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I had submitted a paper manuscript to JAMS (J. of Amer. Math Soc) and recieved the following email 2 months after the submission. Can you help me interpret this email, as to what the situation is and what would be the best way moving forward. Are there any positives/negatives that can be taken. I have not received any referee reports or any technical points on my work, which is what disappointing me. I would like to understand the circumstances/rationale behind this decision.

I am new to journal publishing. I want to know how i can take this decision moving forward, while choosing another journal for submitting. And also self evaluating my work from this. Is there anything to loose heart?

email : (names and references removed for privacy reasons)

Dear Professor XXXX,

This message concerns the manuscript

XXXXX by XXXX

submitted to the Journal of the AMS.

We regret to inform you that we cannot accept this paper for publication in JAMS. The reviewers who evaluated this submission did not think that it meets the acceptance standards at JAMS.

JAMS is the premier journal of the AMS, with extremely selective acceptance criteria. A paper must be truly exceptional to obtain the unanimous approval from the editors, which is required for publication. We publish fewer than 30 papers per year in all of mathematics. As a result, less than 10% of submissions are accepted for publication, and many excellent papers are rejected.

One reviewer suggested that the discussion in your paper should include a comparison with the following reference:

XXX, XXXX, XXX. XXXX: XXX.XXXXX XXXXX XXXX, Journal of XXXXX. 5555;5(XXX):5555-4444.

Sincerely,

XXXXXX, Editorial Assistant Journal of the American Mathematical Society

--- Sent via EditFlow by JAMS Editor <journal.american.math.society@gmail.co


Dear Professor XXXXX,

The reviews we received were intended for the editors' eyes only, so we are unable to send them to you.

Apologies, XXXX

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    Not sure what you are looking fot. The situation seems to be quite clearly laid out in that email. – Tobias Kildetoft Jan 9 at 12:50
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    JAMS is a top journal. Most papers, even excellent papers, will not meet their publication criteria. Do not despair...try for another journal. If you want AMS publication, you could next go for PAMS or TAMS (based on the length of your paper). Or you could try for a subject-matter journal: one that publishes only papers in your particular area of mathematics. – GEdgar Jan 9 at 15:35
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    Trying hard to read between the lines: maybe "should include a comparison with the following reference" means "someone else thought of something similar, first" – Words Like Jared Jan 10 at 22:22
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There isn't anything between the lines. It's simply a rejection. The editor and reviewers feel that your paper is clearly not strong enough for this journal, and they're telling you so.

Note that JAMS is an extremely selective journal, generally considered one of the top four out of all the many hundreds of journals in mathematics. It is very very hard to get a paper published there. Most of the papers they publish will be major breakthroughs in an area, or solve a famous open problem. The "10%" is actually misleadingly high, because the vast majority of papers are never submitted there in the first place because the authors know they have no chance.

Such journals often do a quick first round of reviews, where the reviewers are only asked if they think the results are potentially important enough to warrant publication in JAMS. Only if they say yes does the paper go on to a full technical review. In this case, it sounds like they said no. You didn't receive a detailed report because they didn't need to do a detailed review of the paper to make a decision. Remember that their job is ultimately to make the decision; it's not their job to give you feedback or help you improve your paper. Sometimes that happens along the way, but when the decision is clear, they won't spend time on a paper that, in their view, can't be made publishable in this journal.

The reviewers can, as in this case, make comments about things they happened to notice as they were doing their quick review. That's why you got the note about the reference. You'll have to read the reference to determine exactly what was meant here; it may be that the reviewer thinks that paper may already contain your results, or at least that they are similar enough that you need to carefully explain the difference. But it sounds like the reason for rejection was the overall significance of your paper, and this was just something they noted in passing.

How to move forward: submit to a different journal. If you want feedback on your paper first, you'll have to get it from someone else, e.g. a mentor, PhD advisor, collaborator or fellow researcher. Such a person could also help you get some ideas of journals for which your paper might be better suited - where it would have a better chance of acceptance or at least a full review.

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    @Kimball: "Great minds think alike..." ;-) – Nate Eldredge Jan 9 at 16:35
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    @NateEldredge ... but great enough to submit a joint answer to JAMS? – David Richerby Jan 9 at 22:14
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    Fools seldom differ? ;-) – Peter K. Jan 10 at 2:43
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    @user102868 Submitting to a math journal does not mean you can't describe the real world applications. But being correct and citing work in top journals is in no way sufficient for the work itself to be publishable in a top journal (in fact, this describes by far the larger part of my own paper, but I have certainly not written any that could be published in JAMS or the like). As an aside: The fact that you describe the person you cite as your competitor makes me worried that your view of research is very different from your peers. – Tobias Kildetoft Jan 10 at 15:10
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    @user102868 Most people do not view themselves as competing with fellow workers in the field. That is neither healthy nor helpful. That is all it seems Tobias is saying. – user10060 Jan 11 at 7:13
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Top journals, and JAMS is at the very top (most mathematicians probably will not have ever seriously considered submitting there), typically have 2 first passes before a proper peer-review (referee): (1) editorial consideration and (2) "quick" opinions from experts. Which is to say, there are 2 common ways for a paper to be rejected before it is sent for a full peer-review: (i) the editor decides from the title/abstract/info that it is not appropriate, or (ii) the editor solicits experts for an opinion of whether it is worth the effort of a full peer-review.

Based on your letter, and since you didn't receive a referee report, I would say the most likely scenario is (ii), and this is not surprising because unless you have done something really spectacular (I don't know that you haven't, but playing the odds...), you shouldn't bother submitting to JAMS, Annals, etc. (It can also happen that a referee who is asked to do a normal review, just sends back a few lines in the case of recommended rejection, in which case a full report would not be passed on to you either.)

