How not to succeed in publishing a paper on an FGM trial, and keep trying

27/07/2019 Comments Off on How not to succeed in publishing a paper on an FGM trial, and keep trying

In February 2019 an African-born woman living in the UK was the first person to be convicted of the genital cutting (FGM) of her small daughter. I observed the trial and wrote a long blog about it, which I posted here. I have never previously considered a “blog” to be a published piece of writing. As a journal editor, I believe what is published needs to be peer reviewed or go through at least some sort of editorial process. To me, a blog is a thinking place, to get your ideas down, and then work on them until they’re ready for submission for publication. Or at least, that is what I tell myself today. However, to be honest, I hadn’t really thought about it at all until I found myself unable to publish a revised version of the article in a “real” publication because an earlier version of it had appeared on my blog — even though very few people read this blog — and a survey would probably show that they (you) are not readers of at least three if not all four of the places I’ve submitted it for publication so far.

The sentencing took place on 8 March 2019. I revised the paper because of that. I had already revised it when I decided it should be submitted somewhere for publication. So far, I have revised it at least four or five times.

Of the four places I have submitted it to so far, the first one (a clinical journal) turned it down because they were afraid they might be sued for being critical of the legal handling of the case. What? my friends said, of course people can criticise lawyers and judges. But this was a medical journal. The second one (a review magazine) accepted the paper. I was thrilled. Then several weeks later they must have noticed on the last page during editing that an earlier version could be found on my blog (well,  I wasn’t trying to hide it!). So they dumped it. They didn’t think there was anything wrong with accepting a paper and then changing their minds. Indeed, they even offered to pay me for the loss of time involved. I felt that would make me complicit in breaking what I have always understood as a contractual agreement, so I said no, very cheesed off. My friends said there must be another reason. I thought they were right. But there wasn’t.

Then I sent it to a newspaper that publishes longer papers every week. No reply at all… The fourth place (a medico-legal journal) also said they would like to publish it but again, I would need to revise it substantially from the version on the blog first. In hopes it might help, I took the blog post down. It didn’t help. Frankly, I don’t know what they expected. The bulk of the paper is a description of what happened in the trial. I couldn’t rewrite that. I revised a fair amount of the commentary/discussion sections of the paper, sharpening my thinking, bringing in new information, but I was kidding myself to think they would accept it, just as they were kidding themselves that I could revise it to their satisfaction.

Never mind. As an editor, I know too well how often authors go through this. Why should I be exempt? And the paper was getting better and better in the process, if I do say so myself. Unfortunately, no one was reading it except me.

So, in case you’re wondering why it isn’t posted here anymore, this is why. And in the five months I have lost on this so far, I have discovered to my great disappointment that two publications that I respected a lot were more concerned about publishing something that had appeared in an earlier version on a blog than doing their part to help challenge the conviction of a woman that I believe was unsafe. A woman who is in prison for the next 13 years. Which is why I wrote the paper in the first place. What does that say about their priorities and sense of political responsibility as publications, do you think?

I’ve not given up. I revised it again last night, even more than before… I submitted it to another journal, but their word limit was half the length of the paper and it took them less time to reject it than it took me to go through the online submission process. Then I sent it to the editor of a journal whose subject is totally in line with the dual issues covered by the paper. No, thanks, it’s not academic enough, but more like a blog. Now what?

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