Thursday, September 1, 2011

How to handle a journal rejection

In one of my prior posts I discussed how to write reviews for journals. Sometimes those reviews result in good news from the editor, like a revise and resubmit (R&R) decision. The majority of reviews, though, will probably result in a rejection letter. This is the result of basic math, given that top-tier journals have acceptance rates well below 50%. Having recently experienced two back-to-back article rejections myself (same journal, I might add), I figured it might be useful to talk about how I, personally, handle having my manuscript rejected, as well as some thoughts on how to effectively deal with it.

One of Einstein's more relevant theories

First off, this is typically the timeframe I go through with my rejections, and my actions/thoughts along the way:

Day 1: The editor and reviewers at journal X are complete idiots!! Efffffffff Yooooooooooo reviewers!!!

Day 2: Ugh, I can't read this review again without getting angry.  Efff Yoooo!

Day 3-14: [Do something else]

Day 15: [After rereading the manuscript and making comments on the draft]  Hmmm, maybe my submission wasn't as strong as I thought, and maybe the editor and reviewers are only mildly stupid (Eff Yoo!). Still, they might have brought up a couple things that I might be able to fix.  ...And maybe the manuscript was a little long and did have a few too many appendices.  I'll work on the revision tomorrow.

Day 16-???: [Revise manuscript]

Day ??? + 1: Ok, the manuscript has been revised, it's much better than the previous submission, so now where should I send it?  Obviously I can't resubmit to journal X (eff u), so lemme look into journal X...


Does this above sound like a good timeline/plan that might help you get over a manuscript rejection?  Did you just get a rejection and are still stewing with righteous anger?  If so, then read my step-by-step instructions below!

First, when you initially get the rejection email or letter, you'll likely feel like this:

'Generalizability Concerns?'
Well Effff Yoooooo!!! least, I typically do.  I bet there are few people who can receive a rejection letter and feel fine about it.

I recommend the very first thing you do is print and read the rejection comments (from the editor and the reviewers, if included) as soon as possible, preferably that same day.  

Next, do one (or more) of the following to the pages you just read:

  • Burn them (watch out for smoke detectors)
  • Smash them into a ball and punch it with your fist
  • Shred it in the paper shredder.  Throw in a blank CD-R at the same time for a feel-good crunching sound
  • Tear it to bits and toss it in the air like confetti (make sure to do this in a common area that you don't have to clean up)
  • Stomp on it (works better if you first crunch it into a ball), and then kick the smushed ball across the room.
  • Use them for gun/archery/whatever target practice (this one is probably the most satisfying)

Tony recently had his manuscript rejected from
the Journal of Drug Control Policy...
They didn't like his theoretical model I guess.
...feel better?  Only a little?  Ok, good enough for now.

Now that you're hopefully feeling a little better, reward yourself with a treat.  You've earned it, so treat yourself to a box of cookies (or a drink, or a steak, whatever).  You might be asking: "But my manuscript just got rejected?!? What did I do to earn a reward?"  Ahh, it's what you didn't do that earned you the reward.  Specifically you (probably) didn't:
  • Fire off a snarky email to the editor telling them off
  • Punch a hole in your LCD monitor
  • Throw your laptop across the room and/or into the face of a coworker
  • Curl into a little ball and cry (though it's ok if you did this one... you can still have a cookie)
So, treat yourself with cookies or something.
C is also for Craptastic Reviewers
Ok, now that you're hopefully a little calmer and feeling a little better, this next part is very, very important.  If you're not under an extreme deadline to get the paper published (e.g., you're racing against a competing academic so you don't get scooped), then take a week or two without looking at either the paper, the associated data, or (ESPECIALLY) the rejection email/reviews.  Just work on something else for a week or two.

After a couple weeks, you should be feeling a little more like this:
A little less pissed off... that's good!, still a little hurt, and a little pissed off, but you're getting there.  Now, read through your original submission (the one that got rejected), and try and read it as if you're a reviewer and that is not your own writing.  As soon as you're done reading what you submitted, then read the rejection letter and reviews again.

Having read what you submitted, do the reviews seem a little more legitimate in their critiques? Oh really, your submission was perfect?  THEN READ IT AGAIN.  Ok, did you find something that might be worthy of revising a little?  Good.  So, how do you feel towards the reviewers/editor now?

Notice the smile?  That's the spirit!

Ok, that's good!  So, you probably noticed that your masterpiece of a manuscript had a few places that you could improve.  If so, great!  Get to work revising the manuscript, trying to incorporate into the revised version as many of the valid critiques from the reviewers and/or editor as you feel comfortable with.  Eventually, you'll have a finished revision that you can submit to a different journal, hopefully with a better outcome this time (if not, start back at the beginning of this post).

Regardless of whether your coping strategies are similar or different (or the advice above works for you), you should at least be willing to revise the manuscript and send it somewhere else.  Don't let a single rejection result in tossing the manuscript in the garbage (maybe after 3 rejections, but not after the first...).  Also, you have to keep in mind that any decent journal is going to reject more manuscripts than they accept, so chances are if you send them something else, they won't hold your prior rejection against you, and so you shouldn't hold the prior rejection against them (eventually... give yourself some time to be pissed with them).

Image Credits: Finger Old_Finger Young_Finger Tony Cookie_Monster Einstein

1 comment:

  1. Great post - it's so important to talk about the emotions associated with rejection rather than treat it as though it is a purely 'academic' ( pardon the pun) exercise to submit/get rejected/resubmit .