The Path to Publication: Choosing your Venue
Updated: Dec 29, 2021
When you publish your work, you are taking a crucial step towards finding your intellectual and professional community. Universities regard academic publications as the gold-standard for scholarship. Increasingly, admissions officers are also seeking candidates who have published articles in non-academic or “general” venues, from Public Books to The New York Times. No matter where you publish, the point is to get your readers talking about an idea or topic that motivates you.
There are many paths to publication, depending upon your intended audience and the genre of your writing. You can think of the early publication process as a decision tree, beginning with this question: would you like to communicate primarily with an “academic” or a “general” audience?
If you want professors to engage with your thoughts, then you should publish through a scholarly journal, academic press, or university website. Academic publications take years to process, and you will need your CRI mentor to guide you through this project. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t write for an academic audience in the short term! If you ever pursue research at a major academic library or museum, reach out to a curator or information desk to ask if they ever blog or publish about researchers’ work. If you were to pursue this line of questioning at Harvard’s Houghton Library, for example, you’d likely be invited to write about your research for The Harvard Library Bulletin. Publishing a short article or blog will give you a better chance of getting published in magazines and papers that produce intellectual content (e.g., The Slate, Cabinet, Public Books, The Atlantic, LARB, The Point, TLS, The New Yorker, NYT).
To return to my original question, what if you want to reach a general audience? In that case, it is important to consider the genre of your work. Are you writing fiction (a novel, poem, short story, etc.) or nonfiction (an essay, listicle, journalistic article, etc.)? If you’re thinking about writing nonfiction, and you want to get as many eyes on it as possible, then consider venues with flashy brand names (e.g., Vanity Fair, Vogue, Time, National Geographic). There are a few options that will reach both “general” and “academic” readers (e.g., NYT, Smithsonian, The New Yorker, BBC), but it can take a while to have a piece of your writing accepted to one of these venues. The more you publish, the more willing they will be to move your “pitch” to the top of their “slush piles.”
But wait - what is a “pitch” and why would you ever be involved with a pile of slush? A critical step towards getting published is writing a proposal or “pitch” when you first make contact with your potential venue. This pitch will land in the venue’s “slush-pile”: limbo for unread, unpublished ideas which, back in the day, was a pile of paper on an editor’s desk.
My next piece in this series will take you through the process of crafting a pitch strong enough to escape the dreaded slush pile.