Archive for January, 2011

Barnaby Fan Club

In a tribute to the Barnaby fan clubs of the 1940s, Del Rey created its own “Barnaby International Fan Club” — or, at least, the laminated plastic card announcing such a club — to promote the six Barnaby volumes it published in 1985 and 1986.  Here’s the front of the card:

Barnaby International Fan Club (Del Rey, 1985), front of card

Here’s the  back:

Barnaby International Fan Club (Del Rey, 1985), back of card

Del Rey only managed 6 of its planned dozen Barnaby books.  Judy-Lynn del Rey passed away in February 1986, and, lacking an advocate, this unprofitable collection of Crockett Johnson‘s great strip found itself discontinued.

As readers of this blog likely know, Eric Reynolds and I are co-editing The Complete Barnaby for Fantagraphics (designed by Daniel Clowes!).  The first volume of The Complete Barnaby is scheduled for April 2012 — timed to coincide with The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss (my biography, published by UP Mississippi) and the 70th anniversary of the debut of Johnson’s influential strip.

Thanks to George Nicholson for the card, and to Del Rey’s Betsy Mitchell for sending it on to him!

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Wintertime for the Arts?

Yuko Takao, A Winter ConcertAs we celebrate the birthdays of Mozart (255th) and Lewis Carroll (179th) amidst threatened cuts to arts funding, we might re-read Yuko Takao’s A Winter Concert (1995; English translation, 1997).  Rendered in thin dark lines on a white background, mice walk to a concert.  As the pianist begins to play, colored pointillist shapes rise from the piano: a small red circle, a smaller orange triangle, a purple square.  Displaying the piece’s musical development, the shapes, sizes and colors grow in frequency and variation: a crescent moon of yellow, orange, and red; a globe of many colors.  Soon, a full spectrum of sound washes over the auditorium.  When the audience departs, each member brings along some of that color on the journey home.

Yuko Takao, from A Winter Concert

Music adds color to our lives.  It brightens cold winter days.  It allows us to experience beauty.

Despite what the Governor of Kansas may think, the arts deserve our support.  And I, for one, am glad to pay more taxes, if that’s what it takes. As the protagonist of Leo Lionni’s Frederick (1967) knows, art can sustain us when times are hard.  And, despite news of economic recovery, times remain hard.

There’s a proverb (which may be Persian, I’m not sure) that goes something like this:

In order to live, a person needs two pennies: one for a loaf of bread, and the other for a lily.

If you just have the first penny, you’re merely surviving.  The second penny — the one for beauty — is what allows you to do more than merely survive.  The second one allows you to live.

Support the arts.  If you need a second penny, take mine.

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Crockett Johnson on humor

Crockett Johnson on humor.  From 1969 Weston Woods catalogue.

This appears in the 1969 catalogue for Weston Woods Studios. As far as I know, Crockett Johnson said these words on no other occasion. He did, in 1943, tell journalist Charles Fisher, “I don’t draw or write Barnaby for children. People who write for children usually write down to them. I don’t believe in that” — a sentiment echoed above.  But this Weston Woods catalogue is my sole source for these thoughts on humor. And, as it turns out, I ended up not using them in The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss (forthcoming from the University Press of Mississippi, 2012).  Perhaps they’ll turn up in The Complete Barnaby (first volume due from Fantagraphics in 2012)?

And, with that brief excursion into some (currently) un-used materials gathered while researching the bio…, I’ll conclude.

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Angry Birds Theme (and Variations)

Angry BirdsIf you’ve played the Rovio game Angry Birds for any length of time, you’ll know Ari Pulkkinen‘s catchy theme. Indeed, the music is almost as addictive as the game — as some of these cover versions indicate.

The Genevieve Trio‘s performance brings out a certain olde-worlde-folk-music quality that I really like. Accordion, upright bass (not pictured), and… is that an oboe?  I could imagine this version being on the soundtrack to Delicatessen or Amelie. The song starts at about 30 seconds in.