So my suggestion listen to the expert's advice and compare what you've done with what's in that paper. Then, if possible, ask some more senior people for advice for where is an appropriate place to submit your work.

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    I have read that reference fully, and I am surprised that mathematically there isn't much to compare with my paper. Neither there is anything to compare in terms of theme, except to say that the suggested reference is an example of various traditional techniques being used in a field X (not mathematics), and that the theorems I have proved in my paper will give rise to tottally new techniques which overcome disadvantages of the cited traditional techniques. The suggested reference is not a math journal. – user102868 Jan 11 at 16:17
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    So my conclusion is, the rejection is largely might be due to standards not being met, rather than the cited reference. Infact citing that reference in my paper would actually help my cause. – user102868 Jan 11 at 16:19
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    @user102868: "Infact citing that reference in my paper would actually help my cause." Hmm, up until now I have been defending your right to resubmit the paper as is. But now you have me confused...if the citation helps your cause it means that it's (i) relevant and (ii) helps your cause! So you definitely should cite it, no? – Pete L. Clark Jan 11 at 18:48
  • @PeteL.Clark : Its just one of hundreds of such papers written about a class of methods and its not even foundational for that class. Its actually trivial that my method does not belong to that class. I don't think its a must to cite that particular paper. It would look like a random pick, if I cite it. The reviewer could have suggested to just mention about these class of methods and say that mine was different from that. This would take only a line. Over all its a positive suggestion is what I am feeling. May be that particular reviewer may not have voted for outright rejection. – user102868 Jan 11 at 19:16
  • @user102868 Or maybe that particular reviewer happened to know that that particular paper is about similar methods, but does not know the literature about that method very well. – Tommi Brander Jan 12 at 10:14
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Here's a positive from this experience that nobody's mentioned:

You got your answer in 2 months. This is actually quite fast for an answer on a mathematics paper. This is much better than waiting 12 months or more, then getting that same response.

You should address the cited reference (which may be duplicating some of your ideas), and resubmit to another journal.

  • It's not much of a positive! A rejection after a year would have come with constructive comments about how to improve the paper; getting rejected after two months for not being significant enough for the journal isn't much better than hiding the paper in a filing cabinet for that time and then submitting it to a more appropriate journal. – David Richerby Jan 10 at 17:59
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    @DavidRicherby I've submitted two papers to JAMS-level journals, each with multiplicity two. First paper: 2 months rejected with quick opinions at first journal, 5 months accepted at second. Second paper: 6 months rejected with quick opinions at first journal, then 15 months rejected with 8 reports none of which were sent to us at the second. 2 months is a good turnaround for a quick rejection, and long rejections don't always have meaningful feedback! – Noah Snyder Jan 10 at 20:49
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    @NoahSnyder Jeebus. I don't know whether to boggle more about the fact that eight referees were involved, or that none of their reports were sent to you! – David Richerby Jan 11 at 11:57
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    The thing is, the paper didn’t really need significant changes (it’s now accepted at another very good journal, with relatively few changes). It’s just that the opinions must have been pretty split about whether it was significant enough to make the cut. It’s not so clear how helpful it would be to us to see those opinions. – Noah Snyder Jan 11 at 13:40
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Most likely is that your theorem is just not ground breaking enough. It is possible there are other issues with the paper (writing quality of the text or logic of the math). But we really can't tell because the paper was not deeply reviewed. Go to a lower tier journal (more specialized) and submit it there. This will either get published or at least give you better feedback on your manuscript.

Note even on the off chance that your discovery should be at that top level journal, it is still their choice and people make mistakes. Nothing is perfect. Move on.

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The second paragraph of the mail is just boilerplate that everyone gets. The final recommendation is all you really need to be concerned with, but I'll guess that it is a big concern for the reviewers.

Is it the case, perhaps, that you missed an important earlier paper (the one cited) in developing your own? If so, you need to go back to your work and see how much you add to the earlier work. It may be that you only need a simple update before resubmission, but it is possible that you are left with too little that is new for you to proceed successfully without a lot of work.

But, no, nothing seems to be hidden or implied that isn't stated directly.

As for your comment about submitting (as is) to a different journal, they will likely have exactly the same reaction. Possibly even some of the same reviewers.

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    Actually, I doubt there is much chance of this paper being accepted in JAMS given that they already rejected it for not being up to their standard (I am not even sure if they allow resubmission, but I didn't check). – Tobias Kildetoft Jan 9 at 13:16
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    @Buffy : The paper was rejected not because of the reference. I don't think it has has nothing to do with it (having seen it). No point in resubmitting. – user102868 Jan 9 at 13:56
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    I downvoted because of the last paragraph. Many papers in mathematics are rejected upon first submission, resubmitted as is, and then accepted. Moreover your answer misses that where the OP submitted was in the top 0.1% of all math journals, a level of eliteness that doesn't exist in many other academic fields. Being rejected from such a journal says almost nothing about the value of a paper. – Pete L. Clark Jan 9 at 18:29
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    @Buffy There are no reviews. The paper was submitted to an absolutely top-flight journal. Before even doing full peer-review, they rejected the paper because, even if it's 100% correct, it's not significant enough for this particular journal. There's no basis on which to revise the paper, except perhaps to add the requested comparison. The correct course really is to submit it to a journal at a more appropriate level. – David Richerby Jan 9 at 22:41
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    @Buffy The asker explicitly says they didn't receive reviews, which is a strong indication that they don't exist. The other answers (which were posted after yours, but well before your reply to Pete Clark's comment) are written by people familiar with the journal and explain the situation, confirming this. And the asker has already commented to say that they don't think the suggested reference is very significant to their paper. – David Richerby Jan 9 at 22:58

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