As I student, I wrote lots of papers. It was clear when I was done with a paper, because I turned it in and got a grade. As a professor, I write with an eye towards publishing. When I’m happy enough with a paper, I submit it somewhere. When it’s rejected, then what?1
Rejection is a strange and ambiguous thing. Sometimes rejection is because the journal had too many submissions or because the referee was just cranky. There’s no extra stamp to indicate that the paper just isn’t publishable.2 I revise it or don’t, and then I submit it somewhere else. Some papers, even ones that find a good home in the end, are rejected multiple times.
Referee comments are sometimes helpful in revising the paper, but sometimes the referee wanted it to be about something different and gives advice on how to change it into that other paper that they’d rather see. Making a massive overhaul to a paper before submitting it elsewhere runs the risk of making it overall worse.
Some papers eventually reach a point when they need to be set aside. The indications are vague and the portents unclear, however, so I am never sure when to decide that a paper is a lost cause.3
The prompt for all this whingeing is my paper Emoji art: The aesthetics of 💩. Some referees recommended rejection because it did not spend more time on the question of whether it is possible to make art with emoji.4 Some referees recommended rejection because the paper was too light on philosophy, while others recommended rejection because it was too much philosophy and not enough of general interest.
It’s possible that referees were more prone to recommend rejection because of the unserious use of “💩” in the title. Part of the paper is about how Unicode has made emoji as legitimate as any other character, though, so having one in the title exhibits the phenomena that the paper is about.
Referee comments prompted revision in various ways over the course of several drafts. I never completely overhauled the paper, however, because I’m genuinely interested in the ontological structure of emoji works.5
It is possible (likely, even) that the paper’s not very good, so don’t read this as a complaint about journals. I’m just ruminating on the fact that, despite having been a professional philosopher for many years, I still haven’t figured this out. And I’m putting the last nail in the coffin of the emoji paper.
- In threads about publication, there’s usually someone who writes dismissively that anything will get published if you send it to enough different journals. I wonder whether they’ve actually tried it.
- On the contrary, boilerplate editorial correspondence is written to be encouraging.
- I usually put drafts of papers on my website. Some of these find interested readers who cite them in their own work. I try to post final versions of those which can be cited as unpublished manuscripts.
- This struck me as weird. It’s possible to make art with anything, so spending a long time on the possibility of emoji art would just be pointless flexing.
- The photo by RStevens, at the end of this post, obliquely raises the issue.