I remember when I got the reviews back from the first big paper that I submitted. I was mad to have to deal with a rejection after such petty reviews.
Then I showed the editor’s letter to my advisor. He said, “Congratulations!” It turns out it was not a rejection, but a minor revision. Who would have thought that a request for a minor revision would have had the word “reject” in the decision letter?
I think editors are more clear about their decisions nowadays. That incident was a while ago. That was an actual letter. Which arrived via postal air mail from another continent.
More recently, in 2007, I got another rejection I found annoying. I inadvertently unburied the decision letter last week, when I was forced to clean up my lab before the holidays (because work crews need all surfaces clear for work being done in the building). Here’s what the letter said:
Enclosed is your manuscript entitled “Moderately obscure stuff about ants” and the reviews. Based upon these reviews, in its present form the manuscript is not accepted for publication in the Journal of Moderately Obscure Stuff.
Significant work/re-write will be needed before the manuscript can be resubmitted.
The reviews were not bunk, but were simply prescriptive and didn’t require massive changes. I realize now, years later, here is another rejection that wasn’t a rejection! I was fooled again! This was a pretty straightforward “major revision.” This paper still is sitting on my hard drive, unpublished, and down low in the queue. I just forgot about it because I was occupied with stuff that was more interesting at the time. The coauthor on the paper, who was a postdoc at the time, now has tenure. So there’s no rush to get this paper out to enhance his career.
The moral of the for authors is: If you’re not an old hand at reading decisions from editors, be sure to have senior colleagues read them and interpret them. When in doubt about what you need to do for a revision, it’s okay to ask the editor.
The moral of the story for editors is: We need to be careful to construct decisions so that there is no doubt that less experienced authors will be able to understand if a revision is welcome, and if so, what needs to be done to make the revision acceptable.