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I submitted a 24 pages paper to a good journal - say usually in the top 10-20 - of pure maths, and after 14 months from the submission I haven't received any report. The last news I had from the editor date last may. Then I tried to contact him in september but no answer. What would you do? Wait? Write again? Withdraw the paper?

It is not a VERY TOP journal (top 5 for instance), hence I think a rejection would be pretty difficult to accept after such a long time.

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I think it's fine to email the editor politely and ask about the status. –  Karl Schwede Nov 24 '12 at 16:19
community wiki? –  Goldstern Nov 24 '12 at 17:18
@Goldstern: I agree and already flagged for moderators for CW (as soon as there is an answer it is most effificient if moderators do it as else pre-existing answers stay 'normal') –  quid Nov 24 '12 at 17:39
If the editor does not reply within 2-3 weeks I normally try to find another way to contact the journal. Various things could happen to a particular editor, but if the journal still exists, it should have a contact email address. I would not resubmit elsewhere without trying to contact the journal. –  Igor Belegradek Nov 24 '12 at 18:55
This should be community wiki. Voting to close until it is. –  Igor Rivin Nov 24 '12 at 19:10

7 Answers 7

One general advise. When you submit to a "VERY TOP" journal, you should be ready for the worst: that they will keep it for 2 years and then reject without clear explanation of the reason.

The reason is simple: the journals which are considered "very top" have too many papers submitted. Some famous papers which later became classical, where initially rejected.

If you do not like this, just do not submit to "very top journals". It is not the journal that makes your paper good, but the other way around:-) And there are plenty of "good journals" around. And editors who reply every e-mail in a day or two.

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Pulling this kind of crap is a way to stop being "Very Top". Duke Journal and Inventiones got to where they are by being quick. –  Igor Rivin Nov 24 '12 at 19:32

I am sorry to hear about your trouble with your paper. Unfortunately, from experience, it is not that unusual to wait 14 months or longer for a referee's report.

It is certainly fine to email the editor politely, as Karl says, and inquire about the status. You could also ask whether the journal has had any preliminary comments on the article from the referee. (I.e., the referee may be willing to state that they think the result is interesting, and they are likely to recommend acceptance if no issues with the paper come to light. Indeed, many journals now do solicit such comments from referees.)

In my view, the editor should be a bit embarrassed about not responding to your request in September. However, if they are doing their job, they are already hassling the referee and trying to get them to agree to a date by which the report will be provided.

If you do not hear back from the editor in a reasonable timeframe after your e-mail, you might want to e-mail the main journal e-mail address, mentioning that you have tried to contact the editor but have not been successful, and asking whether they know something about the progress of the paper. That way, you will make sure that the journal's secretary knows about the issue, and will follow it up. (However, do make sure to be polite and not to sound critical of the editor, which would be counterproductive.)

Finally, you are absolutely right that it would be tough to get a rejection letter after this time - although it is certainly not unheard of. You would hope that, if the referee was going to reject the paper, they would have done so quickly. However, if the report is negative, there is little that the journal can do.

If the report does recommend acceptance, then I would expect that the journal would be inclined to follow the referee's advice.

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"If the report does recommend acceptance, then I would expect that the journal would be inclined to follow the referee's advice." Let's hope this! I've heard scary things.... –  IMeasy Nov 24 '12 at 17:15
In my experience, most journals except the very top ones (Annals, Acta, Inventiones and a few others) tend to follow the referee's recommendation. A reasonable referee will reject a paper quickly if they are going to reject it, so I hope for you that they are simply very busy and just need to be prodded a bit by the editor. –  Lasse Rempe-Gillen Nov 24 '12 at 19:19
Lasse, I think it's not just those journals. For example, the London Mathematical Society stable of journals get far more positive referee's reports than papers they have space to publish. For Geometry & Topology (and maybe other journals in that family), at least three (?) of the editorial board need to approve the paper, which doesn't always happen even with a positive report. –  Tom Leinster Nov 24 '12 at 20:02
Hi Tom, I certainly didn't mean to suggest that a positive referee's report is a guarantee of acceptance. I don't think I have had a paper rejected by e.g. the main LMS or AMS journals (excluding JAMS of course, which is one of the very top mathematics journals) when the referee clearly recommended publication (or have recommended publication of a paper myself and then heard that it was rejected). But perhaps that experience isn't typical! –  Lasse Rempe-Gillen Nov 24 '12 at 23:03
@Andy, that's really unacceptable in my view. When a journal asks you to make revisions to the paper, you ought to be able to expect that they are likely to accept it if these are made to the referee's satisfaction (barring anything unforeseen happening). –  Lasse Rempe-Gillen Nov 25 '12 at 18:18
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Hey one month ago I finally received a pretty positive report, asking for some small changes! Persistence is the key ! :)

