The 4 Secrets of Success: Your first year in journal publishing

Looking back on when I first began my journey, right at the start of my publishing career, I’ll be honest, I was happy just to get by. It was a new, overwhelming world of science, industry best practices and journal policies, I was on a whirlwind ride through my first year and holding on for dear life. Since then, I’ve worked with lots of people in their first year in publishing and they have, in my honest opinion, set themselves up a whole lot better for success than I did in that first year. I began to notice trends. Those who developed their career most effectively and efficiently longer-term started in their first year by following some simple rules. This blog is a sort of ode to those people, the people who joined the industry with a plan and developed small daily habits to learn, develop and commit to setting the foundations for a successful long-term career in publishing.

So, what are these rules? I’ve boiled things down into the top four things that I believe hold the secrets to a successful first year in journal publishing.

1) Understand what the industry values

Ethics, quality, transparency, accountability, one might argue the principles of science, also apply to publishing industry professionals. As a newbie to publishing, it’s important to understand these values and how you can apply them to your daily routine. This might be by continuously striving for excellence and providing the highest quality of service, or it could be by highlighting ways that ethical checks can be more stringent. Transparency and accountability go hand-in-hand; take accountability for your actions and effort, develop productive habits, and own up when you make mistakes. As Albert Einstein said, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Mistakes are the way that we all learn, but as long as you act with your personal values, and the industry values at the forefront, you will succeed.

2) Get a grip on commonly used technology

In our industry technology is varied, developing at a tremendous rate, and inconsistent publisher to publisher. However, that doesn’t mean you can just put on your blinkers, put your head down and ignore the issue. Technology, in particular AI technology, is imminently going to change the way that we are working in the industry. Those clever enough to get ahead of this curve will find themselves well-positioned to take the industry by storm. Now, when I say you need to get ahead of the curve, I don’t mean that you should be spending your nights beavering away developing the next AI tool to revolutionize the industry (collective sigh of relief right?). But I do mean you should generally get to grips with the key technologies that the biggest publishing players use. Spend some time learning a little more about what one publisher’s platform offers over another. Look into pre-prints, (or click on the link to my blog about pre-prints on the left), indexing databases or manuscript quality check tools. The publishing industry is fast becoming a technology industry. Publishers are buying or developing technologies and at this rate, we will soon all find ourselves in tech companies, rather than publishing companies. Simply learning about developing technologies in your first year will put you ahead of the pack.

3) Commit to deeply learning about publishing

This one is where developing a pattern of good habits leads to compounding returns. Have you ever found yourself in a conversation with people discussing a new development in the publishing industry, while you think to yourself, I am not equipped with the knowledge to contribute here… I have! In those situations, I tend to just be honest and learn from the situation, but overall I hate being in that position. I like to know just a little about pretty much everything, so that I have a bit of a knowledge to draw on when these topics come up in conversation. But learning about everything is no easy feat, and this is where developing good habits comes in. Everyday, I take around 10 minutes in my morning to read a publishing industry newsletter (recently I’ve been enjoying The Journalology newsletter by James Butcher for example). It’s a tiny proportion of my day, but doing a little reading on developments in the industry starts my day with motivation, and ensures that I’m well-equipped for those unexpected conversations when they occur.

4) Connect

This one can be more difficult, it involves putting yourself out there and not being afraid to pursue new connections. Use the fact that it’s your first year in publishing as a talking point. Be direct, ask people for advice. They’ll be flattered, and hopefully remember you next time. Making new connections, once you’re used to putting yourself out there, is relatively easy. The challenging part comes in maintaining those connections in future years. You never know which connection might ultimately lead to your next opportunity. I personally like to keep an excel spreadsheet on people I meet (I hear this is something David Rockefeller used to do, but with rolodex cards rather than excel – he wasn’t that far ahead of his time). I write down small notes about them, their name, role, what we talked about, their latest project, where they went on holiday recently, their coffee/tea order. Call me obsessive, fine, but it helps to stimulate conversation, develop relationships and (perhaps most importantly) it helps me to really listen, knowing I need to fill out a few notes in my spreadsheet later. I’m accountable for this, I have to intently listen and remember what each person is saying. So this is my final top tip for your first year in the publishing industry, go forth, connect and listen.

Lastly, I’d like to leave you with a few pieces of advice from those people who are in the same position as you, having just finished their first year in the publishing industry. A small note here, although these tips come from several colleagues of mine at Frontiers, their recommendations represent their own personal experiences, views and learning journeys and are not a reflection or representation of Frontiers:

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