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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.

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  • Is the first journal reputable?
    – Nobody
    Jan 17 at 11:50
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    I do not think it is necessarily 'suspicious' that the status changed to 'under review' when you enquired - it is very possible that your enquiry prompted the editor to either (i) update the database to reflect action already taken, or (ii) to invite new reviewers who quickly accepted.
    – avid
    Jan 17 at 12:02
  • @Nobody The journal is good, it is indexed in Scopus and WOS' Emerging Sources Citation Index.
    – Ameer
    Jan 17 at 12:18
  • @avid What made me more suspicious is that the handling editor did not answer my inquiry about the expected time to receive the reviewers' report, but my main problem with him is that he never respond to any inquiry of any kind.
    – Ameer
    Jan 17 at 12:22
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    "s is that the handling editor did not answer my inquiry about the expected time to receive the reviewers' report", This is unfortunately normal business in the publishing ... reviews are done pro-bono by researchers, so there is no guarantee on when they will deliver. he never respond to any inquiry of any kind. " Unfortunately it is quite normal behavior: the response is not direct, but indirect (see he rushed to find reviewer when you asked for cancelling the submission). The only way to talk with them is often ... to talk with them, i.e. reaching them by phone. which is difficult.
    – EarlGrey
    Jan 17 at 13:32

2 Answers 2

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I actually just encountered something similar from the other side (as the publisher), coincidentally enough.

When you submit to the third journal, tell them it is possible the manuscript is still being considered by the first journal, but you have (tried to) withdraw the manuscript there. Either include all correspondence you have with the first journal, or say you can provide the correspondence if desired. You can do this in the cover letter or, if there is no option to include a cover letter, by including a separate letter to the editor among your source files.

Your goal is to make it clear to the third journal that you are respecting publishing ethics and not trying to hide the possibility of a duplicate submission. The second journal presumably found out during the peer review process that your manuscript is simultaneously being considered by another journal, which reflects badly on you since by not reporting it, it seems like you tried to hide it. If you alert the third journal early, you should have nothing to worry about.

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    The fact that the second journal found out also suggests that the first journal was genuinely trying to get it reviewed. Presumably what happened is that Journal B invited a reviewer who said "I am already reviewing this paper for Journal A". Jan 17 at 12:53
  • I have saved my withdrawal requests as screenshots, so I can send them to the new journal in case they asked
    – Ameer
    Jan 17 at 13:10
  • @EspeciallyLime I still think that the manuscript was not under review at least at the time when the status changed to reviewers assigned, the handling editor of the first journal did not answer me when asked about when the reviewers' reports are expected to be received
    – Ameer
    Jan 17 at 13:15
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    Actually, the second journal might respond to a similar explanation with evidence. It might be worth a chat with the editor. As long as you hold copyright, the paper is yours, not the first journal's. A request to withdraw isn't something that can be contested.
    – Buffy
    Jan 17 at 13:26
  • @Ameer that's quite possible of course, but it seems clear that at least they did assign reviewers at some point. I wouldn't normally expect the editor to say when reports are expected to be received, as I understand it is common for reviewers to miss deadlines. And certainly in my field 9 months is not an unusually long time to wait to hear back from a journal. I wouldn't bother to contact them until at least a year had elapsed. Jan 17 at 13:35
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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.

Absolutely a huge mistake, without any perhaps or maybe: you did not give a vital information. I would not be surprised if they put you in a kind of black-list of "authors trying to do everything to get published". After all, "to err is human. to forgive is divine" (Pope, 1711). There are predatory publishers, but there are predatory authors, too! No one serious wants to deal with such authors, since authors are abundant, the quick way is to cut off with someone showing these traits. Stop worrying, there are plenty of venues to submit your paper, plus the turnover in editors is quite rapid, so I guess in 3-4 years you can try to submit again to the 2nd journal ...

If you do the same thing with the third journal, it is highly likely that you will get the same outcome. "Errare humanum est, perseverare autem diabolicum" (2000 years ago, many people), which I liberally translate as "to err is human, to keep up with the same errors is stupid hellish".

Briefly explain to the 3rd journal the same facts you presented here, devoiding them of all personal evaluations. If you have to give some personal evaluations, just give them on your actions, such as not giving the second journals all the facts, but even there avoid any moral judgements.

If you want to be treated profesionally, treat the others and yourself profesionally.

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