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Congrats, IMeasy! –  Yuichiro Fujiwara Apr 12 '13 at 10:08
This doesn't seem to be an answer to the question. –  Joel Reyes Noche Apr 12 '13 at 13:49
Indeed it is! I asked what was the right thing to do, and then I decided to wait and see. The result is that finally I've had my positive report. Hence I would say this is the right answer. :) –  IMeasy Apr 12 '13 at 14:09
Know it's a bit late, but glad to hear that things worked out. –  Lasse Rempe-Gillen Nov 2 at 12:14

Just an update: now the months are 15 and still I have no answers to my emails. I have also written to the secretary of the journal, who doesn't really know what to do!! It's not the wait that hurts, it's really not having a feedback.

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Maybe ask for a new referee at this point? –  Todd Trimble Jan 17 '13 at 11:21
To not have had contact from the editor seems irregular. It sounds like a tricky situation. I'm not sure what your situation is - if you are a recent PhD student, have you spoken to your supervisor? They might be able to contact someone at the journal on your behalf. –  Lasse Rempe-Gillen Jan 17 '13 at 16:03
It seems better to include such an "update" via an edit in the question, rather than by giving an answer. –  quid Jan 17 '13 at 16:06
If you know some of the other editors, it seems like it would be perfectly reasonable to contact them. Make sure to be diplomatic, because you don't want to come across as impatient or unreasonable, but you do have a right to expect a response to your communications from the editor, even if it is just a short "we are still waiting to hear from the referee". Good luck! –  Lasse Rempe-Gillen Jan 21 '13 at 16:35
I hope you have had or will have some success with getting feedback through your friend. –  Lasse Rempe-Gillen Feb 17 '13 at 14:35

I think, it is not a good journal. A good journal is a journal which has a good team as an editors , referees and be update in responsibility to all emails. Unfortunately some of editor did not see emails or didn’t noticed. I sent a paper for an editor after 5 mount I sent an email to know about my paper. But he said: I don’t remember please resending the paper again. A good referee must be read abstract and main Theorems of paper . If he\she recognize the paper is not appropriate to published in this journal, then send a rejection at most 2 mount. ( for example, AMS journals). Unfortunately I saw some of referees which don’t read papers. But they looked all of paperes ( which sent for referee) at the end of the year and make a decisions. I have a paper which was rejected after 2 year, without any mathematical reason. He said your paper has a bad writing in English.

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This does not seem to be an answer to the question. –  S. Carnahan Jan 17 '13 at 12:34
Dear Carnahan, Some judges hold papers without having to look. After all, at the end of the year and make judgment quickly. This taken all of time of author. I was a refere for some journals and Up to 5 months I would answer papers. –  Ali Jan 18 '13 at 11:52
Please change your answer to a suggestion for the author. That is, the question is: "What should I do as an author?" and is not: "Please share your bad experiences with journals". –  S. Carnahan Jan 19 '13 at 0:04

I think you should try to submit to another journal.

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Let me copy the comment I made on Teo Banica's post above. Withdrawing is really bad advice. At this point, the journal has it out to a referee and the editor has the ability to harass the referee until they write the report (and also, at this point they will feel some moral pressure to accept if it is a borderline case, though this still need not happen). If you withdraw and resubmit, it will be probably at least a year until you hear anything. –  Andy Putman Nov 24 '12 at 19:05
I guess I'm in a small minority here, but I support this answer. The one time I had a long delay, I was convinced the editor was doing everything possible, but the referee just wouldn't do the work. I had to weigh waiting a year with a new journal against possibly waiting to infinity with the old one. I asked the editor for permission to withdraw and submit elsewhere, permission was given, and I lived happily ever after. –  Gerry Myerson Jan 17 '13 at 10:49
I agree with Gerry Myerson's comment because something similar happened to me. –  Joel Reyes Noche Jan 17 '13 at 12:35

I waited for 2+ years for a publication. Isn't that too long ?

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what happened then? –  user16974 Nov 24 '12 at 18:16
Published, but thats too long. –  Ali Dino Jumani Jan 8 '13 at 8:53
It might be, but how does that answer the question? –  E. Vargas Mar 10 '13 at 17:14

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