The Hard Way #4: Dealing with rejection (in publishing)

I am afraid the article has little to recommend. It is is general a very poor and incomplete overview of what is actually a very rich body of gender scholarship, given in weak scholarship, with low theoretical imagination, this is definitively not the piece that should represent Feminist Security Studies to our colleges. The article is riddled with sophomoric trivialities, slogans, cliches, commonplaces, and sexisms … In short, its publication would do considerable damage to the good repute of our field.

This is an excerpt of a review that a review article I submitted got very early in my career. In hindsight, the article was not ready to send out, and did have some weaknesses, though I think that it is an important lesson in professional development never to write a review like this. That is for another post, though …

I include this review here to suggest that we often actually deal with rejection individually – it is a lonely feeling that is hard not to take personally. Yet everyone – even the most successful people in the field – deals with rejection many times over the course of your career. It is how you deal with that rejection that is the mark of success or failure in a publishing career.

There will be a number of different posts in this series about different sorts of rejection and setbacks, but the rest of this post will focus on dealing with (and getting past) rejections from journal submissions. 

So the first part of dealing with rejection is minimizing the chances of it: sending your work to the right journals, formatting the work the right way, making sure it is within the word length and the remit of the journal, and making sure that the contribution that the work makes to the literature is clear in the text of the article.

The second part of dealing with rejection is anticipating it. Even if you do all of the stuff in the paragraph above correctly, any given journal article that you send to any given journal is more likely than not to be rejected. When you hit the “send” button to a journal, anticipate the article being rejected. That understanding of the likelihood of rejection dampens the emotional impact that happens when the actual rejection comes, and makes a result other than rejection a pleasant surprise.

That, of course, does not actually make a rejection feel ok. Many people will not be phased by rejection, others will be devastated – this post necessarily caters to people somewhere in the middle. You get rejected, it feels like crap. How do you ‘get over it’ in terms of how you feel, and in terms of what you do with the work? That brings us to the third part of dealing with rejection: getting past it. I’ll admit I remain imperfect at it, but here are some of the things I’ve learned over the years. These are general ideas/steps, and Post #5 (Wednesday) will talk about what to do with the article. For now, I’ll talk about what to do with you briefly.

I feel like a list of 15 do and don’t suggestions:

1. Don’t take it as a statement of your personal worth.

2. Don’t take it as a statement of your professional worth.

3. Don’t feel like one rejection is likely to beget others.

4. Don’t decide that the reviewers and editors are all crazy a**holes who don’t have anything useful to say. This is true 1% of the time if that, and you are likely not the 1%.

5. Don’t throw the ‘baby’ (article) out with the ‘bathwater’ (rejection/bad review).

6. Don’t wait so long to deal with the article that it is professionally harmful to your job market/tenure professional schedule. Hold your nose (literally or figuratively) and deal with it.

7. Don’t respond to the editor with vitriol – either in a personal letter or in a blog post – even if you are right. No one benefits from vitriol.

8. Relatedly, don’t be afraid to ask questions. But don’t waste your time or the editors with dumb questions. Relating to the editor is establishing a professional/networking relationship, so do so with respect and caution. So don’t be afraid to ask questions, but don’t ask stupid or trivial ones.

9. Don’t revise or resend out the article while you are still angry. You will get the same result again.

10. Likewise, and here’s the most important don’t: Don’t resend the article to another journal without editing it at all. Like I discussed before, it is important to format things for a journal, meet that journal’s remit, and the like, at the very least. But above and beyond that, there’s no grumpier thing than a reviewer who gets the same article unedited a week after they review it. And if the editor has picked the right reviewers, that is likely to happen.

11. Do try to learn from the reviews and the letter from the editor (more on that next post).

12. Do realize that rejection is a part of our professional experience to get rejected. We can’t make perfect scholarly judgments each time. We can’t make perfect submission judgments each time. Reviewers and editors can’t make perfect decision judgments each time. So it will happen. You want to minimize it and deal with it, but that’s it.

13. Do treat the editors and reviewers with professional respect, whether or not they give you the same courtesy.

14. Do continue to believe in your personal and professional worth.

15. Do continue to pursue the publication of the article, at the very least for another journal or two or three.

And do read the next post on the nuts and bolts on how to do that.