You submitted your journal manuscript. Polite enquiry or a well designed journal website has provided you with information about how long they expect the review process to take. That time has passed. You’ve allowed some extra, possibly a couple of months extra. What the H-E-double-hockey-sticks (as we Canadians like to say) is going on?!?!?! And how do you find out without damaging your chances of your manuscript being accepted?
You are not alone.
Your gremlins are, no doubt, having a field day with this. Rest assured that it’s not you. This is not happening because you’re new at this. Or because you did a bad job of picking a journal. Or because they hate you and will never publish your work.
It is extremely frustrating. It should be better. But this is a very common experience. It’s not you.
Making enquiries about the process
This is okay as long as you respect the process and accept that it may just take a long time. You are not asking about or trying to rush the decision. You are asking for basic information about where your paper is in the process and how long it is expected to take.
If there is an editorial assistant for the journal, responding to this sort of enquiry is part of their job. If no editorial assistant, contact the editor. Many journals now use an electronic submission system that lets you track where it is in the process without bothering anyone. Don’t get obsessed but have a look to reassure yourself.
It is fine to ask about their normal process around the time you submit if that information is not easily found in some public place like the website. You should wait at least 3 months before making any further enquiries. The number of journals that take less than 3 months to make a decision is so small you can just be pleasantly surprised if you happen to have hit on one. Space your further enquiries by months not days or weeks.
What if the time is unacceptable
You can decide to withdraw your article from consideration and submit it elsewhere. This should be a last resort in extreme circumstances. Remember, this problem is common. Submitting elsewhere just gets you back to the beginning. And the pool of reviewers with expertise in your area isn’t going to change with the journal. Seek advice from a trusted mentor, preferably one who is well connected in the field and/or has published quite a bit.
Taking preventative measures
There are a few things you can do before you submit (next time) to minimize the likelihood of this problem, or at least have a good sense of what to expect going in. Seek out information about the review process as part of the process of selecting a journal. Ask colleagues in your field who have published with the journal you are considering what the review process was like.
A couple of Dutch academics have started a website to crowd-source this information. You can use the information there as part of your research when selecting a journal. Please also contribute reviews of the review processes you have been involved in to improve the information for everyone.
This is why you need a writing practice
There are so many parts of the process that are out of your control that it really makes sense to focus primarily on the writing and let the rest go as much as possible. You submit one thing and just move on to the other. When it comes back, you do what needs to be done, resubmit, and move on. Over and over again. At some point things are accepted and published and you get some kind of publishing momentum. (Yes, I know that’s hard because these things affect your ability to buy groceries but you can only control what you can control.)