Short-Term Cognitive Therapy for Authors of Rejected Manuscripts

[Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered just how articles truly come about? The article below has a very interesting backstory. The authors initially submitted a different article to the Journal of Polymorphous Perversity®, and the Editor rejected the article. Shortly thereafter, the same authors submitted a new article for publication, entitled “Short-Term Cognitive Therapy for Authors of Rejected Manuscripts.” This delightfully written new piece was accepted for publication in the Journal of Polymorphous Perversity® and appears in its entirety below.]

Ernie Ness, Ph.D, and Elson Bihm, Ph.D.
University of Central Arkansas


Writing for publication is not an easy task. Even after putting untold hours of blood, sweat, and tears into a manuscript, there is no assurance that it will be accepted. Rejection rates run as high as 97% in some journals (for example – the Journal of Polymorphous Perversity® [G.C. Ellenbogen, personal communication, March 22, 1991]).

Anyone who has been in the publication game for long knows all too well the intensity of feelings that goes along with rejection (Ness, 1986). But finally, help is available. For authors who have been rejected and who now must live with the accompanying pain and anguish (Bihm, 1987; Bihm & Ness, 1987), we have a solution. Beneath all – and we mean every single one – of the unpleasant emotions that rejection may foster are readily identified cognitions (Ness & Bihm, 1988).

In this article we share 14 irrational beliefs that underlie publishing anxiety, depression, and despair. We have gleaned these fundamental beliefs from several years of doing therapy with “rejects,” that is, authors of rejected manuscripts. Following each belief we have provided a more rational response that is of unquestionable value to the discouraged masses who have received these heartless “Dear Rejected Author” letters. The responses were taken directly either from transcripts of therapy sessions or from notes we made after consoling one another.

I must publish.

There you go “musterbating” again. How many times do we have to tell you to stop doing that?! You would prefer, like, even want to publish. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen if you don’t publish? Tenure, promotions, and providing for your family aren’t everything in life. There will still be beautiful sunsets, children at play, the smell of fresh hay, and 122 new journals a year that might need your manuscript.

I must have the approval of the editorial board.

These are people you don’t even know. Why should you care about them? If it is acceptance you want, look somewhere else. And remember, two people from the same board reading your work may have two entirely different reactions. Now that is irrational and makes no sense to use either. So really, you need only the approval of the majority of the editorial board. Find out where they live and send them gifts.

There is no future for me.

Now doggone it, there you go catastrophizing. In fact, there is a future for you. It just may not be in academia. There is life after rejection. Einstein, Edison, and others too numerous to mention suffered many defeats but didn’t give up; of course, they were only doing civilization-altering work and not trying to get published in an esoteric journal. Never mind.

I am a miserable failure.

Leave the adjective out of there. There is no empirical basis available by which to measure degree of failure. Besides, this is a classic example of overgeneralization. You’re probably highly successful at something. Think about it. Think about it a long time if you have to.

The acceptance of manuscripts is capricious and unfair.

Put the sour grapes away. Nobody said life was fair. We all know that a manuscript rejected by one journal may well get published in another. Try putting someone else’s name on your cover page and see what happens. Use a name like Beck, Cattell, or Lazarus.

There is one, and only one, journal for which my work is appropriate.

Balderdah. Only a narcissist would utter a statement as foolish as this one. Maybe our field of study is a little narrow; try expanding it. Consider a vanity journal; it might cost a few hundred dollars for reprints but at least you’re published. And remember, being published in a prestigious journal isn’t everything; others will just come to expect more and greater things from you. Now there’s some pressure you don’t need.

My best work will go unread by future generations.

Not to insult you or anything, but isn’t that the fate of nearly everything that is published these days? So your article on “A Linguistic Analysis of the Word ‘Abnegate’” goes unseen. If you’re that hung up about it, start your own journal. Or, place your work in a time capsule, bury it, and leave instructions for your children’s children to open it later. If you cannot wait, then follow Martin Luther’s example: nail your manuscript to the front door of a public building.

It’s the end of the world.

Talk about gross exaggeration. The world, as most of us know, will end according to the scripture when we least expect it . . . (sometime early in June, 1996). Get back to the business of writing.

I have been personally rejected.

No, you have been professionally rejected. Oh sure, the pain lasts for a very long time but you will recover. If you believe in blind reviews, then you know the reviewers had no idea who you were. Unless one of them lifted their blindfold, just for a moment, to sneak a peek.

Trash gets published but my manuscript is rejected.

You can lament this all you want but it doesn’t change a thing. Wait, now that you mention it, it really is kind of amazing the kind of work that gets published these days. Of course, some journals aren’t too particular and will take almost anything – provided it’s on a familiar topic, uses some incredibly complex statistical procedure, or has an author with a name like Beck, Cattell, or Lazarus.

I can’t stop now. I’ve put too much time into this.

This is clearly a personal choice; you can stop but you will not. This manuscript must have some special meaning for you. Let got of it. When you talk like this you sound like someone with a very serious addiction. Perhaps our group for Adult Authors of Rejected Manuscripts would be useful.

This was my best effort. I’ll never be able to write again.

Nobody likes a quitter. And frankly, learned helplessness does not become you at all. Seek inspiration. Go see “Field of Dreams.” Continue to refute defeatist thinking. Think a wonderful thought, any little thing will do.

I’m going to hurt the members of the editorial board.

Whoa! Hold that thought. We have an ethical obligation to meet here. Revengeful thoughts are commonplace. But please don’t act on them. Rage will get you nothing but a jail term and, almost surely, will delay publication. And, as long as you’re at it, give any weapons you own to a trusted friend – preferably one who has been published.

If I don’t publish, I will perish.

Fruit perishes, people die. And you won’t die. You might wander into the existential void for a spell if you get yet another rejection, but it could be worse. To prove our point, take out that rejected manuscript again and read the negative, cruel, and painful remarks one more time. There. Put it down. We said put it down!


There you have it – our prescription for the cognitive treatment of rejected authors. Our success rate has been remarkably high. Well, actually, we cannot locate any data to support that statement, but we do know that one session is sufficient for most clients because very few return for a second.

Our next paper will focus on the personality characteristics of the rejected author. We suspect there is a gene that predisposes some writers to become depressed, angry, and homicidal upon being rejected. And it’s a good bet that the environment exerts some kind of influence.


Bihm, E. (1987). It hurts so bad: Rejection. Unpublished manuscript.

Bihm, E., & Ness, E. (1987). Unpleasant feelings following rejection: A factor analytic approach to understanding. Unpublished manuscript.

Ness, E. (1986). Ouch! Rejected again. Unpublished manuscript.

Ness, E., & Bihm, E. (1988). Rejection: You can only take so much of it before you are just ready to explode. Journal of Last Resort, 23 (1), 216-223.

© Copyright 1991 Wry-Bred Press, Inc./Glenn Ellenbogen. All rights reserved.

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