By Gordon, Rachel Singer
American Libraries , Vol. 35, No. 1
So, you are convinced that you are ready to take that first step toward writing for publication. As a first-time author, though, you likely have a number of questions and reservations before you are comfortable jumping right into creating your initial article, query, or proposal.
Always keep in mind that you are qualified to write for the profession merely by being part of the profession. Resist the notion that you must be able and willing to construct methodologically strict academic articles, must have universal name recognition, or must put 20 years into your position before being qualified to publish. Since there are so many publishing outlets, and since librarianship encompasses so many specialties and options, the health of our literature depends on the skills of all types of librarians writing at different levels, on different topics, and for different audiences. A diverse literature provides the breadth and uniqueness required for a thriving profession.
Many librarians "start small" by publishing short articles in online newsletters, writing letters to the editor, creating book reviews, or contributing to a local paper. This allows them to gradually build the confidence and the writing experience needed to tackle larger projects. Whether contributing to your library's newsletter, school's newspaper, or writing a grant application, every bit of writing you create helps you build the experience and the professional recognition you need to go on to do more advanced work. Further, the earlier you start writing and publishing, the earlier your activities will have an impact on your library career--and the more time and opportunity you will have to build your writing expertise and contribute to the literature.
The more writing you do, the more you will find that the mere act of putting words down on paper (or on the screen) helps you clarify your own thoughts and provides the opportunity for research into topics of interest--increasing your ability to contribute to the profession, not only through publication but via your everyday, work-related activities. As Kenneth T. Henson advises in Writing for Professional Publication: Keys to Academic and Business Success (Allyn and Bacon, 1999): "The combined activities of writing and publishing cause us to escape our routine ways of thinking. Thinking in new ways is energizing. If we are clever, we can direct this energy so that it helps us achieve many of our professional and personal goals." Since as librarians we are all also practitioners, this bond between publishing and practice is especially strong.
Understanding the integration of writing with professional practice is an important step toward realizing the unique rewards of publication in the library field--which in all honesty is unlikely to be your path to general fame and fortune, although it can be a nice supplement to a librarian's income and a step toward building the name recognition you need for a successful library career.
While rejection is never pleasant, it is an inevitable part of the publication process. Every librarian author has faced rejection at least once; the important thing is that you do not let rejection (or the mere prospect of rejection) keep you from writing or from submitting your work to publishers.
Keep in mind also that your query or proposal may occasionally be turned down for reasons completely unrelated to the quality of your writing. Perhaps a journal has an article already planned on a similar subject, or perhaps your book idea does not fit in with the scope of a particular press. Maybe your topic is too academic, or not academic enough, for the specific outlet. Do realize that editors may be fairly vague about their reasons for rejecting your work; this is largely because they do not wish to get into an argument with potential authors. If they do, however, give reasonable grounds for their rejection, consider incorporating their comments into your work before submitting it to the next publisher on your list. …