A journal editor’s top ten tips for getting your research published in academic film and media journals
We take it for granted that as academics we all need to publish our research – and that articles in peer reviewed journals carry a certain degree of intellectual kudos that’s important when it comes to applying for jobs or securing tenure. And that’s not to mention the best reason for publishing – to disseminate your research to your peers and colleagues within the field.
That said, however, there are right ways and wrong ways of going about it.
This blog is intended to offer some informal guidance to publishing your work in film and media journals. It’s particularly focused on the HJFRT – though the same general principles will also apply to other journals too. The following ‘top ten tips’ are intended particularly for doctoral students and early career researchers, though some more established scholars might also want to take a peek.
1. Research your journal
This is one of the most important factors in getting published, and it’s surprising how few people actually bother to do it.
Whatever your subject and approach, you should give careful consideration to the most appropriate journals in which to place your work. A good rule of thumb is to look at the journals you consult most often for your own research. There’s little point in submitting your work on electronic or new media to a journal specialising solely in film studies, or sending a piece of purely formal analysis to a journal that prioritises archive-based research. Around four out of every five submissions to the HJFRT are turned down without being sent to readers. This is not because they are no good but rather because their subject or methodology does not fit the journal’s remit.
In the case of the HJFRT what we’re interested in is:
Historical research based on primary, and especially unpublished archival, sources.
Social, economic, technological and cultural histories of the media industries.
Case studies of production and/or reception.
Historical studies of institutions and/or individuals and/or groups.
Histories of film/radio/television criticism and theory.
Representations of the historical past in film, radio and television.
What we’re not so interested in is:
Articles that do not focus on the audio-visual media
Narrative and/or textual analysis unsupported by any historical contextualisation or archival research.
Abstract theoretical approaches without any empirical or archival basis.
In other words don’t waste your time writing an article on Deleuzian aesthetics for the HJFRT!
An article written specifically for a particular journal will almost always stand a better chance of publication than a generic submission for AOJ (that’s editorspeak for Any Other Journal).
2. Consult your colleagues
As with so many things in academia, taking advice from your peers and colleagues is essential. If you’re a doctoral student, for example, consult your supervisor or advisor before submitting an article for consideration to a journal – e.g. is this something that’s integral to your research (in which case you might want to save it for your thesis and think about publishing it later) or is it something that stands alone in its own right? Always bear in mind that a journal article needs to be self-standing in its own right – we are not interested in publishing chapter 4 of your thesis.
Also talk to fellow students. Have they published, and in which journals? What were their experiences? Your peers might well have useful advice of potential pitfalls to avoid.
3. Peer review is the Gold Standard
There are dozens of film and media journals out there. On the one hand this means that there are plenty of publishing opportunities. On the other hand it also means there are some journals that might be less good than others …
For academia, peer-reviewed journals are the gold standard. Peer review means that your work has been deemed suitable for publication by recognised experts in your field. It is a measure of quality control. It ensures that high academic standards are maintained. All submissions are subject to peer review – whether you’re a PhD student or a tenured professor. The HJFRT usually operates ‘double blind’ peer review meaning that articles are sent separately to two readers and the readers will not know the identity of the author. (It helps the editor if your submission does not include your name and institutional affiliation: you can provide these in a separate document.)
Of course excellent research can be published anywhere: in journals, in edited collections, in print or online. But the peer review process helps to ensure that journals such as the HJFRT publish only the very best work in their field.
Sometimes readers will recommend publishing an article as it stands, but more often than not they’ll suggest some revisions: there might be areas where some clarification is needed or where the argument could be strengthened. Readers may have come across other sources that will complement your research. All articles benefit from the process of peer review: it has turned many good articles into excellent articles and can turn an excellent one into a great article.
Publication of the article is usually conditional upon making the revisions or amendments suggested by readers – the journal editor will advise you which revisions are required and which are advisory.
4. First Contact can be a good idea
It’s perfectly okay to email a journal editor to enquire whether they would be interested in an article on Topic A (Ernst Lubitsch reference!). Occasionally it happens that the journal has recently accepted an article on Topic A and can’t therefore publish another that’s too close. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen very often. But it can be useful making that ‘first contact’ before you spend six weeks writing the article with that journal in mind.
5. No round robins please
Put yourself in the place of a journal editor. You’ve been sent an article that you’re interested in and that fits your remit. You find peer reviewers (perhaps calling in a favour or two to get them) and people take the time and effort to offer constructive advice on how the article might be improved. You email the author to tell them the good news that subject to a few revisions you’d like to publish their article – only for the author to reply that they’re publishing it elsewhere.