Here’s a headless group identified only as Angry Birds Orchestra.  For some reason, they’ve been filmed only from the neck down.  Less background noise than the above (almost no background noise, in fact), and the emphasis here is strings!

Robwarriors62, an 11-year-old English lad, offers his rendition of the theme.  This version brings out the march in the song.  Though this is solo piano, the arrangement makes it easy to imagine a marching band performing the tune.

With a “whee!” and a >paf!< that concludes today’s whimsical tour of Angry Birds music.

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Winnie-the-Pooh and Baby Monkeys, Too!

What does this 4-minute video tell you about this child’s experience of children’s books?  She offers an inventive retelling of A. A. Milne‘s The House at Pooh Corner, starring Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger, and… baby monkeys.  I posed this question to all three of my classes as the first electronic message board post of the term.  Here’s my answer.

The petite fille is an enthusiastic and inventive narrator, launching the tale with Pooh and Tigger discovering the baby monkeys’ absence.  As in a fairy tale, her narrative’s emphasis is on plot.  Lots of things happen, usually with little regard for setting or the psychology of the characters involved.  There’s a breathless “And then…” quality to her storytelling.  Lost in the trees, the baby monkeys see bats, crocodiles, hippopotami, giraffes.  They (the monkeys, presumably) “had taken a very long trip. They did not even take the train.”  They meet “frightening trees,” “monsters,” and “ghosts.”  Later on, the story introduces a witch, the rare clawed mammoth, and even a journey to heaven.  She does her best to keep the tale full of incident.

The tale’s elements of social realism certainly recall the fairy tale more than Milne’s work.  They encounter “boxes with animals who are poor” and “without anything to eat.”  These boxed animals are not only hungry and lost, but fleeing a social order that would like to see them “put in jail.”  The narrative here evinces an awareness of the indifference with which an allegedly civilized society treats its most vulnerable citizens. Belying the stereotype that children are unsuited for “grown-up” themes, this child shares her concern not only for the poor but for a suicidal hippo — who, belatedly, regrets his death wish.

E.H. Shepherd's original drawing of Winnie-the-PoohOften, Pooh and Tigger find themselves relegated to secondary characters instead of the starring role they are used to.  In the second minute of the story, Tigger jumps into the trees, and recovers the lost monkeys.  Then, he and Pooh head off “into the woods to find some strawberries,” but a witch intervenes — sending the narrative back towards fairy tales once more.  The witch claims ownership of the strawberries, resulting in a fight.  A helmet-clad king lion — bearing both sword and shield — rescues them, and Pooh and Tigger again slide back into the role of supporting players.

Our young narrator’s sense of audience is key.  She not only responds to the woman’s (her mother’s?) prompting, but even brings her into the story: “There was a lady who had a ring like yours but different,” she reports.  (The difference? It’s orange.)  Enabling a happy ending, this orange ring is also magic, able to kill witches and set the people free.

Incidentally, I deliberately framed the question as “this child” rather than as “children”: I don’t want to suggest that this child speaks for all children.  Though people are fond of making such statements (“children will love this!” etc.), they’re impossible to support — unless you survey a large group of children, of course, but the sort of person given to such proclamations rarely does.  Rather, I find this video interesting for what it tells us about one child’s experience of story.  She’s focused on narrative, audience, and discusses subjects that might give some grown-ups pause.  The entire performance resembles a fairy tale as told by Edward Lear.  Sure, we’re missing the Quangle Wangle.  But that’s OK.  We’ve got nonsense, magic, and baby monkeys!

Source of Pooh image: Original Winnie The Pooh illustrations on auction at Sotheby’s

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Back-to-School Special, Part II: Pimp My Syllabus

Norton Critical Edition of Alice in WonderlandYes, it might have made more sense to post this query prior to the new semester, rather than just after the term has begun.  But my tendency to work close to deadlines means that the syllabus is never finished until just before the term starts.  In any case, I’ll be teaching Literature for Children again, and — as always — would like to make the course better.

