I came from an SLAC and am currently in my last year of the MA program at well-respected graduate department (it's not ranked by Leiter, but given an honorable mention). The program here requires you to start and finish your MA before you can apply into the PhD program. I have been having great anxiety about my prospects of getting into a strong PhD program (because of the lack of financial aid here, I will not be staying on at my current school), and then if I do get in, there are of course the well-documented terrors of the job market.
After some long and intense conversations, I decided with my partner's support that it was in our best interests for me to stop (temporarily) at the MA and spend some time gaining experience and other marketable qualities (which is not to say that the skills gained from doing philosophy are not marketable, but are probably not immediately appealing to employers outside of academia) before hopefully one day returning to complete my PhD at another institution. In the meantime, I plan to continue to read, fill in my philosophical gaps, research and write when I can and I would like to make an attempt at publishing while I'm off the academic route.
This brings me to my questions for you and all the other Smokers. Is there a danger of going stale in the eyes of admissions departments if I have a large gap since my MA, especially if my grandiose plans of reading, writing and publishing don't come to fruition (as they often don't)?
My other question has to do with publishing. Will I not be taken seriously by journals and conferences because I only have a MA and am not currently working toward a PhD, in other words that I have no institutional affiliation? Blind review theoretically should prevent this, but I guess the editor could reject me on that basis alone, right? Without the benefit of professors and peers commenting on my work and helping me improve it (although there is nothing preventing them from helping a former student, their efforts and time is and should be focused on their current students), it is unlikely that my work would be at the same caliber of the philosophers who get published in the top journals. From reading your blog and others, it seems clear that not only does it matter that you publish, but also where you publish, and publishing in un-established or generally unknown journals could hurt your more than help you. Should I not even bother trying to publish in the top journals, is it acceptable to try to publish in lower-tier journals given the circumstances? Would that be taken into account by institutions I apply to for my PhD and, later down the line, institutions where I try to get a job? Or should I simply not attempt to publish at all?
My guess is that a gap after the MA would matter to admissions committees about as much as a gap after the undergraduate degree which--which, as far as I know, is not at all.
That's not to say it won't cause problems. It will. Your writing sample might suffer if there's an extended period of time during which your head's not in philosophy. And if your letter-writers have to think back to the long-ago time when you were in their classes, it'll be harder for them to write helpful letters. But I know lots of people who spent substantial amounts of time away from philosophy after college, and who still managed to produce writing samples and secure helpful letters, and were subsequently admitted to good, Leiter-ranked Ph.D. programs.
Regarding the possibility of publishing while away from academia: it seems to me that it will be very difficult to produce work of publishable quality during this time. For one thing, the benefits of being immersed in philosophy in the manner of a philosophy grad student are enormous. Doing coursework; reading a lot; writing a lot; going to talks; participating in reading groups; talking philosophy with the faculty and the other grad students. It's all very beneficial, and you don't get the benefits if you're not there.
For another thing, and I know you know this, but the fact is that it's hard to write a publishable philosophy paper, and I'm not confident that the level of training you'd have by virtue of completing an MA would be enough. For example, I did a master's degree program and I don't regard anything I wrote during that period to be remotely publishable. And I don't think I'm alone--I don't think anything any of my master's-program classmates produced was publishable, either. I'm pretty certain that none of it was ever published, anyway.
Regarding the possibility that your unaffiliated status will get in the way: It might. Although most refereeing is blind, my understanding is that a good deal of editing is not. So it's possible that your unaffiliated status will hurt you, although it's hard to say what the total effect will be. Probably more in some journals than others.
But I don't think we've reached a point where publishing is necessary for admission to Ph.D. programs. Have we? That would be awful. I think that the upshot is, you'll be fine. Concentrate on keeping your mind on philosophy, producing a good writing sample without worrying about publishing it, and stay in touch with the faculty at your MA-granting department. Let them know what your plans are, and ask them for help.