Dealing with my first journal article rejection

It was my first journal article submission (OK, second… my first, another article, was desk rejected). This article was my thesis that I’d been working on for two years. I’d originally written it up for journal publication, so once both of my readers signed it off, I sent it off to the primary journal in the field (American Journal of Evaluation) and waited.

And waited.

Lesson learned #1: Anticipate waiting for a looong time.

This was just shy of 3 months, but it still felt much longer than I wanted. I was checking its status often, seeing when it went from received, to searching for reviewers, to waiting for reviewer’s scores, to finally the anticipated “awaiting final decision.”

And then the crushing blow: manuscript rejection. It didn’t help that it came first thing in the morning, promptly at 7am right as I woke up so I read it as I was reading my morning email in bed.

The rejection was not nearly as bad as I anticipated (if I had been anticipating a rejection, that is). I remember just being slightly disappointed and sad. But then I started reading reviewer’s comments.

Lesson learned #2: Perhaps wait to read reviewer’s comments.

I remember starting to get bitter, angry, and upset as I went through some of them. The following are some of the comments and initial reactions that went through my head, along with my more rational thoughts now that it’s been a few days:

The first comment from the first reviewer was this: “Of most concern, is the true response rate of 16% (279/1758).” My initial reaction was anger that they do not realize how difficult it is to get a good response rate from AEA evaluators, who was my sample. How could they ask me to get a better response rate?! Later, I realized that there was more to the comment: “I believe reasonable efforts to increase the sample size should be made, and if not feasible, a justification of the sample being representative of the underlying population.” Fair and reasonable!

The first two reviewers commented on my grammatical errors. For instance, one noted “there are many incomplete sentences and other minor errors throughout the manuscript.” However, then I get to the third reviewer who stated there were simply a few minor grammatical mistakes. Initially, I was upset; my grammar is impeccable and I don’t think I’ve written an incomplete sentence in quite a long time! However, I realized what was probably more likely the case: my sentences were wordy and did not flow as well as they could. While I have no idea which sentences they were referring to, perhaps sending the manuscript to a copy editor could improve the manuscript the second time around.

Lesson learned #3: Have a support system.

I was able to immediately tell my husband, good friend, and my advisor the results of the manuscript and get comforting words but also words of wisdom. My tweeple were incredibly supportive as well! My initial sadness and anger disappeared by the end of the day through the support that everyone around me provided.

Lesson Learned #4: It’s OK to be upset about it.

I did not get any work done the day the rejection came. I went to the gym, came home and thought to myself, “If my thesis—that I worked harder on than any other project in my life—was rejected, how can I possibly work on any of the other papers in the works? How can I work on my DISSERTATION when my thesis wasn’t even good enough?!” But in the end, allowing myself to wallow for a day helped the recovery process quicken. By the end of the day, my mood had lightened, I read for my dissertation, and the next day I was back to normal.

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