I’ve taught the class over two dozen times in the last decade, and have revised the syllabus along the way — omitting some texts, adding others.  Last spring, I revamped the paper assignments.  I now gear them towards (a) getting students to think beyond their likes and dislikes, and (b) keeping up with the field, finding new books.  For the first assignment, they write about a childhood favorite: what attracted them to the book then, and how is their response to the book now similar and different to what it was then?  For the second, they look at the same book, answering instead how the book works.  What genre is the book?  Is it a successful example of the genre?  And Tango Makes ThreeFor the third, they need to find a new book (published in the last ten years) of a different type — different genre, and different intended audience.  And it cannot be a book from the syllabus.  Then they need to answer the same questions posed for the second paper.  I really like this assignment because it pushes students towards appreciating the value of books that may not be to their individual tastes.

But I invoke the popular MTV program (2004-2007) in my blog post’s title because I’d like to shake up the syllabus a bit.  What I have works, but it could work better.  I’d like to improve in three areas, the first of which is “diversity” in two senses of the term: first as an identity category, and second as a genre category.  Ideally, I’d find works that expand diversity in both ways.  It’s very important to me that anything on the syllabus be a good representative of any category: nothing can be included solely as a “diversity” candidate.  The third area I’d like to improve is newness. I always bring in books (some old, some new) not on the syllabus: for example, this past Wednesday, when I taught The Giving Tree (chosen because it can be read many ways, and because it’s a book that provokes discussion), I also brought in the recent parody, The Taking Tree.  When I teach In the Night Kitchen, I always show them some Little Nemo in Slumberland strips. Etc. But I’d like to give some of the newbies a more permanent place.  Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd, Goodnight MoonI’ll of course retain some historical focus, and certain classic texts will remain: fairy tales, Maurice Sendak, Lewis Carroll, Dr. Seuss, Margaret Wise Brown, Langston Hughes (I’ve not listed specific titles of poems on the syllabus, but some of his are in the class pack).  But, as I say, I want to add more recent books.

So, children’s-literature-readers, with the above objectives in mind, which texts should go?  And which texts should be added?  (The age cut-off, by the way, is adolescence — at Kansas State University, Literature for Adolescents is a separate course.)  Clicking on this sentence will take you to my current Literature for Children syllabus — click on the link or scroll down to the Schedule of Assignments.  Thanks in advance for any thoughts you might have.

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Humanities Majors Learn More

Academically AdriftReports about Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses are burying the lead or omitting it all together.  At a time when the humanities are under attack, this book reveals that humanities majors are learning more than all other majors.  You read that correctly.  The students who are acquiring the most knowledge from their college educations are those who major in English, Philosophy, Music, Fine Arts, Religion, History, Theatre, and Modern Languages:

Students majoring in liberal arts fields see “significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study.” Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the smallest gains. (The authors note that this could be more a reflection of more-demanding reading and writing assignments, on average, in the liberal arts courses than of the substance of the material.)

That’s from Scott Jaschik’s piece in Inside Higher Ed, one of the only articles to even mention this important victory for the humanities.  True, it’s not the lead, and the parenthetical diminishes the importance of the subject.  (That final sentence makes the absurd claim that the humanities have both “more-demanding reading and writing assignments” and somehow less “substance.”  What?)  Their apparent anti-humanities bias aside, Arum and Roska’s study brings good news for those of us who value the humanities.

Why, then, do the Chronicle of Higher Education, the New York Times, and others fail to mention the fact that humanities majors are learning more than their colleagues in other fields?  Why are the headlines “University students learn next to nothing” (Macleans) or “New Study Confirms the Obvious: First Two Years of College Spent Sleeping and Partying” (Vanity Fair)?

There are many reasons, all of which have been stated elsewhere with greater eloquence.  (For those who wish to skip a summary of the obvious, jump past this list to the next paragraph.)  Some reasons include:

  1. Americans’ anti-intellectualism.  Most Americans distrust the well-educated, and consider knowledge with suspicion.  To point to but one recent example: For the past decade, The Today Show has featured the winners of the Caldecott and Newbery Awards.  This year, on the first show after the awards were announced, Today‘s featured guest was Snooki.  The winners have yet to appear on the program.
  2. The widely held notion (by many state legislatures, at any rate) that college is a waste of the public’s money.
  3. And, of course, cultural prejudice against the humanities.  English majors: how often do your relatives ask you what you’re going to do with that degree? How many of your classmates ask why you need a B.A. in English to ask “Do you want fries with that?” How many Engineering majors get asked the same questions?

