“Remember that rejection
is of the article in its
current state, not of you
Des conseils de carrière
12 tips from an editor
Improve your chances with
by Laura Moss
ast year i was the acting editor of an academic literary journal. I soon realized that
academics are rarely trained in the art of
peer review and that the process of editorial
decision-making is seldom transparent.
Based on my time in the editor’s chair, here is
some advice for both writers and referees.
1. Adhere to guidelines about length and citation
style. Do not submit using Chicago Style and say
that you will shift to MLA if the paper is accepted,
as that is a giant red flag signaling that you do
not see your article as part of the journal. Further,
it undermines the professionalism of your work
to say that you know you are 2,000 words over
the word limit but are waiting for readers or the
editor to suggest where to cut.
2. While you can’t know who your referees will
be, I can tell you who they might be. Upon submission, the editor draws up a list of potential
referees. The first people on my list were often
the ones in the article’s own Works Cited list (if
the publications are recent enough). The critics
you write about are often the critics who serve
as referees for your paper.
3. When two people have said, “Yes, I will be part
of the community and do this report,” the paper is
sent out for review. However, more often, people
say, “No, unfortunately I am too busy with my own
work, sorry.” Remember that peer review depends
on peers acting like peers. The system relies deeply
on invisible labour and good academic citizenship.
4. In spite of the guilt trip in point 3, if you can’t
do a report for a journal because you are stretched
too thin or don’t feel comfortable with the topic,
say no immediately. If you agree to referee an
article, don’t leave it hanging for months. Many
people are waiting on your report.
5. As a referee, only your general assessment is
being sought so you probably do not need to
spend time line-editing.
6. Tone matters: most people, but not all, are
respectful in giving constructive feedback and
advice for improvement. Although senior scholars tend to reject more papers and set the bar
higher for originality than junior scholars, they
also tend to be more generous with attention,
feedback and tone.
7. Writers should include a brief and honest
synopsis of the paper’s original contribution to
the field in the submission letter. Filling a gap is
8. If there are two acceptances or two rejections
when the readers’ reports come in, the editor’s
decision is pretty straightforward. However, only
once in my year as editor did a paper receive two
acceptances right off the bat. Frequently the decision conveyed to the writer is to “revise and
resubmit.” This is not a way of letting you down
easily. It is the editor’s way of saying “I think this
article has real potential so we will invest another
dozen – or two – hours in it.”
L9. While all peer-review comments should be taken into consideration, a common error is to rewrite an article based entirely on those com- ments, subsequently losing the original voice and argument. That said, when referees ask for something to be read, you must read it. The top reason
for referees rejecting an article upon second
reading last year was that “the author didn’t even
bother to follow up on my reading suggestions.”
Include a letter to the editor upon resubmission
that outlines the changes you have made and
explains your response to the ones suggested but
10. Remember that a rejection is a rejection of
the article in its current state, and not a rejection
of you personally or of the article that might
come out of the one you originally submitted.
11. Last year, four people rejected my rejection
of their papers. Two told me I was flat out wrong
to reject them. Two were just mean, personal and
rude. Neither approach made me change my
mind. I understand swearing at the editor when
you get a tough report, but don’t press “send” on
that adrenaline-powered email.
12. Time is a huge issue for both writers and
journals. Academic publishing is not fast because
an article passes through many sets of eyes in
both the editing and copyediting stages. You can
certainly send a polite letter of inquiry about the
status of your submission to a journal, but bottom line: be patient.
Laura Moss is an associate
professor of English at the
University of British Columbia.
From July 2013 to June 2014,
she served as the editor of
Canadian Literature: A Quarterly
of Criticism and Review.
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