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Two years ago I did a piece of research for a journal's especial edition. I got the reviewer's comments, did all the corrections and sent it to my co-authors. One of them took so long to return his comments that the paper wasn't included in the EE. I then tried to submit it to another journal but again the same co-author took long time to provide his comments. Finally my boss suggested me to submit it to another journal (good one) without waiting for my co-author's opinion. I got the reviewer's comments back, I did all the corrections (I have 45 days), sent it to my co-authors and gave them a week to send me their comments. The same co-author is now telling me he's not happy I didn't tell him I submitted to that journal and that he won't be able to make comments in a week. I'm again in a catch-22. What do you do?

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    Did you submit the paper without contacting your coauthors? Because I don't think that is the right move. You should have at least given them a heads up. Also, don't collaborate with this guy again. – MirroredFate Nov 15 '13 at 23:59
  • This isn't so much a problem in academic life as a problem in interpersonal interactions. It sounds like the co-author behaved, twice, in a way that you considered to be a problem, but you never explicitly told him that it was a problem. Since this seems to be his habitual behavior, and he's had no indication from you that it was ever a problem for you, you should not be surprised that the problem has not been solved. – Ben Crowell Nov 16 '13 at 15:44
  • My co-author hasn't sent the comments after nearly two weeks. The others had. Shall I just give up. I'm at the start of my career. – Luana Nov 22 '13 at 19:10
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It seems you are following your boss' (good) advice. Dealing with co-authors is not always easy as you have experienced. I think I have experienced a similar co-author, not responding but complaining whenever something happens. In my case, the co-author was definitely over-committed and the actions were basically a symptom of frustration about not being able to perform. Now, I think you have done the right thing to a point. The only thing that would have improved things would have been to provide the co-author with the information but with a strict deadline but not more than a week or two. Doing so at all stages, is the only way to deal with such cases. It is not very nice, or comfortable, but it is necessary to make a stand and convey the seriousness. In your case you have clearly had a lot of extra work due to the (lack of) actions from your co-author. I assume he has not apologized?

So what to do? Well, I would write and state that you are sorry the co-author feels left out (or however the co-author has phrased it). You can then state that the lack of response earlier made you assume the co-author was not prioritizing the work and that based on suggestions from your boss you have now taken the actions you have to get the material published. Be brief and courteous but do not add many excuses.

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    This situation reminds me of the adage: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. The only other comment I have on this fine answer is that the O.P. might be able to spin that "not prioritizing" part in a slightly more positive way (i.e., "Your earlier lack of response made me assume that you weren't prioritizing the work" could be expressed as, "Your earlier lack of response made me assume that you had too much on your plate"). – J.R. Nov 15 '13 at 23:04
  • I think "advise" should be "advice". – Faheem Mitha Nov 16 '13 at 15:15
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Summary

  • Apologize to your co-author for not telling him about the submission.
  • Try having a meeting/phone conference with the co-author (if possible including your supervisor) to solve the immediate problems.
  • Change your requests to the co-authors to an opt-in style.
  • In the future, send out "submitted paper to :-)" with the final version to all co-authors as last point on your submission routine.

he won't be able to make comments in a week

That just tells you that you won't have his comments within the week. But you need to know when you will have them.

Usually, I'd ask back when I can have the comments. Here, however, things look more difficult. So:

  • For one thing, I'd switch from email to phone (or a visit to his office). That eliminates the dead time between emailing several times and may allow you to extract a definitive answer for the time line.

  • The second thing I'd probably do would be trying to have a meeting (or a phone/video conference if the co-author is too far away). If he told you that he cannot do the comments this week, send a list of possible meeting times for next week. I'd (try to) include a number of "weird" times (early morning before the usual office routine sets in, evenings, possibly even at the weekend). This serves two purposes: it makes absolutely clear how important the meeting is to you and it closes loopholes for him. Talk to your supervisor about this first, you'll probably want to have him at the meeting as well - so you need to find times that are OK with your supervisor as well (that's the "try to" above).
    I'd probably email the list, ending with: if none of these is possible for you, please send me your preferred time for a meeting next week. I'd then do an immediate follow up-call "We need to talk about the paper. ... I just emailed you a number of possible times for a meeting". Ask him to tell you when the meeting would suit him.