All of the above are either false or based on false premises.  If you’re able to think critically about the world, you’re less likely to be misled (by, say, politicians who claim that we “can’t afford” to fund public education adequately).  If you gain a college degree, you’ll have a better chance at finding gainful employment.  And, as for the notion that humanities majors enter the job force ill-equipped, that’s simply nonsense.

To focus on the students I teach, English majors go on to become librarians, screenwriters, teachers, technical writers, lawyers, journalists.  They work in non-profits, publishing, advertising, public relations.  One former student of mine works for Hallmark.  You can do a lot with a degree in the humanities. As Geoffrey Galt Harpham writes, “the humanities elicit and exercise ways of thinking that help us navigate the world we live in. For my money, that’s about as essential as it gets.”  To be a student of the humanities is to consider with greater nuance and deeper understanding just what it means to be human.  What could be more important than that?

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Back-to-School Special, Part I: Children’s Literature & Asymptotes

In my decade of teaching Children’s Literature at the university level, I’ve learned a lot.  But I never feel that I’ve learned quite enough to teach the grad class Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature.  I’m grateful that I’m teaching it now and not ten years ago, but it’s one of those courses that makes me conscious of the deficits in my knowledge.  And, on the whole, I see this process as a good thing — because it means that I’m moving closer to mastery of the subject… which, of course, is all one can do.  If the x-axis represents mastery, I’m moving along a curve that approaches but never actually intersects with the x-axis.  I get ever closer, but never arrive.

That curve, by the way, is called an asymptote.  It looks like this:

Horizontal Asymptotes

Above is a graph of y =1/x, taken from this website.  The line approaches zero (which, in my analogy, represents mastery of the field), but never reaches it.

Norton Critical Edition of Alice in WonderlandSo, the syllabus for Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature represents one stop along that journey.  What’s on it?  General themes include: didacticism, pleasure, nonsense, audience, genre, diversity. Theoretical approaches include: formalist, psychoanalytic, feminist, queer theory, cultural studies, and others.  As you’ll see (if you follow the link), we’ll be reading fiction by Helen Bannerman, J. M. Barrie, Francesca Lia Block, Anthony Browne, Lewis Carroll, Jean-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, Maria Edgeworth, Neil Gaiman, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Heinrich Hoffmann, Ann Jonas, Guus Kuijer, David Macaulay, L.M. Montgomery, Walter Dean Myers, Marilyn Nelson, Charles Perrault, Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, Brian Selznick, Dr. Seuss, Mary Martha Sherwood, Shaun Tan, Chris Van Allsburg, and Mary Wollstonecraft, among others.  A Wreath for Emmett TillAnd we’ll gain critical perspective from Robin Bernstein, Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, Felicity A. Hughes, Anne Scott MacCleod, Michelle Martin, W.J.T. Mitchell, William Moebius, Mitzi Myers, Perry Nodelman, Walter J. Ong, Lissa Paul, Jacqueline Rose, Jan Susina, and many others.

Yes, there are many other texts and theorists that could be included.  And I’m sure that I will change the syllabus again next time I teach it.  Indeed, I’d like to use Keywords for Children’s Literature, which I co-edited with Lissa Paul (due out from NYU P in May of this year).  In case you’re curious, whenever I use a book of my own, I donate any royalties I receive to an appropriate charity.  When I used my Dr. Seuss: American Icon (in a Seuss class), that worked out to about $1 per book.  So, it’s not much, but I don’t think it’s ethical to profit off of my students in that way.  Anyway, I’m sure this syllabus could be better — and not just because I now note a few formatting errors on the Schedule of Assignments.  (I’ll fix those before class on Wednesday.)  But I also think the syllabus will do the job, as I — and my students — travel along that curve, always approaching, never arriving, but learning a lot along the way.

