Yes, it's time for another confession. It's one that I am finding hard to make as I sit here writing it (I keep pausing and asking myself, do you really want to put this out there?). But my own discomfort sharing it provides evidence that it's important for me to share this experience with graduate students and other young professionals. I heard this week that a paper that I wrote is now in print. I could pretend that this paper is published in the journal I submitted it to, and that it was a straightforward and easy process, but it wasn't. It was first submitted 8 years ago, and it was rejected from 4 other journals before it was published in its current location.
There are a number of reasons that this happened. I aimed high on the first submission, and after a long review process, it was rejected, actually on the day my children were born. The intervening years include periods of time where I was busy with other projects, including data collection and new manuscripts and didn't return to this paper; a 2 year period where it went through three rounds of revision, at which point the editor asked for completely new analyses and new variables that were not central to the paper, so we withdrew it. Last fall, while on sabbatical, I had a chunk of time to rework it, and sent it to a new journal, where we had a very positive review process, an R&R, an acceptance soon after, and then this week, it was published.
The reason I persevered is that I had faith in the paper. It wasn't the most life changing paper ever, but I thought it was strong and interesting. Obviously, if I didn't have faith in it, or if reviewers pointed out something fatal, I should have given up. But when we received reviews, we were able to address concerns, and send it somewhere new. In the end, the perseverance paid off. Sometimes, it's an issue of fit, and you eventually find the right home for a paper.
In my research group, we have a "paper tracking sheet" that we update 3 times per year. For paper that are in progress or submitted, we have information about when and where we intend to submit it, and journal names and dates of any prior submissions. Sometimes, we miss our target submission dates. Sometimes even by years. But once that paper is accepted, it moves to the "in press" section of the document, and the history disappears from the document.
Again, I'm not saying that every paper requires perseverance. Some papers find their homes on the first or second try. And honestly, on the reviewing end, I've read manuscripts that probably should never be published anywhere, even with new frameworks or new analyses. But my point is, just like the late blooming adolescent, sometimes, for a number of reasons, a paper may take a bit longer to find its home, and in the end, that line on your CV doesn't mean anything different than any other line... at least to anyone but you and your co-authors.