Have you ever gone up the journal ladder following a rejection?

After getting rejected from a selective journal, it’s common to revise the paper and then resubmit to a less-selective journal. This is often called “going down the ladder”.

But what about going up the ladder instead? I’ve never done this myself, but I can imagine circumstances in which someone might do this:

  • Maybe you got a really good suggestion for a substantial revision, that the editor wasn’t sure you could carry out, hence the decision to reject the ms. If you do the revision and the ms is much improved, it’d be tempting to go up the ladder. A simple model of the reviewing process supports the intuition that it can be a good idea to go up the ladder when the reviews associated with the rejection let you greatly improve the ms.
  • If you got a rejection with invitation to resubmit as a new ms, with no deadline (or a far-off deadline) for the resubmission, then you might be tempted to go up the ladder instead. Figuring that this isn’t submitting the same ms to two different journals, since after all the current status is “rejected”. And figuring that if you get rejected from the journal higher up the ladder you can just fall back on resubmitting to the original journal.
  • Maybe other circumstances I haven’t thought of?

Note that I don’t consider revising and resubmitting to a higher-impact journal that covers different topics as going up the ladder. That’s more like changing ladders.

Have you ever gone “up the ladder” following a rejection? Looking forward to your comments.

37 thoughts on “Have you ever gone up the journal ladder following a rejection?

  1. I currently have a paper in press in Science that was originally rejected by Nature. Is that going up the ladder? Or down? Or sideways? Nature has a higher impact factor than Science but my impression is that Science is more widely read and highly regarded than Nature amongst EEB folks.

    The initial decision to submit to Nature was that it’s a British-focused study, not because of the relative standings of those journals.

    • Hmm, I’d consider that a lateral move.

      Interesting that you have the impression that Science is more highly regarded among EEB folks than Nature. I’d have said they’re similarly regarded, or that if anything Nature’s more highly regarded (or at least it was, before Rory left).

      • Perhaps that’s a subject-specific bias on my part- Science is publishing more of the pollinator loss/pesticide papers. But they’ve also had a special issue on defaunation recently, and (although I’ve not done a count) I get the impression that there’s a higher proportion of EEB papers published in Science than there is in Nature.

      • “Perhaps that’s a subject-specific bias on my part”

        Could well be. Science and Nature both do tend to have their pet subfields in EEB, and presumably in other fields of science. Nature was really stuck on neutral theory for a while there, for instance.

    • I’d go with lateral, too. Due to stochasticity in reviewing, my grad advisors would often submit something they thought was really good to Nature or Science and then to the other one when rejected at the first.

  2. My supervisor suggested I sumbit my first ever manuscript to Evolutionary Ecology which had a special issue planned for the conference, where I first presented my results. Hoping that the special issue would have less competition. The journal rejected it, one of the reviewes (signed by RJ Whittaker) suggested I should drop science altogether as my manuscript was so stupid and it will never-ever be published. But then Global Ecology and Biogeography accepted it basically without any major changes (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1466-8238.2007.00375.x/abstract),

    • That’s a great story!

      And while going to GEB is changing ladders from Evolutionary Ecology, I’d still consider that a move up the ladder as well.

      You’re far from the only person to have had a conference paper rejected from a journal special issue. That happened to a student of mine, it was very frustrating. But that’s probably another blog post…

  3. We submitted a paper idea to Trends Ecol Evol and they rejected it, so we went to Nature with it, and they loved it and quickly accepted it- our website for the paper is here:
    http://www.rvc.ac.uk/research/research-centres-and-facilities/structure-and-motion/projects/dinosaur-locomotion-beyond-the-bones (some broken links due to recent website revamp, urgh)
    The paper: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v440/n7082/full/440292a.html
    More of a perspective/opinion piece than anything else, but it’s still an article I’m proud of and followed up on in later papers.

  4. I bounced a paper up on one occasion because the tone of the reviews suggested that there wasn’t much wrong with it but it wasn’t a good fit for the original venue. Although resubmitted somewhere higher-ranked, I think it got a smoother review thanks to this. Sometimes fit matters more than impact factor, which applies in either direction on the ladder.

  5. One reason I’ve gone up the ladder in the past is because of the quality of the reviews at a low tier journal. Joe Travis used to tell people at Florida State that if you’re tired of getting poor reviewers, submit to a better journal. I don’t know whether that necessarily translates all the way up to Science/Nature, and certainly there’s a high degree of stochasticity in which reviewers are assigned at a particular journal, but I’ve certainly received much more thoughtful reviews from say, American Naturalist, relative to third or fourth tier journals.

    • Interesting, that’s different than my experience. My own experience has been that review quality doesn’t covary with journal quality. For instance, the one time I submitted to Community Ecology (yes, that is a real journal–it’s Hungarian), I got very thoughtful reviews.

      I can imagine reasons why it might go either way. Kind of like how I can imagine reasons why leading researchers might tend to give especially good talks–or especially poor talks.

      But of course, any one person’s experience is going to be a pretty small sample size here.

      • I have never heard anyone suggest the reviews on average are better at higher tier journals. Interesting that I have come to the same conclusion independently. Obviously, there is a lot of noise, but for me the signal seems pretty clear. Also, although my experience is quite limited with the journal, American Naturalist really stood out, especially in the amount of effort both handling and chief editors invested into the review.

