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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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    $\begingroup$ I think it's fine to email the editor politely and ask about the status. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 18:55
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    $\begingroup$ +1 to Igor. I would try two emails to the editor in charge 2 weeks apart. After that, I would try emailing eg the editor in chief, who will be able to track down what is happening (eg the editor in charge could have had a recent family emergency or something). $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ Karl and Igor have it right I think. It's fine to make a little noise after this length of time (baby needs new shoes!), but in the manner of asserting your rights without getting very huffy about it, and going up the management ladder if you get no response. The problem is likely at the referee level; hopefully a letter or two from editor to ref will guilt-trip the latter into finally getting the report done. If you withdraw, you'll have to start over again. This is no fun for any of the players; best of luck with this! $\endgroup$
    – Todd Trimble
    Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ Update: I am not done yet. After a positive report, asking for minor changes, the editor asked for a second opinion, which was also favorable. Now it is going through a third quick opinion by a third referee. I hope this will be enough to prove the value of my paper! $\endgroup$
    – IMeasy
    Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 14:11

4 Answers 4

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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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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$
    – Igor Rivin
    Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 19:32
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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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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Lasse Rempe-Gillen : I have had papers rejected by good but not top journals despite unambiguously positive referee reports (in fact, on one occasion said rejection came two years after initial submission after I performed substantial revisions for them). It's not common, but it does happen. And, of course, I won't submit to those journals again. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 0:43
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    $\begingroup$ @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). $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Tom: This is spot on and I wish more people knew about it; The LMS family of journals is quite average but they are very strict about selecting the most exceptional average paper that they can lay their hands on. $\endgroup$
    – ckufer
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 22:49
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Hey one month ago I finally received a pretty positive report, asking for some small changes! Persistence is the key ! :)

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    $\begingroup$ Congrats, IMeasy! $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 10:08
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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't seem to be an answer to the question. $\endgroup$
    – JRN
    Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ 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. :) $\endgroup$
    – IMeasy
    Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ Know it's a bit late, but glad to hear that things worked out. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 12:14
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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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    $\begingroup$ Maybe ask for a new referee at this point? $\endgroup$
    – Todd Trimble
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 11:21
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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ It seems better to include such an "update" via an edit in the question, rather than by giving an answer. $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ 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! $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ I hope you have had or will have some success with getting feedback through your friend. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 14:35

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