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Journal Call for Papers: Improving Your Approach

Journal Call for Papers: Improving Your Approach


The competition for quality journal manuscripts is at an all-time high, with more journals, fewer international barriers and sleeker author services than ever before. In times like these, what’s a publisher to do?

The answer: a timeless classic—marketing.

Okay, maybe this is a little biased. As a Publisher with a keen interest (a.k.a. obsession) with great marketing, I tend to believe that strategic marketing can defy gravity, move mountains and make time stand still.

The fact is, even publishers who are far less marketing-obsessed may agree that when a journal needs manuscripts, a call for papers is in order. The problem is this: many publishers don’t think of a call for papers as a marketing campaign. Consequently, a call for papers is a lot like golf; most people play, but not many are very good. And like golf, the root cause of the problem comes down to two things, practice and strategy.

In this blog post, we’ll break down the anatomy of a journal call for papers campaign so that you have the nuts and bolts needed to improve your publishing pipeline.


Your target audience—that’s easy. Professionals within the field. Past authors. Society members. That pretty much sums it up, right?

Defining the target audience is the easy part. As an Editor, Managing Editor or Publisher of the journal, you probably have a pretty good idea of your audience. You speak the lingo, walk-the-walk and generally understand what the people want.

While describing the journal’s target market may be simple, the difficult part is segmenting the audience in a detailed yet logical manner. The best marketing campaigns tailor the message to each segment of the market. There is no “one size fits all” mantra. Thus, before crafting the perfect marketing message, take the time to segment your marketing list by utilizing key demographics, psycho-graphics and audience characteristics.

For individuals already in your journal database, your segmentation analysis should include: current authors (one to two years), past authors (three plus years), current reviewers, past reviewers, society members (segmented by membership status and category), individual subscribers and institutional subscribers.

Then you have individuals outside of your database—your prospects; the people you don’t even know. You can segment them by subject matter or scientific discipline, geographic location, notoriety within the community and which competing journals have published their work.


Marketing gurus have stated for years that utilizing a balanced multi-channel marketing strategy leads to more positive and effective results. When it comes to scholarly journals, this means that a single call for papers tactic won’t cut it. You need to reach your target audience through multiple platforms and media channels. Here are some examples:

EMAIL MARKETING  Campaigns to individuals in the journal’s database, personal emails from the Editor or Editorial Board members, new content alerts, list purchases from sources like Thomson Reuters Author Connect or a society within the field of study.

PRINT ADVERTISING  Advertisements to place in the journal itself or other journals that reach the target audience, fliers or postcards to mail or display at conferences, business cards for journal editors.

DIGITAL ADVERTISING  Advertisements to place on the journal website or other websites
that reach the target audience, paid search engine advertisements (e.g., Google AdWords), social media posts and communications, paid social media advertisements (e.g., LinkedIn).


The most critical component of your call for papers campaign is the message. The message should clearly reflect the marketing strategy and take into account a variety of factors including the target audience, marketing channel, unique selling proposition and overarching objectives. For most marketers, this is the “fun part” of the campaign; however, it can also be the most challenging.

While the messaging of a call for papers campaign can vary widely, the essential elements should remain the same:

Why should the audience care?

What is the single-most compelling idea that will motivate the target audience to take action?

What is the journal’s unique selling proposition or competitive advantage?

What types of papers are appropriate for the journal at this time?

What is the call for action?

Where can the audience find more information (i.e. web link)?


What makes marketing exciting (and slightly maddening), is that there is no such thing as perfection. Some tactics will generate fantastic returns and some will come up empty. The only way you’ll know which is which is if you meticulously track your marketing campaigns.

The era of digital marketing has made gathering marketing analytics and metrics easier than ever. Impressions, email opens, click-through rates and page views can typically be found at the click of a button. While these metrics are beneficial in measuring a tactic’s overall strength, they do not reflect true campaign performance. Because of this, marketers are moving to more advanced metrics, such as campaign conversions.

Campaign conversions can be difficult to calculate, but the essence of the metric is simple:

How many people did what the campaign wanted them to do?

How many people followed through on the call to action?

For a call for papers campaign, the answer is quite simple—how many people submitted a paper to the journal?

The tricky part for most publishers is that the process leading up to a submission can be very long. It’s unlikely that one call for papers tactic is going to arrive at the exact moment when a researcher is deciding where to submit their next paper. Thus, the timeline for measuring conversions could be weeks, months or even years.

To mitigate this problem, consider a two-fold approach:

      1. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Execute multiple campaigns targeting different audience segments, utilize a variety of marketing channels and communicate with tailored messaging. Experimentation is the name of the game.
      2. Use tracking mechanisms for everything you do. Whether you are setting up discount or promo codes for each tactic or creating unique landing pages on your journal’s website, be sure that the performance and effectiveness of your campaigns is measurable for the long-haul.

While journal marketing can be difficult at times, as any serious golfer knows, practice and strategy are bound to improve your game.

taylor fulton     Taylor Fulton is Supervisor of Publishing Administration at Allen Press.