The pain of rejection is one that every scientist has felt: but what happens to papers after they're declined by a journal? In a new study, researchers Earnshaw et al. traced the fate of almost 1,000 manuscripts which had been submitted to and rejected by ear, nose and throat journal
To find out if the rejected papers had eventually appeared elsewhere, Earnshaw et al. searched PubMed and Google Scholar for published papers with titles and author lists matching those of the rejected manuscripts. The results showed that by November 2015, about half of the papers had eventually been published, but on average it took over a year for this to happen:
917 manuscripts were rejected over this time period... 511 manuscripts went on to be subsequently published, representing 55.7% of the initially rejected manuscripts. The average delay was 15.1 months (standard deviation, SD: 8.8 months).
In general, Clinical Otolaryngology's rejects ended up being accepted by journals with a lower impact factor than Clinical Otolaryngology's (which is modest; it's currently 2.6, ranked 5/43 in otorhinolaryngology).
A minority of the rejected papers went on to appear in higher-impact journals, though. These 'ugly ducklings' even included 18 manuscripts (that's 2% of all rejects) which the editors of Clinical Otolaryngology had rejected without even sending them out for peer review. This is rather reassuring for scientists (like me) who received such a "desk rejection" recently. Overall this is a nice little paper, although the results are based on just one journal. It would be good to also look at the fate of rejections from a higher-impact publication. My guess would be that a higher proportion of them would end up being published eventually, but that the delay between initial rejection and publication would also be longer, as authors' worked their way down the long ladder of prestige and respectability in search of a place for their work...
Earnshaw CH, Edwin C, Bhat J, Krishnan M, Mamais C, Somashekar S, Sunil A, Williams SP, & Leong SC (2016). An Analysis of the Fate of 917 Manuscripts Rejected from Clinical Otolaryngology. Clinical Otolaryngology PMID: 28032954