      • I’ve had many good experiences with Am Nat’s reviewers and editors over the years–and also a couple of poor ones. It happens.

        I don’t have much experience with journals less selective than, say, Oikos, so it’s possible that I’ve failed to notice a correlation not just due to the inevitably small sample size of any one person’s experience, but also because my experience hasn’t been sufficiently wide.

    • I’ve had a similar experience. While the tippy top (Science, Nature, maybe PNAS) sometimes become gatekeeper reviews (I will find a reason why this ms should not get in), in my experience below that level the quality of the review is often correlated with journal quality.

      This is the main reason I have gone up the ladder the few times I’ve done it and it has often worked well. When the reviewers clearly just don’t even get what is going on going up the ladder might be the right idea.

      • “When the reviewers clearly just don’t even get what is going on going up the ladder might be the right idea.”

        I’ve had reviews from reviewers who just didn’t “get” it several times (either not getting the point of microcosms, or not getting the Price equation), but it never occurred to me to respond to that by going up the ladder in hopes of getting better reviewers. Maybe it should have!

      • Whenever reviewers “don’t get it”, is it us failing to communicate our science, or is it them failing to understand? I’m never sure actually. And yes, my (extremely ltd, as in ‘only have 1 paper there’) AmNat experience was great. Impressive editors.

      • “Whenever reviewers “don’t get it”, is it us failing to communicate our science, or is it them failing to understand?”

        Sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes both, I think. I’ve experienced all three myself.

      • My null hypothesis is that I failed to explain things well. But sometimes that hypothesis can be rejected – mostly when its really out of left field stuff and a bad match to the journal

  6. I haven’t tried this personally, but one of my advisors tells a story of re-submitting to Nature (and getting accepted) after getting rejected by PNAS.

  7. In a pretty ardous process, we originally submitted to Ecological Monographs, got moved to Ecology after shortening the paper, and because the editors said the queue was very long (at least 8-9 months to publish after acceptance), we got bumped to their new journal Ecosphere, at the time an unranked journal. Over a few months, we revised extensively according to a single reviewer’s comments (the others were fine with the ms.) and he/she ultimately rejected the paper. For some reason, we thought we’ll just give PNAS a go, and here we are: http://www.pnas.org/content/111/11/4151

    • Wait, Ecology is (or was) bumping mss to Ecosphere purely due to a backlog? Were you given any reason why your ms was bumped? Like, the editor didn’t think it would fly at Ecology? When journals have backlogs the EiC will often tell the handling editors to raise their standards and start rejecting more mss. But I’ve never heard of a journal just saying “sorry, we’ve got a backlog, so we’re not even going to consider your ms.”

      Rejected from Ecosphere followed by acceptance at PNAS is a really big jump up the ladder!

      • That was the reason given to us, that Ecology had a big backlog, could we consider Ecosphere instead? I think, they probably wanted to have more contributions to Ecosphere when it was starting out as well. We thought long and hard about submitting to Ecosphere and were pretty bummed when the paper was rejected!

      • Ah, ok, that makes sense. And yes, I too would be bummed if I was encouraged to submit to a new journal only to be rejected by the new journal!

  8. My first paper was submitted to a few forest/plant ecology journals (Forest Ecology and Management, Journal of Ecology, and one or two others, I think), and was soundly rejected by all. I finally bit the bullet and rewrote it as a methods paper, and it was accepted by Ecology. Thanks reviewers!!!

  9. In the process, actually. The original paper was a dissertation chapter of a friend/colleague and had to have lots and lots of stuff in it. She just wanted to get it published and move on, since it was methods, data, proof-of-concept analyses, boring… So she sent it to a low-ish journal; they rejected without review and sent us down to their lowest rung. That journal got only one person to review it, who then said, “this is long and convoluted and possibly should be broken up into multiple papers. Reject.” So… we’re breaking it up into four papers, the first of which is a pure data paper and is just about ready to go — and is quite good, I think. We’re aiming high…

  10. Yes, this paper went from being rejected without review at Ecology Letters (because an unpublished (in review at the time) article we cited and uploaded with the MS was judged to be too similar), to being reviewed and rejected at Am Nat, to being resubmitted (with some additional material and a letter clearly explaining the differences between the two papers) and accepted at Ecology Letters. All goes to show the importance of a good cover letter to the Editor, a good Editor and a healthy dose of reviewer stochasticity 🙂

    So, perhaps more of a yo-yo paper than climbing the ladder…

    The other paper got published soon after too.

    • I went back to ELE because of a comment from the Ed following the first submission – s/he suggested sending it back if the other paper (that was already in review) wasn’t accepted. (And because I really thought it made an important point and ELE had published some closely related work)

      Never been so pleased to receive a rejection…

  11. I think this is a very interesting post and comments, thanks for writing it. Does it worry anyone that this strategy could also be used to take advantage of reviewer efforts? I once reviewed a paper where I had substantial criticism, and other reviewers as well, to find the paper rejected but published in a much higher impact journal a few months later. The issues were not really addressed but rather smoothed and some controversial statements dropped. This irritated me, having the feeling of being taken advantage of as some sort of soundboard….

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