Today will have a very different flavor than Monday – it is a journal-planning day. In addition to publishing books, I manage a handful of journals. These cover fields as disparate as electrical engineering and pure mathematics (though now that I write that down, I feel like they might not seem quite as disparate as I feel they are) and each comes with its own editor-in-chief and advisory board (all of whom are academics), with their own concerns, perspectives, and personalities. My role it not just to support the operations of the journals, but to help the journals to grow and improve.
This week I received comprehensive reports on the performance of each journal over the previous calendar year. One of the benefits of working for a large publisher is that putting these reports together is as simple for me as putting the request in with the appropriate department. There are lots of people (thousands of them) working behind the scenes; as an editor I don’t interact with most of them, though it’s always interesting to learn about all of the things going on behind the scenes. It’s also extremely convenient to be gifted with a comprehensive document.
Anyway, the reports that I get are about forty pages long, containing myriad statistics and facts for each journal. I can compare the annual acceptance rate for papers submitted from any country in the world going back three years, or see which papers were cited by whom and where those citations appeared, or how long it took articles to make it through each step of the process from submission to publication broken down by month and so on. Most of this I find interesting, much of it I find useful, but only a bit of it do I present to the editors-in-chief. The EiCs are typically leading researchers in their fields and already put in considerable work on the journals — reading a long report is not going to rank high on their priorities. I’ll offer the entire report, but also send my summary ahead of time.
So, I am preparing a summary to share with them before setting up our annual meeting to discuss the journal. It’s not just a matter of picking highlights (or lowlights) – the goal is to prepare a summary that both gives an accurate picture of the state of the journal and shows all enough information to help us figure out how to help the journal grow. And by “grow” I mean more than just increase the Impact Factor and H-index, though I would like to do that, too. At the end of the day, I’d like to help the journals get more submissions of higher quality and have more people read them. I’d like the papers we publish to be as useful to the people in the field as possible. That’s a lot to ask from a single page, but, as we all know, histograms with at least four colors are magical. Also, I’ll have a meeting with each of the journal EiCs to plan the next year. Much of my job comes down to collaborative planning like this, which, even when difficult, is rewarding.
Coming up with strategies for keeping my journals improving their quality and impact is a particular challenge. Working with the Editors-in-Chief to find agreement on the strategies and steps to take to achieve those goals is a different challenge. Whatever your particular field, I’m sure there are some journals about which you might say to someone looking for a place to submit a paper “Oh, that one used to be a really good journal a while ago, but it’s sort of faded in the past few years”. Right. That’s exactly what I don’t want people to say about mine.