Solving the Mystery of Submission and Revision

Earlier this year, the Journal of Asian American Studies published an article by Miami University graduate student Nicolyn Woodcock. The essay "Tasting the 'Forgotten War' Korean/American Memory and Military Base Stew" focused on the role of gastronomical narratives in constructing the Korean War as “forgotten” by examining competing discourses about budae jjigae, a soup dish of American military base leftovers such as Spam, hot dogs, and American cheese and Korean food staples such as kimchi and ramen noodles. Woodcock joined us for a Q&A about her essay as well as helpful tips for graduate students and young scholars looking to publish journal articles. 

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How did you end up focusing on this topic?

In December 2014, I first heard about budae jjigae while listening to an interview Grace Cho did for the Los Angeles-based radio show “Good Food” (KCRW). Just a few months later I saw the trailer for the “Korea” episode of Parts Unknown which mentioned budae jjigae as well. What I heard/saw in these narratives peaked my interest at first from a very personal vantage point - I started to re-think my own experiences eating foods like Spam or hot dogs in my Filipina/American upbringing. I started actually writing about U.S. militarism and food as a comparative project in a seminar I took with LuMing Mao in Fall 2015. That was much broader than the final article, I compared budae jjigae with other instances of American food products appearing in local cuisine, mostly in the Philippines and Hawaii. 

I initially applied to Miami University’s graduate program because I was interested in food in Asian American literature. Although I was working with Anita Mannur for this very reason, one semester after another I found all my projects really turning to analyses of war, militarism, gender, and sexuality. Thinking about budae jjigae and the militarized origins of some of my childhood meals, all of my interests finally started to seem like they were coming together. 

What does it mean for a journal like JAAS to publish papers from graduate students?

When Dr. Mannur suggested I send my submission to JAAS, I was a little awe-struck/shocked. "That’s the journal of our field," I thought. But I shouldn’t have been surprised, every workshop or advice session I had been to about publishing said that when it’s time to send our work out, we should start at the top and “work our way down.” As intimidating as it is to send work to the very journal I had been reading and citing for so many years, it’s important to keep in mind that organizations like AAAS are designed to mentor graduate students, integrate us into the field of Asian American studies, and foster an environment that welcomes our scholarship. Publishing graduate students’ work alongside that of more advanced and senior scholars in the field lets us know that we are doing important work, and that we are able to make valuable contributions to the field, not just now as students, but as we grow into our academic careers. 

What was the submission and review process like for you?

As a graduate student, the submission and review process seems really mysterious, even after about four years of hearing a lot of people talk about it around my department— whether other graduate students or in publishing workshops. I knew it wasn’t as easy as sending away my seminar paper and hoping for the best. I had already revised mine twice, once for a conference presentation and then again for the manuscript submission. I think the thing that “tripped me up” the most, though, was trying to write the cover letter to the editor in the submission system. Of all the advice I had heard about publishing, that wasn’t on the list. I asked another student who had recently been published; she told me to write as if the editor is a familiar faculty member that I’m giving a short summary of my project to - what is it about, what work does it do, why might they be the person (journal) who will find it interesting? 

Once the submission was “out there,” I kept my expectations low, maybe a “no, thank you” with a readers report that could help me improve it before trying again; maybe a “revise and resubmit.” Imagine my surprise nearly two months later when my decision email said “accepted for publication with revisions.” While I couldn’t believe it, I was also really ecstatic about it. This gave me a lot of energy, which was useful because I had just four weeks for the revisions suggested by the two readers. 

The hardest part for me came later. About three months after sending my revised manuscript I received the editor’s feedback. Both the initial and the revised versions might be described as “beefed up” versions of the seminar paper - with more intensive close readings of the narratives and recipes for budae jjigae, Spam musubi, or Filipino American cookbooks. The editors’ feedback suggested that the narratives about budae jjigae and the Korean War could carry the whole project, that if I dug deeper into them my argument would actually be more compelling than it was with the wider ranging examples. I had a lot of trouble seeing this. When we spend a long time on a project, we get a sort of tunnel vision and have a very hard time letting go of the work we have already done. Determined to work my way out of that tunnel, I stopped trying to write/rewrite/rearrange my manuscript for about a week, opting instead to spend my time reading. There were a number of books and articles the editors had pointed to that might help me. In that process of stepping back as well as reading really helped me re-see my project—exactly what is supposed to happen in the revision process. 

When I got back to writing, I actually started with a blank document rather than with my manuscript. On this I started to outline what this article would look like if it was entirely about budae jjigae, working out how to dive more deeply into each of the three narratives (Gold’s review, Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, Cho’s essay). Eventually I got to a place that brought the manuscript into harmony with the new document, but I learned not to be afraid of “starting fresh.” Part of me thought that the final version needed to essentially still be what the readers had “accepted for publication,” but I had to learn was that they didn’t accept that particular manuscript. Rather, they saw the potential that manuscript held and the layers of the review process are meant to tease it out, helping us develop our best work. 

What advice do you have for graduate students and young scholars working on their first submission?

  • Be passionate about the subject/topic of your article. When Dr. Mannur suggested I send the budae jjigae project out for publication, it wasn’t the first time someone had said that about my seminar papers. It was, however, the first time I actually followed up. From starting the project to finally seeing it in print took approximately three years. When you decide to work on something for submission, you have to live with it for a very long time. You want make sure you’ll continue to be very enthusiastic about the project that whole time, and even after. 
  • Remember your voice. The biggest advice I got in the editor’s feedback was to make sure my argument wasn’t being drowned out by the scholarship I was citing. She identified parts of my own writing where my voice and my argument were clear and compelling and also showed me parts of what I’d written where what I needed to say seemed to be eclipsed. Having my own writing available as a model — which showed me that I already knew how to assert my argument - was incredibly helpful as I revised weaker areas of the article. 
  • Do more with less. This is a mantra that I’ve carried with me ever since I was a student in a first-year writing seminar at Kenyon College in 2009, but I don’t alway practice it. That’s really what the editors were telling me when they suggested I needed to dig deeper and let my analysis of the budae jjigae narratives carry the argument. It is hard to let go when you have so many examples, so much research, spend so much time with the topic or objects of analysis. Keep an open mind and know that you can let go. But also, don’t necessarily delete whatever you end up cutting out of a project in the revision process. Create documents where you paste that deleted material. It may not work now, but you never know when it will work again in the future. 
  • Read the journal/publication. It seems obvious, but you should do your best to consistently read the journal or publication you submit to. These are not only models for what your work should look like, but possibly also work you need to be citing. Academic publishing is about entering into conversations with others working in your field. As graduate students, we have plenty of things competing for our attention, so it’s not surprising that a year can go by and we haven’t cracked the spines on the latest three issues of the journal. Try to work it into your routine, even if it just one article, once a week. 
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Journals