4 ways to win an editor’s heart
Do reviewers have more influence when they come to publishing themselves?
By Dr. Shane Snyder Posted on 10 November 2015
With one year behind him as Co-Editor-in-Chief of an Elsevier journal, Dr. Shane Snyder shares his experience about what goes on behind the scenes. While the tips and advice he offers are specific for his own journal, Chemosphere, it’s certainly no harm for any researcher to keep them in mind.
It was in the spring of 2014 when the floodgates opened and a torrent of manuscript submissions saturated my inbox. With each manuscript that arrived, I thought of the immense amount of work that goes into preparing it for publication. Indeed, as an author myself, I understand the challenges of writing, formatting, and submitting a manuscript for publication. Of course, I had my fair share of rejections along the way but I must admit I never fully appreciated the complexity of the process until I joined Chemosphere. I have now come to realize the critical importance of accepting those pesky invitations for peer-review and why we must contribute to the process if we expect our own work to be published in a timely manner.
A startling realization
As I took the reins of Chemosphere alongside Dr. Jacob de Boer, I quickly realized the magnitude of what more than 3,000 submissions per year can do to your inbox …and sanity. I also realized that many authors had been waiting very long times for responses from Chemosphere, but the primary reason for the delays was far more difficult to address. I entered the Editor-in-Chief position feeling like a fearless leader who would not only maintain the journal’s reputation, but help the collective team to raise the journal’s visibility, and more importantly, citation rate. However, I quickly realized that inviting two or three peer-reviewers and having them quickly accept was an aberration and the reality was that getting reviewers to accept, and later complete, was very difficult. In fact, the existing protocol of inviting a couple of reviewers, then waiting two weeks or so to find out if they would accept before inviting others was a broken model that could send manuscripts into a death spiral of inviting reviewers and waiting and inviting and waiting, etc.
Jacob and I worked with the associate editors to identify some means to increase the expediency by which manuscripts were processed, but the challenge of finding determined peer-reviewers remained somewhat elusive. To help with reducing our processing time, we added several new associate editors, all with high profile research portfolios and a rich history of reviewing for various journals. I can tell you for sure that being an editor (and I probably speak for any editor of a scientific journal), is a labor of love, since it is an immense amount of work and stress.
A few personal tips
I would like to share with you a few personal tips that I have gleaned during my first year at Chemosphere that could help you get your manuscript accepted and published as quickly as possible. However it’s worth keeping in mind that each editor has their own way of handling manuscripts in terms of what they look at first and how they ultimately prioritize their workload.
Review history with the journal
When I receive a manuscript to handle, I first look at the corresponding author’s dossier in the Chemosphere system. This tells me how many times the author has been invited to review for Chemosphere, how many times they accepted/declined, and the frequency and magnitude of reviews turned in late (or not at all). I will admit that when I started at Chemosphere, I did not look at these data at all. It was not until I realized the pinnacle role peer-reviewers would play in the turnaround time of manuscript decisions. In addition, it became clear to me that those authors who frequently reviewed for the journal also had a far better vision of the scope and quality requirements of Chemosphere. Thus, I do give some deference to those authors who are regularly contributing in a positive way to the peer-reviews for Chemosphere.
Becoming a reviewer: how and why
- Identify which journal you would like to review for using the Journal Finder tool on Elsevier.com
- Visit the journal homepage and ‘view full editorial board’
- Contact the relevant editor(s) through the site and offer your reviewing services
The cover letter
I then review the cover letter which seems to be an often overlooked and underappreciated part of a manuscript submission. For me, the cover letter can strongly influence a decision to send a dubious manuscript to an associate editor or to make a bench-rejection. In other words, the cover letter allows the author to speak directly to the editor and to make the case as to why this manuscript should be published. A cover letter that provides the title and word count is not provocative and I interpret this as either a lack of understanding or as a halfhearted attitude about the journal. For sure, Chemosphere receives articles that were submitted elsewhere and either rejected or forwarded by the editors or peer-reviewers. But for those that didn’t come through this channel, it is important to tell us why Chemosphere is the correct outlet for your article. I want to know why you believe the article is within the scope and what is novel about your work. As a hint, I find particularly influential those cover letters that cite other papers published in Chemosphere as partial justification for consideration of publication in the journal. A strong cover letter can easily make the difference, to me at least, between an immediate rejection and further consideration for publication.
Language & Scope
At this point, I review the manuscript quickly and look specifically for verification that the article is in scope, that the English language is reasonable, and that the manuscript flow is generally well constructed (the critical elements are in place). From here, I will either contact the author indicating that further review is not suggested due to out of scope or lack of novelty and/or quality, or the manuscript will be assigned to a handling editor. If it is moving forward, I will either take on the manuscript myself as editor or I will send the manuscript to one of our associate editors. Many times, I receive manuscripts that are extremely interesting and novel, but simply not within our core scope of chemical contaminants in the environment. With more than 4,000 submissions expected for 2015, clearly we only can publish a small portion of those manuscripts received.
So in summary:
- Carefully review the aims and scope to determine if your manuscript is a good fit for the journal.
- Offer to review for the journal, there is no better way to get a feel for what we expect and what types of articles are suitable.
- Write a strong, yet concise, cover letter that explains why you believe the manuscript is a good fit and what aspects make it particularly novel.
- Last, triple-check your manuscript and have some of your own peers review it before submission. As we all know, first impressions are critical. Make the most of your initial submission and do not expect the editor or peer-reviewers to correct your “draft” manuscript.
We are always looking for the most impactful and scientifically intriguing manuscripts. We are also looking for the most fastidious and reliable reviewers. As additional inspiration, we are inviting our best reviewers to become members of the editorial board, and eventually, to become the next editors for Chemosphere. Keep up the good work and please keep those great submissions coming our way!
Dr. Shane Snyder is a Professor of Chemical & Environmental Engineering, and holds joint appointments in the College of Agriculture and School of Public Health, at the University of Arizona. He also co-directs the Arizona Laboratory for Emerging Contaminants (ALEC) and the Water & Energy Sustainable Technology (WEST) Center. For nearly 20 years, Dr. Snyder’s research has focused on the identification, fate, and health relevance of emerging water pollutants. Dr. Snyder and his teams have published approximately 200 manuscripts and book chapters on emerging contaminant analysis, treatment, and toxicology, and he currently serves as an Editor-in-Chief for the international journal Chemosphere. For more information visit: http://snyderlab.arizona.edu/content/dr-shane-snyder.