This is why most journals require that the article should not be under consideration elsewhere when you submit it.
It’s one of those things you can probably get away with once over the course of an academic career. But as soon as you have a reputation for doing it, don’t be too surprised if editors decline your next submission without sending it for review.
And always bear in mind that journal editors speak to each other …
6. And no generic submissions either
When submitting your article, bear in mind that nothing shouts ‘here is a generic submission that I am sending to multiple journals’ more loudly than an email addressed to ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Editor’ and which makes reference to ‘your journal’ or even (sometimes) ‘your most illustrious journal’. In these cases I’m probably not even going to bother reading the abstract before declining your article. And the same goes for the email that begins ‘Dear Professor Chapman’ in one font and then switches to another font for the rest of the generic text …
A brief covering email summarising the content, sources and approach is a good idea, including a line or two to explain why you think it’s suitable for the HJFRT. In other words show the editor that you’re familiar with the journal and the sort of material it publishes.
Show the editor that you know the journal, and the editor will already be on your side.
7. House style rules
I once heard a story about a scholar who refused to format his work according to the house style of journals on the grounds that they were all different and it took up too much of his precious time to change from, say, Chicago Manual of Style to Modern Humanities Research Association.
The same scholar also wondered why he wasn’t getting any articles published!
Our journal doesn’t need to publish your research – we have enough submissions to fill the journal for years to come – so if you can’t be bothered to follow the house style, why should we even consider your piece?
An article that doesn’t follow our house style suggests that you haven’t even bothered to look at past issues of the journal.
8. Your article is not a special case
I once received ‘an offer too good to refuse’ from a would-be author, who offered me three articles (arising from the author’s PhD thesis) at between 15,000-20,000 words each: it wasn’t going to be possible to make them any shorter because of the unique and special nature of his research, and the subject demanded the additional length because it was so important …
Oddly enough, I did not take the author up on his generous offer.
Journals have minimum and maximum word lengths for a number of reasons: all journals have an annual page budget per volume agreed with the publisher and we want to publish X number of articles across a range of topics. The HJFRT publishes around 30 research articles per year and the usual length is between 6,000 and 10,000 words: the upper limit is generous and allows plenty of space for nuanced arguments, detailed evidence and full scholarly citations.
9. Patience is a virtue
It can take time to get an article published: 12 months is about the shortest you can expect from submission to publication, and for the leading journals in the field it might well be around two years. Even the wait from submission to acceptance might take six months or longer.
Why does it take so long? There are numerous reasons:
The editor has to find peer reviewers for your article: good readers do not grow on trees and are often very busy (i.e. reading your article might be the most important thing in the world to you but might be only the twelfth most urgent thing they have to do this week). Around three months or even more for receipt of peer review comments is not at all unusual.
If your article is in a particularly niche or specialist area, the previous point applies several times over.
Peer reviewing is unpaid: editors depend on the good will of colleagues to do it – and so our ability to chivvy them along is limited. (Ask yourself – have you ever agreed to write a book review and have been months late in delivering it? The same applies to reading articles for journals – it takes up people’s time and sometimes gets bumped by more urgent matters.)
Sometimes two readers can come to different assessments of a particular piece – in which case the editor will need to seek a third opinion (back to stage one above).
And when your article is accepted, bear in mind that any decent journal might well have a backlog of more than a year (HJFRT – like a lot of journals these days – uses the ‘Online First’ platform whereby articles are published online before they are assigned to a print issue: this counts as the official Version of Record and can be used for citations, in job and grant applications, etc.)
Good journals are not short of material to publish – while we would very much like to publish your article, we probably don’t actually need it and we can afford to wait until we publish it. If you can’t wait, then perhaps try a journal with less of a backlog – though bear in mind that a journal which offers to publish your article this year obviously doesn’t have much of a backlog and you might want to ask why that is.
Bear in mind that editors have lives too. There’s little point in submitting your article two days before Christmas and expecting a reply before the New Year – and in any event it’s not going to be sent for peer review for several weeks.
It’s perfectly okay to send a polite enquiry to the editor if you haven’t heard back after, say, three months. But if you badger them with weekly demands to know what the state of play is, don’t be too surprised if your article slips to the bottom of the editor’s priority list.
