There's a paper I've been working on for several years now -- one that formed the basis for my dissertation -- but which I just haven't had any luck publishing. To be perfectly frank, for a long while I thought there were very good reasons for reviewers to reject it. I recognized from reader and reviewer comments that there were things that I just had wrong, and other things that I hadn't worked out yet. And so the rejections, while hard to take, were incredibly helpful. They helped me recognize and solve a ton of problems. Now, however, I finally feel pretty confident that I've finally worked most (if not all) of the kinks out. Anyway, to make a long story short...after many major revisions I've gotten reasonably close to publishing the thing a couple of times (i.e. a couple of R&R's) -- close, but still, no cigar.
So what's my query, you ask? Well, before I get to that, let me continue the story a bit. Some might suggest (some have!) that given the trouble I've had publishing the paper, perhaps it would be best to give up on it. However, there are a few reasons I don't think that's appropriate. First, the paper has changed a lot over the years, and I recognize that some things I was doing a while back were mistaken. Second, when objections are raised these days (by readers and reviewers), I have good replies in hand (replies which tend to satisfy people in person and have progressively satisfied more journal reviewers). Third, I keep having well-known and not-so-well-known readers -- and conferences and elsewhere (including, importantly, people who have no vested interest in telling me what I want to hear) -- tell me they think it's a good and important paper, and that I should not give up on it. Finally, and perhaps most importantly (to me, anyway), I still believe in the darn thing. Trust me, I've given up lots of papers for dead. I'm not that obtuse. I recognize when a paper just isn't happening philosophically -- and I'm pretty sure that's just not the case with this paper. Is everything in it perfect? Of course not. There are a few dicey spots, to be sure. But that's the case in just about every paper, even many of the most influential ones we read and teach -- and we tend to tolerate a dicey step here or there if a project is particularly interesting or illuminating (see e.g. Rawls' entire argument for his principles of justice;).
Finally, then, I come to my earnest query: what in the world are reviewers looking for? Really, I don't mean this facetiously, or to disparage reviewers in any way, shape, or form. I mean it in the most earnest way possible. I just don't understand what more I can do with this thing. It's on a hot topic. It steps into uncharted waters. It aims to navigate those waters in a new way -- in a way that many people who have written on the topic have said "really needs to be done" in their papers. And, I think, the arguments in it are good. Further, just to forestall the objection that I might be totally deluded about all of these things, I've had numerous readers -- well-known and less-well-known alike -- tell me all of these things. Now, I suppose it is epistemically possible that I am deluded, and all of the people who've told me good things are incorrect, or dishonest, etc. Epistemically possible yes -- but, I think, unlikely. So, what's the deal? What am I doing wrong? Is this just the way it is sometime? To borrow a phrase from the movie Jerry McGuire (?), help me, help you, help me. Please, I ask, again, in the most earnest way. Truly, any helpful advice, similar experiences, etc., you wish to share would be immensely appreciated. (Heck, I'll even send you the paper if you want, if you're the sort of publishing maniac who's willing to lend your time and awesomeness to a pupae in need:).
Finally, thanks all of you for taking the time to slog through this admittedly strange, frank post. I know we tend to hide our insecurities and frustrations, and only discuss them privately, not in public forums like this. This is something that I've hoped this blog can help serve to change. Sometimes private discussions, as helpful as they can be, just don't quite suffice. A few well-known people here or there saying, "Stick with it -- this is a good paper", or "Yeah, I had this one paper that I think is my best work, but it took seven years to come out", is encouraging. But sometimes, just sometimes, when you've been tirelessly at work on something for years, and the frustrations mount, you need just a little more than that. Sometimes you need help from your friends. Sometimes you just need to ask your friends for help and encouragement, and hope that some among them will answer. Thus, I humbly approach you, my cocooning friends, for your help and/or advice. Help me, help you, help me. ;)