UPDATE: 18 Jan. 2011, 10:45 am. Looking back at what I wrote (late last night, with minimal editing), there’s a major omission that I need to correct: Naomi Wood.  My Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature syllabus and course pack borrow heavily from hers.  Yes, my class has my own “stamp” on it — and that’s even more true of this year’s iteration of the syllabus.  (The initial syllabus, from Spring 2009, even more closely followed hers.)  But the general course plan is very much hers.  I’m fortunate to have helpful colleagues who share their knowledge, and I want to make sure that Naomi gets due credit here.  So, Naomi: I doff my hat to you!  And, yes, it is a red-and-white-striped topper.  How ever did you know?

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Get on that pig, and hold on tight.

Baby Monkey (Going Backwards On A Pig).  Artwork by Nathan Mazur.With a hectic new semester about to begin (or, for many of us, already begun) and our new governor’s proposed assault on some of Kansas’ most vulnerable citizens, let us seek solace — and inspiration — in the verse of our greatest living YouTube poet, Parry Gripp.  As he counsels, when

The world has gone insane

and you don’t know what is right,

you got to keep on keepin’ on:

get on that pig, and hold on tight.

This of course is excellent advice for that baby monkey riding backwards (below).

It’s also sound advice for the rest of us.  The world does have a tendency to go “insane,” as Mr. Gripp suggests.  But we must not lose our grip (ha!).  We must “get on that pig, and hold on tight.”

Gripp‘s tunes offer insight into many other predicaments.  If you visit his website, you will also find hummable wisdom on the benefits of oatmeal (in your face, cholesterol!), the dangers of excessive self-Googling, and of course the versatility of our good friend the hamster.

In case you’re curious how a baby monkey came to be riding backwards on a boar, this wasn’t staged.  Both animals were orphaned, and live in the same zoo (in Japan, I think).  The zoo staff introduced them to one another, and they bonded.  Here’s the video clip that inspired Gripp’s song and video:

As aficionados of Gripp know, the “Baby Monkey” song made its debut in September 2010 (not incidentally, also the beginning of a semester).  And he posts a new song on his site every week.  So, check there or follow him on Twitter.

But, come what may, don’t let go of that pig!

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How to Publish Your Article

The sequel (or prequel?) to “How to Publish Your Book,” here’s something else they don’t always teach you in graduate school.  As in that earlier post, this is what has worked for me.  Results may vary.

Please note: the advice below derives from my experience as an English professor who specializes in children’s literature.  This advice will be most applicable to those in English/Modern Languages and, more generally, the Humanities.  If you’re working within a different discipline, then please consult someone in that field.

1. How do I know when my article is ready to send out?

GlassesThe short answer is when it’s in the best possible shape it can be in.

The longer answer is if you’re not sure what that shape looks like, then seek help.  If you’re an assistant professor or adjunct, then seek help from a colleague — at your current or former institution — or from a colleague you’ve met at a conference.  If you’re a graduate student, ask a professor.  Or ask a graduate student who’s already published something.  Have people whose advice you trust — and whose writing you admire — critique the article.  What works?  What doesn’t?  What isn’t clear?  But don’t revise endlessly: Set yourself a deadline for revising it, make the essay as tightly focused and as clearly written as you can, and then send it out.

2. Where do I send my article?

ChLAQ 35.4 (Winter 2010) cover: Winter and Ford's BarackWhat journals cover the subject of your article?  If you’re not sure, you might look at the journals you consulted during your research.  You might also seek advice from someone else in the field — if you’re a graduate student, then perhaps from a professor.  After you’ve a list of possibilities, read some articles in each journal and think about which would be the best fit.  In the field of children’s literature, some journals you might consider include: Children’s Literature, The Lion and the Unicorn, The Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Children’s Literature in Education, The New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship, and Jeunesse (formerly Canadian Children’s Literature).  That’s by no means an exhaustive list.  For a more complete (if decade-old) list, see Wally Hastings and Michael Joseph’s page of Journals that publish articles on children’s literature theory and criticism.

