What to Do When Your Journal Paper Is Rejected
Rejection is never pleasant. Although the rejection of an academic or scientific manuscript by an acquisitions editor or perhaps a conference organiser is not strictly a personal matter, it may well feel all too personal. Indeed, I have heard more than one scholarly mother say that her thesis or the book it grew to become was all too much like another child, and sending it out into the world therefore felt as ambivalent and precarious as sending her grown children off to college. The last thing any mother wants is for some critic to grab a Sharpie, mark up every flaw and send that child back home in disgrace, and almost as unwelcome is the research manuscript that returns to the author in a similarly compromised condition.
This is all highly emotional, of course, but emotion is central to the first responses of even the most seasoned authors when faced with unexpected rejection, so it is essential to acknowledge and accommodate this fact. It will not feel good and it may generate along with anger, despair and fear a variety of spontaneous ideas that will not sound quite so compelling once the initial shock has passed. This is not to say that the ideas that spring to mind in the immediate wake of rejection are not worth considering or recording – in fact, I think it is best to do both – but final decisions about the rejected material and changes to it are best left aside until the emotional impact of the rejection has eased a little.
Preferable to knee-jerk changes and potentially antagonistic responses will be allowing yourself a little time to absorb – really absorb and accept – the disappointing news you have just received. Necessary activities might still demand your attention and focussing on them can prove therapeutic by preventing you from dwelling on the problem and enabling you to widen your perspective at a crucial moment. If you happen to be actively teaching at the time of the rejection, the needs and interests of students can draw you out of yourself and remind you of reasons for your work beyond publication success. Research assistants can produce a similar effect, and working with them means sticking to your research despite the rejection, which is an especially effective coping strategy.
Another excellent coping strategy is to make the time to do something especially pleasurable or relaxing. Each author will have a different idea of the perfect activity, but some excellent choices might include a meandering bicycle ride on sunny morning, a shopping trip on a rainy afternoon, a night out with friends or a day at the park with your children. Again, widening your focus and reflecting on other aspects of life will be beneficial results. If you can genuinely enjoy such a break from work and worries, you may find that the rejection of a single manuscript by a single publisher will recede into the background until it seems a far more appropriate and manageable size. Your mind and body will also be rested and refreshed for when you face the task of rereading the criticism you received and reflecting more critically on a plan of action. The idea is that you will then be better equipped to make decisions that are less influenced by the emotional baggage of rejection, but if you find that the weight is still too heavy to allow objectivity and constructive plans, you may need to give yourself a little longer to gain the right perspective.