Editors don’t reject my submissions very often. This doesn’t mean that I’m a stellar scientist. It simply reveals how cautious I am with my submission choices.
I don’t mind getting rejection letters, just as long as they are constructive, and I don’t mind telling people that I was rejected, just as long as the rejection came from a reputable journal.
What I am sensitive about is wasting time — and not just my time, but the time of editors and reviewers. A resubmission may only mean a day or two of my own time, but it may lock up the paper for several months before I hear an answer. This delay prevents me from being too ambitious, like Icarus, the mythical Greek character who flies too close to the sun with wings made from feathers and wax. The gods of editorial boards can be cruel, but their lesson is clear: Don’t waste our time, and we won’t waste yours.
I ignored this lesson with my last two submissions. The reason? The journals practice cascading peer review and would forward my rejected article — along with the reviews — to the next appropriate journal in line. I would not have to write another cover letter, change my reference style, or go through the resubmission process and wait in line for an editorial assistant to handle my submission. My dossier would go straight to the editor.
Which leads me to ask the editors and publishers who practice rejection referral whether they are seeing more submissions to their top journals from authors like me?
If the practice of cascading peer-review becomes standard within the industry, the function of editorial and peer-review becomes less about gate keeping and more about finding an appropriate home for a manuscript. In this world, rejection rates, as an indication of selectivity and brand identity, start to lose their meaning. Similarly, an author’s choice of where to publish becomes less about choosing a journal and more about cultivating a relationship with a publisher.
This puts larger publishers in a distinct advantage, especially those who manage a portfolio of titles within a discipline. For smaller publishers however, there is no other journal to pass a manuscript, except perhaps a general multidisciplinary open access journal with few requirements beyond a sound methodology. Society publishers controlling just a single title can offer nothing to a rejected author except a letter of condolence. While single journals can group together to help facilitate a transfer — such as done by the Neuroscience Peer Review Consortium — this intra-publisher transfer is much more complicated and time-consuming than an internal referral.
Being a large player in a digital publishing environment can offer more economies of scale beyond selling bundled “Big Deal” subscriptions to librarians. Cascading peer-review offers an added level of service to authors that simply cannot be matched by smaller publishers.
With cascading peer review, the price of rejection has gotten a lot cheaper. And when soaring too high comes with a much shorter fall, I’m willing to fly a little higher.