I am in a desperate situation. Nine months ago, I submitted a manuscript to journal. In the first five months, the manuscript remained with the editor without being sent for a review. During that time, I sent an email to the editor urging him to find a reviewer soon, but it did not happen. Then I sent another email after two months stating that I will consider withdrawing my paper if the handling editor is not able to find reviewers. The status then immediately changed to "reviewers assigned", which made me really suspicious. Is my manuscript really under review or is the editor just trying to preclude me from withdrawing the manuscript?! I mean for five months he failed to find reviewers, then the status changed to under review after one day of sending my message about potential withdrawal, it was all suspicious. However, I neglected my suspicions and faithfully waited for a final decision from the handling editor. I waited three months, but nothing came from the editor. I sent an email to the editorial office asking about when the decision is expected to be taken and he said we will notify you as soon as we receive a letter from the reviewer. Another month passed and there was no progress in the review process (if there is any).
After roughly nine months of waiting, I really started to think the decision will never come. Therefore, I decided to withdraw my manuscript. In late December, I sent a message to the editorial office and the handling editor to inform them that I decided to withdraw my manuscript. The editorial office stopped replying to my messages ever since I started asking for a withdrawal. The handling editor never responded to any of my inquiries during this whole period. I contacted the publisher directly, so they can help me to solve this problem, and they promised to look into this matter. Two weeks passed but I did not receive any answer from them.
I could not wait any longer, so I sent my manuscript to another journal. The second journal rejected my paper because they found out that it is still under review in the first journal. Perhaps my mistake is that I did not explain the situation before sending the manuscript to the second journal. However, I sent them a letter explaining the situation after the rejection decision. the second journal did not answer me after all.
I am afraid that the same thing will happen if I sent my manuscript to a new journal, what should I do now? How I can solve this problem? I have no intention to carry on with the first journal because of their mistreatment.
Note: the editorial office of the first journal is not part of the editorial board. They are affiliated with the publisher to monitor the process, so they could be as uninformed as me about what is really going on with my manuscript.