Research, Publishing, and the Importance of Rejections
My name is Karl Melvin, and I’m accredited with the IACP. As a therapist, early in my career, I came to specialize in working adults who were struggling with their family in various ways, to the point where the relationship had completely broken down. In 2016, I returned to college to do a Master’s in Counselling and Psychotherapy, and for my dissertation, I sought a topic that resonated with the work I was doing. After much time exploring papers that addressed different relationship issues, I came upon the term ‘family estrangement’ and delved into the literature. I was quickly struck by how familial the estrangement dynamics and concepts described were, both personally and professionally, and it became obvious that estrangement was what I had been working with all these years. This sparked a desire to focus my research topic on this, and my dissertation became “The Experiences of Familial Estrangement”, which was a qualitative study of five estranged adults who were estranged from one or more family members.
During the first round of participant requests, many came forward, but when it was time to schedule interviews, the majority declined to take part. I feel this reflects the stigma associated with estrangement, although I did eventually find five adults. The interview questions were open-ended to allow the participants the freedom to share their experiences, and it was clearly a tough topic for them to discuss. Although interviews are not therapy, i.e., boundary blurring and safety and privacy were emphasised to them, in hindsight, the participants might have benefited from simple resourcing approaches, such as grounding exercises, to help them feel calm.
After the stressful process of analysing the findings, writing the paper, and finally submitting it, it bothered me that this would now sit on a library shelf or in a database and be rarely looked at. Considering how prevalent estrangement is, with research suggesting it could be anywhere from 1 in 5 families being affected in the UK (Ipsos MORI & Stand Alone, 2014) and 1 in 4 individuals in the US (Pillemer, 2021), and the general shortage of research around this topic, I felt compelled to try to have my findings published to contribute a small body of work as well as offer an Irish voice to this global phenomenon.
I started by selecting a specific theme within the original dissertation to elaborate on. In my clinical practice, while much time is spent exploring the reasons for each estrangement, I have always felt more effective in helping my clients manage the complex impact this is having on their lives. So, I chose to focus the paper on “The Changing Impact and Challenges of Familial Estrangement” (Melvin & Hickey, 2021). However, I wasn’t sure how to find the right publisher, so I started by seeking out existing journals that had already published estrangement papers. I had one journal in mind, and they instantly rejected the submission as they were not interested in the topic now. I eventually found another journal that was interested, but there was a fee if the paper was eventually published. When I declined, as I did not wish to pay to be published, they offered to halve the fee, which I found odd. Despite this, I decided to engage with their editorial team to see if the paper would actually meet the standards of their journal. After three revisions and many hours of work to fulfil their requirements, they eventually rejected the paper on the grounds that someone in the estrangement research community should read it first.
I was disheartened by this and questioned if the paper was suitable for publication. However, I decided to ask for feedback from Australian Professor Kylie Agllias, who is one of the top estrangement researchers and author of the book “Family Estrangement: A Matter of Perspective” (Agllias, 2016). To my surprise, she returned my mail within a few hours, agreed to read the paper, and we scheduled a Zoom call. Her feedback was: 1) the paper represented my own unique perspective and was an important addition to the field; 2) there was nothing wrong with the paper and it just needed to find the right home; and 3) avoid journals that have already explored estrangement. These supportive words inspired me to keep going, and I sought out journals with an emphasis on family or broader societal studies and who might have an interest in estrangement. After three subsequent rejections, I discovered The Family Journal, which was happy to accept it after a few minor changes. In fact, I feel the previous revisions enhanced the quality of the paper and made it easier for the journal to accept it.
After it was published, there was no immediate impact, although the findings in the paper eventually led me to develop a model on how to identify the key characteristics of each estrangement and use this to determine the specific challenges each client might be facing. I have now taught this to over 100 therapists and estranged individuals globally. Over a year after publication, I was surprised to be contacted by a senior social worker in the HSE who found my research. He oversaw a group of therapists within the NCS and requested that I deliver estrangement training to them. Around this time, a colleague suggested that I expand the training material I had created to accompany the course into a full book. As with the paper, I contacted various publishers and was met with many rejections. After the initial frustration, each rejection prompted me to refine both the proposed content and the target audience, and eventually I contacted Routledge, who were interested in a clinical guide to working with estrangement. I finally submitted my manuscript, entitled “Navigating Family Estrangement”, in September 2023, and the book should be out sometime in 2024. With 68% of estranged adults feeling there is a stigma surrounding estrangement (Blake et al., 2015), I also hope to develop more training programs to educate various organisations on the complexity of estrangement and its often-devastating psychological, relational, and social impact. This will hopefully allow more individuals and families to share their experiences without fear of judgment and access the necessary supports they need to recover.
On reflection, the many rejections I experienced along the way ultimately had a strongly positive effect on the course of my professional life, and if anyone is considering getting a paper published, please do not see rejections as anything more than a guide on areas to focus on and to strengthen their resolve.
- Respect the broader importance and potential impact of the chosen topic or research.
- Find the right publisher, and this could be a journal that has not published on the topic before but has a general interest in similar fields.
- Follow the journal guidelines tightly, as each will have its own and will expect strict adherence.
- Do not be afraid to contact other published authors for feedback and advice.
- Accept that rejections are part of the process.
- Also, accept that revisions are part of the process and will eventually improve the paper.
- Decide if they are prepared to pay or not, as this is a personal choice.
- Promote the paper; the work deserves to be seen, so put it out there. Even after publishing, the work might not find an audience for a while.
- Let the entire process guide and influence the direction of the work.
Agllias, K. (2016, October 6). Family Estrangement: A Matter of Perspective. Routledge.
Blake, L., Bland, B., & Golombok, S. (2015). Hidden Voices: Family Estrangement In Adulthood. In https://www.standalone.org.uk. Stand Alone. https://www.standalone.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/HiddenVoices.FinalReport.pdf.
Ipsos MORI & Stand Alone. (2014). Family Estrangement Survey for Stand Alone. In https://www.Standalone.org.uk. https://www.standalone.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/StandAlonePrevalence RESEARCH3.pdf.
Melvin, K., & Hickey, J. (2021, August 31). The Changing Impact and Challenges of Familial Estrangement. The Family Journal, 30(3), 348–356. https://doi.org/10.1177/10664807211035490.
Pillemer, K. (2020, September 8). Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them. Avery.