Look at it this way:
YOUR priority is the publication of your article that you need to build up your CV, for your promotion application, or for the next Research Excellence Framework or equivalent exercise. MY priority is maintaining the scholarly integrity and reputation of the journal, ensuring quality and consistency, and thinking about the balance of topics and periods: your article is just one of around maybe two dozen that I am dealing with at various stages at any one time.
10. Rejection is nothing personal
Rejection is always disappointing – but it’s something we all have to learn to deal with. In fact there are very few cases where I have had to reject an article on the grounds of quality. More often I decline submissions because they do not fall within the remit of the HJFRT either in terms of their subject matter or their methodology. In such cases I will usually try to suggest other journals that might be a better forum for your research.
And there have been numerous cases where I declined an article but where the author had another piece of research that was more appropriate for the journal and we published it.
(There are very occasionally cases where rejection really is final … I once had an article that I didn’t think was very good but which in any case was not the right subject matter for the HJFRT. I suggested a couple of other journals that the author might consider. He emailed straight back to say that he’d already sent it to those journals before sending it to the HJFRT – could I suggest any others? So I did so – by this time falling back on my standard list of the second- and third-division journals in the field. It turned out they’d all rejected him too – what would I recommend? At this point I had to suggest: ‘Try doing something else.’)
If there’s one point I would make in conclusion, it’s that the relationship between a journal and authors is mutually dependent. Authors need journals in order to publish their research – and at the same time journals need good-quality submissions to ensure steady copy flow and so that the journal may prosper and thrive. So editors want to receive submissions (preferably high-quality submissions of outstanding excellence, of course!). Do not be deterred from submitting your work to the leading journals in the field – but make sure you follow the basic ‘do’s and don’ts’ I’ve outlined here to maximise your chances of success.
James Chapman is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Leicester, UK, and has been editor of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television since 2011. He is a member of the IAMHIST Council. He first published in the journal in 1995 on ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) Reconsidered’ (HJFRT, 15: 1).
I should preface this blog post by saying that the story of Muffin the Mule has become something of a pet project of mine, not to mention, a wider part of my Ph.D research. Back in October 2016, the seventieth anniversary of Muffin’s first broadcast was not only a cause for celebration, but a cultural landmark in British children’s television. In commemorating the very first appearance of the small, stringed, ‘kicking mule’ on the BBC, the history of this marionette is but the beginning of a long and ongoing relationship of puppets and presenters on TV. In tracing Muffin, as a wooden progenitor to a growing and somewhat illustrious family of marionettes, puppets (and even Muppets) made for children’s television, the presenter and the puppet as a sidekick has been a mainstay attraction for British children’s television for over half a century. It is this perennial fascination with puppetry that requires further exploration, and how it has been traditionally used as a device for presentation as well as an integral part of storytelling for kids’ TV.
Delving deeper into the ways in which the popular and well-loved figure of Muffin the Mule captured an audience both then and now, the original programme can be regarded as pioneering, on several levels. First shown on For The Children (the original run 1937-1939, with a return in 1946-1951), the inaugural appearance of Muffin the Mule took place in a twelve minute live performance, broadcast from Alexandra Palace in 1946. Moving into the 1950s, puppets played a hugely important role for children’s television, and Muffin was to be joined by several of his puppet friends. These included other characters such as Poppy the Parrot, Sally the Seal and Crumpet the Clown. Although, as Anna Home remarks Muffin the Mule was to be hailed as the first real television star (1993:50). Not alone in his stardom, Muffin was accompanied by actress Annette Mills at the piano, and puppeteer and performer Ann Hogarth of the Hogarth Puppet Theatre – the programme’s producer, Jan Bussell was also married to Hogarth and shared her love of puppeteering for all ages.
The story of how Mills and the Hogarth Puppet Circus came to work together to produce the programme is at the heart of Muffin’s tale/tail. Indeed, the passion and enthusiasm shared by the married couple’s interest in the art of puppetry more broadly, is highlighted in Hogarth’s obituary. Penny Francis comments that, ‘The Hogarth Puppets were Britain’s leading exponents of the art of puppetry for many years. Their work bridged the transition between the naturalistic, imitative style of puppets still common in the early days and the highly stylised work to be seen from the Sixties and Seventies.’ (The Independent: 1993)
Last summer, I was lucky enough to meet Will McNally who, as the grandson of Hogarth and Bussell, was well placed to talk me through the Muffin phenomenon. In spending some time with him and looking through his archive, I saw first-hand some of the amazing Muffin artefacts. These included a range of diverse merchandise, toys, books and programme material, as well as the impeccably preserved marionettes themselves. In explaining to me how his grandparents, ‘were touring puppeteers and had a little caravan they converted to a puppet theatre,’ Will told me how the couple would ‘travel all around the country, going to different parks, particularly the Royal Parks in London.’ As the story goes – in 1934 Fred Tickner was commissioned to make a new wooden puppet, a kicking mule, which Will iterated ‘wasn’t created or designed to be Muffin then.’ It was only when Annette Mills and Jan Bussell, (who at the time was working as a television producer) met that the Muffin as we know him came into being. Mills had the desire to create a programme suitable for children, wherein she could sing her songs.