For the future:

gave them a week to send me their comments

From the context I assume you wrote something like "please send me your comments within a week".

What about changing the question to an opt-in style: "please send me your comments asap. If I don't receive any within any within a week, I'll assume you're fine with the text as it is and move on with the submission." O course, you need to be extremely timely yourself if you do this and you need to give sensible deadlines.


Submission without the OK of all co-authors is misconduct. However, if I understood the described situation correctly, a manuscript that was approved by all co-authors was sent to a different journal. Again, an opt-in for changes would have been the proper way, but IMHO it is not as serious as general "submit without co-authors approval": after all the text was approved by the co-author, and the choice of the journal should not make any scientific difference.

Also, if I understood correclty, the co-author in question does not complain about the submission, but about the fact that he didn't know about it. That again is a valid complaint, so apologize.

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It's inappropriate to submit a paper for publication before all authors agree that it is ready. Your boss shouldn't have advised you to do this.

First, you should apologize profusely to your coauthor. Make sure he knows about the deadline, then wait patiently until he is able to give his comments. If the deadline gets close, you could ask the editor whether you can have more time. If not, it may be necessary to withdraw your submission and resubmit later.

When you collaborate with coauthors, you have to accept that the final product needs to be something that everyone can agree on. Yes, this may be inconvenient if one of them is slower, or has different standards than the others, and it can cause you to miss opportunities. This is the price of collaboration. If it becomes a problem, you should talk to your coauthors and try to work out a solution that's agreeable to all, but you cannot act unilaterally.

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    "Profuse" apologies are not appropriate here. The co-author has scuttled three different attempts at submitting this paper because he is apparently too busy to respond in a timely manner. The author should apologize for the brusque manner and the short deadline, but a reminder that prior efforts to submit the paper have failed because of the co-author's inaction has to also be noted, too. (Polite frustration would be what I would aim for here.) – aeismail Nov 15 '13 at 21:22
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    @aeismail: I absolutely agree that the coauthor's dilatoriness would be extremely frustrating, and under other circumstances I would agree with you that a sterner approach is appropriate. However, I think at this point the OP has put herself in the wrong by submitting the paper without the permission of one of the authors (if I correctly understand that is what happened), and so she's not really in a position to scold or issue an ultimatum. – Nate Eldredge Nov 15 '13 at 21:55
  • As I said, the tone needs to be of polite frustration—express regret for following the boss's instructions, but letting the co-author off the hook for his bad behavior will just prolong the cycle and encourage his obstructive ways. This has been going on for years, and something needs to change, or else this paper will never be published. (Part of me believes this is actually the co-author's goal.) – aeismail Nov 15 '13 at 22:04
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    The only workable conclusion I can draw from this answer is to drop the coauthor and somehow rewrite/redo his work without him, or just accept that you will never publish the paper. Neither of these seem better than the route the author has taken. This answer might be correct if this was the first time, but it's not. It is the THIRD time. – MirroredFate Nov 15 '13 at 23:58
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    @MirroredFate: Sometimes you just draw a blank. It is just one paper; if the collaboration does not work at all, it is possible to simply give up. Find other collaborators, find other problems to study, move on. – Jukka Suomela Nov 16 '13 at 0:36
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Apologise to your coauthor. Hope that he is not too upset. Ask him what to do next.


In the future, do not ever submit a paper for publication without discussing it with all coauthors.

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    I don't understand this whole 'apologize to the co-author' thing. That would have been fine if this had been the first time, but (assuming we trust the OP's version of events) it's not. The co-author has established a track record of harmful negligience and has abdicated their own responsibility to the paper. I don't see any need to cut them any more slack than a week's notice. Peter Jansson's advice seems the right one. – Suresh Nov 15 '13 at 21:35
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    @Suresh: Being passive and unresponsive is just impolite. However, submitting a paper for publication without a coauthor's permission is a case of academic misconduct. – Jukka Suomela Nov 16 '13 at 0:28
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    That's overstating it. the co-author was given a week to make changes, inspite of having stalled the paper twice before (again, assuming the facts as stated). – Suresh Nov 16 '13 at 7:29

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