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Give and take: Effective partnership practices propel publishing success

If at first you don’t succeed, try changing mentors.

By Kathleen T. Heinrich
If you yearn for author-mentors to guide you through the publishing process, you’re not alone. As hospitals position themselves for Magnet status and schools of nursing raise the bar for scholarly expectations, more nurses are adding writing for publication to their to-do lists. This means that “mentor hunger” (Heinrich, Clark, & Luparell, 2008), along with competition for journal space, is on the rise.
With too few mentors to go around, would-be authors ask colleagues to serve mentoring functions as supporters, editors and/or co-authors. Before rushing out to find yourself a peer mentor, however, consider this: Unless you ask for the help you need from someone able to give it, peer-mentoring interactions may leave you hungrier still.
To underscore the difference between unexpressed wishes and conscious contracts, here are two stories, told in the words of a nurse I’ll call Donna. Note how Donna transforms her unmet hopes for mentoring in the first story into a pleasurable and productive, peer-mentoring partnership in the second.
Wishing and hoping
After graduating from my DNP program, I accepted a tenure-track faculty position. My biggest challenge in moving from clinical practice to academe was scholarship. I was OK with presenting; it was the publishing that scared me silly. So I was thrilled when Pat, a faculty colleague who was also a published author, asked me to collaborate on a manuscript related to a course we were co-teaching. I agreed right away, no questions asked.
Instead of the step-by-step guidance in the publishing process I was hoping for, Pat asked that I write a brief reflection on our co-teaching experience. After she returned it with questions that read like criticisms, I asked Pat for a meeting to discuss her expectations. No need, Pat replied; she’d write a draft with what she had. A few days later, Pat sent an e-mail, asking me to review an attachment of our manuscript. Several weeks after I sent it back with my feedback, Pat forwarded to me the journal editor’s confirmation that our manuscript was under review. It hurt that none of my feedback made it into Pat’s final version. Even though I never said anything about the way things had gone, our co-teaching relationship is still strained.
If you have ever leapt into a writing collaboration with high hopes and come away with your zest for the project drained and your relationship in tatters, you understand Donna’s predicament. While she may not have learned much about the publishing process, Donna got a tutorial in the misunderstandings and miscommunications that often come with misaligned expectations.
The partnership alternative
Having sworn off trying to publish with faculty colleagues, Donna felt lost. Her tenure clock was ticking, her promotion was in jeopardy and her writing projects were going nowhere. But, when Donna attended a faculty development workshop on writing for publication and heard the facilitator say that partnerships with colleagues can be the secret to publishing success, she was willing to give it another try. To show how give-and-take collaborations work, the facilitator asked participants to pick a partner for the semester. Donna chose Ilana because they were both “new docs” who were also new to the faculty.
The facilitator went on to explain that there are three phases in partnerships: exploration, commitment and closure. If, after exploring each other’s wishes and concerns, partners decide there’s a match, they negotiate a partnership agreement. This agreement turns their wish list into a contract and their fears into a covenant. Contracts specify the “what,” the nuts-and-bolts details of who does what when, whereas covenants address the “how,” the how-partners-treat-one-another portion of the agreement.
Donna tells the rest of her story in two parts. The first describes how she and Ilana explored their wishes and fears and committed to a contract and covenant; the second describes how they brought their partnership to closure after reflecting on what worked and what needed change.
Part I. Exploration and commitment (January)
Ilana and I began exploring whether we had a match by sharing our wishes. My wish was getting a publication from my DNP capstone project, and Ilana said she could help. Her first manuscript from her dissertation had just been published, and she said she would teach me what her committee chair taught her about the process. Ilana, on the other hand, was looking for a faculty colleague to edit a manuscript she wanted to submit to a nursing education journal. I knew I could help her with that.
It was such fun to share our wishes and so good to discover we had a match. I was surprised at how shaky I felt when sharing my fear that Ilana would give up on me when she found out how little I knew about getting published. Ilana admitted later that her heart had been pounding when she told me her fear—that my edits would feel so critical that she would give up and never complete her manuscript. Our first instinct was to allay each other’s fears. So, when our facilitator said that wanting to protect each other’s vulnerabilities is a sign of “partnership potential,” we knew we had a fit.
Below is Donna and Ilana’s partnership agreement.  Notice that partnerships are renegotiable. This keeps partners flexible and partnership agreements responsive to changing conditions.

When the faculty group reconvened at the end of the semester, the workshop facilitator asked each dyad to share their partnership experiences. Here’s Donna’s response.
Part II. Reflection and closure (May)
I noticed that those who had followed through on their partnership agreements were just as excited as we were about reaching the goals we set in January. When it was our turn, Ilana told the group that, after several cycles of my editing and her revising, she felt confident that her manuscript had a strong chance of being accepted for publication. I shared how Ilana’s input helped me write such a strong query to the editor of my first-choice journal that he wrote back in 24 hours, asking to review my manuscript. Ilana’s sensitive feedback helped me draft a manuscript that was almost ready to submit.
After everyone in the workshop had shared, we were given time to bring closure to our partnerships by dialoguing about what had worked and what we would change. What worked for us was meeting our publishing goals (contract) and honoring each other’s requests for compassionate and constructive feedback (covenant). We agreed there was nothing we would change. With our partnership completed, we vowed to look for other opportunities to collaborate with each other and to use partnership practices to ask for and get what we need in future collaborations with others.
In contrast to Donna’s experience with Pat, which left her knowing little about the publishing process and still hungry for a scholar-mentor, she came away from her partnership with Ilana empowered with a systematic approach for negotiating mutually beneficial partnerships to meet future scholarly goals.
Instead of wishing and hoping that your next writing project goes well, ask for what you want and negotiate a partnership agreement with a colleague who can help. I’ve introduced three partnership practices that can keep writing collaborations productive and pleasurable from start to finish: explore each other’s wishes and fears; commit to a contract and covenant; and bring closure by dialoguing about what worked and what needs to be changed. Negotiate mutually beneficial partnerships, and see how these give-and-take collaborations keep writing projects so zestful that your network of peer mentors grows as your list of publications lengthens. RNL
Consultant, author and speaker Kathleen T. Heinrich, PhD, RN, is principal of K T H Consulting in Guilford, Connecticut, and author of the book A Nurses’ Guide to Presenting and Publishing: Dare to Share.
Heinrich, K.T., Clark, C., & Luparell, S. (2008). What are three words that can turn competitions into collaborations. In K.T. Heinrich (Ed.), A nurse’s guide to presenting and publishing: Dare to share. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
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