Posted by Linda Levitt
Today’s post reflects on one of the commonly experienced–but less often discussed–aspects of academic writing: receiving a negative review of your work. The author, Virginia Yonkers, is a long term adjunct in the Communication Department at the University at Albany. She has written articles in the fields of Language, Communication, Marketing & Management, Education, and Business Ethics.
A couple of weeks ago I received a rejection of my article submission from a prominent journal. What made it especially difficult was that it did not even get to the peer review process, but rather was filtered by the editor who decided it “would not fit” the journal. That was it: “would not fit.” My first inclination was to throw the article away, crawl up in a ball, and just stop trying. Of course, I did not. But that is the natural inclination when you receive such a strongly worded rejection.
We are often taught in Phd programs how to succeed, but not how to be rejected. A very successful colleague of mine related how she had at least 15 articles completely written her first year of post-phd, which she never resubmitted until mentor encouraged her to do so. She had 7 articles in a year as a result.
So how do you get over the feeling of rejection, especially as an early career researcher? Here are some tips in getting over the barrier of rejection in journal publishing.
1) Give yourself a week before you do anything after reading a rejection. It takes some time to disassociate your emotions (rejection, anger, disappointment) from the piece you have written. It is necessary to disassociate them when you need to make decisions about your next step. After you have given yourself a week, reread your rejection letter/email for any feedback, then reread your submitted to piece. This allows you to analyze what your next step will be.
2) You have 3 choices: Rewrite and resubmit the piece; submit the piece as is to another journal; or scrap the piece for a better time.
3) If you decide to resubmit, you will need to do some additional work. You may want to email the editor to see if you can get specific direction in how to make the manuscript more acceptable. If your manuscript has made it to the peer review process, review each comment. I find having a table which addresses each point helps in your revision, but also in the follow up letter you will submit with your new manuscript. If the manuscript was rejected outright (without indication of revisions), you will need to justify how the revised manuscript is substantially different than the original. In your follow up letter you will need to address each comment made by editors/peer reviewers.
You do not have to revise everything a reviewer comments on, but you do have to address it. For example, one of the reviewers of an article I co-wrote used a different theoretical framework in his analysis of our research. We maintained our methodology and justified it in our comments (and why we DID NOT use the methodology he would prefer).
4) You may decide to submit the same article to another journal or publisher (Note of warning: you should not have the same manuscripts at two different places at the same time). One possibility is to email the journal from which you were just rejected for recommendations for other places in which your piece might be more appropriate. This does two things: 1) it insures that the other journal knows you are withdrawing your article and will be submitting it elsewhere so they will not be allowed to print it in the future; 2) you may receive some additional feedback so you can make adjustments in your next submission.
If you decide to go to a different publisher, you need to do a little more homework. Based on your rejections, try to identify a publisher by which your ideas will be accepted. My recently rejected article was in a top journal (which I did not know at the time of the submission). In reviewing the list of reviews and the authors’ names, I discovered that there were very few outside of Ivy League/top 20 international universities represented in the articles and none represented as a reviewer. My assumption is that since I was not from one of these institutions, nor a leading researcher in the field, editors filtered my article out. Often they will have 100-200 submissions a month, so this helps decrease the workload for reviewers. Now when I look for new journals to submit to, I look at readership, topics (usually they have a description on their website), reviewers, and any professional organizations they are affiliated with.
There are two areas you MUST change when you resubmit to another journal. The first is the style (most websites have a style guide). The other is your introduction. You need to always include in your introduction how your article will be of interest for the journal’s readership.
5) If you decide not to resubmit your manuscript, you should consider how you can still communicate your research. You might want to consider submitting a paper to a conference (even having it published as a conference proceeding), upload it to a public depository (such as Academia.edu or your university’s working papers depository), or blog about it. Make sure you save the article. One of my most successful articles was an update of a colleague’s article that had never been published. She gave it to me to update and the two of use worked on creating a new model based on our discussions.
As an early career researcher, an article that was not accepted is a good starting point for collaboration or new research. So do not think of the unpublished manuscript as a failure, but rather a future starting point. It is important to continue to work even if you have had numerous articles rejected. If you feel that you are not getting anywhere with publishing, work with a mentor in your field who can give you direction on places to publish, ways to make your manuscripts more marketable, and motivation to continue to submit for publication.