Best Practices in Publishing?

Dear SMH Colleagues,

As an experiment, I’d like to crowd source some great advice.  As graduate students and new military historians get into publishing their research, what would you tell them about the best way to proceed?  How do you locate potential journals receptive to your research?  What are their usual policies?  What can you expect from editors and peer reviewers?  As colleagues, how do departments view publishing and research in various venues for tenure?  Are some journals and presses more prestigious than others, and does it matter (and to whom does it matter and how much)?  What about glossy history magazines? For book manuscripts, what is the submission process like?  How should you approach the editor of a series you’ve identified?  What presses these days have strong military history lists?

Ultimately, I’d like to be able to take all the brilliant responses to this post and collate them into a general guide that will go on the SMH website as a reference point.  In order to keep this manageable, please respond to the blog post, not the Facebook links.

I know that the SMH membership includes some of the best supervisors and advisers around, and although this is an extra demand on your time, I’d like to make that expertise more widely available.

Many thanks,



7 thoughts on “Best Practices in Publishing?

  1. Your question covers a lot of ground, I will answer it in two ways. First, the most important macro advice, then the most important micro advice. 1) Go to conferences, go to the book room. Just as young Jedi must know the way of the force, you must know the way of the book room. If you have a book project, you must talk to acquisition editors, or series editors, like Greg Urwin. They spend a lot of time in the book room. On the micro level, JUST write, really. Getting published is not a perfect meritocracy, but its very close. If you write well, on a subject someone cares about, you will get published. Writing is a learned skill, you can learn it. Write every day, read things that are written well, figure out why you think they are a great read. If you want to be in academia, you must be a writer.

  2. I could not agree more with Barbara on the value of good writing. That’s a must, particularly as the publishing industry shrinks and even academic book publishers look more to the bottom line. Avoid jargon, be it academic or military, and steer clear of the military’s fondness for acronyms. Alphabet soup is good to eat but hard to read. Be brief and be clear.

    Each publisher and journal lists general guidelines on its web site. Check that before you submit anything and make sure your work adheres to their standards.

    Whether you’re writing an article or a book, be sure to have a thesis and that you tell the reader why your work matters — i.e., why is it important enough for them to read it?

    Proofread closely. A piece that is filled with spelling and grammar errors is a piece that an editor can throw into the “no” pile without giving it a second thought. Don’t give them reasons to say “no.”

  3. Some of the best advice I got starting out was to start looking for patterns long before I planned to publish anything. As you do your own research, keep a running list of where the secondary materials you are using were published. Pretty soon, you should see a pattern of major journals handling general military history and specialist subfield journals that focus on a particular aspect. It should also become obvious which presses publish books related to your topic (and make a note if they come from a particular book series, and who the editor of that series is). If you notice that a journal or a press turns out problematic material, make a note of that and see if it is a pattern, too (is this something that happened several years ago? Is the whole series bad? This may have to do with someone who is no longer at that organization).

    When you present at conferences, investigate whether there are conference proceedings published to complement that program. The consortium on the Revolutionary Era, for example, publishes selected papers from each year’s meeting. If you’re following my advice about conference papers, your submission would be a spin-off of your main research, not a condensed version of your work, so being able to publish it as a sidelight is nice gravy.

    In a lot of ways, this is a matter of research and common sense–
    If you get a mass mailing from a journal you’ve never heard of, titled outside of your field, it may well be a scam, especially if they’re asking for subvention payments to help fun the publication. You’re a researcher–check and see if major university libraries subscribe to it, who has published in it recently, what organization sponsors it or who the editors are.
    On the other hand, you might get an email after a conference from a journal editor who is serious about soliciting an article from you, and you should vet them with the same care (research is always good practice!)

    Through the magic of the internet, the c.v.’s of people you admire in your field are online–see where they publish. While it is true that your submission will be blind (the editor takes your name off of it to send to peer reviewers), targeting it right in the first place is a major asset, and the more people you know, the better you can calibrate what will be a good fit.

    When you go to conferences, visit the book displays and look for new titles related to your topic. Talk to the reps–some of them are acquisitions editors. If you really have it together, contact presses ahead of the conference and ask if you can meet with their rep to discuss a book proposal.

  4. Margaret. This might be better begun as a separate topic however …….if the post is designed to assist young military historians who want to get published, I’d suggest that they take a step back and ask what might be (more?) useful and perhaps be more easily published in a less crowded field?

    The academic profession and independent scholars continue to rework (overwork?) the two 20th century World Wars – partly I suspect because of (in the British Commonwealth) the “Sacrilisation” of the Great War and soon of WWII due to the diminishing number of veterans alive. For a lot of the work produced, to be frank the historical need is not clear.

