It’s hard when you first start out writing papers for journals. There are lots of decisions to make – Which journal? What topic will the editors be interested in? What style should the paper adopt? What will reviewers do?
In their book on academic writing in the English language, Teresa Lillis and Mary Jane Curry suggest that it’s helpful for people who are unsure of the answers to these questions to seek out literacy brokers. Lillis and Curry’s research focused particularly on multilingual scholars who are seeking publication in international English-medium journals, so they include as literacy brokers all the people who impact directly on helping texts get published. These are editors, reviewers, academic professionals and academic peers, linguistic professionals, English-speaking friends and colleagues. Lillis and Curry argue that brokering activity uses and generates a form of cultural capital – know how about the publiscation process – that makes a critical difference to publication outcomes. Access to brokers can ensure publication; enhance the prestige and reputation of writers; and even secure more direct forms of economic gain, such as promotion and salary bonuses.
Lillis and Curry draw attention to the significance of literacy brokers, particularly for writers who use English as an Additional Language. There is now pressure from many governments for scholars to publish in English and there are in some places diminishing numbers of first language journals. In these circumstances increasing numbers of multilingual scholars are turning to English language specialists – proof readers, editors and the like – to assist with the technicalities of expression. Many seek help from people who often combine language support with disciplinary expertise. They urge scholars to seek out literacy brokers, and not try to do things all by themselves, in isolation.
But for those who are relatively confident about what journal to write for and what they want to say, there is still a point in thinking about the benefits of a broker… someone who can help when the reviews come back, someone who can talk you through the aftermath of the reviewer comments and the editorial decision, someone around in that emotional time when you just want to stick the paper in the bottom drawer and never put hand to mouse again…. That’s the point at which you can really do with some additional support and advice.
Publication brokering is the term Barbara and I use – see our book on writing papers for journals – to talk about the very particular support given during the revise and resubmit process. We use the term brokering more narrowly than Lillis and Curry to describe interactions that occur after the article is returned. We think of the broker as a trusted senior colleague to whom an early-career writer can turn, maligned article and those pesky reviewer comments in hand.
Clearly we all find the resubmission process complex, troublesome and difficult to interpret, but newcomers especially so. Publication brokers can help bruised and worried writers interpret what is happening in the social, cultural and political climate of revise and resubmit so they can take effective textual action. Conversations with brokers about the content of an article and the broader disciplinary conventions and journal conventions can play a critical role in successful publication.
Publication brokering is clearly useful for doctoral researchers new to the game. In our book Barbara and I tell the story of a doctoral researcher named Sam who was so devastated by negative reviewer comments that she decided not to resubmit. The criticism of her methodological work was harshly stated. One reviewer said: ‘I would consequently question if this new format is indeed in any way innovative or new on the dimensions that the paper claims. I find this to be a major flaw in the research reported within the paper.’ Sam was so upset by this commentary, that she didn’t read the letter from the editor, which asked her to revise and return the revised manuscript within 30 days.
It was not until she brought the letter to her supervisor that she understood. Despite the stated problems, the editor wanted her article. ‘30 days’ signalled there was a publication deadline the editor needed to meet. The Editor thought the problems in Sam’s article were ‘fixable’; the supervisor thought so too. There was no purpose in crying for too long. Sam actually knew the literature far better than she demonstrated in the article and had to work hard to show why and how her contribution was different from previous work- why it was new. Without the input of her supervisor to broker the revision process, she would not have resubmitted. What a wasted opportunity that would have been!
Publication brokering can be done by a variety of people – supervisors, colleagues, writing mates, writing groups and other academic professionals. They can help with those complex and difficult decisions that need to be made about how to address reviewer concerns – they can share their disciplinary knowledge, provide insight about scholarly debates, discuss options for structural framing as well as reveal the niceties of the specific discourses of the target journal.
Publication and literacy brokerage is an important part of the academic mentoring process. It’s really helpful to think about who there is in your networks who might be able to fulfil this role.