly to the publication requirement (many publications have limits on Word file types; some hard copy submissions must have multiple copies included; and always note the guidelines for cover page and author identification on the manuscript).

Since most submissions are now electronic (either by email or through a submission system), be sure to name the electronic manuscript file as required (or if no requirements, be simple and practical, such as naming the file your name), put required or practical information in the “subject” line (if no requirement, your last name and call date/topic are helpful), and include a brief but effective cover letter.

The cover letter should, again, consider the time and professionalism of the editor(s)—so brief is excellent. However, be sure to include the title of your piece, the call topic/date you are addressing, and then a few details that may help your piece:

  • Note your professional context and why this piece is something only you could have written or is credible because of your background/expertise.
  • Identify your understanding of the publication by referencing a previous article, another work by the publisher, and/or some relevant work by the editor. These must be sincere gestures of your having researched the publications, however, and are not intended as merely cozying up to the editor.
  • Include any required information from the call, and verify you are available by a reliable email address.
  • If your submission is in any way unlike what the publication tends to accept or varies from the call in some significant way, you should note those differences with a brief explanation of why you think they are justified.

Blanch Dubois relied on the kindness of strangers. In academic/professional publishing, mutual kindness is a must.

Those submitting work should do so with the labor and time of the editor(s) in mind, and then the editor(s) must handle those submissions with the sort of care she/he/they would appreciate.