Two other general principles:

  1. Aim high and then settle.  That is, if you think the article can be published in the top journal in your field, then send it there first.  If that journal doesn’t like it, its editors will let you know.  And you can move on to the next one.
  2. Publish widely and well. If this is your second (or third, fourth, etc.) article, consider sending it to a different journal.  It’s a-OK to publish more than one piece in the same journal (especially if it’s a good one), but publishing in more than one place (especially good ones) shows that your work has been approved by multiple venues.

3. What does a cover letter look like?

Nearly all submissions happen on-line, so this is probably a cover email rather than a cover letter.  Here’s my most recent one, sent to American Quarterly on 2 August 2010:

Dear Editors,

I am attaching “Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: Seuss and Race in the 1950s.”  I’m also attaching a document containing images.  I’ve read your guidelines concerning images, and — should the article meet the needs of American Quarterly — I will (of course) send hi-res scans and obtain all necessary permissions.

Should you have any questions about the manuscript (or the images), please don’t hesitate to contact me.  Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

Philip Nel

[followed by full contact info.]

As you can see, the letter is brief and to the point.

4. The journal’s guidelines ask for Chicago citation style. I’ve used MLA style. Do I have to re-format my article?

Yes.  Follow all of the journal’s guidelines, including suggested page length.  It’s not that hard to switch from MLA to Chicago, or Chicago to MLA, or any of the other styles.  It may not be especially exciting work, but it’s simple enough.  Do it.  And you may as well save a copy in your original citation format — just so you have it.


5. I’ve sent it in.  Now what?

First, the journal should acknowledge receipt of your work.  Generally, this happens within a week, perhaps even within a few days.  If a month passes or even a couple of weeks pass without acknowledgment, then follow up.  If more time than that passes, then follow up again.  If you reach six weeks or so and there’s not yet been any acknowledgment, then write again, politely informing the journal that you have decided to submit your article elsewhere.  Each time you correspond, you should include the record of your correspondence — easiest way to do this (in email) is by simply forwarding the earlier one each time, and appending your latest query to the top of the message.

You can, of course, wait longer than six weeks.  Perhaps it’s a very prestigious journal, and you feel it’s worth the wait.  That’s up to you.  But the essay is your intellectual property, and it deserves to be treated with respect.


6. When should I expect to hear from the journal?

American Quarterly 62.3Three to four months after it sends your article out for review.  Some journals take longer, and some are more swift.  On the longer side, American Quarterly now takes 6-8 months just to decide whether to send out the article to reviewers.  On the shorter side, the editor of a special issue is most likely to offer the most prompt response.  Indeed, the fastest way to get published in a journal is through a special issue: it allows you to bypass the journal’s backlog of unpublished articles.

If three months pass, and you’ve not yet heard from the journal, then follow up.  Be polite and brief.

Dear [person at journal],

With apologies for bothering you at a busy time of the term, I thought I would follow up.  Have you any sense of when we might receive readers’ reports on my manuscript?

Thanks in advance for any information you may have.

Best regards,

[your name, contact info., etc.]

The journal will then follow up with the reader(s).  As a reader myself, I find these follow-up emails very helpful.  I get overwhelmed with work, and I use urgency to bump this task up my to-do list.  So, when I get a “where is the reader’s report?” email, I get right on it.

Two related points:

  1. You can withdraw your article. Depending on how tardy the response, you might decide to withdraw your article from consideration.  When?  That depends on how prestigious the journal is and how long you’re willing to wait.  It’s reasonable to expect readers’ reports within three to six months time.  This is your intellectual labor: if the journal isn’t treating it (and thus you) with sufficient respect, then take your submission elsewhere.
  2. One journal at a time. Very important: you must withdraw the article from consideration at Tardy Journal before submitting it to another journal.  You’re not allowed to have the same article under consideration at more than one place.

In case you’re curious: yes, I have withdrawn work and submitted it elsewhere.  In one case, I withdrew work from a proposed essay collection (the editors of which were not responding as swiftly as I’d liked) and submitted it to a journal’s special issue — where, in short order, the essay was published.

