In the comments section of our newest "how can we help you?" post, Anonymous PostDoc writes:
I have a question/query about a journal submission that is taking a long time.... (let me explain)
In June 2016 i submitted a paper to a journal that i will not name (it's in the lower half of the Leiter top 20 generalists). After waiting for nearly 6 months i contacted the journal to ask about my submission. I was told at the time that they had struggled to find reviewers but were currently in the search for one.
Another month or two passed and i contacted again to ask if there had been any progress. I was then told that an 'expert reviewer' had been found - and while it would take another 6 weeks for a report/decision to come in, would i be ok with this. Obviously I agreed.
Another 2 months came and went and after inquiring again, i was told that a 'report was in', and to expect a decision soon/shortly. Unfortunately the journals idea of soon/shortly bears little resemblance to its common usage, and again around 6 weeks passed by.
At this point the paper has been 'under review' at the Journal for over a year. Given this I thought a gentle prod was in order. I contacted the associate editor (whom i had been in contact with), and was told that the editor was 'struggling to come to a decision on the basis of the report', and that inquiries would be made (by the associate editor) into what the status was. Alas that was nearly a month ago..
So that's the story, and my question is as follows. What is the best course of action from here on in? I feel like i have already 'pestered' the associate editor, and reading between the lines it does not seem as if they are really able to get any detailed info on what the editor is thinking about this piece, but are rather stalling. This is a good journal, and i would be very happy to have the piece accepted their (or even given an R&R verdict). However, given that its been nearly 14 months i'm starting to wonder whether it just isnt going to happen. I'm reticent to fire off yet more emails since they seem to have little to no effect. I am also slightly worried that if the editor is in some kind of mental deadlock on the paper that more pestering is likely to push in the direction of a rejection.
As a final caveat, i wonder what people make of this 'struggling to make a decision', 'given the report'. Has anyone ever come across something similar before? I assume, given high rejection rates, that a simple bad report, or even an ambiguous one, often just leads to a straight rejection. From my experience, editors don't agonize over whether to reject or not, so is there any 'positive' interpretation of this remark that doesn't imply rejection is still the most likely option?
Any thoughts on this would be great!
I'm curious to hear what readers think. I'm inclined to think that authors should set an absolute time-limit (e.g. 6 months) they are willing to wait before they simply withdraw the paper, so that they simply don't have to deal with cases like this. However, given that the paper has already been under review for over a year, I'm not sure what to advise.
If it were me, I would be tempted to simply withdraw the paper as a matter of principle. It's hard for me to see what good reason there can be for an initial review process to take a year, and I'm inclined to think we should expect better treatment as professionals. I'm also not sure there are any good options besides withdrawal. I've pestered editors before in cases like this, and in each case it resulted in a rejection--so I'm not sure that's a good move for the author to make. Which leaves only one other obvious alternative (other than withdrawal): namely, continuing to wait (for how long, exactly?). Because all of these seem like bad options, I'm not sure what to advise--other than, again, adopting a personal policy of withdrawing articles long before this kind of situation ever arises (which unfortunately, is not much help in this particular case).
I wish I had better advice. What's yours?