How I published in Nature Careers (after getting rejected by Science)
“Baby, they like the idea. Now, I need to send the next version,” I told Alastair (my husband). My heart was pumping like it wanted to come out of my chest.
I’d recently given up the dream of a tenure track position after being rejected for over three years from jobs and fellowships that would’ve led me there. But now, after starting my dream business I focus and write, I’d sent an initial pitch to Science. It had nothing to do with my scientific expertise...it was about meditation!
Okay, it wasn’t for an academic paper, but a story in the Careers section. And for me, it was big.
Let’s be clear: when I made the pitch, I told myself, “no way they’ll ever publish this.”
But now, 99% of my cells were convinced by this tiny invite of hope: resubmission. I was sure that with a good rewrite, my pitch would be accepted.
But those 99% of cells were wrong.
My resubmitted pitch was rejected.
The editor to whom I’d sent the initial pitch liked the idea. But they told me that the style wasn’t right for them. I’d written what’s called an “op-ed,” similar to this article you’re reading. And in that section of Science, they publish personal narrative essays.
I had no idea what that was, so I googled it and went on a spiral of tips and tricks to write my personal narrative text. A text that, by the time I’d resubmitted, had too many twists in the story, as the editor later told me. Too many twists to edit for the limited time the editors had (think back to April 2021, the peak of a worldwide pandemic).
This event is in my top 5 of most painful rejections. And after that I had zero energy to try again. I was also in the middle of the launch of my course Mindful Scientific Writing, so I had zero time.
But, I really wanted to spread my message, so once things calmed down, I tried again. And this time it worked: in Nature (applause please!).
So here I want to share the steps that I took which led to having that article published.
You can download the supporting resources to this article. I’ve included links to the websites and articles I used myself, the emails (pitches) I sent to the editors, and the initial draft I sent to Nature. These are tips that could also apply to the kind of columns you can publish in journals such as Nature (the Careers column section), Science (Working life essays in the Careers section) and many others!
Get clear on your specific “idea that’s worth spreading.”
I know this sounds very TED-style, but it’s true! Often we have a problem with our messaging. We know what we want to say, but then when it comes time to speak or write about it, we give so much information that the core message gets diluted. That’s a surefire way to confuse the editor already with the first email. In my case, I wanted to convince all scientists (yes, all) to have a mindfulness practice as part of their work. I'm still working on my messaging, and I encourage you to do the same. ;)
Research the journal where you want to publish
Before submitting it to Science, I actually wanted to send it to Nature. But I wrongly thought that Nature’s style (often op-ed) required more authority on the topic. An authority that my impostor syndrome would not accept that I had. Science in the “personal narrative style” seemed to be more suitable for newbies.
Well, I was wrong. Here’s the key: the same story topic could work in either journal by simply using a different writing style.
In any case, here some tips for that style of research:
1. Read several articles in your selected journal and be sure that your topic is not yet covered. If it is, try to reframe it in a different context. For example, in Science, there was already an article about how meditation could help Ph.D. researchers with their mental health. But I wanted to highlight other benefits (productivity, creativity) and not only for PhDs.
2. Pay attention to the style in which the articles are written. How they write titles; what’s the length, tone, and type of written piece; if they have references or not, etc. Take notes about those details for when you’re editing your own story.
3. Read the guidelines carefully. Every journal has a set of instructions on how to prepare these types of articles.
Write the story
This is, of course, a crucial step, but unlike what we’re used to when writing scientific articles, writing these stories can be quite fast!
I actually think I spent more time on all the other steps than I did on this one.
An important factor to keep in mind is that, unlike scientific articles, you’ll probably go several rounds back and forth with your editor. And yes, the final draft can be very different from the first one.
In my case, the first round was a radical change. (Don’t think so? Take a look here at that initial draft…).
For Nature, the structure that my piece follows is this (you may find other structures that work well too):
For details on how these look in my paper and why I wrote what I did, get the supporting guide I’ve prepared for you!
Write the pitch email (for Nature and other publications!)
This step is just as crucial as writing your story. So, you should devote almost as much time to it.
Let’s be honest: the editor probably won’t read your story if the pitch email isn’t convincing.
