Law Review Rejection Letters and Withdraws

law-reviewsFollowing 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.

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14 Responses

  1. Dave Hoffman says:

    I particularly enjoyed NYU’s rejection this year: “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.”

    What’s nice is that they imply, but don’t commit, to the proposition that rejecting my article was a difficult decision. That’s precision!

  2. Sean M. says:

    As the Senior Articles Editor of a “Top 20” journal, I agree completely with this post. My journal tries its best to honor all expedite requests properly entered into ExpressO, but the high volume of submissions means that we can’t always do so. With 2,000 submissions a year, and classes and editing responsibles taking up a good deal of our time, we cannot always meet deadlines, especially short deadlines. What’s more, the number of expdites we receive means that we could spend all of our time responding to expedite requests and not consider the non-expedited articles we receive.

    But if you get anything from this post, WITHDRAW YOUR ARTICLE WHEN YOU ACCEPT AN OFFER or when you no longer wish to be under consideration. Just this week, we made an offer to an article only to find out the author had accepted with another journal last week. We wasted our time in committee debating the Article (and even sent it out to a faculty member for some insight) for an article that was no longer on the market.

  3. anon says:

    This is somewhat OT, but I noticed you mention having expedited at about 20 journals after the first offer and then additional journals after the second offer. I’m still pretty new to the law submissions game (entering my third year teaching) and am curious to know if it is standard practice to make expedite requests in rounds or all at once.

    I’ve always assumed the practice is to expedite to all journals I’m still interested in once I’ve received one offer on the theory that it increases the likelihood they’ll all read my piece. Even if my offer is from #100 and an offer from #100 might not catch the eye of the editors at #1, I figure there’s no downside to expediting at #1 along with all the others. After all, if I get an offer from a journal that would catch the eye of #1 after my initial expedite, I can inform then of the new offer then. And, of course, there’s always the chance that if you only expedite to, say, #’s 40 – 90 after an offer from #100, none of them accept, while if you’d expedited to all of them the editors at #20 might pick up your piece and love it despite the poor taste of 40-90. Nevertheless, I have heard of folks doing expedites in rounds before and this post made be wonder which is the standard practice and why. I’d be interested to know what others do and, especially, if folks think there are advantages to the strategy of expediting in rounds.

    Ps–I’ve read a fair amount of blog posts on law review submissions and have not seen this addressed directly before. If there’s good blog discussion about this that I’ve missed, however, please forgive my question for being not only OT but also already covered elsewhere. 🙂

  4. O'Thor says:

    I completely agree with the basic sentiments of the post — be courteous in communicating closure. I also sympathize with Sean M’s situation, particularly learning too late about an author’s acceptance elsewhere. But I personally have been in the situation, pre-ExpressO, where I communicated withdrawal via email and telephone message to a journal that nonetheless later accepted the piece — there had simply been a breakdown in communication at its end, as it later acknowledged. What was particularly surprising to me was that the journal had never acknowledged receipt of the article or my requests for expedited review; the first communication in return was its rather delayed acceptance, then mutual embarrassment.

    I agree, again, that authors should withdraw immediately, no matter what, and I myself do that, and hope that it gets to where it is supposed to. But I suspect that some authors may not because they think their submission has fallen into a black hole — when email submissions are not acknowledged, when submissions via ExpressO are circulated but no trouble is taken to click “confirm receipt” (supposedly just one click), when no means is provided for telephoning or voicemail is kept full for weeks, etc. At some point, perhaps, some authors decide to quit throwing good money after bad, and lose faith that any message — be it expedite or withdraw — will get through.

    So I guess I suggest in return that journals be more willing to briefly acknowledge receipt, however tersely, and suspect that might improve author behavior, while understanding that acknowledgment may not always be possible. BTW, I have many times received emails asking if a previously submitted piece, hitherto unacknowledged, is still available and for how long; this seems a sensible prophylactic step to take before debating a piece in committee, at least if there has been no previous exchange with the author.

    P.S. Personally, I could do without the popular reference in rejection letters to 2,000 submissions or whatever, though it might be helpful for first-time authors; some get read and accepted and others do not, and unless you’re willing to tell me it’s just random or blind luck, I’m going to suppose that something other than sheer volume is at issue, and I can live with that.

