Where you publish will significantly shape your professional reputation and your employment opportunities, but you should not publish just for the sake of publishing.
Why? Well, a recent study has show that the average history professor publishes 17 articles in a career. Now, we can quibble a little on what is and is not an article, but seventeen is not that many when you think about a career that starts at roughly age thirty and ends at roughly age sixty-five. As a result, you need to be careful and wise in what publishing venues you seek and use.
In deciding where to publish, I offer five considerations that you should keep in mind.
1. Know your audience. This advice is basic to all writing, history included. Why? Knowing you audience will shape how you structure whatever you are writing, affecting considerations like language, structure, and pacing. Such is the case even for academic writing. There are different publications with different audiences.
Allow me to share an example from my own experiences. I wrote an article about the relationship between Lyndon Johnson, president of the United States, and Keith Holyoake, prime minister of New Zealand. I always intended to published the piece in some type of academic forum, so no problem with me writing as an academic for a popular audience. I originally submitted the article to diplomatic history journals. After getting rejected from one or two publications, I sent the article to the main title in the field of agriculture history, which has the title of Agricultural History. (A major issue in U.S.-New Zealand relations in the 1960s focused on beef imports). Now, even though this journal was an academic publication that had an audience of historians, their interests were slightly different from those of diplomatic historians. I had to do some additional research and restructure the historiographical sections of the article, but I also had to restructure some of the paragraphs. Coming to a new interpretation about Lyndon Johnson’s foreign policy might be a good thing, but it was probably not of much interest to historians that focused on the history of agriculture. So, know your audience.
2. Have a Target List. One of the things that I try to do to before I start writing is come up with a list of journals where I am going to send the article when I am finished. I have always tired to do this since graduate school, but I have learned that you need to have a “Plan B,” and even a “Plan G.” As with everything, you should “Go Big.” Rank you possible publications in order of their importance, pick the most prestigious and relevant journals, and submit to them in order, working your way down the list. Most journal editors will get upset if you are discussing your article with another journal while they are spending time and energy on your submission. In that sense, the submission process is a little like dating.
3. Main Journal First. An important piece of advice that I give to any aspiring historian is to publish in the main journal in their field sooner rather than later. If you are a diplomatic historian, that journal is Diplomatic History; if you are a sport historian, then it is the Journal of Sports History, and so on. You get the idea.
Why? Well, your early publications help define you as a historian. Almost all first journal articles are spin offs of the dissertation project. Getting an article published, seeds the market for your dissertation/first book. Just as important, perhaps more important, search committees are usually full of historians that have little, if any, familiarity with the field in which they are hiring, and they will take short cuts. An easy one is to look at the vitaes of their candidates and look for the people that have already published in the most important journal in their subfield. Everyone wants to hire the best possible candidate, and people will prefer the individual that is already engaging and contributing to their subfield.
What about The American Historical Review or the Journal of American History? In point two I argued that you should aim for the most prestigious journal first and work your way down, but I followed that up with piece of advice saying you should go for the main journal in your field first. This advice seems contradictory; which is it?
The advice is not that contradictory. If you can get published in either one of those journals, good for you; it will only do good for your career, but know the reasons why and the limitations of these two titles. Both journals have a good deal of prestige, but limited influence and readership. Both have basically outlived their original purposes. When each was founded, their mission made sense at a time when major history departments had a faculty of five or six people and there was little specialization compare to that which we see in the profession today. As a result, neither journal is the first read for historians of any specialization. If you are a military historian, the first journal you read is The Journal of Military History, if you are a southern historian, the first publication you read is The Journal of Southern History, and so forth. For most military and southern historians, the AHR and JAH might not even make the top ten in order to keep up with current developments in the field because neither journal is likely to publish anything on either topic.
Now, getting an article published in either of those two journals is a good thing in that the prestige of those journals cuts wide and far across sub-fields. Publishing in either one of these journals will turn a lot of heads on a job selection committee. Economic historians of colonial America will know that a religious historian of republican Rome did good in getting in The American Historical Review. The Journal of American History carries the same impact within the big community of U.S. history. Historians of the West do not often read the work of military historians writing about the U.S. Army in World War I, but they all know the status of the JAH.
4. Long Term Planning. There are two possible strategies that you can pursue. I like to call them the “double tap” and the “spread.” What distinguishes these two approaches from one another? It is pretty simple. With “double tap” you pick a small group of journals that are the leading titles in your field of history and you submit your research to those publications over and over. For diplomatic history those journals would mostly likely be: Diplomatic History, Diplomacy & Statecraft, The Journal of Cold War Studies, Cold War History, and the International History Review. (Diplomatic history is unique in that it has so many journals for scholars to publish in; most other fields have far fewer titles.) The idea behind this strategy is that you focus on building up your reputation in the subfield. One thing to note, you will have to rotate. Academic journal editors are reluctant to publish the same author as if they were a staff writer, and usually prefer that a year or two have passed between publications.
On the other hand, in the “spread” approach you publish in a different journal every time. The result is that you engage with the widest element of the profession and cut across the divisions in the profession.
Both approaches have strengths, but they also have weaknesses. With “double tap” you are only known to small section of the profession, but you develop authority sooner rather than later. This approach is a particularly good one if you are still in grad school or trying to write your way out of a job you do not like. The “spread” approach establishes the stage for a bigger presence in the profession, but it takes longer for you to establish your name because you are addressing different audiences.
5. Nest your strategy. Your article publishing strategy should cascade down from a larger plan. It should be part of a larger publishing plan that lists the type of topic you want to examine, what books you want to write, or a career plan that details what you want to do professionally.