She [Mills] knew my grandfather was into puppetry, and asked if he would make a puppet to illustrate her songs, and he rather haughtily said, ‘no, come to my house and select one of my puppets’. She obviously thought it was a good idea and selected the kicking mule. It was Annette who named him ‘Muffin the Mule’. (McNally: 2016)
Mills and co-creator Ann Hogarth were credited in their roles as helping Muffin, by ‘writing the songs’ and ‘pulling the strings’. In a decision made by Bussell and the BBC, the choice to place their own approved version of a mother figure in the programme was in that of Annette Mills. This reflected some of the wider anxieties surrounding children’s television at the time. In his work, David Oswell observes that most felt that in an ideal world children would be watching the wonderful new medium with an adult. Naturally, this would not always be the case and in effort to try and counter this concern, the presence of Mills ensured that there would always be a proper, appropriate and perhaps even maternal voice to guide them. In addition to this, McGown notes that, ‘Mills and Hogarth felt non-speaking animal characters better stimulated young imaginations’ – a quality that is reflected in the way Muffin is seen to trot up and down the surface of Mill’s grand piano. The puppet would occasionally pause, perhaps to whisper something into Mill’s ear, which only she would understand and translate for the benefit of the audience.
Being with Will it was clear that he held the memories of both his grandparents and of Muffin dear. He explained to me that, ‘Muffin was loved by everyone…adored the world over, all ages, and seemed to have this knack of bringing people together.’ Whilst the figure of Muffin the Mule has grown into something of icon, he has also become a piece of British television history, both materially and on the screen. The ongoing legacy and the traditional role of puppet on children’s television, has undoubtedly cast Muffin as something of a forefather for the puppet’s place on TV, creating a space for those that followed suit. Glove puppets like Gordon the Gopher, Edd the Duck, and even the contemporary CBBC sidekicks – two cheeky dogs called Hacker and Dodge, now seem to have replaced the stringed marionette. But what remains is the self-same ‘naughtiness’ and foolishness that Muffin instilled. Even this was indicated in the programme’s original theme song:
‘Here comes Muffin/
Muffin the Mule.
Dear old Muffin/
Playing the fool.’
Before I left that afternoon, Will said to me: ‘You asked me earlier about my grandparents and what they thought about Muffin – their aim was to push the boundaries.’
Muffin indeed changed the landscape of children’s television in Britain from the off. Puppets have set the tone, being more than just a mere prop, but as Lury puts it an ‘anthropomorphic pal’ for the presenter for years to come. (35:2001)
Gabrielle Smith is a Ph.D research candidate at Northumbria University, Newcastle and is a Film and Television graduate from the universities of Aberdeen and Glasgow. Her current research identifies the development of the role of the British children’s TV presenter from the 1940s through to the present day, whilst reflecting on gender and performance on screen. She is also a blog-writer for the Children’s Media Conference, Sheffield.
In the year 2000 I was invited to contribute a word to a special issue of the journal Public for their “Lexicon for the 20th Century A.D.” I chose the word “Archiveology,” but I had a hard time coming up with a definition at the time. I ended up with a poetic series of definitions for terms such as “Image Bank”, “Ruins” and “Recycling” that I had used in a chapter of Experimental Ethnography called “Archival Apocalypse”. It has taken me seventeen years to figure out what archiveology means, or at least to write a book-length definition of the term. A neologism seems like a good tool for thinking through a cultural phenomenon that is prevalent and prominent in digital media, and which is critical and constructive, and which is constantly assuming new guises—so that I is what I am hoping this word can do.
Archiveology, in its most succinct form, refers to the reuse, recycling, appropriation, and borrowing of archival material that filmmakers have been doing for decades. Archiveology traverses experimental, documentary, and essayistic filmmaking, moving beyond the categories of found footage, compilation and collage. It proliferates on the internet, just as it proliferates in the art gallery. As this practice has expanded in digital media culture, it has arguably acquired the potential to construct critical cultural histories. Seventeen years ago, this was not so clear. I think it is more of a term for the 21st century than the 20th., and even more specifically, a term for a practice that helps to bring the 20th century into new perspectives.
