Law Review Rejection Letters and Withdraws
Following on my post about law review submission cover letters, this one is about law review rejection letters—and withdraws. Authors prefer receiving offers of publication to rejections. But most pieces attract at least some rejections and submissions to multiple publishers often get a high ratio of rejections to offers. Absent an offer, authors also prefer getting rejections to hearing nothing, to facilitate closure when making final publication decisions.
Unfortunately, in legal academic publishing, it is common for authors never to hear from publishers, as the thread at The Faculty Lounge suggests (and my own experience over 15 years attests). Yet while I appreciate receiving rejection letters, I think the common silence entirely understandable, given the law review publication process. In my opinion, authors seeking requisite closure should simply formally withdraw their piece from consideration once a deadline has passed.
As an example, this season, on August 8, I submitted an article to 45 journals (following standard practice in legal academics allowing for such concurrent submission). I received 3 offers (on August 18, 19 and 26), 17 rejections (trickling in from August 11 to September 2, when I accepted an offer), and did not hear from 25 journals.
I also followed standard practice of reporting offers to journals likely to be positivley influenced by them and requesting expedited review by the offering journal’s deadline. In response to so alerting about 20 journals on August 18, with an August 26 deadline, I received the August 19 offer, stating a like deadline, and alerted another ten. On receiving the August 26 offer, with a September 2 deadline, I alerted the rest.
My requested expedited reviews generated, aside from the 2 additional offers, rejections from a quarter to a third of those contacted each round by respective deadlines, without word from the others. To those, I promptly sent formal notices of withdraw. I did this in part because I assumed they had passed on the piece and in part because I preferred not to stretch out the process by repeatedly seeking deadline extensions or hectoring journals for an express decision, as many law review authors may do. I achieved closure, despite not having a decision.
True, I appreciated receiving the rejections, as they facilitated closure, but cannot fault journals from which I did not hear within deadline. After all, it takes time to complete the internal review process and the exact length varies with many factors, like availability of the numerous participating editors, degree of disagreement among them about a piece, and strength of conviction among those who favor and disfavor it. Facing an author deadline, the coordinating editor may reasonably believe it will be possible to meet it but find, in the end, it is not.
With a deadline passed, the issue is whether to respond to an author anyway or leave it at that (the more common practice). It may be difficult to respond, however, since no official decision may have been reached to justify a rejection (much less an offer, which would seem futile to deliver post-deadline even if consensus were reached). Further, if the internal process is incomplete but capable of completion through a deadline, it remains possible that the journal will yet hear from an author announcing an extension of the deadline (that common practice among law review authors). This argues in favor of journal silence, at least until the author subsequently withdraws the piece, whereupon the journal can express regret for lacking requisite time (which 2 journals did for me this season and several have done in the past).
So the burden of closure falls on the author, not the journal, and I think that is entirely reasonable. Still, I also appreciate the rejection letters. While many follow a standardized form, occasionally a notable one appears. For me, one this year came from a journal in which I’ve published twice, once on a topic kindred to the current piece. The editors acknowledged that historical relationship, emphasized how they valued it, and explained how close the editorial board came to authorizing an offer, but under rules requiring near-unanimity that this piece did not command.
Even among rejection letters that are fairly standardized, one notes how they are all cordial and professional, and sometimes inform or remind authors of the nature of the process and probabilities of placement. Following are sample rejection letters received, gratefully, these past few weeks. I’ve highlighted in bold some of what I consider interesting or useful information—in addition to the vital and helpful fact of rejection.
1. I am writing in response to your request for expedited review. We have had an opportunity to consider your article. Unfortunately, we are unable to accept it for publication. This year we expect to receive approximately two thousand submissions for consideration, but we are able to publish only a dozen. As a consequence, we find that we must reject many thoughtful and interesting pieces. Thank you again for submitting your article to us. We hope that you will give us the opportunity to consider any articles you write in the future.
2. Thank you for submitting your article. Unfortunately, we are unable to give you a publication offer. Because we receive nearly 2,000 submissions each year, we must turn away many fine articles. Please keep us in mind in the future when you are submitting work for publication.
3. Thank you very much for submitting your article. Unfortunately, we are unable to accept your piece for publication. Our journal publishes only four issues a year, but often receives hundreds of manuscripts every month. As such, we can only accept a slender fraction of the manuscripts we receive. We appreciate your submission and hope that you will continue to submit your work to us in the future.
4. Thank you for your submission. We have now completed our final review of your manuscript and unfortunately are unable to extend an offer of publication. The Review receives a large number of submissions and we are constrained by the limited number of pages we are able to publish. Frequently we must make the difficult decision to turn down an excellent piece of scholarship. We wish you the best of luck and look forward to your next submission.
5. Thank you for submitting your article. We receive many excellent submissions each year, and the selection process is very competitive. After careful consideration, we have decided not to publish your article. We wish you the best of luck, and look forward to reviewing your future submissions.