    P.P.S. My favorite cookie-cutter brush-off is from Harvard’s editors, which simply says that they “have decided not to make an offer to publish your manuscript” — not “unable” to publish it, mind you, they take ownership of the decision. I like that. I also like that they must be at the upper end of the submissions and expedite spectrum and always provide at least one prompt acknowledgment of each. I don’t want to seem like either a suck-up or a masochist, but they reject my submissions more professionally than at least one has accepted them.

  5. Anon says:

    Somewhat related question: Just about every time I have withdrawn a piece via Expresso I have received e-mails that have as their subject “Editor withdraws …” and include in the body “This is an automatically-generated note to inform you that the editor has withdrawn … .” I’ve only received these messages from a few journals each time, but not the same journals, and not according to any pattern that I can discern. Anybody have any idea whether they signify anything, such as that the piece was under active consideration at that journal?

  6. O'Thor says:

    7:02 Anon:

    I would suppose that the pattern is simply that (a) ExpressO alerts all journals of the withdrawal and provides a poorly phrased email for each journal for which an editor has somehow acknowledged receipt via the journal’s interface (it is automatic only in this limited sense); (b) only some editors do so; (c) some authors put the best, or perhaps most wistful, gloss on it. I could be dead wrong.

  7. Anon says:

    7:02 Anon again, responding to O’Thor: I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that, because I don’t get those e-mails from anything close to every journal that’s acknowledged receipt.

    A larger point: it would seem like Expresso could do a lot better than to do all this communicating by e-mail. Were I on the selection side, I would think it would be nice for me to be able to log into Expresso and pull up a single page that lists all the live Expedite requests that have been sent my way, etc.

    It probably wouldn’t be all that hard to provide more information for authors either. If, for example, those withdrawal-related e-mails really do signify something, then it’s often been information that I wish I’d known. Were I able to go to Expresso and see that my piece is (or is not) still under active consideration at places, that would be quite helpful. Indeed, if we made it easier for journals to reject via some centralized clearinghouse like Expresso they might be more likely to let us know (and we could avoid the poorly worded “we cannot accept your article” e-mails).

  8. O'Thor says:

    7:02 Anon:

    It may well not be that simple, but it doesn’t seem at all surprising to me that you would hear more from places that acknowledge receipt (and a potential relationship) than from those places when you have put a stake in it (and they understandably regard it as a done deal already for which no acknowledgment is necessary).

    As to your larger point, some law review editor might weigh in as to what the “selection side” sees. And perhaps another post could elicit suggestions as to how each “side” might be improved. On the submissions side, there are lots of little changes that would make the interface more author-friendly.

  9. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Thanks for the good discussion. As to the query in comment 3, whether to notify all journals upon a first offer or selectively alert them serially, perhaps it is a fielder’s choice. I see the rationale for alerting all at once, with ensuing updates, yet prefer the serial approach to avoid communication costs not worth incurring. Some journals will simply not care if an author has received an offer from certain other journals (and some journals, with decent reputations among authors, can have a reputation, among editors, for making such a large number of offers on many surprising papers that its offers can be worse than meaningless).

    True, my approach risks arriving at deadlines without ever alerting some journals of previous offers. But while many law review authors seem to exert ultimate energy in exhausting every angle in the process, I find that tax simply not worth paying. While I delight in placing articles in super fancy journals, I am happy publishing in a wide range of journals. So I can’t see expending so much energy in the placement process as I know many people, including accomplished tenured faculty at prominent schools, do. After all, as some studies and personal experience show, an article’s influence is not often correlated with its publisher’s prestige. And while it is difficult to be sure, any such correlation is likely to diminish with the proliferation of scholarship on line in this and the next generation.

  10. Sean M. says:

    In response to post #7, I can tell you that ExpressO allows me to sort by “Expedite Expires.” With one click, I can sort my “stack” of articles by when their expedite times out, allowing me to see what is urgent. An e-mail is generated as well, but the “stack” from the editor side shows prominently the expedite date.

  11. Anon says:

    So a question for Sean: Does a longer expedite date help or hurt an author? If you are sorting by expedite date, for example, then wouldn’t articles with an earlier date have a better chance? And doesn’t this then work against the conventional wisdom to get as much time as possible to respond to an offer?

