I have a paper that was resubmitted following a revise and resubmit around 18 months ago. I have been in contact with the editor several times and she has been sympathetic to my enquiries but has explained that the referees are proving unresponsive due to covid. The resubmission was a meaty one and took a great deal of work, but we were able to address, in our view, all of the referees’ comments. Thus, normally, I’d be confident of publication in due course potentially after another round of R&R.

But, I worry that if the referees haven’t found time in the last year and a half they may never find time. What can I suggest to the editor as ways to move the paper forward?

I don’t want to threaten to withdraw the paper as the journal is a good fit for the paper and I don’t want to risk starting all over again. Of course this may become inevitable but for now let’s ignore it.

I also don’t want to lecture the editor on her moral/professional obligations, etc., etc. She is the editor in chief and there isn’t an obvious person to escalate it to. I also believe she is trying to do her best. Instead I want to find a way to empower the editor to make a decision.

The journal is a small and specialised one and my paper uses slightly different techniques to those it normally publishes and thus she may be loath to act independently.

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    The EiC is the person with all the power someone in the publishing business has. What specifically do you think you could do to "empower the editor to make a decision"? Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 21:41
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    "The journal is a small and specialised one and my paper uses slightly different techniques to those it normally publishes" is it the only possible outlet of your research? I see a sunk cost fallacy here: since you waited 18 months, you are ready to wait 6/9 months more. "I want to find a way to empower the editor to make a decision." that's delusional thinking at its best. The editor already has all the tools, and the editor already kept you on hold for so long, even if he/she is doing the best possible, and you still think you can have a positive outcome from this?
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Sep 29, 2021 at 8:50
  • If the time was the only issue I would agree the sunk cost fallacy would be relevant, but here the issue is I don’t want to have to try and get an r&r somewhere else and meet another set of referees equally arbitrary demands. Commented Sep 29, 2021 at 17:54
  • While not the only outlet for my paper, I think at this point it is a lot better than the alternatives. Commented Sep 29, 2021 at 17:55

2 Answers 2


Realistically, there are only two "ways to move the paper forward": either the editor manages to extort the reports from the original referees, or she finds new referees and they submit a report. (In a very rare situation she has exactly relevant expertise and judges the situation to be sufficiently dire, she might serve as such a referee herself.)

It's unlikely she will accept a paper that was rejected with serious concerns in the first round, and heavily revised, without a referee report, just because the author grew impatient. No actions from your side are likely to change that. Even threatening to withdraw the paper is no leverage - she will probably profusely apologize, but say that she did her best. Strong journals receive far more good papers than they accept.

If your circumstances make the delay really damaging (you are an early-career researcher in need of a publication for thesis defense/promotion etc.), you can mention that to her so that she mention that either to the original referees, or to the new referees whom she will beg to write a quick report.

  • I agree I have no leverage. Do you think suggesting new referees is a way to move it forward? Or requesting that she act as a referee? The latter seems better as it seems less likely to lead to rejection, given if she disliked it she would have rejected it already. Commented Sep 29, 2021 at 17:59
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    @dothyphendot, I would consider it inappropriate to advice the EiC on how to do her job. It's up to her to decide what referee input she needs and what's the best way to obtain it. The only thing you know better than her is your paper, and your situation. If you have a convincing case that nature of changes are such that she could judge herself that the paper is acceptable now, maybe you can try and make such a case. Otherwise, I would refrain from "suggesting new referees" unless she asks your opinion about this option.
    – Kostya_I
    Commented Sep 29, 2021 at 18:59

There is not much you can do in that situation but I believe you should be framing the problem bit differently.

Namely, every time something like that comes up in life, you ought to draft a roadmap for moving forward. Do it together with the other side - in your case, EiC. In that roadmap, outline deadlines and milestones followed by concrete actions depending on how it goes. Make sure the outcomes work for you both.

It is not "threatening to withdraw the paper", it is defending your own interests. In doing so, it is crucial to give the other side some breathing room and communicate. Instead of "I'll withdraw the paper if you keep stalling the reviews!", quite obviously, you provide the editor with something like "I'd like to get the next round of reviews done in two months at most, and it hasn't been moving for quite a while. Do you have any plan about how to proceed from here on? Because quite frankly, I would have to seek alternatives if our paper is in real danger of getting stuck in that limbo". In doing so, you both provide the EiC with information about deadlines on your side and make clear the ball is on their side. From there on, they have all the tools and the responsibility to make a decision. If they can't make it work out, it is okay, that happens all the time.

At the same time, there will be long-term repercussions for them to delay the paper by an year and a half and then be unable to proceed with the publication - so the editor will (or should) at least be hella motivated to make a call about pushing the current reviewers or finding new ones.

Finally, you might enjoy the little chat you're having with the editor and be sympathetic towards them and the effort they have to undertake to fix the problem, but at the end of the day, there is work that needs to be done. Further stalling it does not help you and, importantly, it does not help them, either. Looking back five years from now on, they will also have to admit that "I did whatever I could but had to make a call for paper to be withdrawn" is infinitely better than "I didn't muster up the courage to make that call and it got stuck in the limbo but I hope no one is mad at me cause I honestly tried".

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