How to be Rejected

A couple of quick links showing how the review process should work.
Your Review is Hereby Summarily Rejected
How to deal with a Rejection Letter
You have probably already read this one from Henry, but it’s still worth revisiting the rejection letter all editors would like to have the balls to send.
(HT for the first two, well the first from which I found the second: Chad Orzel)

Can you tell I’m prevaricating today? I’ve got as far as the discussion.

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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11 Responses to How to be Rejected

  1. Maxine Clarke says:

    Do you think editors can suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome?
    I was a manuscript editor for some years in parallel with my many other jobs at Nature, but in the end I gave it up. I had more than enough other things to do, which was one reason for my decision, but there were others.
    One of these reasons was the stress of rejection. If I had to say which was the worst part of my job at Nature, it would be easy: rejecting papers. A rejecting editor is conveying the decision on behalf of the journal. The editor knows that he/she (by and large) can publish x papers over a time period, so thefore (approx) y will have to be declined. This is so difficult, and as the years have advanced since I began my Nature career, I have seen how increasingly important “that Nature publication” is for authors, not necessarily for them to communicate the results to readers, which of course is the editor’s perspective of the paper, but for reasons such as their tenure, their career, their grant, etc. When one sends a reject letter on the grounds of the contents of the paper, one is aware that the recipient is going to react to the decision for other reasons also, and that the decision may have ramifications far beyond that of not publishing that paper in Nature.
    It is awful enough having to convey these decisions to authors. But then, as you point out, there are the reactions. The example you give is funny to some I suppose, but I’ve received letters like that and they are actually quite horrid to read, because they personalise the decision. I’ve received letters that have been far more insulting and offensive, as well – including having them put on the Internet, bound into books and once someone told me they were going to make a slide of my reject letter and present it at a talk (it wasn’t the one you link here!). I’ve also received many letters from people I’ve rejected who have written that although they were disappointed, they appreciated the reasons for the decision as conveyed to them, the professionalism of the process, etc.
    I am very aware, when I phone up some organisation that hasn’t delivered something I ordered, or otherwise has messed me about seriously, that the person who answers the phone is not themselves, personally, responsible for that situation. In fact they are probably a not very well paid employee who is protecting the perpetrators from the customer. So I keep civil. (Usually;-) )
    Rejecting a mansucript isn’t like that, quite. An author may perceive him or herself, as in your funny example, as being victimised by the rejection. They aren’t being victimised, of course, these things happen to us all (I’ve been rejected by Nature when I was a scientist). But people who see themselves as victims are probably more inclined to respond by victimising the person who wrote to them to convey the decision.
    There’s a human cost to this, cumulative post-decision stress disorder.
    I know you wrote a funny post and you probably did not want a serious, maybe boring, response. And this response is not directed at anyone in particular, but rather to express a hope that any author who receives a disappointing letter sleeps on it first, before sending a nasty response that is going to be personally upsetting for the recipient and is not going to make any difference to the decision.

  2. Henry Gee says:

    I shouldn’t want anyone to weep for the lot of the Nature editor. However, rejecting papers is cumulatively depressing, even if people don’t write rude letters in response. I’ve spent whole days in which I do nothing except write rejection letters. My therapy is now too well-known to be worthy of comment.

  3. Sabine Hossenfelder says:

    Lovely, especially the second one 🙂
    I once got a referee report that was not only completely content-free and insisted my manuscript is nonsense and shouldn’t be published, it also explained that previous works of mine shouldn’t have been published (in various other journals). I complained to the editor. As a result I was assured the referee is a well-respected member of the community and his opinion should be payed attention to.

  4. Massimo Pinto says:

    …which really was encouraging, uh?

  5. Maxine Clarke says:

    My sympathies, Sabine. I would never have sent anyone a letter like that.
    At the Nature journals, we use two or three referees in the vast majority of cases, which removes the problem you describe. We also ask referees to provide support for their views. Further, we rely on reviewers for technical advice but the editors make the decision about publication.
    One suggestion is to read a journal’s guidelines for reviewers as well as for authors, before submitting a paper? At the Nature journals we provide a list of what we like to see in a referee’s report, and I am sure other publishers’ journals have similar public criteria.

  6. Bob O'Hara says:

    I think we need a group hug for Maxine
    Maxine – your response is quite all right. I can imagine what it’s like (and Henry has written similar comments in the past too). I think (hope!) these posts were just a way of getting the frustration out of the system.
    I guess it doesn’t help that most of us accept a rejection as being part of the process, so your “good” rejections tend to be accepted as such with no fuss. But of course you never get to see that.
    I was in Jyväskylä earlier this year, and was told of one submission to Nature which was sent off, after which the author went to lunch (it could have been sent about 9.30am UK time), and they returned to find the rejection. The good news is that they found the whole thing rather amusing – they didn’t have any complaint about the rejection, and it was better than waiting a week.
    Sabine – what Massimo said, really.

  7. Maxine Clarke says:

    Bob, thanks.
    That rejection – how many referees’ reports did it have attached to it? 😉

  8. Henry Gee says:

    they didn’t have any complaint about the rejection, and it was better than waiting a week.
    A common reaction I’ve had from authors is that whereas rejection is bad enough, waiting a very long time for the same rejection is very much worse.
    I’m still wondering whether or not I have the balls to send that rejection letter…

  9. Sabine Hossenfelder says:

    Massimo, Bob – Interestingly, if a report really obviously reveals the referee didn’t understand the paper (or maybe just didn’t read it), it is less discouraging than getting send ten queries that expect you to solve all the major problems in the whole field to appropriately address them. Either way, in this specific case the irony was that the paper got published in a journal with higher impact factor later (though on the expenses that I had to cut some parts).
    Maxine – That’s good to hear. I very much prefer journals where I get at least two referee reports, it seems to me much more reliable. I’ve never submitted a paper to Nature though.

  10. Maxine Clarke says:

    Ah, thanks for the hug. I’ve had a bit of a day, so very welcome.

  11. Jennifer Rohn says:

    I always found, when rejecting authors back in the day, that if you gave them a detailed, logical and above all specific reason for the rejection (as opposed to some guff like ‘we receive many more papers than we can publish, yada yada yada’), and didn’t keep them waiting unduly, they were – not happy – but at least satisfied. I even had a few authors thanking me for a sensible rejection letter, which is pretty amazing if you think about it.

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