About 5 months ago I submitted a paper to a journal. The editors assigned a reviewer. In the meantime I sent a couple of revised versions, which did not help matters, but the editor ultimately wrote back and asked me to complete my revisions and re-submit the document. I did that within a couple of weeks. The editors did not acknowledge receipt of this submission, but I did not want to ask for one since I felt I had already been pestering them too much. A couple of weeks later, I notified the editors that I wanted to post a couple of graphs from the submitted paper on a blog, although I hoped to make it clear that only a very small component of the whole paper was being posted on the blog. The editors did not respond to this notification. More than two months went by after the re-submission, and I sent a message to the editor asking for a status update, just to be sure that the paper was still being considered and under review. It seemed to me that a very simple "yes, it is still being reviewed", or "no, we have considered your paper withdrawn and it is not being reviewed" or something like that, would suffice. About 10 more days passed with no response, and I thought I would telephone the editor with my question, on the off-chance that my emails were not getting through. I left a message for him, and another week has gone by with no response. At what point do I take the non-response from the editor as a message that my paper is no longer under review and that I should re-submit it elsewhere? The journal is otherwise a reputable journal, and I would like my paper published there, but there are many others that interest me too. I feel like I made a mess of the whole process, and am to be blamed for over-communication and confusion, but am I not owed the courtesy of a response from the editor?
There are good reasons to expect communication with an editor to be slower than many other e-mail exchanges. Editors are busy, especially since editing may be a minor but time consuming part of their job. And responding to questions from authors often involves contacting referees, who may in turn be unresponsive.
I'd say that it's reasonable to wait a couple of weeks for a response to a timely request for a status update (two months after a revision strikes me as a bit early---I'd expect it to take longer---but not unreasonably early to ask for a status update). If it gets lost (for instance, the editor is waiting for a response from the referee, and hasn't remembered to tell you that's what's happening), a polite reminder and a few days to another week or so of waiting might be appropriate.
After that, though, you can rightly begin to worry that you aren't hearing back. If there are other editors, especially a chief editor, you can contact, I'd start there. I'd be very reluctant to unilaterally withdraw the paper, since that might cause complications if the editor returns and feels you resubmitted while it was still under consideration. Before resorting to that, I'd try to talk to one or two senior people in the field for advice about the specific paper.
(Just to emphasize, I'm talking about communication with an editor about the status of a paper. Of course the refereeing process as a whole can take a year or more.)
You are right in both that you have made a mess and that you should get a prompt reply.
First, to see what usually happens: A paper is submitted, the editor takes a look (reads) the paper to decide if it is appropriate for the journal and if it is ok then either sends it out to reviewers directly or assigns the papers to co-editors who will send it out. This process can vary greatly in length but will be on the order of weeks to a month depending on workload. Remember that editors usually work for free or with little pay and working out of their spare time. Assigning reviewers means contacting reviewers, waiting for their reply and in some cases getting negative replies. Each request might use up 2 weeks and so if you are unlucky it might take month just to get enough reviewers to accept the chore. Reviewers usually have something like three weeks to do the review (it will vary though) but often reviewers are not on time so a month can easily go by. Upon getting the reviews back, the editor has to scrutinize the reviews and make decisions on the recommendation to send back to you. Several weeks to a month are typical times for this depending on a situation. The editor will then contact you with a "verdict" varying from accept to reject through revisions. During all this time you will not hear much unless the journal uses an electronic submissions system in which you can usually monitor the progress yourself.
So, if you contact the editor with questions during the process, I would say it is fair to get a reply within at least a couple of weeks unless it is a holiday season. The fact that you for some reason submitted a manuscript which probbaly was sent into above process and then followed up by sending revised manuscripts which would have caused quite a lot of extra work for everyone concerned at the journal, was a mistake and would make me as editor really irritated. Don't send a manuscript unless it is completed. If you need to add or change anything wait until the manuscript is reviewed or withdraw it.
Despite the problems you may have caused, you are of course still entitled to get a response on direct questions. The fact that many months transpired without contact about your manuscript is not out of the ordinary but if you ask for a status update after 4-5 months, I would think it would only be fair to get a quick reply such as you mention. As a side point, a rejection is usually communicated quite quickly so a lack of contact is usually a good sign. Now, I do of course not know why the correspondence is slow, if it is the norm with the journal or if it is just an accident. As a final point I would say that even if you messed up, it doesn't entitle the editors to treat you any worse than anybody else. It is always difficult to know if sending additional mails will help, most likely not, but at some point, give it another month, then a response should have come forth. If not then another mail is in order.
From reading this it almost seems like the paper is not actually submitted. By submitting revisions (via email? were you uploading them? withdrawing the original? submitting via the submission systems as if they were new submissions?) AFTER the manuscript had been sent out to reviewers, you threw a wrench into the system. The editor was polite and told you to resubmit a final version of the manuscript. They probably WITHDREW your original manuscript and pulled it from review. The clock now resets for this submission. How did you do it? Via email to the editor? If you did that, it is not submitted. If you have no acknowledgement email, manuscript number, control number, it is not submitted and probably not under consideration. I would not recommend contacting the editor further and log into the manuscript submission system and check the status of the manuscript. You will probably have at least one submission withdrawn by the editor, but it is unclear to me how you submitted the unsolicited revisions and whether they will appear in the system.
This depends on the journal, as there is no set time, in general, for journal editors to publish research. No doubt you have read up on the relevant sections that pertain to timeframes on the publisher's website - those are usually a guide. I have had a paper submitted and published online within 2 months and another took 8 months.
There has been, somewhat ironically, a research paper written about this: "How Long is the Peer Review Process for Journal Manuscripts? A Case Study on Angewandte Chemie International Edition" (Bornmann and Hans-Dieter, 2010).
A very pertinent point is that as the editors are reviewing a lot of papers, they are under considerable pressure to reach quick publication decisions and that the majority of the time is waiting for reviewers to get back to them. This may go some of the way to explain why there is a lack of communication and the length of time.