25 October 2012, 0919 EDT

In an effort to add to the discussion on the “living academic,” let me give hat-tip to an often hidden part of the profession: rejection.  I’ve had a little over a dozen things accepted so far as an assistant professor. I prominently display these successes on my CV.   Hidden way in some dark place in my mind, however, is the fact that I’ve also had about 20 journal rejections – and counting.

I really wish, as a profession, we instructed newbie grad students about this part of the publication process a little more.  Economists tend to do a better job on this, see this or, my favorite, this.

It hurts, but it can improve your manuscript, get you new coauthors (albeit coauthors that don’t understand the full meaning of “double blind review”), and – and I think this is important – it is perfectly normal.   My first 4 times up to bat, I struck out – I hadn’t heard the “it’s normal” speech yet and I really thought the profession wasn’t for me.   I cried.  I sulked (just ask my husband) and I seriously considered becoming an actuary. However, after a heart-to-heart with my advisor and really taking the considerations of the reviewers into account, I managed to get “home runs” on my next 4 times up to bat.  Is there a secret formula for acceptance?  Other than “have a perfect manuscript,” here’s some advice I’ve received:

  1. Read articles at the journal you are submitting to and other top journals.  Get pointers in style and presentation from what you’ve read (in addition to getting substance).
  2. Have other people read your piece.  I find I get the best comments sometimes from people who are not connected to my work.
  3. If you are critiquing someone in the piece, maybe ask them to read it, too.
  4. Write the piece like you are writing for someone reading in a hurry.  One of my friends in the discipline once told me that he reviewed 10 pieces while on a semester-long paternity leave.  When I asked how he did it, he said that he only reviewed pieces with a crying baby on his shoulder.  Reviewers are busy and many want to find the “gotcha” in your piece and quickly write a rejection.  Write like someone is going to be reading your masterpiece while holding a crying baby; it could make your writing much more straightforward.
  5. Review for journals.  Many journals will add you to their list of reviewers with just an email.   It lets you see other pieces and, if the journal is one that gives its reviewers copies of decision letters and the other reviews, it can be a low-cost learning experience about the factors that lead to acceptance/rejection.
  6. Change the name of the piece from what you have listed on your website/CV/SSRN.  – I got this piece of advice from someone at a non-RI school when I was also at a non-RI school.  Some people will “google search” the title of a piece they get for review.  If they see you are at some directional state school, they might downgrade the work at the onset.  Or, so the story goes…better safe than sorry.
  7. Don’t send everything to the same top journal, especially if you are an assistant professor.  I had a piece under review at a journal for 11 months one time (it was eventually accepted, thank God) and many contend that some top journals often take the longest amount of time.
  8. Expect rejection.   Anything other is not normal.  I have senior colleagues that have told me stories about receiving multiple rejections in a day.
  9. Really take the reviews to heart.  After a beer and a day or two of sulking, of course.  Your reviewer at Journal X could be a reviewer at Journal Y.  Why take the risk that they just send in the same negative review?  Make the changes – you might want to make them obvious, too (see #4).

Any other advice you have received?  I’d be interested as I’m sure I’ve got a rejection or two waiting in my inbox now.