On Rejection In Scholarly Publishing

Let's say that you performed a preemption check, wrote a wonderful scholarly article, and went through the various strategies to get it published. And let's say you've received numerous rejections. You're asking yourself, what's the deal. Did you write a bad article? Maybe. But it's more likely due to many factors that are outside of your control.

In 2008, there was a comprehensive study published regarding the article selection process for law reviews and journals. This process looked at factors in selection, including:

  • The article fills gaps in the literature
  • The article provides enough background explanation so that one not familiar with the particular field can understand the relevant issues
  • The topic has been discussed in the news in the past year
  • Articles on similar topics have not been published in the journal recently
  • The topic is considered to be controversial
  • The draft version of the article has been frequently downloaded from SSRN
  • The article is less than 20,000 words

Okay, so those are fairly objective criteria. But the study goes on to mention many author-specific factors that are used in the selection process, including:
  • The author is highly influential in her respective field
  • The author has published frequently in highly ranked law reviews
  • The author is employed at a highly ranked law school
  • The author has a large number of previous publications
  • The author has practice experience related to the manuscript submitted
  • The author has teaching experience related to the manuscript submitted
  • The author is only submitting the article to a limited number of journals
  • The author has a current offer of publication from a highly ranked law review
  • The author has a legal graduate degree (LLM/JSD)
  • The author is a female or racial minority

This can be daunting for a new legal academic or law student who probably cannot meet many of the author-specific criteria used for article selection. "Rejections are a dirty secret among academics. Publication successes are cause for celebration, or at least a proud listing on C.V.s and departmental lists. Failures — rejected papers — are usually hidden and sometimes a source of shame. The result is that many scholars, especially junior ones, have unrealistic expectations."

However, with so many legal publications out there, if you try hard enough, you will succeed at getting published. "Persistence in seeking publication in a journal has two main steps. The first — the hardest for many — is initially submitting a paper. The second step occurs after a rejection: persistence is a matter of considering the comments from the editor and referees, making changes if desired, finding another journal and sending off the paper. It’s quite straightforward, requiring work to be sure, but seldom an intellectual challenge."

"Persistence is not about hitting your head against a brick wall when there is no chance of breaking through. It is about developing a capacity to judge your own work, making a considered judgment about what to do next, and then actually doing it. Most of all it is about being willing to fail, learning from the experience, and trying again."

InsideHigherEd -- Learning to love rejection


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