So, you’ve submitted your paper to the BJPS and waited with bated breath for, well, hopefully not too long and then your email pings! And there is the longed for response which says…
In the light of the referees’ comments, which are below, we have decided not to publish your paper as it currently stands. As you will appreciate, the Journal receives a large number of high quality submissions every year, and consequently competition for space in the journal is intense. However, if you choose to revise your paper in line with the referees’ reports and resubmit it, we would be willing to reconsider it.
Now, do not despair: that’s not an outright ‘do not darken our electronic door with this paper ever again’ rejection—if you choose to revise and resubmit, we will reconsider it. Your first step, then, is to read through the accompanying referee reports. At this stage we would recommend that you read them quite quickly, take a deep breath, shake your fists at the sky, and shout imprecations at the referees, their families, their close friends, yay, even at the very gods of academe themselves. And then put the reports away, perhaps in a closed drawer, make yourself a nice cup of tea or pour yourself a stiff drink, whatever, sit down, and think about something else for the next week or so.
After a suitable cooling-off period (not too long please, as after six months, the system will treat your paper as a new submission), go back to the reports and you will almost certainly find that they are vastly more reasonable than you recalled and, perhaps, even helpful. At this point you should go through the report, point by pitiless point, and make the changes to your paper that the referees suggest. Of course, there may be some that you balk at, or that constitute a personal line in the sand. That’s fine, but think carefully: do you want to jeopardise the acceptance of your paper simply because the referee has made a suggestion that sticks in your throat?! There may be some that you just cannot stomach—that’s ok, occasionally referees want authors to write the paper they would have written and its perfectly acceptable to put one’s foot down and say ‘no’! But reserve that reaction for only the most extreme demands. In most cases the referees do genuinely want to help you construct a better paper and, from our lofty perspective, many of the comments are indeed constructive, useful, and sometimes even insightful.
Referees may sometimes (rarely in our view) urge you to make changes that pull in different directions. Sometimes we might indicate which report you should give more weight to. But typically this is a choice you have to make. If you can effect a compromise, that’s obviously excellent; but if not, you may just have to decide whose suggestions to follow (you can always give a tip of the hat to the alternative in a footnote, for example). If this generates a problem (and that rarely happens in our experience), we will take your reasoning into account. Our decision making process is not algorithmic for this reason (among others), and we have over-ridden referees’ demands when the author has given good reasons for not acceding to them.
Once you’ve appropriately revised the paper, resubmit away but make sure you include a letter detailing the changes you have made and indicating the suggestions that for you lie just too far beyond the pale. Remember: once your paper is back in the system, it is likely to be sent out to the original referees. So, here’s a helpful hint: don’t make snarky comments about their reports, or their philosophical views, or their academic upbringing or reject their comments outright—this will not help your case!! That seems obvious perhaps, but we do sometimes get revisions that are so grudging in their response, or so minimal with regard the changes made that we are not surprised when the referees react by clicking the ‘reject’ button. The name of the game is to get your paper published so don’t jeopardise that with a churlish attitude!
Now, sometimes a referee may indicate that he/she does not want to see the paper again; or they are just not available, for whatever reason, to review the resubmission. That’s obviously unfortunate, not only because we have to find a third referee, but because the new referee may have further, or even entirely different, comments from the first two (although we do indicate in our invitation that they would be dealing with a resubmission). However, there’s not a lot we can do about this as we very rarely let a resubmission go forward with only one referee (we might if someone recommends ‘accept’ at round one, but the phrase ‘as rare as hen’s teeth’ comes to mind). If this happens to you, treat the new referee’s report as a further opportunity to shape and polish your work (after throwing further curses to the heavens!).
Of course, success is not guaranteed and it may be that the referees feel that the revisions are not sufficient. That may prompt a further round of review or lead us to conclude that it is better to stop the process at this stage and decide on rejection. That’s obviously disappointing, but we do hope that the suggestions will have helped improve the piece in various ways or at least given you some useful comments to think about. Having said that, we don’t recommend ‘revise and resubmit’ unless we genuinely think that your paper has the potential to be published in the BJPS. If you take the comments seriously and revise accordingly, there’s every chance it will eventually be accepted.
Finally, we hope the above advice is helpful and good luck with your submission!