    Another comment: Why doesn’t ExpressO allow us to log rejections by removing those journals from our expedite lists?

    Responding to someone above – the situation with getting no offers 40-90 but then getting a top 25 offer did happen to me a few years back. You could have knocked me over with a feather. It just goes to show that YOU NEVER KNOW HOW THIS GAME IS GOING TO PLAY OUT.

    Finally, even if a journal were not to tell us whether our articles were under active consideration, it would be nice to get an email acknowledging the expedite request and stating whether or not the selection schedule aligns with the deadline in the request. Similarly, it would be nice to know if a journal were full and so not actually considering the submission at all. That way, authors wouldn’t hold out hope for a Hail Mary offer when there is no chance that one will be forthcoming.

  12. anon says:

    @#11: I agree with your suggestion about expresso loggin rejections. In fact, IMHO the one change I’d like to see most with expresso is giving journals a “rejection” option, thereby allowing them to log rejections directly onto expresso that would then be noted on the author’s page. Yes, it would be less personal than the emails (tho they could likely easily have an option to send an auto email when the rejection is logged), but they would be much more useful than the current system where author’s are left to track rejections on their own. I must admit, I’ve sent an expedite request before to a journal that had already rejected me by checking boxes for expedite requests without looking closely at my rejects list. I also think that journals would be more likely to send rejections through this system because it would be less cumbersome than sending direct emails.

    One question for Sean, in regards to the expedite strategy issue: do you have any thoughts on how much of a difference the offering law review makes in an expedite request. More specifically, do you think there could be any downside to requesting an expedite with an offer from a low ranked journal?

  13. yet another anon says:

    And another, related question for Sean M. — say I put in an expedite request following an offer from Journal X, then get an offer from Journal Y and put in a new expedite request for that. When viewing the expedite request data for your “stack” of articles as a journal editor, does it list the offers both from X and Y, or only the most recent expedite request (i.e. only the one for Y)?

  14. Sean M. says:

    To answer the questions posed to me (and I should emphasize that I can only speak for myself, and, to a slightly lesser degree, my journal’s policies; your milage may vary):

    In response to post #11, a longer expedite date will never hurt you. This is for two reasons. First, while a shorter expedite will make it more likely that I will review your article sooner, it doesn’t mean I will review it more thoroughly. In other words, while I will try to honor the expedite request, I may end up rejecting an article that I’m on the fence about discussing with the full committee because the expedite deadline does not give me the opportunity to look at the article more closely. Second, while I try to aggressively honor all expedite requests, some members of my committee do not. For them, they will try to get to the expedite request, but if it passes, it passes, and there’s not much they can do about it. On a related note, if your expedite deadline extends for whatever reason — you get a new offer with a longer deadline, you get an extension from your original journal, update that in ExpressO. I will not review an article whose deadline listed in ExpressO has passed, because I don’t want to be stuck rejecting (or accepting) an article that is already off the market.

    In response to #12, it never hurts. An expedite from a journal that is significantly below ours or one that is known as making offers to almost anything that comes through the door will usually be a neutral factor (that is, neither help nor hurt you), but it may get your article read sooner. If the expedite is from a journal very close to ours, it will probably ensure your article gets a closer look from the editor. In the end, the journal you are expediting from is a signal for article quality. If the expited journal is not similar to ours in quality, then it says not too much about the quality of the article; it could either be a not-so-high quality article the expedited journal would still like to publish or it could be a good quality journal that the author is simply using to get faster review other places. If the expited journal is around us in terms of rank, it will make us think twice before rejecting the article without at least a full committee discussion. That’s because an expedite from a journal around us in quality says, “Hey! Articles committees sort of like ours looking for the same sort of quality liked the piece.” But the short answer is it doesn’t usually hurt to expedite, especially given that lower-ranked journals give longer deadlines.

    And lastly, in response to #13, I see all expedites when I click on the article. While the most recent expedite’s deadline is what I see when I look at the overview of my stack, clicking on the article allows me to see where all of the expedites have been.

    And although I do not know what you see on your end, I can tell you the “We are unable to accept X” e-mails are generated by ExpressO. We do not send them directly (or at least my journal does not). As for removing them from your list, I cannot speak to that.

    Hope this helps!