Academic editors often wish that author/scholars were as adept at saying no as we are. After all, our job is to say yes as long as possible, but frequently, we have to say no. So as a group, we tend to be pretty good at it. (But be aware: any individual editor in the context of any individual project may have a really hard time with this!)
With that in mind and on behalf of all editors, there’s something I’d like to tell you.
You can say no.
Really. It’s okay. In fact, in many cases I’d really appreciate it.
If I write to ask whether your article on voting regulations is related to a larger project, and it most definitely is not, please say no. If you don’t, I’ll wonder whether you got my note, or if perhaps it got spam-filtered. I’ll wonder if I should send it again. I’ll contemplate tracking you down at the next conference we both attend, just so I can ask you this in person. Save us both a lot of awkwardness and invested time by jotting me a quick “thanks but no thanks” note.
If I leave a message asking you to review a manuscript and you just promised yourself you wouldn’t say yes to anything else until you finished rewriting that article…please get in touch to say no. If you don’t, I’ll call again. And probably email. Plus, if we never connect—even if it’s just so you can say no—I won’t get the chance I hoped I’d have to ask you about that fascinating new line of research you seem to be pursuing. That could be a missed opportunity for both of us.
If you agreed to review a manuscript but you haven’t even glanced at it and the deadline for submitting your comments has passed, please be honest and tell me no when I inquire whether we should expect to see your comments soon. If you say yes, I’ll want to take you at your word (after all, I was excited to have you read this particular manuscript in the first place) but I’ll also wonder whether I should be arranging a back-up reviewer. And as the weeks fly by, you’ll feel stressed and guilty about this overdue task, and I will be painfully aware of how the author suffers through each day that passes without a review in her hands.
If I want to publish your manuscript but you want another press (and they want to publish it, too), please do me the honor of telling me no. I will eventually deduce that you picked someone else. But I would feel better if you had made a clean break instead of just disappearing. And my feeling better about the rejection matters to you because at some future point, you may want me to fight on your behalf for another project. I will be more inclined to do that if our last encounter ended on good terms.
So please: Take a deep breath. Do a gut check. If the honest answer is no, please just say so. We editors may be disappointed, but we’ll also thank you for the straight response.
If you need inspiration for how to word your no, I’ll post some actual rejections soon!