Written: Nov. 1, 2004.
Often, when we read about seminal work (for example that won the Nobel prize), it is said, in passing, that the work was rejected by quite a few journals, before being published in an `obscure' journal. But we are never told the name of the editor, and obviously not the name of the narrow-minded referees.
When your next paper gets accepted by a `prestigious' journal, you have a right to be happy, since it is most likely a correct and solid piece of work. But if it gets rejected, because it is `not interesting or important enough', you should be even happier, since the probability that it is really a seminal paper is much higher than if it would have been accepted. Most editors and referees prefer the same-old currently mainstream stuff, and usually don't have the vision and foresight to appreciate truly novel work.
I admit that some rejections are justified, but thanks to the internet, rejected authors can make editors and publishers accountable for any rejection that they feel is unjustified, by posting their names. This way, if and when your article (that you can publish elsewhere, some journal will most likely publish it eventually, or just keep it in Arxiv.org and/or your personal website), will turn out to be seminal, you will get your revenge against these narrow-minded creatures. Unfortunately, refereeing is still anonymous, but a broad-minded editor can overrule stupid referee reports.
In fact, you don't have to wait for the Fields medal or Abel prize. Since your article is posted in arxiv.org and/or your website, anyone can judge for himself or herself, whether the editor's and/or publisher's decision was justified.
So here is my own personal list of poor judgement of editors.
The most notorious rejector is the recently-retired ruthless managing editor of the Duke Math Journal, who loved his job so much because he loved to reject papers. I found out about this way back in graduate school, in 1975, when he rejected, without trial (i.e. without even sending it to a referee) a paper that considerably improved previous papers in that journal. Only much later did I find out that the papers I referenced were from the Carlitz era, and since then there was a `high-brow' coup, and, even though that managing editor was only their henchman, he enjoyed his executions immensely. Myself, I boycott the Duke Journal, and hope that you will do the same.
Another notorious would-be-prestigious journal, that tries to reject as many papers as possible, but unlike Duke, for snobbish, rather than purely sadistic reasons, (by unilaterally not publishing in areas that they consider `marginal') is Israel Journal of Mathematics. In 1976, it rejected a paper of mine, on Discrete Analytic Functions, that, in my opinion, was `important enough'. So, I warn people to stay away from them, since they are still as snobbish as ever. I recently got a request from them to referee a paper, and in the `Instructions' they practically begged me to reject that paper. I tactfully declined, stating that rejecting papers is not my cup of tea. Do stay away from them.
Now let me go to books. My innovative web-book Ekhad's Geometry Text, that I feel also deserves a paper version (like some notable websites), had the honor of being rejected by (i) Cambridge Univ. Press (ii) Springer (iii) World Scientific (iv) AK Peters (v) AMS (vi) MAA. I won't mention any names, but I think that they should be ashamed.
So, you too, don't be embarrassed by any rejections that you might encounter, now it is easy to get even. Put these editors and publishers to shame by publicizing their errors.
Read The Narrow-Minded and Ignorant Referee's Report [and Zeilberger's Response] of Zeilberger's Paper "Automatic CounTilings" that was rejected by Helene Barcelo and the Members of the Advisory Board [that includes(!) Enumeration Expert Mireille Bousquet-Melou] of the Journal of Combinatorial Theory-Series A .
Doron Zeilberger's Homepage