Saturday, September 14, 2013

Revise and Regret? Regret and Resubmit?

Nate Jensen has a great piece circulating the interwebs on the pains of academic article publishing.   I am always conflicted about this process.  Lots of people complain about how broken the blind referee process is--that reviewers can be unfair or lazy or incompetent, that editors can be careless, slow, or inconsistent.  That the process takes too long.

I am not in love with the process partly because I review stuff, which I don't want to do, and partly because I get stuff smacked down, which hurts my fragile ego.  But as with democracy and with NATO, it is probably the least bad of the alternatives.

Jensen tells the tale of a piece that won an award for being a great APSA paper and then lists the places that rejected it, some without a chance to revise and resubmit and some after that.  The recent case that comes to my mind is this ISQ piece that Dave Auerswald and I published last year.  It went through a few journals before ISQ agreed to publish it in 2010.  It was frustrating because Afghanistan was going on and on, and stuff might happen that would make our paper "overcome by events."  Or that someone might scoop us and write a better, or at least published, version of our argument.

But a funny thing happened along the way--our article got better and better.  We added more cases (Canada was apparently not sufficiently interesting on its own, but also it was certainly less persuasive than when combined with the French and the German cases).  We significantly improved the theory, and the writing probably got better as well.  So, the process was frustrating but it worked--the paper got better.  And the feedback we received helped us as we revised the book (pre-order now!?).  I am sure the reviews of our book were less painful and our publication process far smoother since we had already been beaten about the head and shoulders by the reviewers at the journals that rejected us (and by the folks who gave us comments at various talks).

The only really dumb thing we were told in the review process was that the article did not really seem to fit International Organization.  That is, our article could have been more about international organizations, but given that the article was about NATO and how it actually operates in wartime, we kind of felt: um, duh.  Otherwise, we got good advice, and we tried to address the criticisms as best we can.

It does not make the process of submitting, revising and resubmitting any less painful--we do not have the thickest of skins.  But knowing that it did improve the work makes it easier to tolerate the slings and arrows of the review process.

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