How to develop a publication strategy for your research

An Iwo Jima Thought Experiment

One soldier, one piece of paper, an old pen and a dirty bottle, stranded on an island in the middle of a brutal war. Before the battle, you, the soldier, could write a farewell letter to your wife, or a missive of future words to live by for your toddler. Or leave an SOS with coordinates for a passing ship in case your outfit becomes marooned. A thank you to your parents? A goodbye to good friends? So many things to say and so little time and paper. Did you enlist to end up on Iwo Jima?

Think of your desk and academic writing tools as your personal Pacific Frontier. There is an ocean in all directions, and ahead of you lies a formidable hill to climb. Your publication strategy will be your battle plan – your best chance to raise a flag in victory. In your case, the goal is a research project that translates into the metrics that your academic community values most: impact factors, publication in well-respected journals, or even a reputation as an emerging public intellectual.

The Parts or the Whole?

One of the very first strategic decisions to make is whether your research and corresponding dissertation manuscript will be serving your objectives best as:

  • An academic monograph, an academic book dedicated solely to your research topic. In some countries, it is expected of each PhD candidate to convert their dissertation into an academic monograph, so this may not be a choice. Otherwise, you may opt for the alternative route, namely:
  • Academic journal submissions, where select themes developed in your dissertation are carefully extracted and tailored for submission to targeted academic journals in your field.


The Monograph

Developing an academic monograph is a more comprehensive process that could take nine months to two years (or longer). The road map is fraught with possible rejections during the proposal submission phase, yet once that hurdle is jumped, it becomes a more collaborative process with your publisher and reviewers.

Broadly speaking, this project will be divided into three phases:

  •  Submission of a proposal
  • Writing of the monograph copy, with peer reviews
  • Production, including considering the format and distribution of the title.

It is worth noting that the marketing communication of monographs once in distribution no longer rests with the publisher alone. In an era of social media and the potential of a great idea going viral, progressive publishers and their marketing agents now train and encourage young academics to develop a 360 strategy towards building their profile and reputation. As with academic journals, this may include several Open Access options to discuss with the publisher of your monograph.

Regardless of the channel of distribution, you may select, a carefully crafted marketing communications plan should include the full integration of your personal social media plan for promoting your title.

Journal Submissions

Doctoral students live as if the mind is on steroids. Every conference attended, and every seminar spawns a host of paper ideas. How often has someone said to you: “Shall we write a paper?”

Your dissertation may be packed with different themes, and you need to make hard decisions based on whether your institution requires a minimum number of submissions each year, and how many papers you want to produce?

You need to realistically assess whether you will be capable of doing justice to each of these planned submissions. Quantity versus quality?

The key questions to ask in developing your publishing strategy should address:

  • Given the stage of your research, what papers can you develop? For instance, is your methodology chapter worthy of a submission to a specialist journal?
  • Is an aspect of your research currently very topical in a reputable journal in your field?
  • What does your institution expect of you, and might they subsidise your venturing into open access publishing?
  •  Is speed of the essence for your immediate career plans, or could you wait for the potential slower turn-around time of the heavyweight journals?

Each decision comes down to one thing: the impact of each publication on your career, in both the short and long-term. A proper publication strategy should be crafted against a planned career trajectory, balancing time, other projects and short-term expediency with long-term prestige. That is the measure by which to strategise – ‘what will it mean to my career?’

As with any strategic plan, where one tries to shape or anticipate future outcomes,  vast uncertainties and variables exist. Hence, it is infinitely worth developing your publishing strategy in deep consultation with experienced mentors, colleagues and professional publishers who have walked this road before.

Choose the Right Publisher

Being a novice in this area, embarking on your first major publication drive requires careful selection of the appropriate partners. Bear in mind that the academic publishing industry is, at heart, a commercial enterprise, despite its tweed and oak panelling veneer, estimated north of $10 billion annually. Every industry has its snake-oil types, so beware.

Top of mind when searching for your publishing partner, not just for an immediate project, but for the professional support that your entire publishing strategy will require, are:

  • Reputation and reach: Speak to respected academic colleagues in your discipline, and they will tell you which publishers are leaders in your niche.
  • Timeliness: If your strategic deliverables are time-dependent, check the publisher’s record for delivering within planned timelines.
  • Author relations: Find the publishing partner willing to entertain meaningful discussions about your career aspirations and who can advise you on how realistic your strategic goals and timelines are. You do not want to be just another number in the meat-grinder.
  • Methodology and project management team and tools: Does your preferred publisher make use of the best available technology to keep author projects on track, including regular communication feedback loops? Will you have one point of contact with whom to develop a relationship, or are you about to be bounced from here to who knows where along the project pathway?
  • Upfront costs: Is your publisher willing to have frank discussions about the costs associated with each publishing alternative, and are they offering their advice in your best interest, or in their commercial interest.

You should not venture into the wild without a decent roadmap (nor without your sunscreen!). The academic publishing world can be a jungle of its own. Get your strategic plan – your roadmap to successful publishing in place – and you will end up seeing the woods from the trees.

If you’re looking for a publishing partner, please click here to get in touch, we’d love to see how we can help you.


© Unsplash 2021 / image: Anastasia Petrova