Friday, July 31, 2009

A Crushing Rejection

The philosophical journal Philosophical Quarterly runs annual essay prize competitions on particular topics. The last one was on "Creativity"; the prize was £1,500, which I think comes to about USD$273,000 (whatever it is, it buys few nice bottles at RMW). Now, I love "calls for papers", as the deadline gets me writing rather than letting a paper languish half done. I hate them because they involve deadlines! So after reading about every book and paper on creativity I can get my hands on in the three months or so I have before the deadline hits, I'm a few days away and need to begin writing. The night before was my first all-nighter since college (and last, I'm thinking). The paper [pdf] wasn't spectacular, but it made some interesting points I thought. I wasn't expecting to win (or really thinking it was a possibility), but I was hoping to get into the issue (that seemed less like a long shot when I pressed the 'send' button, in my no-sleep-haze).

As expected, I did not win. But there was a faint ray of sunshine: the editors mentioned that they had been contacted by some people who were editing a volume on Creativity and wanted people (especially rejects from the PQ issue, I expect!) to know about them. So I dropped them a line inquiring about the project: Did they have a publisher lined up? If so who? Were they under contract? What was the dominant displinary persuasion of the volume supposed to be? Had some contributions already been secured? And so on. I added: "The paper I wrote is entitled "Two Aspects of Scientific Creativity". I'm working on revising it now. A draft copy is on my webpage here [link]".
A while later, one of them (who turned out to be a graduate student in psychology, I think) emailed me back: "We greatly appreciate your interest in the project and we are including the essay you directed us to among our submissions. We will be getting back to you in June ’09 once our selections are finalized."

Me: "Thanks for your message, but before you consider my paper submitted to your volume, would you please answer my questions about it? Publisher? Committed authors? The focus is then on philosophical aspects of creativity?" If this book is vaporware, not in (or near) philosophy, not done by a good publisher, I don't need to go there — I'm happy enough to let the paper simmer on my research backburner for a while. It's crowded there, but I'd make room.

Them (roughly): [Some of the details requested. A well-respected publisher "has expressed interest".] Having dealt with publishers, I know that "expressing interest" is worth about zero when it comes to pushing through to a volume (on the topic, I just saw this). And there were other things that made me somewhat concerned.

I decided to put the paper on the backburner. Definitely needs more thought/tinkering/major-renovation (the usual). I need to read more on the topic (suggestions welcome, btw). I probably should have emailed them to say, "Hey guys, thanks, but I've decided not to submit for your volume. I'm, uh, holding out for a bolt of insight and then will send it to a journal." Well, I probably could have finessed it better than that. But anyway, I didn't respond (thinking my failure to actually submit the paper would amount to just that: my not being a submitter) and onto the backburner the paper went. Just the other week, I get this email:
Dear Matthew Slatter [sic],
Though we enjoyed your essay, “Two aspects of scientific creativity,” and we hope you will find a good home for it in publication, we are sorry to inform you that it will not be included in the volume we are editing on the philosophy of creativity. We received a windfall of excellent potential chapters and, alas, we can only include a few.
Given your interest in the subject, however, we thought you might be interested to attend a conference we will be hosting on the philosophy of creativity next year. The exact details are still to be determined, but it will be held at Barnard College, Columbia University, most likely in November 2010. If you would like to be notified about this event once the schedule is confirmed, please let us know and we’ll keep you posted; we would be happy to have you join us.
So, yeah. . . . A paper that was sitting on my webpage, in draft . . . was rejected. Man does that sting! I'd better right this ship lest I find other papers (or worse: talks; or worse still: classes!) similarly rejected. I'd enquire about the conference, but I'm a little scared of what might happen to my ego should I accidentally submit something again.
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