() a.k.a. Parentheses (Morgan Fisher, 2003)
Anyone who has taken even a glance at some of the writing on this topic, such as the great catalogue produced by the Eye Film Museum in Amsterdam called Found Footage Exposed, will soon find a critic, scholar, or filmmaker quoting Walter Benjamin. His work seems in so many ways to anticipate archiveology, and of course his own method of aphoristic writing, collecting quotations from other writers, seems like a literary companion to the practice. He was a contemporary of the surrealists, and embraced the collage practices of contemporary artists such as John Heartfield. Walter Benjamin’s cultural theory is significantly oriented toward the avant-garde as the corollary to the implicit dangers of the society of the spectacle, and so I took it upon myself to focus on his diverse writings as a theoretical throughline for my book which will be published by Duke University Press in 2018.
The films and videos that I chose to write about, selected from the thousands of works out there in the world, tend to highlight the dualism and ambiguity of archiveology as a language of media culture. Divided into chapters on the city, collecting, the phantasmagoria, and awakening, the films and videos range from Rose Hobart (Joseph Cornell, 1935) to Recollection (Kamal Aljafari, 2015) with most of the work produced after 2000:
Rose Hobart (Joseph Cornell, 1936)
Recollection (Kamal Aljafari, 2015)
My unpublished book is already outdated as new, innovative, work continues to be produced. Film and media makers continue to explore possibilities of recombination, and feeding their practice is the increasing accessibility of the moving image archive in digital form. The concept of the archive continues to be rethought and revised as artists, scholars, and historians gain new access to the documents of the past. The arts of appropriation include a wide variety of ways of engaging directly and indirectly with and on sound and image recordings that are not only “found” but sought out with new search tools. (Filmmakers are also increasingly inclined to build their own archives from footage shot and images collected—although the focus of my book is more specifically on the historiographic potential of archiveology).
World Mirror Cinema (Gustav Deutsche, 2005)
Through the work of media artists, the film archive has been transformed so that it is no longer simply a place where moving images are preserved and stored, but has been expanded into an “image bank” from which collective memories can be retrieved. The archive as a mode of transmission offers a unique means of displaying and accessing historical memory, with significant implications for the ways that we imagine cultural history. It may be a cliché that film can take you closer to history, but I found that working with some of these texts, and looking at the way they use sound, montage, and the rhythm of a time-based medium, that old footage can indeed take on new life, and the archive can be dynamically “felt.”
Archiveology involves the use of the image archive as a language. Walter Benjamin’s conceptions of memory, document, excavation, and historiography tend to be articulated differently over the course of his career, and there are a host of interpretations and glosses on what he might have actually meant. His theory of language, for example, is introduced early in his career and is marked by a sense of magic and theological faith that I found to be pertinent to a discourse on documentary in the 21st century.
The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni (Raina Stephan, 2011)
Why trust any image at all in the digital era? In practices of image recycling in which images are radically stripped of their context, they have no other meaning than the traces of a profilimic, historical moment in which a cameraperson was present with the technological ability to record that moment. Fiction becomes documentary only when the viewer sees it that way, and a filmmaker can provide the context for new revelations, moments of recognition, and other historical epiphanies.
Archiveology bridges documentary and experimental film practices, and in many cases, is essayistic, and many of the films that I have written about have been recognized as such:
Histoire(s) du cinéma (Jean-Luc Godard, 1998)
Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen, 2002)
Phoenix Tapes (Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller, 1999)
One way of rethinking the essay film is to recognize how filmmakers allow the images to speak in their own language. Archiveology produces a critical form of recognition, which I have found to be linked to cinephilia, not in a subjective way but in a critical way. Benjamin’s collector cuts through the auratic qualities of images, and safeguards them as souvenirs not only of their referents, but of the constellations of social relations from which they were produced. As “documents,” the images collected in archiveological films acquire meaning through their ability to awaken, stimulate, or attune the viewer’s belief in their indexicality. They are not to be taken for granted, but to be recognized as passages into the past.
Catherine Russell is Professor of Film Studies and Chair of the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. She is the author of four books, including Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video (1999) and two books on Japanese cinema. Her book Archiveology: Walter Benjamin and Archival Film Practices is forthcoming from Duke University Press.