So.  Be proactive!

7. I heard back from the journal!  What do I do now?

That all depends on the response.  There are four possible ones.

  1. Accepted.  In this case, express your delight to the editor, make the (presumably minor) editorial and typographical changes you need to make, and do whatever you need to do to prepare the piece for publication.  For example, are there images you wish to include?  If so, start seeking permissions immediately — image permissions can take months to obtain.  And, of course, update the entry on your CV to indicate “Forthcoming,” along with the article’s page length in manuscript form.  And pat yourself on the back.
  2. Accepted with revisions.  Make the revisions.  Cede the point when you can, and hold your ground when you need to.  But do your best to address the readers’ concerns.  Accept the helpful advice with gratitude and respond graciously to the less helpful ones.  Important: Respond onlyto the content and never to the tone.  Sometimes, a reader’s report can be snarky or sarcastic or even cruel.  This isn’t the norm, but it does happen.  In those cases, remember that your objective is to publish this article.  Viewing an obnoxious reader’s report as an invitation to verbal sparring may be emotionally satisfying for you, but it will not help you achieve your objective.  So: don’t go there.  Be professional.  If you’re worried about your tone, have a friend or colleague read your note before sending.
    • As you make revisions or after you complete them, you might consider creating a separate document in which you sketch a map of your changes.  You don’t have to do this, and it may be that the cover letter will provide you enough space to indicate where changes have been made.  But one thing I’ve done (though I do it much more rarely now than I used to) is indicate how I specifically responded to the reader’s suggestions by pointing out where, in my article, I made the changes.
  3. Revise and resubmit.  If you get this response, you have two choices.  If you feel that the reviewer is completely missing the point, then perhaps this isn’t the journal for you.  Thank the editor, withdraw your piece and submit it elsewhere.  More often than not, though, I’d advise you to pursue the other choice — revise and resubmit.  If the reader has suggested that you revise and resubmit, then he or she sees some potential in your work… but your piece is just not yet where it needs to be.  You will likely have to do some fairly extensive revisions — rewriting sections, throwing parts out, creating new parts.  But you’ll learn something and, in the process, will improve your essay.  See the “Accepted with revisions” guidelines above.
  4. Reject.  Three choices.  If you think the journal is wrong, then send the piece out to a different journal.  Or, first, make a few revisions and then send the piece out a different venue.  The first journal to which I sent “‘Said a Bird in the Midst of a Blitz…’: How World War II Created Dr. Seuss” rejected it — and took its time in doing so.  I then sent the piece to Mosaic, where it appeared in a special issue.  If the essay is important to you, your second option is to revise the piece and then submit it again — either to this journal or to another.  The third option is to put it aside for now.  Work on something else.  Perhaps, in time, you’ll return to this piece, and be able to salvage what’s salvageable.  Perhaps you won’t.  But don’t fret too much about one article.  You’ll write others.  The main thing is that you learn why this one isn’t working so that you don’t repeat those mistakes in other essays.

8. How much do journals pay you?

In the Humanities, they don’t.  If your work appears in an edited collection, then you should expect to receive a copy of the book.  Again, though, getting paid for contributing is rare.  If you’re writing an essay for a reference work, you’re likely to get paid but not get a copy of the book.  That depends: sometimes I’ve been paid for those, and other times I just get a copy of the book.  And “payment” is fairly loosely defined.  “Payment” can be a certain $ amount of books from the publisher’s catalogue.

9. When will it appear in the journal?

As indicated above, if it’s in a special issue, then quite soon — as soon as a couple of months.  But that’s the best-case scenario.  More likely, your essay will not appear for at least a year.  If the journal has a backlog of accepted essays, you may wait for several years.  You can still mark the piece as “Forthcoming” on your CV, of course.

10. Geez.  That seems like a lot of work just to get something published.

Yes, it does.  But, as is the case with many things, the more you do it, the better you get at it.  If this is something you want to achieve, then persist. To quote the Desmond Dekker song, “You can get it if you really want, but you must try, try and try, try and try… you’ll succeed at last.”

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