    There are areas where the profession is still in its early stages – for English language work both academic and popular. This includes all of Asia (East and South). For example, I suspect the Journal of Vietnamese Studies (Cornell) and The Journal of Chinese military History (Brill) would welcome new work by new scholars.

    Admittedly these areas need language skills so maybe we should be saying to those worried about getting published first learn a language (or two) and then head for a new(ish) field.

  5. Mark, I strongly disagree with you that anyone should choose a research background on what fields are underpopulated or seem to have more opportunities (8-10 years in advance?). The field littered with Soviet experts is a lesson in that catastrophe. Unless you genuinely want to learn the language and skills that go along with a particular area of history, and have an enduring interest in it, the work along the way to even a first article is unsustainable. While students should consider a broad range of fields, choosing one based on a guess at what might be the hot thing (or the underpopulated thing) down the road is advice I wouldn’t give anyone.

    While there are a lot of WWI and II works, there is also a large and receptive audience for them, and the distance has opened up new areas of inquiry unavailable before now (the vast Soviet an Eastern European archives, for one), not to mention a willingness to consider aspects that just weren’t on the radar before in mainstream military history. I send students from history to non-academic jobs where the precise area they studied is less important than a mastery of the research, writing and evaluative skills, applicable to learning a lot of other things.

    I don’t think anyone wants to be “easily” published, unless we’re just punching a c.v. card (and there are venues for that). I seriously doubt the Journal of Vietnamese History has such a lack of contributors that they want people throwing together stuff outside their own research because the journal is “easy.”

  6. My random thoughts reinforced by submissions (journal article and book) that I’ve reviewed:
    1. I second Jenny’s recommendation – Have a thesis! Focus on a specific thesis and make sure every single section and paragraph directly and clearly relates back to the thesis. Focus on a particular historiographical question, not a dozen. My undergraduate students have trouble with these issues, but so do those with PhDs.
    2. Use a bibliographic database (e.g. Zotero), preferably one that can count. That way you can quickly search by publisher and sort by year to see trends. I’d encourage looking at the last 5-10 years of publications; there have been significant changes to publishing since the economic crash.
    3. Keep in mind that military history is rather isolated from much of mainstream academic history, especially methodologically, and especially at the Research I’s. There are a few journals that publish military history, and many more that don’t, with any frequency at least. Military historians are generally interested in different types of questions, so your submission needs to match the type of journal you’re submitting to. Choose an established military historian in your field, look at their CV and classify their RECENT publications and publishing venues – what patterns emerge?
    4. I’d try to reconcile Mark’s and Margaret’s comments. As someone who fortuitously abandoned Russian/Soviet history in 1992, you never know which fields will be sexy – non-Western history is popular these days and has seen significant growth in job positions, but the absolute numbers are still very small compared to jobs for the U.S. and Europe. On the other hand, I would really discourage any grad student (if I had any) from pursuing just about any topic in the American Civil War, WWI or WWII, unless it was cultural and of the war-and-society persuasion. It’s too easy to get swallowed up in traditional concerns (read: a turnoff for other academics), and more likely than not, the mere fact that you study WWII tactics/operations/strategy/logistics will pigeonhole you among non-military historians, regardless of your methodological sophistication.
    5. Make you topic as broadly-relevant as possible: your research question shouldn’t just apply only to your particular war. It should be of interest to many others in your geographical/chronological specialty. I’m not saying you should write Michael Howard’s War in European History, but focusing on a particular campaign or battle isn’t likely to find academic publication beyond the Journal of Military History. If it’s the right battle, you can get it published with any number of popular presses, and academic presses seem more willing to boost their sales with traditional military history these days, but that won’t count for much in most History departments.
    6. Finally, a shameless plug for my blog Skulking in Holes and Corners (, which talks quite a bit about academic military history publishing, including analyzing publishing patterns in my subfield of early modern European military history. Search the Publishing tag.

  7. At the SMH Annual Meeting in 2011 there was a panel entitled, ‘Getting Military History Published’ with Bruce Vandervoert, Mike Bechtold from Canadian Military History and Debbie Gershenowitz from NYU Press as panelists. As a PhD candidate it was possibly the best panel that I attended (Perhaps this should be a regular feature if it already isn’t). Building on the idea of seeing patterns in your field is the the related idea of knowing your market, which was a key point from Mike and something that has stuck with me. It may seem daft to think about publishing in a specific journal or series but if you want your writing to be read then you need to market it in the right place. This is what led me to publish my peer-reviewed piece with Mike in CMH. The piece looked at Raid on Dieppe so publishing in a journal devoted to Canadian military history seemed most appropriate.

Comments are closed.