Paper in Chains

I think my paper might be held prisoner, but I don’t know why or when its sentence will end.

We have this result that’s pretty cute, but our first choice journal returned it without review as not hot enough.

So I thought a bit about where to send it, and since it was written as a letter and honestly should be a letter, I decided to send it to a professional society journal that has a letters section and that has a flavor similar to the original journal.

It’s been a month and nothing, except that someone looked at it at the start of week 3 and changed its title. The status says it’s still with the editors,  so it wasn’t sent out for review yet. (For reference, in my field the expectation is that an editor will do something in no more than a week. Occasionally it’s longer, but that’s an exception rather than the rule.) I have sent a couple of email inquiries, and nothing. My last email even said,  politely, “$hit or get off the can,” as in, if you don’t want it, fine, let us know so we can go elsewhere. Still nada.

I worked with the assigned editor before while he was at another journal, where I publish often, and he was always slow and very invasive (he’d change titles and make us change font in figures, things like that). I was so happy when he left that journal, because he was a veritable hurdle for my work in a specific area — not even negative, just slow and very anal. Now he’s at this new journal and he definitely hasn’t gotten any faster in responding. The new journal publishes some good papers, but it hasn’t lived up to its promise — I bet people never wanting to send there again, like I’m feeling now, has to do with it. You can’t have a high-impact-factor journal in my field if it takes you a month to even touch a paper.

My student is getting antsy; he wants his paper published, and I understand that. In most other journals, we’d already have the reviews in or would be close to getting them.

At this point, I am inclined for my next communication to simply be a notice of withdrawal. The question is how long to wait. Another week?

What say you, blogosphere? What have you done in the past in the case of nonresponsive editors who seem like a black hole for papers? 


  1. Is this a non-professional editor? (Since you’ve said this is a society journal, that would be my first assumption. If so, then the editor may be ignoring the deluge of emails from the journal.) Have you tried contacting the editor outside the realm of the “official journal emails”? Given that you have said you know the editor, maybe it’s time to use your networking to advantage?

  2. qaz, he’s a professional editor (this society uses mostly professional editors, with a small minority who are scientists in academia or national labs). I don’t really know the editor outside of him having been an editor in that other journal where I publish often; I had to call there once to talk with him about an older paper. This journal doesn’t make it easy to call and appear to discourage it (the contact number is there, but is intentionally and meticulously obscured).

  3. In biology, including more computational/mathematical biology, this isn’t such a long wait. I agree it’s very annoying, though. I recently busted my butt to get two good reviews in on time (10-14 days after assignment, <1 month after submission) for a journal that just rejected my paper after sitting on it for two months. The reviewers obviously didn't know the field well, and the editor's decision is flaming hypocrisy, but don't get me started.

  4. In biology, including more computational/mathematical biology, this isn’t such a long wait. Interesting. In astronomy I think this is considered a very long wait but a) we only send out to one reviewer and b) our journals have high acceptance rates. I’m sure that speeds up the process.

  5. Hmm. In geology, this would be considered extremely fast. Standard amount of time allotted to reviewers for most journals (except the fast-breaking letters kinds) is 30-35 days: anything less than three weeks is unheard of as far as I know. I just got asked to do two reviews for long standing reputable geoscience journals and complete them within 42 and 60 days respectively. But then, as we say, a million years is a short time to a geologist…

  6. I have edited a few journal issues in the past and was even more negligent than this, so I can understand how this might happen from the editor side if they were some busy scientist, but not from a professional.

    One month without sending for review is too long, and there are so many decent choices for journals these days. I totally support your angry-withdrawal-threat email idea and would follow through if they don’t respond promptly too.

  7. I’m in ecology, and I always find it kind of hilarious when my husband (who is in materials science) complains about reviews taking a month. For the journals I’ve been an AE for, we give reviewers a month to return reviews…so, a month turn around would be exceptionally speedy (unless it’s a desk rejection). When my papers are out for 3 months, I start to get grumpy.
    That said, fields are obviously different. If you’ve got another good journal to send the paper and these guys are out to lunch, pull it now and save yourself the frustration!

  8. I used to be in computer science, when it was routine for journal reviews to take 18 months (before a rejection or request to to rewrite, with another year to publication). That is part of the reason why CS conferences became archival publications. Their acceptance rate was lower, but reviews only took 3 months and publication only another 3 months.

  9. @gasstationwithoutpumps Whoa. I’ve heard numbers like that from friends in social sciences, but I kind of thought they had to be exaggerating. Awesome when papers that are hot off the press are actually 2+ years old.

  10. If the handling editor refuses to respond, communicate with the chief editor of the journal.

  11. “In biology, including more computational/mathematical biology, this isn’t such a long wait.” — This has not been my experience in that field, actually. One or two months of total time is not unusual, but two months before being sent to referees is awful- the worst I ever had was three weeks (once at PLOS Computational Biology), and I was fairly ticked.

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