As David Velleman recently detailed here, many journals are overwhelmed with submissions. Velleman writes, "The amount of attention that can be paid to each submission, the percentage of submissions that can be refereed, and the selectivity that editors can exercise in recruiting referees—all have declined proportionately." As someone who has only been on the author side of things I realize it may be difficult to properly appreciate just how overwhelmed editors are. So, before raising a concern below, I want to emphasize that I truly appreciate all that journal editors do. Having organized the annual Cocoon Conference for several years now, I've seen how difficult it is to properly review several dozen papers once a year. I can only imagine what it is like to review several hundred full-length papers per year on a rolling basis!
That being said, I've had some experiences with desk-rejections recently--ones that, judging by my facebook feed, others have as well--that I struggle a bit with as an author. On the one hand, I've had some papers desk-rejected without comments really quickly, ranging from just a day or two to maybe a couple of weeks. Although I've worried in the past that desk-rejections may be overused in our profession (my spouse and I have both experienced desk-rejections being far more rare with psychology journals), I really appreciate it when I receive a quick desk-rejection. If a paper is a bad fit for a given journal or below its editors standards, it is nice to know so that I can evaluate what to do with the paper next. The thing is struggle with is when desk-rejections without comments appear to take anywhere from two to three months or longer. As I alluded to above, I don't appear to be alone here. Over the past several months, I've noticed a number of philosopher friends on facebook post comments expressing similar sentiments (in one case, a rejection without comments after 8 months!
Now, perhaps there is are good editorial explanations/justifications for cases like this. One possibility that occurred to me is that journals may send out papers to associate editors for desk-review, and it may take associate editors some time to get around to things. Another possibility is that cases that appear to be desk-rejections may not be desk-rejects at all, but rather papers sent out to reviewers for which, for whatever reason, no comments are provided or forwarded. Whatever the case may be, rejections without comments that take several months to occur can be really dispiriting, especially given how quickly the literature moves these days--and especially if one receives a series of them for a given paper (although multiple desk-rejections can be the result of paper being not worthy of publication, as Jason Stanley notes here it's hard to know what to make of multiple desk-rejections when papers that end up being influential in the discipline were evidently desk-rejected numerous times!).
Anyway, I'm curious to hear what readers think about this issue, including journal editors. Although I realize this post might be read as a "complaint" about desk-rejects taking a long time, I want to emphasize that it really isn't intended that way. On the contrary, I'm more just curious about the practice because its something I find difficult as an author. If there are good reasons for desk-rejects to take some time, it might be good to learn more about what those reasons are, so that we as authors can better understand the process!