Got a rejection on an article today. Both reviewers rejected it- no R&R.

I have two firm rules about what I do when a paper of mine is rejected by a journal.

  1. Do not send that journal another piece until the editor changes.
  2. Reflect on the positives rather than the negatives.

The first rule is based on an old lesson that took me forever to learn. I don’t think I fully learned it until I was about 30. Maybe even later. Namely, do not try to win the favor of someone who doesn’t like what you are doing. Not only it is demeaning, but it’s a total waste of time.

In this case, the review took five months, and anyone that can’t find anything good in my ideas in five months is not worth trying to please. (I take one week to do a peer review. Maybe a week and a half. Tops.)  The bit about the editorship is mostly wishful thinking on my part, based on a belief – erroneous and idealistic, of course, but I cling to it – that the editor bears the responsibility for accepting or rejecting, not the reviewers. There are a few journals that have the same editor for decades; I have learned to avoid those.

The second rule is also a practical one. The negatives are considerable – no acceptance or R&R in a journal I had specifically written the piece for – and two ‘peers’ that couldn’t find anything redeemable in my ideas, which I had shared with several colleagues and generated some excitement. That’s a professional blow to anyone.

But the positives are also considerable. One reviewer dwells on that 1) my article wasn’t ‘rigorous’, and 2) they couldn’t find a reason for it existing, and cheap shots like that tell me I hit a nerve – and that’s very interesting, given that I wrote a rather harmless theory piece that shouldn’t have pissed off anyone. The other reviewer said much the same thing – and both finger-wagged about how I had not  cited enough literature, but only mention two additional citations that I could have literally run circles around. It is entirely possible (actually it’s a quite common occurrence) that one or both wrote the citations in question…

Lit reviews are trivial. They can be easily added or omitted. It’s a dumb reason to reject a paper. Ideas are far more rare. The refusal to engage the thesis meaningfully is more telling.

My conclusion, therefore, is that the journal that I chose and designed the piece around was a mistake. It contradicted the core assumptions of the reviewers about how such an idea was to be handled with ‘rigor’, and they pushed back hard with numerous technicalities that could have been easily resolved in an R&R. Instead, hard reject.

So I made a mistake. Wrong venue, and possibly wrong subfield. That’s a positive – I learned something. I won’t make that mistake again when I revise. Or I will, in which case I will adapt again. It remains a good piece, and it will find a home. I will sift through their comments and use some of them (one reviewer was much more helpful in this regard than the other), but I will also disregard the spurious.






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