Wednesday, 27 April 2011

How to be rejected

Yesterday I posted a status update on Facebook sharing the fact that an academic journal had rejected an article that they had asked me to submit. I posted it deliberately for some younger colleagues to note that being senior, established, renowned and so on is not a guarantee that everything you offer will be published, and not even that everything that is commissioned will be published. I got many responses to this post, exactly of the type I had expected, and it feels there is more to be said.

I once gave a paper at a conference where several academic journal editors were fishing for good stuff, and after my session the editor of the most prestigeous journal asked me to expand the paper into a full-scale article. Which I did, because the subject was something I thought important, and the journal prestigeous. I put a lot of work into it, and it went out to readers who very obvioulsy didn't understand what I was doing. They made some, in my eyes, irrelevant comments, enough to get the article rejected, but they didn't seem to have noticed my completely revolutionary approach! I eventually published it elsewhere and got my brilliant new ideas across, but it did hurt.

I am sure that I occasionally do the same when I am asked to read a manuscript for a journal. Fail to see the new revolutionary ideas. Hopefully, the authors publish elsewhere.

I think this is something we need to accept as academics. Sometimes we are lucky, and a good journal or essay collection will take your piece, with small revisions (no articles go to press without revisions). Sometimes, after having been rejected by high-profile journals, you publish in a less esteemed one. I have published in Swedish something that had been rejected in English. And the other way round (in fact, my first real book, Children's Literature Comes of Age, was rejected by a Swedish publisher, so I re-wrote it in English). I also have publications in Croatian and Slovenian that haven't been published anywhere else.

I still have plenty of unpublished stuff in my computer. Every now and then I go through it thinking that I ought to do something about it, such as a short and comprehensive introduction to Bakhtin, or a comparative study of illustrations to Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, or my brilliant Francelia Butler memorial lecture on bridges in children's literature (I hope some editors are reading this). But I am doing other stuff now. It's too late.

It hurts a lot when you are rejected, especially when you are convinced that you piece is good. Sometimes you submit something written half-heartedly or marginal to what you are doing or something that will be included in another piece. But when you know it's good, the only way to handle it is try again. Some of the readers' comments may actually be helpful. Even if they have completely misunderstood you, it is worth contemplating why.

And whatever happens, we need to remember that we have chosen to play this game, and every now and then we win.


Sonja Svensson said...

Wise thinking, Maria!

Joe Sommers said...

Thank you, Maria.



Clémentine B said...

This is why I find the prospect of being a peer-reviewer terrifying...

Maria Nikolajeva said...

But it's also part of the game, and you learn a lot from reading other's work critically.