Publishing in Academic Journals Part 3: Dealing with Rejction & Resubmission
Posted by Sarah-Louise Quinnell

This is the third and final part of a series of posts giving advice on how to get published in academic journals. This week Professor Chris Hamnett from the Geography Department at King’s College London offers advice on dealing with rejection and resubmission.

One of the toughest things young researchers have to deal with is the letter from the editor of the journal they submitted to saying ‘thanks, but no thanks’. The first thing to understand is that while total rejection letters are always tough to deal with, letters saying ‘no thanks’ but suggesting they are willing to consider resubmission are very common, perhaps even normal, and they are by no means confined to young researchers. If my experience is anything to go on (and it may not be), most researchers, however experienced and well known, have a nice file of ‘reject but resubmit’ letters. In fact, if I remember correctly, in the introduction to one of his classic early books, David Harvey recounted that he had a drawer full of rejections at the start of his career. It happens to everyone.

I was lucky. The first two papers I submitted, right at the start of my career were accepted, subject to the inevitable modifications. This gives you a bit of confidence so that when the first rejection or resubmission letter arrives you don’t see it as a vote of no confidence in you as a researcher.  You may not be this fortunate, but you need to read the editors letter and the referees comments with great care. Occasionally, you may be fortunate enough to get three referees who are all positive, but this is relatively unusual. Quite typically, one referee likes the paper, another likes it but says it has weaknesses, and a third dismisses it as deeply flawed. If you get three referees who all say that the paper is of limited value or flawed, you will probably get a straight rejection letter with no right of resubmission  and the best thing may be to start again once you have digested their comments and reflected on them. The important thing to realise is that if you submit to a prestige journal the editor will probably get 3 or 4 times as many papers as they can publish, and anything which is not almost perfect is going to get some form of revise and resubmit letter. Straight acceptance, or acceptance with minor revisions is relatively unusual.  If you get one of those count yourself very fortunate.

If you do get a reject but resubmit letter the key thing is to read the referees comments carefully and try to deal with them as fully as possible in your revised version. Most referees comments are extremely useful and point out how you can improve the paper to make it fit for publication. And do make sure that you resubmit. You have a foot in the door. But making a few cosmetic changes is very unlikely to work, and it is very likely that you will then get a straight rejection.  Dealing with referees comments can take a lot of time, but it is worth doing.  You may find that some referees are simply critical and negative but they are in a minority in my experience.

The best thing about the blind refereeing system is that experience and position do not enter the equation. One of the most entertaining memories I have is about 15 years ago when I had sent a paper to a journal. After a few months I received two letters in the same post. The first was to tell me that the editor could not accept the paper as it stood, and suggesting I may wish to resubmit taking into account the referees comments. The second letter was an invitation to become the next editor of the journal. The moral of this tale is that rejections or requests to resubmit papers  are part of academic life and they affect all academics. Don’t be disheartened when you get your first. We have all had them, and we still get them.

Sarah-Louise Quinnell. Posted by Sarah-Louise Quinnell


5 Comments Posted in Pitching & Publishing, Self Promotion, Writing
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5 Comments

  1. It is very important not to get dejected if your paper is not accepted in the first attempt. Great article from Professor Hamnett.

  2. Some really great points here – I’ve also found that setting aside comments from reviewers for a R&R article can help soften the blow of the eventaul revisions. It’s easy to get immediately defensive, but I also try to remember that these people want to help make my article better. After a week or so when I go back to their comments, I’m grateful that I have them so that the article will be out in the world as a more polished piece.

  3. After 11 straight rejections I think I am done. I have been submitting papers to peer-reviewed journals since May 2009 and until today nothing has worked out. My tenure is now in serious danger. The point is that I do not want to fool myself any further,the brutal truth is that I am just not good enough. It is normal to find excuses, to complain about the peer-review system, but probably it is just me.

    The reviewers do not know who I am and they are expects; if my papers were truly good some should have been accepted for publication. The reality is that 11 different people, who are professionals, believe that I am not good enough, why should they be wrong? I think it is that more plausible that I am wrong.

    I am starting to think that my past has been a lie. The admission to a very prestigious PhD program, the positive remarks of my PhD examiners.I think that I have been probably very lucky until now. Probably I simply met nice people who wrongly believed that I was good, while in fact I am not.

    My school career proves my point. I have been a very strange student. Some teachers thought I was very good, some that I was very bad. I experienced getting the highest and the lowest grades. My results had nothing to do with my effort, I has always been very studious. In the past I believed that the teachers who did not value me were fool, maybe I was the fool.

    There was a time in which I thought that the system was unfair; I questioned the validity of peer-reviews and of the tenure-track system. Now I am ready to be honest: I was deluding myself. The tenure-track system is just there to make sure that people who seem to be good but cannot deliver, like myself, are kicked out.

    I have no alibi. My institution gave me enough time to work on my research. It is true that in my institution I have no one to share my work with, but it is also true that at this stage of my career I should be able to take care of myself.

    There is something very very sad about all of this. I am a very hard-working and honest person. I work as hard as I can and put all of myself into what I do. Nonetheless, it is not enough. Getting published is not about how hard you work, it is about how clever and original you are.

    I still have 2 years before I am up for tenure and to be honest what scares me the most is my determination and persistence. I know that I am a very strong willed person, but here is the problem: is persistence always a virtue? What if we delude ourselves that we can do something when we just cannot? We can try all our life to walk through a wall, but we will never succeed. I think that may be persistence is sometimes a form of dishonesty. In my case, I feel that I cannot accept being a mediocre scholar and will keep trying to prove others wrong. In the process I will kill myself with work, worries, and anger and then…I may still fail. I am sure you read stories about people who failed countless times but succeeded in the end. But what if it is also true that some people destroy themselves in trying and nothing is achieved. I read many times that failure is the key to success. Is that true? I know very brilliant people in my field who very rarely fail. I know stories of great athletes who knew only victories. Why should struggle be part of success?

    My struggle now is to reach the point is which I am truly totally honest. I am not looking to a strategic way to consider my situation, I only want the truth. A part of me still hopes that may be I am good enough. This part scares me; I feel this part is the voice of my delusion and dishonesty. I feel that this voice is the voice of arrogance, the arrogance of a person who refuses to see his limitation and to say: I am not good.

  4. Another reply

    Dear Anthony,
    I liked your comment because it describes my situation exactly. I hope you now managed to publish or to sort it out somehow.
    My situation is slightly much worse because I do not speak English. Which means I have some options to get publications: to send it to those agents that correct your English and which is quite costly to me, to rephrase sentences, to target very low impact factor or without IF or open access (and all asks for a lot of money) and the last option is simply to stay quiet and do not publish anything at all.
    Another point is the quality of my work. It is simply a superficial studies and naïve work. This is because I have limited budget, if I get.

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