And they also probably won’t open the email if the subject line isn’t good. So, here are some tips about this email:
1. Find the right editor. All these journals have an email address where you can send your stories. However, publicity experts recommend sending an email to a specific editor for the best results. To find the right contacts, you can look at other articles on the theme you want to write about, and you may find the editor who’s behind those. Other ways you can do this include finding the list of editors, reading what they focus on, and again, emailing the most suitable one. Just avoid emailing the chief editor; they’re usually too busy.
2. Write a short subject line that includes the word “pitch” and evokes curiosity to read that email. For example, this was mine in the email I sent to Nature : Pitch: "A simple practice that will change the way you do science.” (Proud of the curiosity aspect over here!).
3. The email also has a structure. For a sample, you can read here the one I sent to Nature. But basically, introduce yourself briefly and drop some credibility markers: something that makes you interesting or gives you some authority on the topic (even if it’s just experiencing a certain challenge as a Ph.D. candidate!). Next, indicate how it can help their audience because, at the end of the day, they’re a publication with the goal of serving their audience, not you. ;) And what’s even better? Link to some of their published papers to show that this isn’t a generic email and that you did your homework.
Send it, wait, follow up
Once you send your pitch over, patiently wait. This is a great time to start meditating daily, so you don’t go crazy ;) And why not try one of the meditations I give with this Nature paper? ;).
But at some point, if you don’t hear back, I recommend sending two friendly emails. The teacher of a course I took mentioned that half of her clients get published because they follow up.
Timing is crucial, though! So these are the two emails I recommend that you send:
1. If you haven’t heard from them for 7-10 days after the submission email: Just be very casual, don’t pressure them. You can mention things in the first line like, “I understand that you’re busy” (because I hope you do understand!), or “I wanted to check that my email didn’t end up in your spam folder” (because it does happen very often!).
2. After that, if you still haven’t heard from them, I recommend you send a second email after another seven days have passed. You can indicate that you’ll submit the story to a different publication in this email if you still don’t hear from them in a week.
Accepted? Celebrate! (and tell EVERYONE)
This is very important! Something that happened to me is that once my story was accepted and published, I just wanted to hide in a cave and hoped nobody would read it. Really.
It sounds a bit crazy, but I’ve heard it’s very common. You may have also experienced this in the past when publishing a scientific paper! And again, it’s related to impostor syndrome…
But here’s the thing: spreading the word is a significant aspect of the impact you’ll make with these types of publications.
Nature also does an excellent job with their email newsletter, where they give short summaries of the papers they publish. And the same with their Twitter account. So, you can amplify those efforts!
But also, send an email on your own to your colleagues, friends, and family. Post about it on social media, and keep sharing! As a reference, to this day, I share it once a month on my Twitter. ;)
Rejected? Lick your wounds, and send it again!
I started this article off by telling my story of rejection. But, it’s a story with a happy ending.
But not all stories are like that... You probably already know that “rejection is the norm.” And if you want more support for this, I have this article about it.
This year I tried again in Science, and it was rejected (this time, straight away). Then I sent the story to Scientific American, and it was more of the same.
I wanted to have that piece out for the Women in Science week, so I didn’t give up.
Finally, the blog The Female Scientist published it. And I was SO happy. Because I wanted to share it with a new audience. I knew it could help other female scientists.
Of course, it didn't make the same impact as the Nature paper. But it had more impact than if I’d never written that story at all. And I can keep sharing it and amplifying that impact even more. By the way, this tweet is about it, so would you help share it and send it to your colleagues? (This is how you can ask for others to support your next article too!) ;)
With this, we come to an end. I hope you’ve found this article useful, and maybe it has even motivated you to write an article for Nature Careers! And remember, you can download supporting resources here for more information, examples of the pitches I sent, and the first draft so you can compare it with the published article.
If you want to publish in Science, I recommend reading this post by “The Savy Scientist,” where he shares his experience publishing his personal narrative there!
And last but not least, I had the honor recently of hosting a masterclass by Esther Ngumbi. She’s a brilliant science communicator, and you can watch the replay here. She shared many insights and some of her pitches too!
And of course, if this article or the materials inspire you in any way, please send me an email and tell me how it goes!
All the best!