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Publish with us

For want of an author (or two…)

August 23, 2018 | 5 min read

By Christopher Tancock


Strategies for sustaining and growing your journal


This article forms part of a new collection of articles in Editors' Update which deals with the subject of growing and developing your journal. Stay tuned and/or subscribe to read the latest posts.

Have you been in the situation before where you’re not sure how you’re going to fill your next issue? Or the one after that? Maybe your publisher has been in touch recently, worried that inflow seems to be dropping. Perhaps you were counting on a special issue to make up this year’s volume but the guest editors have become ill, side-tracked or just plain forgotten and now you’re wondering what will plug the gap? Any of these issues might be uncomfortably familiar and there’s no shame if that’s the case. Most journals suffer a dearth of manuscripts at one point or another – some early on, others when they are well established. Let’s explore some of the ways you can respond to this problem.

Work together

As we’ve noted, it’s not uncommon to find yourself needing an influx of authors or content. Which of the following tools and strategies you end up reaching for is entirely up to you and your context. Whatever the situation, make sure to work closely with your publisher to manage it. Even if you’re an old hand at the editor role, it’s likely that your publishing contact has significant experience of this sort of thing (after all, they’ve probably worked on many titles across different subject fields and might have some good ideas about how to respond to the issue).

The drought toolkit

A tool that you’ve probably used many timesopens in new tab/window to find reviewers is equally adept at finding authors, so don’t neglect Scopus. In addition, the breadth and detail yielded by Scopus can enable you to identify new subject areas, research the best authors for these niches and even give you an idea of how well received papers in that area might be. Your publisher will be used to running reports to research similar issues, so make sure to reach out to them for assistance.

One often overlooked resource can prove very useful in times of drought, so turn to your Editorial Board. After all, one of the functions of a good Board is to contribute to the journal themselves. Your Editorial Board should be on metaphorical “speed dial” to respond to this sort of situation. What’s more, as experts in the field, they probably have some good ideas for how to acquire new content – and what sort of topics you might want to pursue.

One way of getting high impact content is to solicit review articles from major figures. These summaries of the work/developments in the field are usually among the most downloaded articles and often end up forming the key stone for reading lists on the topic. They can potentially be controversial in the views and recommendations they adopt, which is no bad thing if this in turn prompts more submissions (just make sure they aren’t too polemical!). The drawback with this tactic is that a journal and field can only sustain a few review articles at one time and they tend to take longer to prepare (their authors being usually much in demand for other projects).

Another longer-term option is to commission a special issue (or two). The main task here is to identify a good guest editor who will work to collect authors and keep them on track. Sometimes guest editors will come to you, but keep an eye for potential candidates in this regard, or for suitable themes. One way to do this is to keep alert at conferences – both for new author talent as well as evidence of emerging, popular or productive topics.

One tactic which can work well but does have the drawback of potentially looking desperate and with questionable payback is to put out a call for papers. Your publisher can help you to do this by advertising on the journal’s homepage, social media and in other relevant fora.

Another thing you can do is look to the past: older content published in the journal can give rise to, for example “a response to/update on/10 years from X”. All the better if you can persuade the original author to pick up from where they left off, or identify a suitable follow-up act. In a similar vein, it also pays to keep in mind timely issues – the anniversary of Y, (inter)national X week, global events that play towards the journal’s scope. All this is fair game for an article or two…

Of course, there’s no reason why you should not put pen to paper yourself. As editor, you have a unique perspective on the journal and field and will likely command an attentive audience. Just make sure someone else handles the editorial and reviewing process so there can be no accusations of bias. In thinking about what to tackle, one option is to write a position paper – again this is something where you are in good position to guide development of the field “what we think about issue X”.

If none of these appeals, why not consider a new article type. Showing your journal is growing and developing by being open to new possible formats and expressions is no bad thing. What about experimenting with case studies, extended reviews, micro articles, data articles or creating a whole new section (for letters, opinions, notes)?

Combining tactics

With the above, it is perfectly possible to combine multiple tools or strategies. For instance, you could conduct analysis to identify content niches, then canvass or search for potential authors (and, while you’re at it, potential reviewers). Or you could “prime the pump” by writing a bold piece on a polemical issue and inviting responses.

The above list is not meant to be exhaustive but should provide you with food for thought if you find yourself worrying where the next article will come from. Is there something missing that you find works well? Feel free to suggest your preferred tactics in the comments below. With luck (and one or more of the above); your next inflow crisis will be short lived.