The Importance of Persistence

What is the most important factor in developing a successful publication record?  The inexperienced academic might think that intelligence and flawless intuition explain why researchers get their papers published. But according to physicist-turned-social science professor Brian Martin, the real key is persistence. Rejection is one of academe's "dirty secret[s]," he states at Inside Higher Ed. Many successful academics have experienced it on the way to getting their work into print. Rejection rates vary by field and specific journal, but the experience is far from rare.

"The key here is to distinguish the paper from myself," he advises. "The paper is my work, not me. If it is rejected, I don't consider this a personal failing." Instead, rejection can be an opportunity to improve the paper, to develop one's own critical faculties, to select a more appropriate journal to try—or perhaps all three. It is, of course, vital that the work be of high quality to begin with, and comments that may accompany rejection can help in making it better.

Avoiding submitting, or resubmitting, out of fear of rejection can lead to "counterproductive perfectionism and low output," he adds. In contrast, viewing "the submission process as a game of strategy" encourages one to submit and, if appropriate, to rethink and then submit elsewhere.

Having had articles, book proposals, and even books rejected before they saw print, I heartily endorse Martin's view. Failure teaches a lot more than success. As President Franklin Roosevelt, a man who knew a great deal about overcoming adversity, almost said, the only thing you have to fear is fear itself. 

"Persistence is not about hitting your head against a brick wall when there is no chance of breaking through," Martin writes. "It is about developing a capacity to judge your own work, making a considered judgment about what to do next, and then actually doing it. Most of all it is about being willing to fail, learning from the experience, and trying again." You can read the rest of Martin's clear-eyed and bracing advice here.

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