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Answering the Call (For Papers)

For anyone interested in a career in academia, publications are a crucial component of professional advancement. Even for those not interested in becoming full-time scholars, publishing a paper can be a way of bolstering your resume and asserting your expertise, no matter your field. Because academic publishing requires rigorous research and has strict guidelines for form and content, the process of getting a paper published (especially for the first time) can be intimidating. The value that these publications bring with them, however, is well worth the time and effort put into answering a Call for Papers.
A Call for Papers (or CFP for short) can be put out for many different reasons, but their main purpose in publishing is to solicit papers for academic journals and book collections. These are where much of the discourse about a given field actually takes place, so having your work published in one of them can (and should) be considered meaningful. While most editors have specific things they are looking for, what’s most important to keep in mind as a writer is that these publishers want high-quality, professional work that will reflect deeply on some aspect of their field in a way that hasn’t been done before. This isn’t to say that you can’t write about something that has had research done on it already, but that your paper should bring something new to the conversation about your topic.
Typically, there are two approaches to publishing academic papers. The first is to find a CFP that fits something you have already written. This is a popular way to get a paper published, as advancing a work you already care about can be as simple as finding the right CFP. For a new writer, it’s important to keep in mind that you may need to edit your paper to fit the specifications of the publisher prior to submission, making adjustments to things like length or style. The second, less common approach is to find a CFP looking for new, original research about a specific topic and writing your paper after having a proposal accepted by an editor. This approach is meant to be much more generative than the first as most of these projects deal with contemporary issues or are about subjects that are under-researched. An example of this would be a CFP looking for papers discussing poetry written in response to the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Because of the recentness of the protests, it’s unlikely that you have a paper ready for publication about BLM poets, so you would have to write something new.
Because there are so many academic journals and editors putting collections together, there’s no shortage of new CFPs being posted. While you can seek out CFPs for specific journals or editors that interest you, the sheer volume of them can make this process daunting and difficult to navigate. According to STM’s industry report, three million articles were published amongst approximately thirty-three thousand journals in 2018 alone. This statistic only accounts for peer-reviewed, English-language journals in STEM, so adding in other areas of research and journals published in other languages makes that number grow significantly.
For this reason, most people starting out in academic publishing find it easier to access CFPs through aggregating websites like WikiCFP or to find them through profession-specific organizations, like the American Philosophical Association, which often feature CFPs on their websites. There are also several university-run catalogs, like the one run by the University of Pennsylvania’s English department that lists CFPs related to literature. As a writer, what is most important to pay attention to when searching is whether or not the journals are peer reviewed or that the editors and publishing teams behind a book are credible. This will ensure that your work is being published through someone reputable.
Once you’ve found an appropriate project and a CFP that fits your work, then comes the actual submission. A typical CFP will require an abstract about your work, your resume or vitae, and sometimes a copy of your paper. These requirements will depend on the publishers themselves. It’s important to keep these requirements in mind as you prepare your submission as each publisher will have specific instructions for what and how to submit. Because academic journals can be highly selective, these requirements can make the difference in whether or not your paper gets accepted. That is, if a CFP requests an abstract of no more than 250 words and you submit one with 1,000 words, it’s possible you may be passed over on this merit alone. But, with a little luck and some hard work, you can achieve a successful submission and find your paper the perfect publisher.