7 tips for your success in publishing life science papers
Have you ever wondered why your manuscript was rejected by certain journals? More often than not, editors won’t tell you why. It is not about you. It is about journals. There are strategies that maximize your success in publishing your work where it belongs.
Any scientist would tell you how frustrating it is to publish their hard work in prominent journals. They often feel that editors don’t appreciate the significance of their work, to which they devoted their hearts and souls for years. If you aim for top-tier journals, you need to get ready for several outright or post-review rejections, which would cost months, years, or even academic careers.
Publication record takes the center stage in the progression of any research career. Stiff competition in securing funds and academic jobs places a premium on top-tier publications. But the more selective the journals are, the more difficult it is to get their attention to your manuscripts. So how do you strike the right balance between maximizing the visibility of your work and not wasting too much time in publishing it?
Here is a guide that I came up with from my own experience as an author and manuscript editor.
1. Draw the line for each publication, based on your timeline and the potential impact of the work that you plan to publish. For example, if you need a fast publication of high-impact work, it is a better strategy to aim for mid-tier journals. You can afford to bet on top-tier journals if you have enough research funding, job security, and other manuscripts that are on the fast track for publication.
2. Brainstorm candidate journals that belong to the tier of your strategic choice, based on their scope and editorial bars. New journals tend to be more generous about their editorial standards and keen on customer service to invite more submissions as they establish themselves. In this regard, it pays to shop around and to consider new journals if you are comfortable in betting on their future reputation. Nature Communications, eLife, Cell Reports would have been rewarding bets if you had chosen to publish your work in their early days.
3. Craft a brief and informative cover letter, which explains the advance of the study over the literature. If the level of advance fits the editorial bar of the journal, the manuscript will be sent out for review right away. If authors cannot articulate the significance of their study in the cover letter, editors may not be motivated to carefully read the entire manuscript. Abstract, Introduction, and Discussion have the next priority in descending order.
4. Don’t hide the references relevant to your study in an attempt to oversell the novelty of your work. It raises a red flag to the handling editor. Because handling editors always search for publications similar to the study they are evaluating during the first editorial decision process, they will find the key references even if you don’t cite them. On the other hand, if authors are honest about the novelty of their study, which fits the journal criteria, editors can quickly make their editorial decision, saving the authors much time in publishing their work.
5. Contact your candidate journals with pre-submission inquiries. Because you can inquire about multiple journals simultaneously at this stage, you can quickly eliminate the journals that would not be interested in publishing your work.
6. Take advantage of the transfer cascade. Several big publishers have transfer cascades, where manuscripts would get multiple chances for consideration at sister journals that have different scopes and editorial bars. If your manuscript was rejected by a top-tier journal and given a second chance at a lower-tier, sister journal, you should consider transferring your manuscript. Oftentimes, editors will consult sister journals of the same publisher to make sure that the manuscript they handled will be sent out for peer review or even accepted by sister journals. If authors are fine with the sister journals they end up with, they can save months in going through another cycle of the publication process all over again and spare themselves the agony that goes with the uncertain destiny of their manuscripts.
7. Don’t be afraid of contacting your handling editors if you have concerns. Their job is to guide you through the publication process. Think of them as your allies.
(Source: Getty Images)
There you have it. I hope that this guideline will increase your productivity by helping you navigate the seemingly mysterious publication process more efficiently. If you have scientist friends, please feel free to share this blog post with them. They will thank it!
Now it is your turn. Which tips will you use to publish your next manuscript? Can you share your success stories? Let's continue this conversation in the comments section below.
This blog post is a summary version of my book entitled “A manuscript editor’s guide to your success in science publishing”, which will be available for purchase soon. If you leave your email address and potential topics that you would like to see in this book here, you will receive this ebook for free for a limited time in exchange for your honest review on Amazon. Thanks for your support!