Biomed Imaging Interv J 2007; 3(1):e1
© 2007 Biomedical Imaging and
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, will my submission say it all?
BJJ Abdullah*, MBBS, FRCR,
KH Ng, PhD, MIPEM, DABMP
Department of Biomedical Imaging, Faculty of Medicine, University
of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Now there was this queen who was the most beautiful woman in
the whole land, and she was very proud of her beauty. She stood in front of her
mirror every morning, and asked:
Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?
And the mirror always said:
You, my queen, are fairest of all.
And then she knew for certain that no one in the world was
more beautiful than she.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
But the mirror also said:
You, my queen, are fair; it�s true.
But Little Snow-White is still
A thousand times fairer than you 
We do this all the time don�t we? Looking for recognition of
our abilities, be it beauty, brawn or brains. Be it friendship, love, music, or
writing, we constantly hound our mirror with the same question: �Am I the
best?� And does this obsession extend to something as professional as getting a
research paper published? Yes, it does.
The process of publishing a research paper begins right from
the time you conceive the idea. And this includes all your efforts in polishing
the data, reviewing available literature, writing the proposal, seeking peer
reviews, hunting for funding, and preparing presentations to market your
proposal. Not to mention all those sacrifices you made, that movie you never
went to or that golf game you gave up. A research paper is a major investment
of time, energy, and effort.
No wonder then, that it is a pretty bad scene out there,
with still-born ideas stolen from previously published journals, data left
un-analyzed for reasons unknown and worse still, analyses that didn�t yield the
expected results. Most of the novices in this game are bowled out in the first
over with the �R� word. Rejection is part and parcel of Publishing but how many
of us accept the fact that our work may at some point, go into the �Rejection
Pile�? Half-complete papers because of half-baked information, non-cooperative
co-authors, sudden lack of inspiration to write, these are just some
self-created reasons for your manuscript to reach the R pile. And like the
proverbial �mirror on the wall always calls the queen the fairest of them all�,
we want to see those lovely words �Paper accepted� etched on our manuscript.
How does one cope with rejection? What must you do to keep your
spirit and enthusiasm up and high to ensure that all your efforts, time, money,
and sacrifice is not wasted? The caveat is that all the processes in the
research study were sound in the first place; the Science was definitely great;
but the Art needed and still needs help; the art of how to write, how to deal
with the dejection of reviewers and comments from editors. And this is an Art
we all need to study and develop.
Rejections are a reality. Your submissions will be
rejected! Say it and accept it. Out of the 100 papers that are submitted at
least 50% get rejected. Sometimes even more, and if you are real lucky,
sometimes less. We have forgotten that we are not the only ones that suffer
rejection in scientific writing. Rejection exists in every sphere of our lives.
The best way to avoid rejection is to ensure that your
research submission is of the highest standard. Make sure that the format is
correct, grammatical errors are minimal, spell checks are accurate, and that the
research and statistical methodology is correct. These are the simple mistakes
that put off reviewers when they receive a manuscript for editing. For those
who are �grammatically challenged�, it is wiser to get a professional copy
editor look through your work before submitting. Sorry, but colleagues and
friends are not of much use here; a professional is a professional.
Rejections hurt. And they hurt like hell! Anyone who tells
you not to take this personally has probably never faced a rejection. How can
it not be personal! Having said this, the trick is to accept it, take it
in your stride, and move on. Towards pulling your work out of that damned R
pile. If you are devastated by the rejection letter and feel that your heart
has been drilled, please wallow in self-pity, be sad, be mad, be angry, scream
and do whatever it takes to cope with it. But for God�s sakes, cope with it. If
the blues persist, make excuses for the rejection. Curse the reviewers, the editors,
and even the publishing house if you have to. Dish out whatever excuses you can
to make yourself feel better.
One truth that we can never run away from is that rejection
is an additional stress (as if we don�t have enough already!). Face this
stress like you would any other. But avoid writing to the editors at this stage
as you would probably live to regret the things you say. Share your sorrow
about the rejection with your co-authors and colleagues (women more likely than
men) as this does help lessen the hurt. Having a supportive spouse, colleague,
or friend acts like an elixir and certainly does help reduce the feeling of
despair or self-worth but then again, not totally.
Indulge in self-pity, but learn to put a full stop. Bouncing
back is essential to success. Many a researcher has been stifled early in their
career due to a poorly written rejection letter that was badly-timed, just
perfect to puncture a fragile ego unused to receiving criticisms.
If you get past this stage then maybe there is hope for you,
otherwise you are doomed to meet the fate that has befallen the others who
chose never to write again. Remember that everyone who is at the pinnacle of
success today, had to face rejection at some point in their writing career.
What differentiates them from the losers is that they picked up their manuscripts
from the trash and began all over again, never giving up their creativity to a
worthless bin holding trash. Did you know that the first Harry Potter book is
reported to have been rejected by 14 publishers? Stephen King had over 30 rejections for Carrie, while Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach had over 140 rejections! And yet, these are big names today.
Remember that to editors and reviewers, you are not visible;
only your writing is. They are simply doing their job of assessing that
writing, just as you are doing your job of converting your thoughts into
writing. You should be happy that someone is actually spending their time going
through your work. Believe me, not many get even this far.
Maintaining the fine line between processing negative
feedback and rejection and feeling good enough about one�s work not to give up
is really tough. If we do not listen to comments or criticisms on one hand we
never grow but if we take these too seriously we may become paralysed that we
are no longer able to do function adequately. The hurt is more because the
rejection is for words that you have conceived and put down on paper. That is
why we remember the rejections more than the acceptances; we can vividly recall
the scathing remarks even 15 years after the event. There are those who
recommend that you keep your entire rejection letters as a mark of being battle-hardened,
but that is certainly not for us. Our biggest critic is our own self! We need
to be able turn off this internal critic at the critical points; off when you
are writing and on when you are reading what you have written.
Not all are born with scientific writing skills. We learn as
we write; and we learn by reading the famous authors. Our writing styles are
defined by the choice of authors we read, so it is important that while you
read famous literature, make sure to evolve your own style, something a tad
different from the style of your mentor.
Publishing houses and editors are not in the habit of
rejecting for the sake of rejections; they are merely trying to ensure that the
highest standards of scientific writing are maintained. They try to assist
authors in every possible way. It is not in their interest to stunt the growth
of the writer community. It is important that if scientific writing is to progress,
every writer needs to learn how to cope with rejection.
So the next time you stand before that mirror, don�t ask the
obvious. Simply stare into it and accept the truth it beholds!
Ashliman, DL. Snow-White and other tales of Aarne Thompson [Web Page]. Available at http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0709.html. (Accessed 16 January 2007).
|Received 5 January 2007; accepted 8 February 2007
Correspondence: Department of Biomedical Imaging, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Tel: +603-79492069; Fax: +603-79581973;
E-mail: email@example.com (B.J.J. Abdullah).
Please cite as: Abdullah BJJ, Ng KH,
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, will my submission say it all?, Biomed Imaging Interv J 2007; 3(1):e1
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