A recipe for the secret SAUCE to publication success
Simon Linacre is the Director of International Marketing & Development at Cabells where he focuses on growing international markets for Cabells and on developing networks in UK, Europe, and Asia. Before joining Cabells, he was with Emerald Publishing for 15 years and worked on journal acquisitions, open access, and business development. Simon is also passionate about helping authors get published and has delivered over a hundred talks, sharing useful publication tips for researchers. He has also written extensively about bibliometrics, knowledge transfer, and the need for authors to follow a publishing strategy. Simon holds Masters degrees in Philosophy and International Business and has gained considerable teaching experience as well.
In this, conversation, Simon talks about how researchers ought to plan their publications and career by carefully considering both political and strategic factors. Such an approach will not only help them find the right journals to publish in but also ensure that they are able to navigate their academic journey with confidence. Simon insists that researchers need not be dependent on anyone else to help them understand the complex publication process. Instead, they can rely on data to help make evidence-based decisions. He talks about the role Cabells plays in helping researchers make informed data-driven decisions as well as about the uptake of the Cabells Blacklist. We end the interview on a positive note with Simon sharing his own recipe for a secret sauce that will help researchers understand the publication process and succeed in their publication journey.
You have spoken about the need for researchers to have a publication plan or strategy in place. Could you elaborate? What is the best way for researchers to create a publishing plan that will work for them?
I would argue that authors always have political and strategic questions to answer when it comes to deciding where to publish. Political, in that they need to be aware of any expectations their institution has of them in terms of where journals they publish in are ranked or if there are Open Access mandates in place; strategic, in that having a plan in the first place—which helps them to decide where they want to be in the future—is always better than having no plan at all. The best thing for researchers to do is to understand these political and strategic imperatives, decide on the best pathways to meet the objectives they have from these contexts, and move forward on that basis. This will include deciding just how much importance they place on these two questions, and they can decide to answer other questions about their careers as well, but they can’t ignore these two fundamental challenges and should plan for them accordingly.
You have extensive experience (over a 100 presentations) helping researchers with tips on how to get published. What have you learned about some of the most common areas researchers need help with? What are some of the real struggles they face? What are their key pain points based on your observations?
In universities, far too little support is given to researchers about publishing, which is why I have always been happy to share some knowledge with them on campus or through webinars. Universities or governments will set benchmarks for researchers to publish in certain journals without helping to equip them with the skills and knowledge to help them do that. This is really unfair on researchers, and understandably some struggle. But researchers can help themselves a great deal, and the most common area for this is simply "researching their research"- that is, use the first-rate research skills they possess as academics and applying them to finding out about potential outlets for their work. Understanding citation, altmetrics, usage data and other information about journals and articles will help them through the pain points they have regarding the lack of knowledge of the publishing process, and help them target the right journals for their political and strategic goals.
It’s interesting that you mention the need to use data. A recent Editage survey report reveals journal selection as one of the main challenges researchers face. While discussing the results of this survey, you mention how authors identify the right journal with the help of data and how a resource like Cabells could play a critical role here. Could you elaborate?
Once researchers understand their political and strategic goals, they can use data to inform the decision-making process. For example, if I am a researcher in Computer Science and would like to publish in a popular journal with an Impact Factor (IF) before the end of the year, I can first draw up a shortlist of all the relevant journals. Then, I can use data from Cabells to compare the journals in terms of whether they have an IF or not, how high the IF is, how popular they are with social media (using Altmetrics data), and how long I can expect to wait for the article to be reviewed and published. Cabells also provides its own unique metrics for journals in the Whitelist. These are the Cabells Classification Index (CCI), which uses a percentage score to show the influence a journal has in its field of study, and Difficulty of Acceptance (DA), which uses a percentage score to show how difficult it is to publish an article in a journal in its field of study. Weighing up this data, alongside any other relevant information I may have, will enable me to make an evidence-based decision about which journals I should publish in. It also allows a range of data to be used rather than relying on just a single metric, such as the IF.
It has been a year and half since Cabell’s Blacklist was introduced. Could you tell us about the uptake of this list?
Well, it has been huge! Both the uptake of the product and the growth of the product itself has taken us a little by surprise, and certainly surpassed our expectations. Academic, corporate, and government institutions all over North America, Europe, and Asia have subscribed to the Blacklist, which has grown from 4,000 journals at launch to well over 10,000 journals at the start of 2019. In particular, engagement with the product has also been a little overwhelming, with many personal messages of thanks for the help it has given both institutions and individual researchers.
What are some of the most common queries you receive about the Blacklist?
Well, we get a lot of enquiries about the criteria for listing the journals on the Blacklist, or if we have investigated Journal A as it exhibits predatory journal symptoms. A lot of the growth of the list has stemmed from referrals from users to investigate journals, and it has been a challenge to keep up with these at times. Perhaps surprisingly, we have had very few queries from those publishers whose journals we have listed, with reviews of their inclusion in single figures.
How does Cabells work with other industry stakeholders to work on the pain points of researchers?
We do this at both a corporate and individual level. As an organization, we are in constant contact with stakeholders to understand what challenges they are facing, and what role Cabells can play to help them. An example of this is the development of our BrightTALK channel which aims to answer many of the individual user queries we receive in one place.
Could you tell us more about the Cabells-Editage partnership?
We have been working for a while with Editage on helping researchers with what I call the “validation gap.” Every researcher reaches a stage in their publication path where they have to validate the article they have written in different ways – research quality, writing quality, language, choice of journal, etc. As I mentioned before, universities tend to offer great support up until this point, and afterwards when articles have been published and tenures have been confirmed, but at this crucial stop in the road there is often a chasm that needs to be crossed to get to the other side. This is part of the journey for early-career scholars and even more experienced scholars, and along with Editage we hope that Cabells helps to bridge the gap.
And any publication tips for researchers?
Well, I love a good acronym to remember things, so here is a quick one which should help those researchers looking for the secret “sauce” to understanding the publishing process and achieving publication success:
- S - It’s OK to sell your article, but not yourself. Use social media and networks before, during and most importantly after publication to maximize exposure
- A - Treat an article like a job application. Would you make a spelling mistake on a CV? No! And every article is as good as a CV as it will remain with you for the rest of your academic life
- U - Understand what the Editor wants. Read author guidelines, no matter how long and dull they are, and find out about the journal and the editor
- C - Always have a cache of other research. Successful authors have articles at different stages all the time to ensure regular output, so research and writing should be concurrent not sequential
- E - Who is the end user? Have a precise idea of who might be interested on the research and target them like a laser
How can researcher advance their careers? What are some of the things they could do apart from striving to publish in academic journals?
This is why the political element is so key, as decisions have to be made with this in mind. In a national context, this may also include taking decisions to publish in journals more relevant for which country you might be in 5 or 10 years’ time rather than right now. I will leave you with the sorry tale of a PhD student I met at a conference who was in his NINTH year of studying. He explained he had finished the PhD in time, but the national requirements of publications in IF journals meant it was easier for him to remain a student, because if he graduated he would not be able to become an academic without the IF publications. This was sad enough, but I met him at a qualitative research conference, and the subject he was studying was dominated in the IF by quantitative journals. He didn’t understand this, and why his work couldn’t get into the right journals. Suffice it to say that if he had been more aware of the political and strategic challenges his work faced he may have been able to advance his career more successfully.
Thank you for your time, Simon, and for sharing the recipe for the secret sauce! I am sure our readers will find it useful.
Full disclosure: Editage has collaborated with Cabells to provide a range of high-quality publication support services to authors. However, this interview has been conducted independently by Editage Insights and has been deemed adequately informative and useful for our readers.