The Agony and the Ecstasy of Declining Manuscripts
As I’ve written and talked about previously, one of the least pleasurable tasks within the editor-in-chief’s bailiwick is that of declining author submissions at any point in the editorial cycle. This is foremost within my mind this morning as writing to inform an author their work was not being progressed for publication consideration was essentially the first task I deal with today. One thing I find invaluable to keep at the forefront of my mind when dealing with this unpleasant, but essential, editorial task is the ‘human factor’. That is to say, on the end of my dreaded missive lies another genuine human being, resplendent in all the highs and lows of professional and personal life which creates the lived human experience.
Consequently, what I always find myself thinking as I write to them is that no matter how polite my phrasing and encouraging my words of explanation, there will always be a sting of rejection for someone elsewhere on the planet. No one likes to feel they’ve not made the grade whether it be after an unsuccessful job interview, disastrous date or hearing from a ‘heartless’ academic editor that your work’s not going to appear in their journal. Learning how to cope and handle with being rebuffed in academia is a skill we all have to develop, and from which we can learn, adapt and grow in our professional practice. Believe me when I say I’m speaking from personal experience here!
When considering the person I’m writing to, it’s worth remember while we continue to have many submissions from my own host university , a rapidly increasing proportion of the work Exchanges considers is by individuals I may never meet. This means I’m likely unaware of their individual circumstances and can never be entirely sure if our decline will be a crushing blow or merely just another Tuesday in their academic trajectory. Perhaps editors with more years more experience than myself have learned to harden themselves to a greater degree when scripting these terminatory communications. I’m not sure, and I’m equally hesitant to will myself towards achieving such a lapidarian exterior.
Incidentally, writing to an author I know personally strangely makes the task simultaneously harder and easier at the same time. Harder, because I know exactly who I’ll be disappointed and likely have a clearer idea of the personal circumstances and challenges they’re embroiled within. Easier, because I can write more as a critical friend than a dispassionate if concerned editorial worker.
Part of the reason why I agonise somewhat over the impact of the ‘declined’ email is due to the nature of Exchanges. We are a journal which champions and encourages contributions from first time authors. This means we have authors who might not themselves be used to on the receiving end of a rejection before, and I strongly believe it is our role as a journal to cushion the blow to a moderate degree. I would rather we were perceived as a title which encourages new authors, than dismays them with an offhand or discourteous dismissal.
Additionally, working with first time authors also means at times the submissions we receive may lack sophistication of voice, style and structure. Naturally, not all first-time authors submit weaker work, far from it, as we have been privileged to consider, accept and publish many well-written articles by new academic authors. However, we do continue to have a steady stream of submitted manuscripts where the author has demonstrably yet to make the transition from a ‘student essay’ to ‘scholarly academic’ voice. For some authors, we can explore ways to achieve this transformation during the review and revision cycle. For others though, the weaknesses are sadly so endemic that it is kinder and perhaps more expedient for all concerned to remove them from publication consideration.
In these latter cases, and indeed whenever we decline work, I take it upon myself to not only inform the author of our decision, but to explore with them the steps they could take towards authorial redemption. In this respect I have been delighted over the last couple of years that a handful of authors have taken onboard our comments and feedback, overcome the sting of rejection, and later resubmitted a reworked manuscript. Not all of these resubmissions have been successful in achieving publication, such is the nature of our quality assurance regime.
Nevertheless, that some authors try, reinforces my belief in the importance of how and what we say to authors at the point of decline matters beyond any emotional considerations. It hopefully contributes as well in some small way to enhancing their reflective professional practice and self-critique as they progress towards become accomplished, and hopefully successful, publishing authors.
 Thank you to each and every one of you who has submitted to us, it’s great to keep that ‘Warwick Wow Factor’ appearing in our pages.