Nathaniel Lambert Ph.D.

Publish and Prosper

Rejection: A Debilitating Pitfall for Writers

Find out how rejection can be so damaging to your productivity as a researcher.

Posted Oct 10, 2013

Tony Robbins once said, “The key to success in life, the key to wealth and happiness, is called achieving massive amounts of… rejection.” That seems kind of odd, why would that be? He went on to explain “The more rejection you get, the more acceptances and success you’ll receive.” I’m sure that you’ve heard the saying that you can’t succeed if you never try. That’s exactly why rejection can be so harmful for academics’ quest for productivity. Fear of rejection causes a host of problems as follows:

1. Hinders initial submission of manuscript. I’ve known several people who have put so much time into a project and then they never seem to get around to submitting it. They fear that it will be rejected. Yet many decent papers that could have made a nice contribution never get a chance to leave their permanent home on the hard drive.

2. Promotes submission to second-rate journals. I’ve always been taught to start by submitting to the very best journals initially and that strategy has paid off with publications in several top tier journals. However, many people will never even give it a try at the top tier journals out of fear of rejection. One scholar friend of mine was recently promoted from being editor of a good journal to editor of the top journal in the field. I said to him, “Wow, I bet you’re going to be a lot busier now.” His response surprised me: “Actually, we get only half the submissions, so it’s going to be much less busy.” At first I was surprised, but it makes sense to me now that people would settle for “good” out of fear that “great” will reject them.

3. Kills rejected manuscripts. OK, so perhaps you overcame the initial fear of submission and sent it off to a good journal. Now you have three reviewers and an editor saying harsh things about your work. It’s easy to think, “Oh this must not be very good after all, I’m not going to bother with this manuscript anymore.” Publishing is a crapshoot and so many times you just get a reviewer or two that are negatively biased toward your topic or your method. However, for many scholars they just never find the gumption to resubmitting that rejected manuscript and let it die, buried forever on their hard drive.

4. Lost opportunity for important connections. We often never make that all-important professional connection at a conference because we can’t overcome our fear of that person rejecting our attempt. Some of these connections could make all the difference for us, but we will never know if we don’t try to initiate contact out of fear of rejection.

I’ve outlined some important reasons for how rejection can stifle your productivity. In a future post about pitfalls I will describe some strategies for overcoming the fear of rejection. I’d love to hear from you about how the fear of rejection affects your life and/or any thoughts on how you manage this fear.

 (For more information on this topic, check out my recently published book!)

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