Once a journal has accepted your work, you still have some time to polish it up (e.g. by adding references to the most recently published work, or by tinkering with your prose, or by addressing lesser criticisms in your readers’ reports). Most journals now process accepted manuscripts through a software system that will let you upload your final manuscript and will subsequently lead you through the publication process.
If you are a UK author, you are now also required to upload your paper – the version that was accepted by the journal – into your institution’s online repository within three months of acceptance. You can still change the paper before the submission of the final manuscript to the publisher, and you may if you wish upload the later versions, but you must upload the version that the journal first accepted (what’s called the ‘accepted author manuscript’) within three months. This will make it eligible for the REF – but it doesn’t mean that it will be freely available (‘open access’) immediately. Your repository ought to allow you to impose an ‘embargo period’, during which the paper remains inaccessible to others, of up to two years, depending on your journal’s policy. This embargo period allows your journal to recoup a moderate subscription charge from readers who will have early access to your work; after the embargo period, your paper will be freely available to be read through the repository (the version that people need to cite will still only be available through the journal).
Different open-access requirements apply if your research has been funded by a research council (e.g. AHRC, ESRC). For more information on the technical requirements for research-council funded research, see the RHS’s Information Sheet on Open Access for RCUK-Funded Historians. The same sheet has information about the different open-access licences that you may be offered; these licences determine which of your rights as author you are willing to give up in order to extend use of your work by others.
Each journal has its own procedures for dealing with the final version of your paper after you’ve uploaded it. Normally they will ‘copy-edit’ it – a professional copy-editor will suggest changes for clarity, consistency, and conformity with the journal’s house style – and you will have an opportunity to respond to these suggested changes. They will, separately, ask you to ‘proofread’ it after it has been formatted for publication – at this stage, you should limit the changes you make to corrections of typographical errors and other small errors. Most journals are still paginated and more extensive correction messes up pagination. It may take up to a year between acceptance and publication, although many journals now put the final copy-edited, formatted and proofed texts on their websites in advance of the formal publication date. Again, this may appear to be slow to you – but at each stage, your paper is getting better.