Success! Getting your article accepted is a major achievement and an acknowledgement of your aptitude as a scholar. When you get that letter of acceptance, celebrate!
However, most likely you've got a little more work to do. There are just a couple more steps:
- If you haven't been asked to "revise and resubmit," you will probably be asked to accept minor editorial changes in grammar, spelling, phrasing, or word choice. The editor will have a copyeditor on staff send you a new version of your article with minor modifications marked. Read the changes carefully, as it is possible, although rare, that minor alterations will change the meaning. But, keep in mind that in all likelihood, the editor is right! You will be given a short amount of time to agree to or contest the changes, a few weeks or more.
- Once you've sent the article back to the editor with accepted changes, you'll hear nothing for a long time. This is another black hole in the academic publishing process. The article at this point will be moving from the editor to the publisher. In several months, you'll receive "page proofs." At this point, you cannot change anything unless it is completely necessary. The article has been laid out for print and this is your last chance to catch spelling errors and other minor issues. FYI: Some editors do not include the author in the page proof process. You might simply accept recommended changes and then see nothing until you get the print journal in your hands!
If you're publishing in an online–only journal, the process is generally the same, but usually a bit faster. There is no need for page proofs, so your last interaction with the article will be the point at which you accept editorial changes.
Learning From Rejection
The first thing you need to know about rejection is that it happens to everybody. Every single academic who has submitted a paper in his/her career can tell stories of rejection. In fact, most people have had many encounters with it. While this fact may not be terribly comforting, it is important to know that should you get that disappointing letter in the mail, you're not alone. After all, you will most likely submit to a competitive journal in which the competition is pretty tight.
There are many variables involved in article rejection. Unfortunately, for the most part you won't find out why the piece was not accepted. Journals tend to send out form letters that "thank you for your submission" and "regret to inform you that your piece has not been accepted for publication." It is rare for an editorial board to provide a comprehensive explanation that might help you figure out how to proceed differently.
Some common reasons for rejection include:
- A bad fit. Editors will reject papers that do not fit well within the larger goals of the journal and/or the specific issues coming out in the near future.
- Not following submission rules. Read them carefully. Enough said.
- Politics. Even though the journals you'll be working with vet articles through peer review, that doesn't mean that subjective factors (that you can neither anticipate nor control) will not come into play. This is rare, but it does happen.
- Sloppy writing. This is fairly common, as some people submit works assuming that a copyeditor will do the clean–up.
- Faulty argument. If the paper has a logical problem that will require substantive changes, the journal may send it back to you without suggesting revisions.
- Lacking original thought. This is one of the more common reasons for rejection. Editors constantly read articles that rehearse what has already been said without offering a new example, case study, or perspective.
- Failing to meet the "revise and resubmit" requirements. If you are told that your article will be accepted contingent upon specific changes, and you don't make those changes, you're likely to receive a rejection letter.
What do I do next?
The most important thing to do with rejection is to accept it and move on! Find another journal! But, before submitting it again, consider the list above for some ideas that might explain your rejection. Ask a mentor or colleague to read your article for another perspective. See if there are some ways that you can improve the piece: clarifying language, powerful prose, better examples, clearer thesis, etc. While rejection can be disheartening and frustrating, it gives you an opportunity (OK, forces you to) revise your work, which invariably results in improvement.