In academia there are few things worse than reading the words “We’re sorry, but your manuscript was not accepted for publication.” Don’t bury your head in the sand and give up! We’re here to help you look upward and onward on your road to “Getting Published.” Here are the top 5 ways to deal with rejection when a journal editor turns down your paper.
1. Read (and Learn from) Reviewers’ Comments
While it might be cringe-inducing to read someone else’s harsh criticism of your work, it could be very useful to read and heed comments and suggestions from the journal’s peer reviewers. Reviewers tend to hold nothing back when assessing your paper, but that honest feedback could help you polish your manuscript, either for resubmission to the same journal or to a different publication. Read reviewers’ comments carefully and without emotion. Was your statistical analysis flawed? Was your literature review not thorough enough? Did you answer your own research question? These are common criticisms that could be remedied relatively easily.
2. Make Appropriate Revisions to Your Article
Once you’ve read through the reviewers’ comments, make revisions as you deem appropriate. You might not agree with everything a reviewer says about your paper, and that’s ok. However, chances are if one or more reviewer at this journal had a particular criticism about your work, reviewers at another journal might hold the same views. Expanding your literature search, beefing up your discussion section, and cleaning up your statistics are all good revisions to make to get your paper published on the next go-round.
3. Rethink Your Choice of Journal
If your paper was flat out rejected without even making it to the peer review stage, it’s time to rethink your choice of journal. It could be that your journal has a low acceptance rate. JAMA, for example, accepts only 11% of the over 7,000 major manuscripts it receives per year, and only 3.5% of the over 4,700 research papers submitted.1 Similarly, Teaching and Learning in Medicine has a final acceptance rate of about 10%, and only 30% of submissions are even sent for review.2 Maybe your paper just wasn’t the right fit for that journal. Lucky for you, you have a short list of potential journals to which you can submit your paper and you didn’t put all of your eggs in one journal basket. Right? So move on to the next journal on your list.
If the reviewers recommended that you revise and resubmit, go for it! There is a good chance that if you follow the reviewers’ advice, your paper will be accepted. Be sure to thank the reviewers for their comments and suggestions in your cover letter when you resubmit to the same journal.
If the reviewers did not suggest that you revise and resubmit, you might want to think about resubmitting your paper under a different category. Perhaps your paper isn’t quite original research, but might fit under some other manuscript type found in that journal.
If all else fails, move on to the next journal on your list and submit there.
5. Rethink Your Publication Options
If you are still struggling with getting your paper published the traditional way, you might want to rethink your publication options. Have you considered an open access journal? Does your institution have a homegrown open access journal looking for submissions? How about submitting your work to MedEdPORTAL, a free publication service from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)? MedEdPORTAL is peer reviewed; if accepted, your publication gets a formal citation. Maybe you can present your work at a conference where abstracts are published and conference proceedings receive citations.
We hope we’ve helped you realize all of the options still open to you should you receive the dreaded rejection letter. Keep reading next month as we bring you the final installment of our “Getting Published” series. Good luck!